The fine arts museums of San Francisco, or the “de Young” takes its name after one of the first San Franciscan journalists M. H. de young and together with the Legion of Honor comprises the Fine Arts Museums within Golden Gate Park’s 1,017 acres was inaugurated in 1895, reconstructed and open in 2005 the new building is 293,000-square-foot (27,000-square-meter). Located in the park are gardens, playgrounds, lakes, picnic groves, trails, and monuments, plus an array of cultural venues.
The de Young has its own magnificent presence, with its twisting copper tower, and building streaching the length of a football field, gave me the imagination of the grand architecture, vastness and complexity of the culture that I am fascinated with the Maya. Parking under the Academy of sciences and accompanied by my mother Joyce, we exited the garage into the courtyard looking upon de Young. I tried to picture how for millennia the Mayan would gaze across vast expanses like this, looking at grand pyramids and stone structures that were simply part of their world as they recognized it, like I see the de Young, unique but not beyond.
I chose the de Young for its “Art of the Americas” collection, cultures and civilizations that thrived in the Western Hemisphere for over 2000 years. With a strong focus in Mesoamerican and Andean art, almost all of these ancient arts were used in religious or burial contexts. Themes include human and divine ritual and life in the afterworld. My interest is the “Stela with Queen Ix Mutal Ahaw”, A. D. 761 Limestone, found on the border of Mexico and Guatemala.
As a jeweler and carver of stone my interest in this particular object laid in its beauty and its fixed Oracle significance and the fact that “I could carve this. ” Before reaching my desired exhibit, my mother and I are excited by the expansive modern environment inside the D Young, it is the awe that one feels when in the presents of unique greatness like half Dome in Yosemite National Park, or standing above the expanse of the Grand Canyon. We’ll maybe not that excited, you get the idea. Reaching the part of the Americas collection and turning into the dark Mayan exhibit, I see across the room to brightly lit carving standing over 2. 5m high and 1. 2m wide, 100mm thick, it is the Stela. I’m struck by its unique detail and size. Pictured sitting in the rock is the life-size deity carved in relief by removing material away from the surroundings to be displayed, like a life size cameo, a time-consuming process of chipping away by means of chisel and mallet. I would estimate one person using a chiseling technique would take 8 to 10 days. For myself using rotating and chisel pneumatic power tool about 1/3 the time.
Below the stela a plaque that describes the limestone as coming from the southern Mayan lowlands once part of a large archaeological setting built in tribute to Maya political leaders and gods. Erected to commemorate major political or historical events and substantiate royal lineages. Queen “Ix Mutal Ahaw” is depicted with an elaborate headdress, beaded costume-dress said to depict jade and spindle shell draping down to her feet-adorned in what could be feathers. Around her waist appears a belt with what looks like a large handled knife in a sheaf, or possibly the clasp to a purse.
Her head is turned to the right, and hands appear chest-high with her left-palm out and right-palm-in, like part of a dance pose. A large serpent wrapped itself around her body making four turns. Out of the serpents gaping mouth emerged lighting depicted by two curls (Mayan believed lighting represented rain) along with the head and shoulders of, another Mayan deity Kawil all of which are said to depict a vision quest. Seeing the rain meant a good harvest, thus fulfilling her vision as an intermediary.
This stela would have been placed in a plaza to demonstrate the importance of historical elite figures and their ability to contact the higher forces so that people could have a better life. Four hieroglyphic text appear on the stela on the upper left side; two correspond to the dates March 13 761 and August 10 760 The first date said to possibly dedicating the stela. Surrounding the wall of the room on both sides of stela are glass cases displaying ornate pottery, stone carvings and knives or cutting implements made of volcanic glass, jasper or flint.
One pair chipped in multi directions like the small letter “t” a design that would’ve taken much talent. All of this shows an advanced society full of ritual and individual talent. Combine this with the beautiful drawings I had seen prior of Titiana Proskouriakoff (an architect from the 30s who re-created Mayan cities in beautiful detail from first hand experience in the jungles of Yucatan) and I have a complete picture. That is all that is missing, are some murals of the great Mayan Cities to set the tone.