Fairfield University Art History professor's research drawings on display at New Acropolis Museum in Athens


Fairfield University Professor of Art History Katherine Schwab had a singular honor this summer when grayscale images scanned from twenty-six of her original research drawings of the Parthenon east and north metopes, requested by the Acropolis Museum, became part of the permanent installation in the Parthenon Gallery, seen by thousands of visitors who thronged to the long awaited opening of the new Acropolis Museum in Athens.

The research drawings, which sit on the lower edge of the frames supporting large marble relief panels, and reconstruction drawings, will be part of a book manuscript she is preparing. Her work will be on view in a public exhibit, "An Archaeologist's Eye: The Photographs and Parthenon Drawings of Katherine Schwab," Tuesday, Oct. 20-Friday, Nov. 6, in the Lukacs Gallery in the lower level of Loyola Hall on the Fairfield University campus, with an opening reception on Wednesday, Oct. 21, from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Other gallery hours will be Mondays, noon to 4:30 p.m.; Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Thursdays 1:30 to 5:30 p.m.; and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

In her study of the east and north metopes, Dr. Schwab used high-resolution digital photographs, the process of drawing, and first hand examination, which she then integrated with information from her research. Her ability to interrogate the surface of each damaged marble relief panel is reflected in the resulting drawings.

What is perhaps most intriguing about this journey to Athens, though, is how an art history professor became so adept at what is really studio art. While certainly drawing and painting were part of her studies in high school, they were not skills she expected to use in her professional research. To make up for lost time she consulted with her studio art colleagues at Fairfield and audited a figure drawing class.

In addition, she says, "My skill level was stretched in a different way during travels in the western Himalayas in 2004 with my husband, Dr. Ronald Davidson, a scholar of Buddhist Studies, who arranged for me to take lessons with a Tibetan Thangka painting master in McLeod Ganj or Upper Dharamsala, India." Daily drawing lessons, with hours of homework helped her to develop "a Tibetan Buddhist visual vocabulary that required exacting precision with a fine mechanical pencil." And while she explains that the visual vocabulary could not have been more different from that of ancient Greece, "the resulting use of a high quality mechanical pencil, the shaping of line and shading, became instrumental as I proceeded with my own research to make these Parthenon metope drawings."

Dr. Marice E. Rose, assistant professor and director of the Art History Program at Fairfield and co-curator of the exhibition, says, "The significance of Katherine Schwab's Parthenon drawings to both the scholarly community and the general public is evidenced by their permanent installation in the new Acropolis Museum. Not only do the drawings suggest the depth of carving in the compositions of these severely damaged metope reliefs, but in her ground-breaking use of shading she also helps museum visitors appreciate the beauty of the original carvings." Archaeologists traditionally use line drawings in their research publications.

Suzanne Chamlin, associate professor of studio art and also a co-curator of the exhibition, said, "In the Parthenon Drawings we will see Dr. Schwab's exquisite handling of graphite to produce subtle gradations of light and dark. Students will have the opportunity to see the Archaeologist, Art Historian, and Artist bound by the acts of perception -- simultaneously deepening in her pursuit of research and study."

Dr. Schwab received formal permission from the Ministry of Culture in Greece to conduct her research, applying through the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA), where she is an alumna and serves as a member of its Managing Committee. Fairfield University is a Cooperating Institution of the School. The permit she received allowed her to study, draw, photograph, and measure the Parthenon east and north metopes. In coordination with the First Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquity (the Acropolis), she was given generous access to the Acropolis storeroom over the last several years to conduct her research.

"Even after the metopes in the storeroom were relocated to the new Acropolis Museum, I was allowed to continue my work, which meant that I was able to see first hand the extraordinary work undertaken in preparation for the opening of the museum," she said. "My research on the metopes has also been helped by the exceptional staff and resources at the School (ASCSA), which has the best library in the world for Greek art and archaeology." In addition, she received grants and funding from Fairfield University and her department, facilitating many of her frequent research trips to Athens.

Dr. Schwab says it is hard to overstate the importance of these ancient works of art. "Visitors come from all over the world to see these monuments on the Acropolis. The small (now former) Acropolis Museum on the Acropolis displayed a limited number of the great sculptures from the Acropolis, including large sections of the Parthenon frieze, and smaller examples of the pediments and metopes. Since the beginning of the Acropolis Restoration Program, in 1975, more fragments of the ancient monuments have been discovered or identified." In the new Acropolis Museum, designed by architect Bernard Tschumi, the Parthenon Gallery is the top floor with four walls of glass and aligned on axis with the Parthenon clearly visible on the Acropolis close by.

The new museum, "long desired and needed, she says, "provides a superb setting for the Parthenon sculpture, the original Caryatids from the south porch of the Erechtheion, the exceptional collection of Korai, or maidens, and other sculpture and artifacts, as well as the friezes of the Erechtheion, the Temple of Athena Nike and its Nike Parapet." Many of these monuments, she notes, "are associated with the development of Athenian democracy and the age of Perikles and Pheidias, names forever linked to the High Classical period of Greek art."

Standing in the new Acropolis Museum and seeing the work that had begun several years earlier was overwhelming, Dr. Schwab said. "Given the extraordinary numbers of visitors to the museum, 10,000 daily during the first weeks after the opening, it is difficult to gauge how many of these visitors see my drawings on an average visit, but it certainly gives the idea of peer review a new meaning!" She said it is her hope that the drawings "will help any visitor, whether tourist or scholar, to linger and recognize figures within the damaged surface of these east and north metopes."

Dr. Katherine Schwab's Essay on drawings in new Acropolis Museum: http://www.ascsa.edu.gr/index.php/Spiffs/research-drawings-of-parthenon-metopes-in-the-new-acropolis-museum/

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Posted on October 8, 2009

Vol. 42, No. 72