15 Oct 2012 -- This morning I meditated on old pots. I have always thought of them as "precolumbian," but when I grabbed a book to read with breakfast, the title struck me: "Medieval American Art."* My mind did one of those little shifts, when suddenly your perspective gets an adjustment. For the modern Euro-American, civilization is demarcated by the arrival of Christopher Columbus, before and after. Europeans refer to this hemisphere as the New World, but it was only new to Europeans.
I'm studying the designs. I try to copy the design of the little jar. It looks like an eye. The colors are black coffee, brick red, and latte cream. Maybe it's a cave with a little red being curled inside. The drawing is very specific, very careful.
Oh, maybe I need another perspective shift. Don't look at the red. Look at the cream. A coiled snake, perhaps.
I learn that the cream and black are painted on the initial coat of red slip. So maybe the snake makes sense. The larger bowl has a clearer snake in its sinuous curve. The pedestal bowl in the back shows eyes, I'm sure of it. But when I try to draw it, I realize it is the sinuous curve that dominates and the "eyes" were filled in after.
The so-called Coclé culture thrived in the central provinces of Panama from 500-1500 C.E. Their polychrome ceramics were made without the benefit of a pottery wheel -- just skillfully coiled and smoothed clay, which was then painted with slips or washes made from earth materials like kaolin (white), manganese oxide (black) and oxides of iron (reds and browns). My quick reading suggests they didn't use glazes, but coated them with some kind of waxy varnish.
Excavated polychrome pots often show no signs of use, so they may have been made for decorative/status purposes and/or to be included with the dead among their funerary items.
Jim obtained these during his military service in Panama in 1962.
RESOURCES FROM THE SHELVES
"Medieval American Art: Masterpieces of the New World Before Columbus" by Pál Kelemen. One-volume edition. NY: Macmillan Co, 1956.
"Ecology and the Arts in Ancient Panama: On the Development of Social Rank and Symbolism in the Central Provinces" by Olga F. Linares. Reprinted from Studies in Pre-Columbian Art & Archaeology, No. 17, 1977.
"Cultural Chronology of the Gulf of Chiriquí, Panama" by Olga Linares de Sapir. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1968.
"Coclé: An Archaeological Study of Central Panama, Parts I and II" by Samuel Kirkland Lothrop et al. In Memoirs of the Peabody Museum... Vols VII and VIII. Cambridge MA: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, 1937 and 1942.
"Archaeology of Southern Veraguas, Panama" by Samuel Kirkland Lothrop et al. In Memoirs of the Peabody Museum... Vol IX No 3. Cambridge MA: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, 1950.