Friday, July 8, 2016

The Jenny Monthly Challenge - July Edition

Here it is! Time to announce my July Monthly Challenge!

...And I definitely have something special planned for this month. While trying to figure out what I wanted to do, I had a sudden inspiration--and I couldn't be more excited.

You see, I know that I have done a few different History Hops in the past--I love art history and archaeology, and usually use any excuse to apply that love to jewelry making. However, there just so happens to be one culture that I've always wanted to tackle, from a jewelry perspective, but never have: the Maya. (I bet you can figure out where this is going!)

The Temple of Inscriptions, Palenque
Not my photo! From the Wikimedia Commons.

A Bit of Background

So, who were the Maya?

The Maya were an ancient Mesoamerican civilization whose Classic Period spread from 250 to 900 AD--although they were around both before and after that time. (The Maya people are still around today!) They are known for having the only known fully developed writing system of the pre-Columbian Americas, an extremely sophisticated calendar, an impressive knowledge of astronomy and mathematics, and some really really cool architectural structures. 

Temple at Chichen Itza
Not my photo! From the Wikimedia Commons.

...They are also one of the first ancient civilizations I remember learning about, and definitely one of the causes of my love for archaeology. (And linguistics! Their writing system is really cool--and I remember learning to write 1 to 20 when I was in elementary school. You know, for fun.) 

Pages 6-8 of the Dresden Codex.
Not my photo! From the Wikimedia Commons.

So, yes. As you have probably guessed, for the July Monthly Challenge, I want to make jewelry inspired by the ancient Maya. Booyah!

...And what does that look like? Well, if you'll indulge me, that looks like this:

History Lesson Time!

The ancient Maya wore a lot of jewelry--necklaces, pendants, bracelets, anklets, earrings, ear plugs, rings, intricate headdresses, you name it. If you look at art from the time--whether painted on a clay pot or carved into a stelae--people are always depicted draped in elaborate finery. 

Early Mayan jewelry was made using bone--namely jaguar teeth and claws--as well as feathers, stones, ceramic, and colorful shells (they were particularly fond of Spondylus shells--red on one side, white on the other). Metal was a rarer, later addition, in the forms of copper, silver, bronze, and gold.

And jade.

The Maya loved jade.

Mayan Offering Necklace
Not my picture!
From the Western Belize Happenings Blog

In fact, according to Lucia R. Henderson in this item description for the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Jade was considered the most precious of all materials in the ancient Maya world. Its vibrant color was likened to other precious green things, including ripening crops and the iridescent tail feathers of the quetzal bird. The fact that jade endured, unchanged, for centuries, connected it to ideas of timelessness, permanency, and longevity. When polished, jade reaches a high, glossy shine, as though the surface has been dipped in water. It is almost always cool to the touch, but when held, quickly takes on the warmth of a human hand. This process led the ancient Maya to conceive of jade as a breathing, living, animate, and ensouled substance. To the ancient Maya, then, jade was not just beautiful, exotic, and expensive, but the incarnation of water, mist, floral aroma, and living breath. 

(4th paragraph, found here)

Adding to its value, jade is/was extremely difficult to carve (it approaches 7 on the Mohs hardness scale--diamonds are a 10). Without metal tools, the carving process was quite extensive and tedious, and took a lot of skill. As a result, jade was usually reserved for the elite--monarchs, the very wealthy, and priests. 

Not my picture!
From the Western Belize Happenings Blog

The specific form of jade found in Central America is jadeite. The Maya had a preference for its bright apple-green shades, although dark blue-green was also highly prized.

Not my picture!
From the Western Belize Happenings Blog

...So, there you go! A little bit of a background on Mayan jewelry.

The Challenge

Where does that leave me? 

Well, for the sake of this challenge, I think I may focus on the colors and feel of jade. After all, when I think of Mayan art, it is one of the main things I think of... And can you blame me? They made it into everything, including pendants:

Not my picture!
From the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Not my picture!
From the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Not my picture!
From the Metropolitan Museum of Art,
where it has a wonderful write-up on the symbolism.

Not my picture!
From the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

...Simple beads:

None of these are my pictures!
This is a compilation of beads from the Meso-American collection
at--you guessed it--the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

And even earflares (just like today's earplugs--except, well, carved in jade... And with elaborate soul-portal imagery to go with them):

Not my picture!
From the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Not my picture!
From the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

...Now, I may end up incorporating some shell-red and other colors, too--I'm making jewelry inspired by the ancient Maya, not exact replicas. (And it's a good thing, too... I'll probably need to find jade-colored substitutes, since my beading budget--while wonderful--is definitely not that of a Mayan King!) 

So, ta-da! There you go! That is my long-winded, historical introduction to my Monthly Challege for this July... Thank you so much for humoring me. Come by on Friday, July 29th to see what I end up making!

And, of course, have a wonderful weekend, everyone! 


Art History:

Metropolitan Museum of Art
They have their collection searchable online, complete with informative write-ups and quality pictures. Yeah... I may or may not have spent way too much time just scrolling through their collection.

Ancient Jewelry History

Mexicolore Resource: Ancient Mayan Clothing

Western Belize Happenings Blog
Pretty much the only source I was able to find that had a quality picture of a genuine, complete necklace. (Sorry, eBay listings don't quite count.) Oh, and also pictures of beads in situ. 

General (i.e. Wikipedia Articles):

Wikipedia: Mayan Civilization

Wikipedia: Mayan Peoples

Wikipedia: Mayan Script

Wikipedia: Mayan Stelae

Wikipedia: Palenque

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