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Must I paint you a picture? Part 2

September 25, 2014

Back in July, Julia posted on the HARN blog about archaeology in art.  At the end, she mentioned cryptically that a post about archaeologists as artists was another post entirely.  This is sort of an answer to that call.  As many of us know, many archaeologists at the turn of the century and later had to be competent artists in order to record finds, copy art on ruins, map sites, and more (see HARN member Sara Perry’s blog about imaging in archaeology, proving it’s still a critical skill).  In my work on Margaret Murray, it should come as no surprise that she herself had some art training when she was younger, and she put it into practice as an archaeologist.

When Murray was growing up in India, she and her sister had a number of visiting European teachers, one of whom, as Murray recalled, was a drawing teacher.  She wrote that “Monsieur Augier…made me understand that in drawing and painting you must put down on your paper or canvas what you actually see and not what you think you see” (Murray, My First Hundred Years, 72).  In Murray’s estimation, her sister Mary was a much better artist than she, but Mary didn’t really use her talents the way Murray would have liked.  Instead, Murray used her drawing and copying talents when she arrived at UCL in 1894.  She began working with Petrie, who found Murray to be a competent and hard-working copyist.  He began to trust her explicitly to do his copies for publications.  She finally put her talent to work in the field in 1904 and 1905, with trips to Abydos and Saqqara, respectively.  She found and wrote about the Osireion at Abydos (Murray, 1904); and at Saqqara her job was to copy a number of mastaba tombs to correct any mistakes Mariette had made years earlier with his copies.  Spoiler alert: as Petrie’s student, she of course found plenty of mistakes and told readers all about them while beautifully recreating the correct copies (see Murray, Saqqara Mastabas Part I and Gurob, 1905).  She continued this practice training her students, such as Myrtle Broome who later worked with Amice Mary Calverly at Abydos in the late 1920s and early 1930s.  See this article on the EES website for more information on the daunting work the two undertook, and how their recreations are the best record we have of that tomb.

Later on, however, Murray began painting for fun.  During the First World War, Murray began her sojourn into the study of witchcraft and folklore (See Oates and Wood for a discussion of this).  In doing so, she studied spells, stories, practical magic, and more.  While doing research for her biography, I ran across a watercolor of hers in the UCL archives:

Murray's watercolor recreation of image of Puck Fair

Murray’s watercolor recreation of image of Puck Fair, Killorglin, Ireland (1952/3)

She painted the above–the original is in a bank box somewhere–from a postcard:

Postcard of the Puck Fair, Killorglin

Postcard of the Puck Fair, Killorglin, Ireland

She believed that this Fair was a survival of the worship of the Horned God in England (see Murray, The God of the Witches, Chapter 1).  She repainted it not only because of her interest and work in the worship survivals, but also because she wanted to practice her copying talent.  Her trip to the fair was in September 1952, and she hadn’t been out in the field (in Egypt) since 1905.  The last time she had been in the field archaeologically was in Malta in the 1930s, so she was likely itching to practice.

Her watercolor is a beautiful recreation of the scene at Puck Fair, in which the community is honoring a male goat, probably for a good harvest and male fertility.  See the Puck Fair website for more information on the history and practice of this fair.  The painting honors Ireland’s oldest fair, and one of the oldest surviving versions of the fertility god, or the Horned God.  While her particular recreation is not absolutely necessary in the age of higher quality images of the 1950s and 1960s, it is indeed a testament to her talent in this field.

For more about Murray in general, you can see my biography of her: The Life of Margaret Alice Murray: A Woman’s Work in Archaeology (2013).  This really isn’t just a shameless plug–there’s a lot of good stuff in the book, with a full list of references in the back if you’re looking for something particular about Murray.

I know that there are a number of other archaeologists who were good artists.  For example, Winifred Brunton painted portraits of Petrie and of Murray that both hang in the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.  Who else?

–Kate

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