Just the Facts
Study of traditional weaving techniques in the highlands of Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico
Bryan R. Just
I am currently assistant curator of art of the ancient Americas at the Princeton University Art Museum. In 2006, I received a Ph.D. in Tulane University’s Interdisciplinary Ph.D. Program in Art History and Linguistics, with a focus on ancient Maya art and writing.
My decision to pursue a career in academia, and particularly one dedicated to research, writing and teaching about the indigenous cultures of Latin America, was significantly influenced by my experience as a Mortimer Hays-Brandeis Traveling Fellow. It was during my time of travel and research — primarily in Guatemala, but also in lower Central America and northern South America — that I decided this was an area of inquiry to which I wanted to dedicate much more time. The opportunities for learning and reflection provided by the Fellowship were central in this decision.
Nine months of my Fellowship year were spent in Guatemala, studying the Kaqchikel Maya language, learning to weave on a back strap loom, and researching the continuity and change in textile and clothing traditions in highland Guatemala. Initially, the exponential improvement of my Spanish skills, the substantial increase of my familiarity with Guatemalan museums, archaeological sites, and contemporary Maya communities were of greatest value for my graduate studies.
Since completing my degree and entering the museum world, however, I have found the resultant exposure to other culture areas in Latin America equally valuable, as my current responsibilities cover all indigenous arts of the Americas. Ultimately, I consider the most valuable aspect of the Fellowship year to be the realization of the complex relationships between the ancient past and contemporary culture in Latin America, and the revelation of what is at stake for those whose heritage it is when I write about and exhibit ancient art.
For these reasons, I can say without hesitation that I would indeed seek this Fellowship again if I had it all to do over. Only the luxury of extended time to freely explore and learn can provide the perspective I now have, and that freedom is one of the great strengths of the Fellowship program. In fact, I have lamented that Princeton University is not one of the participating universities, as I would have encouraged several students to apply if it were.
I am forever grateful for the opportunity provided by the Fellowship.