Art and Archeology of Mexico: More Digital Resources from the Getty Research Institute by Jonathan Saxon

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I am pleased to continue our multi-post series on digital collections. Today Jonathan Saxon examines the Getty Research Institute’s (GRI) online portal Obsidian Mirror-Travels: Refracting Mexican Art and Archaeology. If you missed his previous contribution on the GRI's A Nation Emerges: Sixty-five Years of Photography in Mexico, click here.

Jonathan Saxon earned his M.A. in History from California State University, Los Angeles. Currently, he is an Adjunct Instructor of History at Antelope Valley College. His complete discussion of the Getty Research Institute’s digital resources for Mexico, from which this post draws, was published in the Digital Resources section of the Oxford Research Encyclopedia for Latin American History.

Art and Archeology of Mexico: More Digital Resources from the Getty Research Institute

Obsidian Mirror-Travels: Refracting Mexican Art and Archaeology is the online version of an exhibition held at the Getty Research Institute Exhibition Gallery, from November 16, 2010–March 27, 2011. As stated on its home page, “This exhibition explores representations of Mexican archaeological objects and sites made from the Colonial era to the present.” This site is much easier to navigate than A Nation Emerges: Sixty-five Years of Photography in Mexico, quite possibly because it was created more recently, reflecting changes in web technology. As such, a detailed guide is not necessary. Rather, a simple explanation of the contents of each section will help readers streamline their research. Although the in-person exhibition featured contemporary art from the likes of Einar and Jamex de la Torre, the online exhibition only features objects contained in the GRI’s holdings.

Researchers and educators will find the Obsidian Mirror-Travels online exhibition to be a tremendous resource. The summary information is a useful didactic, and there are a wide variety of images to view and download. Those looking to read an analysis of the images will not find an abundance of information. Some analysis is provided in the summary of each section of the online exhibition, but the analysis pertains only to the one or two images displayed. However, the summary information is well written and can serve as a springboard for those interested in seeking additional information.

The “Digitized Resources” tab contains citation information for nine digitized GRI holdings. The citations have links that allow users to view these holdings online. Researchers will find hundreds of images within these links. These images are available for download in a variety of formats. A Primo Search link is also provided that includes complete citation information for all of the holdings listed in the “Digitized Resources” section. As mentioned in the previous post, those wanting to use images for publications should visit the J. Paul Getty Trust’s “Terms of Use/Copyright” web page.

Highlighted below are samples of three of the collections referenced in Obsidian-Mirror Travels: Augustus and Alice Dixon Le Plongeon Papers, Louis Falconnet’s Mexique, and Collections Mexicaines de Aug. Génin.

Photographs from Augustus and Alice Dixon Le Plongeon Papers, 1851-1933, 1841-1937

This collection will be especially useful for anyone in need of images of the Maya sites of Chichén Itzá and Uxmal. As described in the item description, the collection contains images and documents from the “archaeological excavations, fieldwork, research, and writings of Augustus and Alice Dixon Le Plongeon, the first persons to systematically excavate and photograph the Maya sites of Chichén Itzá and Uxmal"1 (see Figure 1). The item description also keenly warns users the Le Plongeons’ work “was overshadowed in their own lifetimes by their theories of Maya cultural diffusion, and in particular by their insistence that the Maya founded ancient Egypt."2 Nonetheless, this collections includes stunning photographs captured by the Le Plongeons which researchers will benefit from. The item description also explains the collection was inherited by Maude and Henry Field Blackwell before arriving at the GRI.3 Notice the writing in Figure 2 (see Figure 2, the verso of Figure 1). The writing is likely Maude Blackwell’s.4

Figure 1: “East facade, Governor's Palace, Uxmal, print 1933 (Recto).”

Augustus Le Plongeon, Blackwell, Maude Alice, Blom, Frans Ferdinand, Dixon, Henry, Hearst, Phoebe Apperson, and Morley, Sylvanus Griswold.

Photographs from Augustus and Alice Dixon Le Plongeon Papers, 1851-1933, 1841-1937, 1841.

Courtesy of the Getty Research Institute, 2004.M.18.B10.60 (Recto).

 

Figure 2: “East facade, Governor's Palace, Uxmal, print 1933” (Verso).

Augustus Le Plongeon, Blackwell, Maude Alice, Blom, Frans Ferdinand, Dixon, Henry, Hearst, Phoebe Apperson, and Morley, Sylvanus Griswold.

Photographs from Augustus and Alice Dixon Le Plongeon Papers, 1851-1933, 1841-1937, 1841.

Courtesy of the Getty Research Institute, 2004.M.18.B10.60 (Verso).

Louis Falconnet’s Mexique, 1864 - 1867

As explained in the item description, Louis Falconnet was an officer in the French military that arrived in Mexico during the French Intervention (1862-1867). Along with his own drawings, the Falconnet collections also includes photographs and documents he collected throughout his stay in Mexico.5

Interestingly, the item description explains, “Mexique is unusual among examples of albums compiled by French officers in Mexico in that Falconnet's main focus is on indigenous Mexican cultures and people rather than on military exploits.”6 In Figure 3, the center image is particularly interesting (see Figure 3). The caption states, “Indien jouant de la cuerda [Indian playing a string].” This stringed instrument is probably the chapareke. Also known as the Tarahumara Jews Harp, the instrument has not been widely documented. Therefore, Falconnet’s illustration would be a superb source for ethnomusicologists studying the music of the Tarahumara people of Chihuahua.7

Figure 3: “Queretaro. Aquador; Indien jouant de la cuerda; Garçon de boucherie.”

Louis Falconnet, Aubert, François, and Pestel Mexique, 1865, [1864-ca. 1867], 1864.

Courtesy of the Getty Research Institute, 92.R.20.053 (Recto).

Although documentation of indigenous and Spanish life in Mexico can be found throughout the GRI’s collections, there is little direct reference to any African heritage, with a few exceptions. One is an illustration by Louis Falconnet of women of African descent on the Caribbean island of Martinique although the Getty’s catalog description erroneously refers to these images as “watercolor drawings of indigenous women in Martinique.” Another example can be found in a series of drawings of native fruits, like plantains (see Figure 4).8 The availability of plantains in Mexico allowed African slaves to produce traditional African foods that eventually became popular dishes in the Americas such as mogo mogo in Mexico, fufu in Cuba, and mofongo in Puerto Rico.9

Figure 4: “Platanos. La banane.

Louis Falconnet, Aubert, François, and Pestel. Mexique, 1865, [1864-ca. 1867], 1864.

Courtesy of the Getty Research Institute, 92.R.20.046 (Recto).

Collections Mexicaines de Aug. Génin, 191-? [exact dates unknown]

Auguste Génin was born in Mexico at the beginning of (and perhaps as a product of) the French intervention (1862). Génin was the child of a French father and Belgian mother.10 The summary of this collection informs readers Génin collected “archaeological, cultural, and natural objects found in Mexico."11 Figure 5, “Miroirs en Obsidienne et en Pyrite de Fer [Obsidian and Iron Pyrite Mirrors],” perhaps inspired the name of the entire exhibition (see Figure 5). In addition, researchers will benefit from Génin’s thorough documentation. The collection summary explains, “Each photograph is accompanied by one or more leaves of typescript notes, by Génin, describing the objects depicted, giving attributions and ethno-historical information, and in most cases saying where the material was collected"12 (see Figure 6, which is a description of the items displayed and labeled in Figure 5). Researchers will find a wealth of images in this collection covering the Huichol, Tarahumara and Zapotec peoples covering a wide range of topics “including musical instruments, toys, folk art, coins and stamps, insects, birds, shells, and paleontological specimens.”13

Figure 5: “Miroirs en Obsidienne et en Pyrite de Fer.”

Auguste Génin, Collector. Collections Mexicaines De Aug. Génin, 191-?, 1910.

Courtesy of the Getty Research Institute, 95.R.4.09 (Recto).

Figure 6: “Miroirs en Obsidienne et en Pyrite de Fer.” (Collection Description)

Auguste Génin, Collector. Collections Mexicaines De Aug. Génin, 191-?, 1910.

Courtesy of the Getty Research Institute, 95.R.4.08 (Recto).

 

As part of my research for this blog, I conducted a search for additional online digitized resources for the rest of Latin America from the Getty Research Institute. To my astonishment, I discovered thirty-three additional open source collections that can be accessed through the GRI’s website. Researchers will benefit greatly from the photographs and drawings within these collections covering topics from the pre-Columbian, colonial, and modern eras. Primarily, these collections focus on regions in South America and the Caribbean including Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Cuba (see Appendix post).

The Getty Research Institute is still in the early stages of digitizing its vast collection. Like most institutions, the GRI will require greater funding and an increased workforce to consistently digitize their archival collections. Researchers interested in viewing collections not yet digitized may visit the GRI to view items in person. To make arrangements to visit the GRI, reserve items, and schedule an appointment at the Special Collections Reading Room, contact the Getty Research Institute at (310) 440-7335.

1 Taken from “Biographical/Historical Note” section of the item description. https://primo.getty.edu/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=GETTY_ROSETTAIE467956&context=L&vid=GRI&lang=en_US&search_scope=COMBINED&adaptor=Local%20Search%20Engine&tab=all_gri&query=any,contains,Augustus%20and%20Alice%20Dixon%20Le%20Plongeon.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 For a detailed list of Maude Blackwell’s notes within this collection see the collections’ listing at the Online Archive of California which seems to have more thorough catalog information on this collection. https://oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/kt3z09r80d/dsc/.

5 Taken from item description. https://primo.getty.edu/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=GETTY_ROSETTAIE503976&context=L&vid=GRI&lang=en_US&search_scope=COMBINED&adaptor=Local%20Search%20Engine&tab=all_gri&query=any,contains,Louis%20Falconnet%E2%80%99s%20Mexique&offset=0.

6 Ibid.

7 For more on the chapareke see this video produced by CONACULTA (Mexico’s National Council for Culture and Arts), https://youtu.be/9alNd0P4jOU. Also see, “Antonio Camilo Bautista Jariz: Premio Nacional de Artes y Tradiciones Populares,” Secretaría de Educación, Gobierno de México, January 1, 2015. https://www.gob.mx/sep/acciones-y-programas/antonio-camilo-bautista-jariz

8 Taken from “Summary” section of collection description. https://primo.getty.edu/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=GETTY_ROSETTAIE502910&context=L&vid=GRI&lang=en_US&search_scope=COMBINED&adaptor=Local%20Search%20Engine&tab=all_gri&query=any,contains,Collections%20Mexicaines%20de%20Aug.%20Ge%CC%81nin&offset=0.

9 Black in Latin America. [United States]: PBS Distribution, 2011. Presented and written by Henry Louis Gates Jr.; produced and directed by Ricardo Pollack; a production of Inkwell Films, Wall to Wall Media LTD, and Thirteen in association with WNET.org.

10 From the “Photographers” section of the GRI’s online exhibition, Mexico: From Empire to Revolution. https://www.getty.edu/research/tools/guides_bibliographies/mexico/html/photographers/index.html.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid.

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