When I go to a local museum – one that I visit on a regular basis – I’ll usually pick out one piece of art, go to it, and study it for as long as I can.
Plus, there are pieces that I always go to and… it feels like checking in – or paying a visit to an old friend. I don’t know why certain works resonate with me… and I try not to think about it. I like ’em, and that is something I want to be good enough.
At the Dallas Museum of Art, one piece that I have always loved, one that I keep going back to ever since I first saw it decades ago, is an eccentric Mayan ceremonial flint knife.
From the museum card:
Eccentric flint depicting a crocodile canoe with passengers.
Mexico or Guatemala: southern Maya lowlands, Maya culture
Late Classic period, c. A.D. 600-900
This sacred blade shows a moment in the Fourth Creation of the world on August 13, 3114 B.C. The blade is shaped as a monstrous crocodile canoe; water flowers decorate its belly as it sinks down into the dark waters of the spirit world. In the canoe is the soul sacrificed First Father accompanied by two attendants, who may be embodiments of his parents. The canoe represents the Milky Way, pivoting in the night sky from east-west to north-south. The Maya saw this pivoting as the sinking of the canoe and the raising of the precious maize tree. When the canoe sank, First Father was miraculously reborn as Maize, the sustenance and flesh of humanity.
Because it represents this mythic act, this blade was probably an especially powerful talisman of a living king, who became the reincarnation of First Father as he held the blade. The blade itself, bundled in textiles, was probably carried by the king into battle as the focus for his spiritual energies and as his tactical inspiration. The flinty stone connoted lighting to the Maya and was called by the same name as the bright but dangerous bolts of light that accompany life-sustaining rain.
There is a brutal beauty about this flint. I can picture the Mayan king going into bloody battle with this ceremonial knife gripped in his fist.