Tyler Jo Smith / Art 

Apotheke: Hands-On Ancient Greece Vases

Teaching Greek Art and Archaeology to students at UVa is at once the most rewarding and frustrating of all tasks. Throughout each semester, I find myself thinking that if only the student audience could view the objects up close or better yet handle them, they would have a much firmer grasp of the subject and enjoy it more. Since not every student will have the opportunity to participate in an excavation abroad or be awarded a museum internship, my “Dream Idea” is designed to provide some valuable and fun hands-on experience much closer to home. Focusing on my own area of research – ancient Greek vases – I hope to create a small group of Art History, Archaeology, and Classics majors, who have expressed an above average interest in Greek material culture. By bringing the modern Greek concept of the ‘apotheke’ (lit. storage room or warehouse) to the forefront, the students will be encouraged to consider the ancient objects in question as more than beautiful artworks locked behind glass cases. Rather, they will learn that these artefacts were utilitarian objects, designed to be handled, even used for drinking-games and contests, or awarded as prizes.

The ‘apotheke’ project will occur throughout the academic year and be punctuated by three distinct phases: The first will involve the University of Virginia Art Museum, which houses a small collection of Greek vases. Using the museum’s recently opened study gallery, the group will learn how to handle ancient pottery, including the basic skills of drawing, measuring, and recording. Students will also visit the off-grounds museum storage facility, where they will be able to compare the decorated pottery styles of ancient Greece with those belonging to other cultures, such as Native America and Asia. The second phase will transport our group to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. There we shall meet with the curator of antiquities and have a behind the scenes look at how the collection is stored, conserved, and displayed in its newly rennovated home. Students will choose an object from the collection and conduct research towards the planned publication of a Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum volume. The third and final part of the project will take us farther afield to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which maintains one of the most significant collections of Greek vases in the world. In advance of our weekend long visit, students will become familiar with the holdings via library and internet, and each will research and present a specific object on display in the museum to the whole group. The’ apotheke’ cohort will also visit the Onassis Foundation Cultural Center, share an informal coffee-break with a world-class Greek vase specialist, and of course eat in a Greek restaurant.