Texas Tech University :: School Of Art

Carolyn TateCarolyn Tate (Ph.D.)
Professor, History of Pre-Columbian Art

Ph.D. Art History, University of Texas at Austin, 1986.

Dr. Tate has expressed her fascination with the ancient art of the Americas through museum exhibitions, teaching, and academic publications. Two major themes in her research involve why Mesoamericans created their elaborate ceremonial cities and how individuals perceived of themselves in relation to social groups and to the symbol-laden cities they built. Her latest book, Re-Considering Olmec Visual Culture: The Unborn, Women, and Creation (University of Texas Press, 2012), addresses the development of visual culture in Mesoamerica and its roles in defining belief systems, creating ritual centers, and in the evolution of phonetic and pictorial writing.

Tate’s perceptions of the expressive capacity of Pre-Columbian objects were honed during five years during which she worked as Associate Curator of Pre-Columbian Art at the Dallas Museum of Art. There, with the support of a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts, revamped the installation of the Museum’s permanent collections of Andean and Mesoamerican art, making the works more accessible though audio tours, a video of ancient sites, and maps. She curated Chocolate Pots and Tomb Guardians, an exhibition of Mesoamerican works from collections in Dallas-Fort Worth and collaborated on several exhibitions, including the blockbuster Images of Mexico (twentieth century art) and Gold of Three Continents. With Kent Reilly and David Grove, she organized the first major exhibitions of Olmec art to be shown in the US, The Olmec World: Ritual and Rulership, (Art Museum, Princeton University and Houston Museum of Fine Arts), and Olmec Art of Ancient Mexico, (National Gallery of Art). Other exhibitions in include Human Body, Human Spirit: A Portrait of Ancient Mexico (Emory University and Royal Ontario Museum) and 1519 / The One Reed Year: Wonders of Aztec Mexico (Lubbock, TX).

In 1993, Carolyn Tate joined the faculty of Texas Tech University, where she teaches courses on the arts and cultures of Mesoamerica and Native North America. She creates special topics that reflect and intensify her own research interests, so that students participate in the refinement of her ideas and interpretations. Courses such as “The Body and the City in Mesoamerica” stem from her book on the Maya city of Yaxchilan, which is populated by over 100 monumental figures and 90 buildings. Working with students in her courses on “Gender in Mesoamerican Art” and “Creation Narratives in Mesoamerican Art” helped her develop her latest book, Re-Considering Olmec Visual Culture: The Unborn, Women, and Creation (2012). She also enjoys teaching Art History Survey 1. Each semester she devises special projects and assignments that engage students in aspects of ancient art history - such as curating exhibitions that explore how ancient people conceived of time.

Dr. Tate’s research has been supported by fellowships at Dumbarton Oaks (Harvard University; Washington DC), the Harvard Center for the Study of World Religions (Cambridge, MA), the Clark Art Institute (Williamstown, MA), and the Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. These fellowships have facilitated her publication of over 30 articles or book chapters on the ancient Maya, the Olmec, and on issues of gender, narrative, creation stories, spirituality, astronomy, and city planning in ancient Mesoamerica.

Among her awards are Texas Tech Integrated Scholar (2011), Texas Tech Barney Rushing Research Excellence Award (2006), Appreciation Award from the Consulado General de México (Dallas 1990), and Fulbright-Hayes Dissertation Fellowship (1984).

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Abstracts
La Venta and the Feminine Shamanic Tradition of Mesoamerica
Reconstructing Mesoamerica’s Earliest Creation Narrative at La Venta
Insemination and Generation or Sowing and Dawning: La Venta as a Processional Creation Story
Reconstructing La Venta’s Creation Story