Ancient buildings can talk. They tell stories to those who are ready to listen. They communicate in a language of dreams and fantasies. The surviving colours in their walls and facades tell stories of times of glory and destruction while the temple still stands. To the eyes of a kid standing on top of Pakal’s temple in Palenque, these ancient Mayan buildings had to come back to life, one way or another. That kid was me.
After exploring Palenque in May 2000, I left with the intention of bringing back to life the colours and designs that once covered those buildings. Now, as an adult, I see how difficult this idea of mine is. It was my childhood dream to see how these buildings would look like if reconstructed, so I decided to give it a try.
Humbled from the beginning, knowing my limitations, and having faith in myself, I was not sure where to start. I had seen amazing models of Tikal, Copán, and Uxmal in Guatemalan, Honduran, and Mexican museums respectively, but they lacked detail and colour. If I was to start this project I had to show myself whether I was capable of creating, drawing, and sculpting ancient Maya art. I had never tried sculpting anything in the past, except when I played with modelling clay as a child. So I bought some air dry clay and embarked on the journey of reconstructing Maya architecture.
I started my research on the internet and in the Foundation for Latin American Anthropological Research (FLAAR) library in St. Louis, Missouri. I ended up selecting a Mayan mask from the classic period in Yucatan, Mexico and started sculpting. This was my first trial. I learned some clay sculpting techniques from watching videos in YouTube and after a few days it was done. I really liked the results. It was hard work but it was worth every hour spent.
I used to work with Dr. Helmuth, president of FLAAR, who has devoted his entire career to study the ancient Maya civilisation. He has taken thousands of photos of Maya art which he made available to me for this project. After showing him my first sculpture he encouraged me to continue with the reconstruction of a whole Maya building. But before that I needed to keep trying other Maya architectural styles from different time periods as it was my original idea to reconstruct buildings from the pre-classic to the post-classic Maya periods.
I chose a building from the Nunnery Quadrangle in Uxmal, Yucatan. I picked a mask with three Chaac heads and the God of the Rain. It took me five days to complete it. After finishing this sculpture, I proceeded to create moulds out of silicone and created a couple of copies out of plastic. The architecture in Uxmal is in the Puuc style which is very detailed, ornamental and repetitive. I needed to find a way to replicate it. I have been getting positive feedback regarding the looks of the artwork I am producing; people say it has an authentic Mayan look which makes me feel excited for the next step in the process: colour.
The next thing on my list is to paint the sculptures and start building the base of the pyramid. I have been doing research to find out which materials and techniques I can use to give it a more realistic appearance. This project has taught me a lot of things I did not know I could do, and it has become quite addictive.
After I complete my first architectural creation, I plan to make videos. I will use a blue screen and capture footage at different times of the day to study the colour interactions with natural light—especially with the sunlight.
Because I have been trained as a multimedia designer, I will use my software skills to replicate these works of art in 3D. I plan to model some sculptures in my computer and eventually print them in 3D to paint them by hand. Why? Because I have the energy and opportunity to devote some time to a project that has become my passion.
By reconstructing ancient Mayan architectural designs, I hope to ignite other dreams. The Maya is just the beginning. There are many other ancient buildings that have stories to tell us.
Throughout my career, I have striven to gain knowledge and experience in computer graphics. I became a professional photographer, and learned video and post production all in preparation to make the reconstruction of a Maya building a reality. You can say that after that trip to Chiapas, Mexico, my life changed. I feel I am closer than ever before to my roots, and I feel that excitement I felt when I was a kid listening to stories those ancient building shared with me. They gave me a path to follow to bring them back to life. And to life they shall come back.