Kennesaw State students hold history in their hands
KENNESAW, Ga. (Apr 17, 2019) — Imagine holding bronze figurines thousands of years old, photographing them and drawing their details to aid archaeologists and art historians as they decipher the significance of these ancient works.
That’s precisely what some Kennesaw State art history and archeology students have been doing since a collection of 40 ancient bronzes arrived on campus last fall. The pieces are on loan from the Buffalo Museum of Science in New York.
The artifacts are now part of Kennesaw State’s Discovering Bronzes, an interdisciplinary exhibit that opened Friday at the Bentley Rare Book Museum. The exhibit pairs students’ archeological illustrations with literary works from the Bentley Museum’s permanent collection to provide visitors with context to better appreciate the bronzes and create a well-rounded museum experience.
“Our students are performing the first-ever scientific and scholarly investigation of these artifacts,” said Philip Kiernan, assistant professor of art history in the College of the Arts. “They are taking the lead in the project, and they are doing a remarkable job.”
The pieces, some of which date to the second millennium B.C., were acquired by the Buffalo Museum of Science between the early 1900s and 1940s, and almost none have been on public display in 70 years.
“There is so much they can tell us about past civilizations,” Kiernan said. “What they tell us about the ancient world is varied, about religious beliefs, ancient technologies, artistic ideas and societal preferences.”
Kiernan, who is an art historian and an archeologist, explained that bronze was a common metal used in ancient cultures for a diverse range of objects.
“Bronze develops a patina that changes in color over time, but bronze doesn’t degrade like organic materials,” he said. “It’s left behind a good bit of data from the ancient world for us to discover.”
Emmie Huffman, an illustration major with an art history minor, loved the challenge of drawing the fine details of several belt buckles on display in the exhibit.
“The hardest part of doing an archeological illustration of one of the medieval belt buckles was dealing with the centuries of wear on these objects,” said the senior from Marietta. “Some details were scratched away, and my job was to help bring them out through my drawing.”
For Kiernan, an important aspect of this project is that it has resulted in concrete research by his students that will add to the body of knowledge in the field. Last year, two students who had the opportunity to study the bronzes in Buffalo presented their findings at the XXth International Congress on Ancient Bronzes in Tübingen, Germany. Students are rarely invited to present at the congress, which is primarily for well-known scholars and curators.
One of those students was Savannah Winn, a graphics communications student, who applied archeological illustration skills she honed during one of Kiernan’s classes to draw a detailed illustration of a mirror depicting the Greek mythological figures of Medusa and Perseus, which is now on display at the Bentley Museum.
Katie Kennedy, who graduates next month with a degree in art history, worked with three artifacts from Luristan, a province in Iran. She presented on the topic during last week’s National Conference on Undergraduate Research.
“The greatest challenge that I faced was that only a small minority of artifacts from Luristan have been excavated by archaeologists,” she said. “This made it very difficult to give concrete dating and authenticity to these pieces.”
In addition to the bronzes and accompanying drawings, visitors to the Bentley Rare Books Museum are be able to view contextual information relating to the various time periods represented by the figurines.
“We have two 4,000-year-old Sumerian clay tablets on display that demonstrate an early writing technique called cuneiform,” said JoyEllen Williams, the Bentley’s special collections curator. “We also feature some of our books from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries that deal with rediscovering antiquity.”
The Bentley contains more than 10,000 items, including medieval manuscript leaves, modern fine press books and literary first editions.
Discovering Bronzes will remain on display until the end of the year.
– Robert S. Godlewski
Photos by David Caselli
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 35,000 students. With 13 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university's vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. A Carnegie-designated doctoral institution, it is one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.