Ancient Muses: Archaeology and the Arts

By John H. Jameson; John E. Ehrenhard et al. | Go to book overview

4 Archaeology in Two
Dimensions
The Artist's Perspective

Martin Pate

In 1991, my neighbor John Ehrenhard, director of the Southeast Archeological Center (SEAC), approached me about doing a painting for the National Park Service. At the time, I was working as a commercial illustrator and portrait artist. I approached the job as if it were any other assignment, but the subject matter was significantly different from what I was used to. The scene was to illustrate presumed domestic day-to-day activities at a Late Archaic site in Georgia on the Savannah River. This site, known as Sara's Ridge, was part of the land that was covered with water as a result of the Richard B. Russell Dam project.

I was excited at the chance to paint a scene of such interest, but, I must admit, I felt somewhat apprehensive about working with archaeologists. Until that time, I had done most of my work for advertising clients and art directors. As difficult as those folks could be to work with, they at least had a history of working with artists and photographers on a regular basis. I wasn't sure if the collaboration between scientist and artist would produce a pleasing work of art. In the back of my mind, I could see perhaps an overemphasis on artifacts and details that might interfere with creativity. My concerns were not to be realized, though, as the project went over extremely well. The archaeologists were thrilled to see “their site” come to vivid life. The archaeologist in charge of that site even told me that my painting was just as he had imagined it and that it looked as if I had actually been there myself. The success of this painting was to set the tone in many ways for a continuing series of paintings of various subjects and time periods.

In the Sara's Ridge painting (plate 2), it was my hope that the viewer would be not only an observer of the scene but a participant as well. The main character, a women heating stones in a fire, turns to look at you with somewhat of a scowl, saying perhaps, “Don't you have anything better to do?” The painting, along with other illustrations and photographs, was used in the book Beneath

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