Fiery Pool: The Maya and the Mythic Sea A Groundbreaking Exhibition

Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth
August 29, 2010-January 2, 2011
Saint Louis Art Museum
February 13, 2011 – May 8, 2011

By Marita Adair

It’s happening again. Revolutionary, knowledge-changing insights into the ancient Maya world.  Fiery Pool: The Maya and the Mythic Sea, an exhibition opening Aug. 29, 2010 at the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, breaks new ground about the Maya and their relationship to water.  It turns out the Maya had an all-encompassing, birth-to-death-to-rebirth relationship with water and the cosmos that permeated their entire life view.

If scholars keep this up, soon the Maya won’t have any secrets.

Arriving from  it’s first venue at the Peabody Essek Museum, in Salem, Mass., Fiery Pool opens at the Kimbell for a a four-month run ending  Jan. 2, 2011. Plus, for an even firmer grip on the subject, the Kimbell is hosting a free, day-long symposium on Aug. 28, entitled Diving into the Fiery Pool: New Understandings of the Maya and the Sea. Just be prepared for “ah ha” moments when aquatic themed embellishments on architecture, jewelry and household objects suddenly reveal the mighty power of water throughout the ancient Maya world.

Co-curators of the exhibit, Daniel Finamore, Russell W. Knight Curator of Maritime Art and History at the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass., and Stephen D. Houston, Dupee Family Professor of Archeaology at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island selected more than 90 artistically conceived objects to illustrate how the Maya embraced water in their interconnected natural and supernatural lives. Many of these, made in stone, clay, gold and jade, are so recently excavated that they’ve haven’t been shown widely. Others, we’ve seen in previous Maya exhibitions. But it’s all new in the context of  water as central to every aspect of Maya life.

That the Maya were seafarers and a riverine society is known. A look at the map of the Maya world, which stretches from southern Mexico into Central America, shows bodies of water on all sides. Ancient Maya ports have been located along shorelines north and south. Inland rivers, sinkholes, and canals were used in daily life. But now we learn that the water relationship extends far beyond trade routes, transport, and a food source.  Divided into four themes —Water and Cosmos, Creatures of the Fiery Pool, Navigating the Cosmos, and Birth to Rebirth—the exhibit brings new understanding to the numerous artistic aquatic expressions of the Maya..

A richly illustrated catalog accompanies the exhibit. And an  insight-filled film of the co-curators talking about their discoveries is viewable here. And for fun, try the glyph game by clicking here.

After the Kimbell, Fiery Pool will appear at the Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis, Mo., February 13, 2011 – May 8, 2011.

The Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, organized the exhibition, which  is made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional support is provided by ECHO (Education through Cultural and Historical Organizations), a program of the U.S. Department of Education,
Office of Innovation and Improvement. The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

For more about the far-flung Maya lands and water trade routes visit