Emil Haury: Art into Archaeology

By Haury, Loren R. | Journal of the Southwest, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Emil Haury: Art into Archaeology


Haury, Loren R., Journal of the Southwest


... every act of drawing [is] simultaneously an act of observation, analysis and demonstration in which appearance and interpretation [are] blended.

Martin Kemp (1998)

Many obituaries and tributes followed the death in 1992 of my father, Emil Walter Haury. All, including the thorough and insightful review of his life and influence on Southwestern archaeology by Raymond Thompson (1995), make no mention of his talent as an artist. This aspect of Dad's life strongly influenced his scientific work, but was unknown to his colleagues and was rarely discussed among our family.

This essay illustrates my father's gift for drawing and painting the world he observed and focuses on how he redirected this ability into his science between the years 1925-1939. Examples follow of later scientific illustrations showing the artistry in his graphic skills when he no longer engaged in art for art's sake.

The early art comes from personal papers that remain with the family; these include illuminated photographic albums and a few letters to my mother before they were married. The scientific examples come from Dad's published papers and the unpublished manuscripts, field notes and student reports in the Archives of the Arizona State Museum, Tucson. All this material, dating from his undergraduate days at Bethel College in Newton, Kansas, to some of his last archaeological publications, reveal my father's artistic talent and demonstrate how his creative expression turned from illustrating the world for his own and others enjoyment to documenting his science.

Emil Haury matured during the period when classical 19th century science and art went through the transformations that produced their "modern" expressions in the 20th century. Prior to the advent of generous research grants that would support scientific illustrators, most scientists produced the figures for publications themselves. Many were superb artists who portrayed not only their scientific observations, but also the beauty they saw in the environments, organisms, phenomena and materials they studied. Examples are Ernst Haeckel's (1904) illustrations of many diverse life forms, notably his specialty, the marine protozoans, for the benefit of artists, and Sir Alistar Hardy's splendid watercolors of the scenery and organisms observed on his 1925-1927 Antarctic expeditions (Hardy 1967).

Modern day scientists express themselves artistically as well, most often by using the specialized technologies required to visualize their subjects of study and illustrate their scientific papers. The art comes in refining and editing these visualizations into a form that meets the standards of "fine art." This contemporary approach is exemplified by the photomicrographs of Ariel Ruiz i Altaba (2001) derived from his embryological studies and the computer visualizations of chaos, quantum physics and molecular biology of Eric Heller (Lambert 2001).

Once Emil Haury's education and career in archaeology began in the summer of 1925, his artistic talent and energy were quickly channeled into his science. He appears to have consciously chosen not to continue doing art either for enjoyment or as an extension of his science. This most likely was because he felt doing so would detract from the time available for science:

   If the resolve is desperate enough to do something, then less than
   an all out effort is not enough. (Unpublished autobiography, Arizona
   State Museum Archives, Manuscript Series 3)

While he never claimed to have artistic skills other than those of a competent draftsman, his art, learned and expressed earlier in his life, produced clear, accurate and often beautiful illustrations for his scientific papers and books. Even at the peak of his career, Haury underrated the extent of his abilities. For example, in the preface to the volume on the excavations at Ventana Cave (Haury 1950), he writes:

   A word as to the illustrations: The difficulty of photographing
   chipped tools predominantly in the near-black stone, and the wartime
   film shortage are responsible for the extensive use of line cuts. … 

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