Tatiana's Dream by Jim Frazer

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Tatiana Proskouriakoff was a Russian exile who became, by an improbable route, one of the foremost scholars of Mayan epigraphy. Trained as an architect, she was originally hired to survey excavated Mayan structures; that work resulted in a book, Album of Maya Architecture, that remains the classic work of architectural reconstruction of Mayan ruins. Later on, her paper detailing her insights into a pattern of dates she found in the inscriptions at Piedras Negras, Guatemala, had a profound effect on Mayan Studies. British Mayanist Ian Graham, writing Tatiana’s obituary in the journal American Antiquity, said “At one blow, this short paper freed the study of Maya writing from lengthy stagnation … it continues to underlie much of today’s increased epigraphic activity.” She received Guatemala’s highest honor and her ashes were interred at the site she loved and studied.

This book is a speculation about what she might have thought and dreamed of there in the jungle at Piedras Negras and for years later as she contemplated the meaning of the glyphic inscriptions. It unfolds in a rambling fashion, with layers that uncover and appear, as in a dream: The workers, the visible descendants of the ancient Mayans, unearthing the thousand year old monuments. The howler monkeys providing a near-constant background of cacophony. Satterthwaite supervising the excavations. The Usumacinta River flowing by and connecting this site with others upstream. The black rocks which give the place its modern name - the most notable of these rocks, there by their camp, called the sacrificial rock by an earlier explorer because its carved surface resembles the altar stone found among the ruins. The buildings, that she meticulously measured and drafted plans and elevations of, from the iconic Temple of the Masks to the sweat bath. Her visions of what Mayan life might have been like that became part of her drawings reconstructing those buildings. Behind and above all, her detailed map of the site that is still in use today. The images are from my photographs of Piedras Negras and from archival material available online.

Artist Bio

Jim Frazer is an artist living in Salt Lake City working with a variety of media and materials. Originally trained as a photographer at Georgia State University, he was one of the founders of Nexus, now the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center. His work translates digital imagery from his photographs and research into print or mixed media. He has recently started making artists books; his books and photographic works are represented in museum collections around the country.