Ancient Art in the Archives

By Lara Canner, Curator of Music Special Collections

Jordan Staten_Crypus Vase Drawing
Photographed here is student Jordan Staten drawing an archeological depiction of a vase from Bronze Age Cyprus

Early last spring, Special Collections and University Archives happily hosted Dr. Jared Benton’s Ancient Art History class. Using Bronze Age pottery from the island of Cyprus donated to ODU in the 1960’s, the students took photographs and created archaeological sketches of the vases. Later, this work would be turned into digital 3-D models and in-depth research papers. The results of their studies were impressive, so much so that Dr. Benton believed that their work should be presented at Old Dominion University’s Undergraduate Research Symposium. The program gives a platform to ODU student researchers, from various disciplines, to present papers, or posters examining their scholarship. I must have been impressive too since Dr. Benton also asked if I would be interested in partnering in assisting his students with the symposium. (I was delighted to help!)

With campus remaining closed over the course of the summer, Zoom became the main means of communication between the students, Dr. Benton, and myself. Together, we formulated the design of a virtual poster, showing how the class created their digital representations of the Cypriot vases. Meeting with those more interested in presenting papers, advice was shared on best research practices, edits were made to their original papers and possible ways to introduce the student’s themes were explored. Overall, a very productive summer, but the fact of the matter was, to create the greatest possible poster and research presentation, the undergraduate scholars would need to view the vases again.

So here we are, adapting to the need for social distancing, but still providing access to our collections. Updated policies, such as granting appointments for ODU students and staff, wearing a face mask at all times and Archives staff disinfecting prior and after each appointment are just a few ways Special Collections and University Archives are creating a safe and healthy environment for our researchers. Only one patron and one staff member are allowed in Special Collections for appointments, meaning that for Dr. Benton to help guide our student through the creation of detailed drawing and building the 3-D model, he would have to utilize Zoom to communicate in real time. When problems arose, or just making sure we were on the right track, Jordan would have to hold her paper up to a laptop screen. Complicated to say the least…

Watching an archaeological rendering as a bystander is fascinating, but now I had to become an interpreter of the professor’s instructions and at times a fellow teacher of Bronze Age Pottery. Not exactly my field of expertise. However, this was a session not only a lesson in primary source instruction, but active learning. Together, Jordan and I talked through the best ways to capture the vase’s decorations, worked through mismeasurements, and inspected the vase from every possible angle. And, the results were incredible, just look:

Cyproit Vase Model

Two of Dr. Benton’s students will be presenting their research at the 2021 ODU Undergraduate Symposium on March 20, 20201! Registration is free and open to the public: