BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator for Conservation, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology
This month’s ugly object is a mold for the front half of an Aphrodite figurine. The mold is made of plaster, and ancient craftsmen used it by pressing damp clay into the carved depression. Molds like this one were an easy way to mass-produce many versions of the same figurine. This utilitarian object was never intended to be decorative, and time and burial have not been kind to it. Broken at the knees, chipped on the top of the head, stained all over with splotchy black fungus, and discolored from years of use, this moldy mold is not a thing of beauty.
And yet it has a certain fascination because it gives us a physical connection to the ancient craftsmen who used it again and again. Along the sides of the mold, we can see the depressions that allowed the artist to easily separate the front and back halves of the mold after the clay had been pressed into shape. The reddish-orange stains come from the clay that was used to make the figurines, and those figurines must have been quite fine. The female figure is carved precisely, from her elaborately curled and ornamented hair to her tiny navel. At first glance this object might be ugly, but look again and you’ll see that it conveys an ideal of female beauty that is both voluptuous and delicate. This humble, sexy-ugly object is on view until July 26 in the special exhibition Rocks, Paper, Memory: Wendy Artin’s Watercolor Paintings of Ancient Sculptures.