Film–Mysteries of the Kylix


PRESS RELEASE: Mysteries of the Kylix debuts at Johns Hopkins University


Ancient vessels. Apprentice ceramicists. Master teachers. All come together in Mysteries of the Kylix, a short film that documents “Recreating Ancient Greek Ceramics,” a Johns Hopkins University course taught by Sanchita Balachandran, curator/conservator of the university’s Archaeological Museum. The 18-minute film, directed by Bernadette Wegenstein, director of the university’s Center for Advanced Media Studies, with cinematography by Allen Moore, debuted at Johns Hopkins’ Homewood campus in September. The film features 13 undergraduate students, one graduate teaching assistant, one curator/conservator, two potters, and the ancient Greek potters and painters who inspired all of the work of this project. Funding from the film comes from the Program in Museums and Society at JHU’s Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Additional sponsors of the film include the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum and the Center for Advanced Media Studies.

For 13 weeks in spring 2015, the students in Balachandran’s class undertook a distinctly different type of apprenticeship. Throughout the hands-on course in experiential archaeology, they consulted the work of experts and practiced throwing clay pots. They designed images and experimented with slip and with various tools used to paint the substance onto clay. And they built a kiln, fired their pottery, and examined it under a portable x-ray fluorescence instrument—all to understand the world of the ancient Greek potters and their apprentices who made kylikes, the red-figure pottery drinking bowls created by the ancient Greeks between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE.

“The idea is to be thoughtful at every stage,” says Balachandran. “To look at clay, make shapes, to choose images and paint, to go through the fire and kiln process, and to consider the final product. This leads to a deeper understanding of both the art and the object, because when you go through the process, you get a visceral sense of how things got there.”