Art and Art History Collection Illuminated through Mesoamerica Center Initiatives

The 2016-2017 academic year was filled with activity around the Department’s Art and Art History Collection, managed by The Mesoamerica Center. Comprised of several thousand objects, including ceramics and textiles from the indigenous Americas, the collection had received some attention early in 2016 as the result of a new publication by UT Press on the hidden collections that exist across UT Austin. To make the collection more visible and accessible to students and to the general public, Astrid Runggaldier curated a new gallery with the Blanton Museum’s Rosario Granados, the Carl and Marilynn Thoma Associate Curator of Spanish Colonial Art. The new space – the Ancient Americas gallery – opened as part of the Blanton Museum’s permanent collection reinstallation this past February, and features several objects from across Mesoamerica, highlighting the cultural diversity of the region.

This is a photo of Masters student Kendyll Gross curating artifacts.
Kendyll Gross works to curate the new exhibit at the Blanton Museum.

Masters student Kendyll Gross participated in every aspect of the curation process, and is now working on her own thesis research with the collection, focusing on the West Mexican ceramics that will become the basis for the next installation at the museum.


The Blanton Museum now also features a gallery of Native American art, with textiles from the US Southwest loaned by the Art and Art History Collection.


This photo shows The Blanton Museum exhibit in progress.
The Blanton exhibit refresh underway.

These new spaces are a chance to showcase some of the holdings in the collection, with thematic selections updated regularly, giving students of Museum Studies an opportunity to participate actively in the collection management activities at The Mesoamerica Center.


This last academic year was also the first for the new undergraduate Bridging Disciplines Program in Museum Studies, through which students gain internship experience with collections at museums and institutions all around Austin. One of our research interns, Myy Nguyen, assisted Astrid Runggaldier with the work on West Mexican objects, leading to a visit by Dr. Robert Pickering of the University of Tulsa and Gilcrease Museum to collaborate on analyzing the origins of some of the artifacts.

In addition to a talk for the Colloquium Series, Robert Pickering also presented on museum research at the 2017 Antiquities Action Symposium, which focused on “Landscapes of Identity: Global and Local Models for Heritage Preservation.” At the symposium, Astrid Runggaldier presented aspects of the collection in a talk entitled “Where do ‘Orphans’ Belong? Local Engagement with Global Concerns Through the Art and Art History Collection at the University of Texas at Austin.” The annual conference is part of the events organized by UT’s Antiquities Action, a public group started by Dr. Stephennie Mulder of the UT Department of Art and Art History, with the goal of raising awareness about the destruction, looting, and trafficking of antiquities around the world.


Lastly, given the increased interest from students in working more actively with the collection, The Mesoamerica Cente is currently creating a new study space where the Art and Art History Collection can be made more easily accessible for coursework, internships, volunteering, and research. Stay tuned for updates on our progress, and, for those who might be interested in supporting our goals of increasing visibility and access to the collection, please consider a donation to support the projects of The Mesoamerica Center.