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Interconnections Student skipper, alumni leader
New views of acient art
Periclean awardee Heather Hurst '97
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New views of ancient art

Say a genie offers you one wish. Ask for work that endlessly fascinates you, and you might end
up, like Heather Hurst ’97, with work and love and a nice MacArthur Foundation “genius grant.”
During Celebration Weekend in the fall, Hurst accepted Skidmore’s 2006 Periclean Alumni
Scholar Award for her work as an archaeological illustrator. A pioneer in a field she is still
helping to invent—hence the MacArthur—she had essentially launched her career in her senior year, with a project that earned her a student Periclean award. The first thing she told this year’s audience came from naturalist Rachel Carson: Those who “deal with the sciences of the earth and its life…are never bored.”

“I was instructed in intellectual curiosity at Skidmore,” said Hurst, who described how she grafted
a studio-art major onto a self-determined major in architectural anthropology. That gave her “a space between disciplines” that allowed her more room to grow. From each discipline, she pulled skills for her nascent career: anthropological theory, archeological method, visual critique, and meticulous drawing and painting.

Over the past ten years, working on digs in the jungles of Central America, she fell in love with
“the beautiful and enigmatic art and architecture created by ancient Mayan artisans.” (She also
fell for an artist colleague, whom she married last spring.) She treated the Skidmore audience to slides of spectacular lost buildings, sculpted facades, and painted murals that she’d brought back
to life in her drawings. One mural featured menacing priests with feathered headdresses and long knives facing victims with deeply anxious expressions.

“Artifacts are usually recorded primarily through photography,“ while scientific drawings have been
considered “additional records,” Hurst explained. But
when ancient murals and other works are hidden in
dense jungle, or underground and accessible only via
narrow tunnels, detailed photos are hard to get. Hurst
figured out how to combine precise on-site measurements with “the human eye, hand, and trained imagination” to
produce “drawings that no camera or computer could capture.”

What’s next for Hurst? Eager to know more about the anonymous Mayan artists whose work she has been resuscitating, she recently began a doctoral program in anthropology and archaeology at Yale. Actually, Yale
doesn’t have such a program, so Hurst has crafted one
for herself. It’s a highly independent and interdisciplinary arrangement that will allow her to pursue the work she
loves. As she cheerily advised the newly inducted Periclean students in the crowd, “If you don’t like the options presented, create new ones.” Keep doing that, and you’ll never be bored. —BAM