by Esther Pasztory (in ascending order by publication date)
The book’s three main sections:
1. “Multiple Horizons: Tales From the Life of a Refugee” is the often humorous account of a Hungarian refugee trying to assimilate into American life and in the process discovering the Ancient American cultures of the Aztec, Maya, and Inca.
2. “Stone Age Civilization in the New World” is a controversial memoir about Ancient America as it compares to Europe, as an overview written in the freedom of retirement. It is written as advice to the BBC, which had recently interviewed her for a program called Civilizations.
3. “The Maya Vase” is a novel of fantasy in the reconstruction of ancient Maya life as seen through the eyes of a graduate student as the author once was, with comparisons to modern American life.
“This three-part memoir allows us to peek into the personal life experiences of a remarkable thinker and writer, and everyone who reads it will ultimately benefit in one way or another. The benefits, moreover, will be positive and uplifting, for the book is not only downright funny in places, but Esther makes it clear that she has no regrets about the rupture that changed her life forever. Her curiosity about the world, her sense of adventure, her ease at entering into someone else’s world . . . all combines to edify and enchant the reader. Enjoy.”— Cecelia F. Klein, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Department of Art History, UCLA.
A wonderful book about the myths and theories, some plausible and some preposterous, that have accumulated over the ages about the origins of the peoples of ancient America. Esther Pasztory treats them all with wisdom and wit … If all this were not enough, Esther Pasztory, turns her conclusion into the most readable introduction we now have of what everyone needs to know about ancient American art. Nothing could be a more appealing and acute entry into the subject as a whole. ―From the foreword by David Freedberg, PhD, author of The Power of Images Why, today, do … farfetched ideas enjoy the popularity that they do? Dr. Pasztory is a highly respected art historian with an international reputation in the field of pre-Columbian art. She is especially well known for her work at the ancient city of Teotihuacán in Central Mexico. Having spent a long career studying the works of the great civilizations of the Americas, no one is better qualified than she to provide an answer. ―From the introduction by William A. Haviland, PhD, coauthor of textbooks including Anthropology: The Human Challenge. Published by Polar Bear & Co.
Esther Pasztory’s many and innovative nonfiction publications in her field of expertise opened new cross-cultural vistas that are further explored in these five short stories.
“I am often looking for a humorous, lighthearted read on a serious topic, with a bit of fantasy thrown in. So I wrote some myself. As a Hungarian immigrant, my fascination is with the Americas, from Maine to Mexico, all interesting places, all temporarily homes. Some still inhabited by the ghosts of Indians.” –Esther Pasztory . Published by Polar Bear & Co.
One of the first artists to visit the Mayan ruins at Palenque after Mexican independence, Jean-Frederic Waldeck has long been dismissed as unreliable, his drawings of pre-Columbian art marred by his excessive interest in European styles of beauty. With this fresh look at Waldeck’s entire output, including his desire to exhibit at Paris salons, his reconstructions of Mayan and Aztec subjects can be understood as art rather than illustration. Pasztory sees him as a unique Neoclassicist who has never been fully appreciated.
In addition to illustrating Maya antiquities in the days before photography, Waldeck painted imaginary reconstructions of pre-Columbian life and rituals and scenes of everyday life in nineteenth-century Mexico. Most of his contemporaries looking for exotic subject matter went east and are now referred to as Orientalists. Waldeck went west and found the exotic in the New World, but as Esther Pasztory suggests, he is an Orientalist in spirit.
Waldeck’s work was not considered interesting or important in its day, but twenty-first century viewers can appreciate his sensibility, which combines the modern domestic with the ancient mythic and features a theatrical version of Neoclassicism that looks forward to a Hollywood that would not exist until decades after the artist’s death in 1875 at the age of 109.
Publication of Jean-Frederic Waldeck is sponsored by InterAmericas®/Society of Arts and Letters of the Americas, a program of The Reed Foundation
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Esther Pasztory sought refuge in the United States after the 1956 anti-communist revolution in Hungary. Her memoir chronicles the difficulty of straddling two cultures both personally and professionally and Pasztory’s escape into a third, ancient culture where she felt her spirit was free to roam. Interweaving her work with the Aztec and Incan history with her past experiences in Hungary and her present life in America.
Her story will appeal not only to readers who wrestle with their dual heritage but also to historians who seek an intimate account of post-communist Hungary.
What is “art”? Why have human societies through all time and around the globe created those objects we call works of art? Is there any way of defining art that can encompass everything from Paleolithic objects to the virtual images created by the latest computer technology? Questions such as these have preoccupied Esther Pasztory since the beginning of her scholarly career. In this authoritative volume, she distills four decades of research and reflection to propose a pathbreaking new way of understanding what art is and why human beings create it that can be applied to all cultures throughout time.
At its heart, Pasztory’s thesis is simple and yet profound. She asserts that humans create things (some of which modern Western society chooses to call “art”) in order to work out our ideas—that is, we literally think with things. Pasztory draws on examples from many societies to argue that the art-making impulse is primarily cognitive and only secondarily aesthetic. She demonstrates that “art” always reflects the specific social context in which it is created, and that as societies become more complex, their art becomes more rarefied.
Pasztory presents her thesis in a two-part approach. The first section of the book is an original essay entitled “Thinking with Things” that develops Pasztory’s unified theory of what art is and why we create it. The second section is a collection of eight previously published essays that explore the art-making process in both Pre-Columbian and Western societies. Pasztory’s work combines the insights of art history and anthropology in the light of poststructuralist ideas. Her book will be indispensable reading for everyone who creates or thinks about works of art.
West by Nonwest: Anniversary Conference on Pre-Columbian Art
“Daughter of the Pyramids”
Naomi is writing a novel set in ancient Mexico and accidentally turns into her heroine, Marigold. Marigold is on a journey from her home in the city of the pyramids, Teotihuacan, to the Maya city of Tikal. While Naomi experiences Marigold’s adventures, including a passion for a mysterious Maya lord, she is also desperate to get back to her own world in Morristown, New Jersey. She discovers the secret of time travel but no longer knows whether she wants to live in the present or the past. And, which man will she choose, the young archaeologist or the ruler of Tikal?
“Colonial Tales” are eight short stories set in Colonial Mexico and deal with love, friendship, and betrayal in the New World.
When, in the sixteenth century, the Spanish conquistadors defeated the Aztec empire in Mexico and the Inca empire in Peru, their dreams of finding treasure in the New World were amply fulfilled. What they also found was that the Aztecs and the Incas were the latest in a long line of highly civilized peoples to have occupied Mesoamerica and the Andes. In this engaging book, Esther Pasztory describes the very different cultural traditions of these two areas, placing them within their historical and social contexts. Pasztory draws on a vast range of material finds, including monumental sculpture, woven textiles, pottery portrait heads, gold masks, and illustrated codices. She reveals the effects of colonialism on the art, as well as the curious power that Pre-Columbian art has in turn exerted upon Western art, both in the development of art theory and the creation of art works.
Fifteen hundred years ago, Teotihuacan was one of the world’s greatest cities. Some 200,000 people lived in this Mexican metropolis, with its massive public buildings, grid plan of streets and imposing murals and sculpture. Its trading empire dominated much of ancient Mexico. Then, in the 8th century, came a mysterious collapse. Even knowledge of the original name was lost: Teotihuacan, “City of the Gods”, was a title bestowed by the Aztecs six hundred years later. Published in conjunction with an exhibition organized by The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, this volume brings together for the first time the fruits of researches that are at last unveiling Teotihuacan. Over a dozen distinguished scholars examine every aspect of the city’s culture, from its role as an urban centre, its religion and writing system, to its imposing pyramid-temples and superlative art. A splendid array of rarely seen masterpieces, from jewelry, greenstone masks and elegant blackware to figurines and elaborate wall paintings, provides visual proof of the magnificence of Teotihuacan’s culture.
This is the first comprehensive book on Aztec art: eleven chapters illustrated with seventy-five superb color plates and hundreds of photographs, supplemented by maps and diagrams. Temple architecture, majestic stone sculpture carved without metal tools, featherwork and turquoise mosaic, painted books, and sculptures in terra cotta and rare stones – all are here.
Pasztory has placed these major works of Pre-Columbian art in a historical context, relating them to the reigns of individual rulers, events in Aztec history, and the needs of different social groups from the elite to the farmer. She focuses on the little-known aspects of the aesthetics, poetry and humanity of the Aztecs.
Teotihuacan: Art from the City of the Gods – Berrin and Pasztory,
Fifteen hundred years ago, Teotihuacan was one of the world’s greatest cities. Some 200,000 people lived in this Mexican metropolis, with its massive public buildings, grid plan of streets and imposing murals and sculpture. Its trading empire dominated much of ancient Mexico. Then, in the 8th century, came a mysterious collapse. Even knowledge of the original name was lost: Teotihuacan, “City of the Gods”, was a title bestowed by the Aztecs six hundred years later. Published in conjunction with an exhibition organized by The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, this volume brings together for the first time the fruits of researches that are at last unveiling Teotihuacan. Over a dozen distinguished scholars examine every aspect of the city’s culture, from its role as an urban centre, its religion and writing system, to its imposing pyramid-temples and superlative art. A splendid array of rarely seen masterpieces, from jewellery, greenstone masks and elegant blackware to figurines and elaborate wall paintings, provides visual proof of the magnificence of Teotihuacan’s culture.