let the object's speak

West Mexico - Ballplayer Figure - In the Object's Own Words

Ceramic ballplayer figure - West Mexico


Normally, I sit quietly in my display case while I'm being admired by museum visitors, however, since I have your attention, I think I'll take this opportunity to tell you a little bit more about myself and my life story.

I began my life as a simple lump of clay - not just any lump, but special clay extracted from a prized resource and used only for the making of fine ceramic objects like me. The hands of a skilled professional potter molded me into my hollow shape, with my armbands, nose-ring, ear ornaments, game ball, and braided clay coils added with great care and detail. My clothing and my fret designs, tattoos, and face paint were applied with slip, a diluted mixture of clay, pigments, and water. My painter used fine brushes made from plant fibres or animal hair. I am a representation of a ballplayer, from the West Mexican state of Nayarit or possibly from Jalisco.


After my shape was formed, I was fired to ensure my longevity. The great care taken in modelling me and dressing me in authentic costume made me a very important figure, and finally, with great ceremony, I was placed within a rock-cut burial chamber around 1800 years ago. It is possible that I was made to resemble the person with whom I was interred, but at the very least I served as a symbol of the highly important Mesoamerican ritual ballgame . . . perhaps I was even a state champion!


Elite burials in my part of West Mexico are typically dome-shaped chambers cut in solid rock, reached through a vertical shaft up to 25 feet deep! Around 2,000 years ago I was gently placed, with a wealth of other burial goods, near my deceased owner. My maker thought I would stay buried forever. However, after many centuries of resting in the musty darkness, there came that fateful day, when fresh air and sunlight touched my dust covered features for the first time in eons...


How did I end up in Canada? I entered the country as a piece of art for sale, probably many decades ago. Many museums and private collectors legally acquired pieces that were not scientifically excavated by archaeologists before it was considered wrong to do so. However, laws are now in place that forbid unauthorized excavations and the sale of antiquities. Today I live in The Gardiner Museum's Ancient America Gallery, a collection dedicated to education. From here everyone has an opportunity to learn about the achievements of my ancient people, as well about how ceramic objects like me were used in the past.