Robertson, Merle Greene, Collection
1920s-2010. Papers of this art historian, archaeologist, artist, teacher, and writer. Includes material related to the study of the ancient Maya gathered and produced over a lifetime of activity in the field. The material includes correspondence, publications, photographic material, rubbings, line drawings, art work, and information on exhibits and conferences.
Collection guide prepared by Christine Hernández and David Dressing with assistance from Victoria Lyall and Lori Dowell. Completed in January, 2011.
Merle Greene Robertson: A Biographic Sketch
Merle Greene Robertson has distinguished herself in many fields. Trained as an artist, she began her career as a teacher in California. In the early 1960's Merle Greene Robertson (hereafter referred to as “MGR”) developed an interest in the Maya civilizations of southern Mexico and Central America and began to record, through ink rubbings on rice paper, the relief sculpture of the ancient Maya. Despite hardships and dangers, MGR made close to 2,000 rubbings over more than forty years from sites in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Belize. Her work has helped to preserve a documentary record of Maya sculpture, architectural art and epigraphy, in the face of threats from pillaging and the natural elements.
MGR’s rubbings have been displayed in numerous exhibits over the past forty years including the Museum of Primitive Art in New York and the New Orleans Museum of Art. The Zemurray Foundation and New Orleans philanthropist Edith Stern generously supported MGR’s work over the years and ensured that the bulk of her rubbings are now part of this collection in The Latin American Library, where they are available for research purposes. MGR is also a skilled photographer and has photographed all her rubbings as well as documented all of her research projects, recording methods, and travel.
In the 1970's, MGR established the Precolombian Art Research Institute (PARI) at Palenque, which eventually grew into a library of 6,000 volumes with research facilities for visiting scholars and conferences. Beginning in 1973, MGR organized regular Mesas Redondas, or Round Tables, at Palenque for the presentation of scholarly papers which were then published. From their start, the Palenque Round Table conferences were important venues for advancing research on the ancient Maya. The 1982 eruption of the nearby volcano, El Chichón, forced her to move the institute to San Francisco, even though the Mesas Redondas continued at Palenque.
MGR’s work as an art historian and archaeologist has earned her wide recognition and many professional honors. She has been an Associate at the Middle American Research Institute of Tulane University for many years. In 1987, she was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters by Tulane University, and in 2008, she was bestowed the University’s highest honor, investiture in the Paul Tulane Society. MGR’s many important contributions to archaeology and to Maya studies has centered on her work at Palenque and Chichén Itzá. Her studies of the sculptural art of Palenque resulted in the four-volume publication The Sculpture of Palenque (Princeton University Press, 1983).
This collection encompasses diverse materials produced and/or collected by MGR over the course of a more than 40-year career of studying the ancient Maya. The materials stem from her work as an archaeologist, art historian, teacher, writer, and artist. Included are personal papers and correspondence, professional publications, field diaries and research notes, grant proposals and final reports, research of special topics, materials relating to exhibits, conference participation, organization of the Palenque Round Table conferences, and her directorship of the Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute. Most of this type of material is organized in Section I of this guide.
Of central importance in the collection are most of MGR’s original rubbings of Maya monuments, which are stored in numbered rolls and organized alphabetically by archaeological site. The inventory for these rubbings can be found at the following link: Rubbings Chart. Photographs and slides of the rubbings are inventoried in section IV, parts A and B of this guide.
A skilled photographer, MGR also documented extensively the archaeological sites she visited and studied. The photographic materials include prints of various sizes, including enlarged oversize images, contact prints, 35mm slides, and numerous negatives. The photos range in scope from panoramic aerial shots of Palenque to general views of archaeological sites and specific buildings to detailed photos of glyphs, Maya sculpture and other artistic elements. MGR’s photographs of friends, colleagues, social gatherings of Mayanists, the Mesas Redondas, and other related themes provide a visual record of many important scholars and events in the world of Maya studies from the 1960s to the 2010s. Also notable, MGR created several series of thematic bound volumes (see section II), which incorporate photographs, research notes and commentary, sketches, and other relevant material.
The collection also contains dozens of MGR’s beautifully-executed line drawings of Maya sculptural and glyph art (see section III). Other sections include a photographic record of figurines from Palenque, audio-visual material, archaeological and tourist maps, and several important examples of MGR’s original watercolor artwork.
The orthography used in this collection guide and associated inventory materials preserves the site names and spellings used by MGR to label her works and images.