As a complement to last year’s project, and an indication that it’s well on its way to becoming a tradition, Mark Jones’ First-Year Seminar, “Meaning and Method in the Arts,” recreated in the basement of Houghton House portions of another ancient Egyptian tomb.
Using original techniques and materials (dry natural pigments, water and gum arabic), the students created reproductions of murals from the tomb of Queen Nefertari, the wife of Ramesses II, also known as “Ramesses the Great.” The originals, dating from 1250 B.C.E., are located in the Valley of the Queens, opposite Luxor, Egypt.
“Students had to do extensive plaster work on several walls that were part of the original stone foundation of Houghton House,” says Jones. “A group of four students charged with designing the layout of the two rooms selected the scenes. Queen Nefertari was chosen in part to add a bit of gender balance to the overall mural series.”
The students kept to rigorous schedules to complete the mural before the end of the fall semester. The project took about eight weeks, with 14 students each working a minimum of 10 hours per week.
Last year, students in the course created a reproduction of the tomb of Nebamun and his wife Ipuky, the stewards of the royal wife Nebtu. Those reproductions were copied from the murals of the original tomb, created during the 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom, circa 1400 B.C.E., in the Valley of the Nobles at Thebes (modern day Luxor). (Read the complete story of their reproduction in Houghton House.)
In both years’ seminars, students were required to do extensive research on New Kingdom (Egyptian) cosmology, burial practices and tomb design and write a term paper on the same. “The hands-on nature of the course helped them understand their research in powerful and lasting ways,” says Jones.
“Earlier in the term the class studied the art of the Zen Garden,” says Jones, “and on two occasions added a postmodern twist to their studies by creating temporary Zen sand gardens in the sand traps of the Geneva Country Club.”
The murals, which are a permanent part of Houghton House basement, can be seen weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. They are open to the public and there is an accompanying poster identifying the student artists responsible for the painting and explaining the scenes and their significance. Signs are posted just inside the entrance of Houghton House guiding visitors to the murals.