A Victorian Artist Amid Mexico's Ruins
Publication Year: 2005
Published by: University of New Mexico Press
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List of Illustrations
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1: The Bretons of Bath
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Getting to the ruins of Chich�n Itz�1 in 1900 was a rugged proposition. As intriguing as the stories were of the overgrown Maya ruins and pyramids in the jungle, Yucat�n was not a tourist destination. But then, Adela Breton was not a tourist. Far from it. She was at Chich�n to work....
2: Early Years
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She was well educated with some facility for languages. As a well-brought-up young woman she acquired the expected accomplishments of drawing, singing, and piano playing, but these interests, particularly art, went beyond the drawing room level of proficiency....
3: The Freedom of Travel
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The will was probated a month later, with Adela as sole executrix. William left her the house at Camden Crescent, along with its furnishings (“plate linen china glass books pictures prints articles of vertu [art objects and curios] provisions”). She also received a specific legacy of fifteen thousand pounds. Harry received ten...
4: The Grand Tour of Mexico
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Adela’s Grand Tour was an amazing trip, even from today’s perspective. It lasted about eighteen months, from late 1893 well into 1895. Of course, in that age of extended travel—and slower modes of travel—people left home for months at a time. Banks or financial agents were prepared to...
5: Painting on the Grand Tour
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Adela missed few of the major ruins in her travels, and her itineraries include many smaller ruins as well, including some that are well off the beaten path, literally. It was characteristic of Adela that she would make a two-and-a-half-day ride to Metlaltoyuca in the northern part of...
6: Refining the Focus
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It is easy to characterize Adela as yet another of those intrepid women travelers that Victorian society produced. These women shared a number of characteristics. They tended to be unmarried and without family obligations. Their parents were either deceased or, if they needed looking...
7: Teopancaxco: The Art of Recording the Ruins [Includes Image Plates]
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At Teotihuac�n in May 1894, just three months after Adela sat on top of the Pyramid of the Moon and made her sketch of the ruined city, a landowner looking for building materials discovered some ancient walls that showed the remains of what had once been an elaborate...
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Some of the most curious and puzzling things in Adela’s archives are several photos showing Pablo in her house in Bath. Pablo is dressed in a suit, with a watch fob from which is suspended a small cross. In two of the photos he is in front of a fireplace topped by an elaborate overmantle with a...
9: Sorting Out
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Adela was away from England during much of the late 1890s. She had traveled over most of central, south, and west Mexico, thoroughly covering the central area of Mexico in particular. She had spent little time in the north except passing through on the train, and she had not...
10: Chich�n Itz�
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Chichén Itzá in the early 1900s was a far cry from the orderly grounds of today, with mowed plazas and paths and reconstructed pyramids. Then, narrow paths connected the overgrown plazas, and many of today’s structures were mounds of vegetation. Glimpses of architectural...
11: Life Begins at Fifty
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Before arriving in Yucat�n, Adela traveled to Massachusetts, where she met again with Frederic Ward Putnam of the Peabody Museum at Harvard. From there she sailed to Havana and then to Yucat�n, landing at Progresso and traveling to M�rida, the main city of Yucat�n....
12: The Extraordinary Undertaking: The Murals in the Upper Temple of the Jaguars
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Adela had several undertakings at Chich�n in addition to verifying the accuracy of plates and drawings Maudslay intended to use in his publication Biologia Centrali-Americana. As Putnam had written Thompson, she was carrying instructions from Maudslay requesting some casts he wished to have made. But the...
13: The Professionalization of Adela
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Adela rarely—if ever—passed up an opportunity to visit a site. En route to Chichén she stopped at what would be one of her favorite sites, Aké. Like many sites in Yucatán, the ruins were on the grounds of a hacienda where Adela might have stayed. As was often the case, the house itself was relatively small, much overshadowed by the main buildings where the henequen was produced. The...
14: Don Alfredo
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Adela’s 1902 season was different from the previous two in several respects: she did more of her own work and less of Maudslay’s, and instead of staying in the Akab Dzib she lived in one of the Maya-style huts on the grounds of the hacienda. Most importantly, however, she met Alfred Tozzer. They would be allies and lifelong friends....
15: The 1902 Congress of Americanists
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The Thirteenth International Congress of Americanists held in New York City was a noteworthy—and newsworthy—event. The New York Times welcomed the event with a lengthy editorial, noting that this was the first Americanist congress held in the United States. Before 1902 almost all the congresses were held...
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16: Back to Work
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The 1902 International Congress of Americanists was a turning point for Adela in several ways. Her close copying of the art and architectural elements had given her significant expertise on the art, particularly since she had made careful observations and comparisons as she worked. Her work created great interest on several levels....
17: Dredging the Cenote
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Thompson’s dredging of the Sacred Cenote was remarkable on a number of levels. The cenote had tempted earlier explorers who were drawn by accounts of treasure—not to mention virgins—being flung into the well. Verifying the accuracy of the virgin stories might have some academic or prurient interest, but verifying the tales of the...
18: The Passing of Pablo
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The fact that Pablo’s death occurred so soon after the deaths in Harry’s family made it all the more shocking to Adela. She could not shake a sense of bad fate with the three deaths—Harry’s wife and daughter and now Pablo—happening within three years. And, as stricken as she was by...
19: Drawing and Dredging
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Adela was in Mexico for almost three months, spending most of her time in and around Mexico City. She stayed with Zelia Nuttall at Casa Alvarado in Coyoacán, and she wrote Miss Mead a cheerful letter with news about both Zelia and Alice Fletcher. The health of both of them was a concern: “Some one ought...
20: Adela at Work
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Adela did not return to Mexico until 1907, but in the intervening months she was anything but idle or homebound. She continued to work on her copies of the Chich�n material but was frequently hampered by arthritis and illness. The copying work for the Peabody was slow, particularly as she was drawing to quarter scale. She feared a smaller...
21: Acanceh: The Palace of the Stuccoes
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Acanceh, which is about twenty-five kilometers southeast of M�rida, had never been a lost site, but it had not attracted much attention. There was little to see except a large pyramid adjacent to the main plaza of the modern town, and one or two structures several blocks off the main plaza. The...
22: Study Abroad
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The first decade of the twentieth century was a very active time for travelers, archaeologists, scientists, and explorers making plans, expeditions, inquiries—not only in Mesoamerica but also in Egypt and the Near East. Adela was interested in all of it, and she intended to participate...
23: A Scholar Not a Painter
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The 1910 meetings of the International Congress of Americas (ICA) were split between Buenos Aires and Mexico City. Buenos Aires originally had been designated as the site, but Mexico wanted a big commemoration for the one-hundredth anniversary of the “Grito!”—Father...
24: Organizing an International Meeting [Includes Image Plates]
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Adela had reason to be concerned with the meetings less than a year away. And although many of the arrangements, such as setting the date, had been made before she was invited to join the committee, it was becoming obvious that if the meetings were to materialize in any...
25: The 1912 Congress of Americanists
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It was the first Congress of Americanists held in Great Britain. Maudslay was the president. Adela had several titles: Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Honorable Assistant Secretary and Treasurer, and she also acted as the General Secretary, a position that became...
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The 1912 Congress of Americanists would mark a milestone. Forty years later, in 1952, when England next hosted a congress, J. Eric Thompson (no relation to Edward Thompson), the president of that congress, would reflect back with humor and more than a tinge of melancholy....
27: The Manuscript “Collectors”
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Obtaining copies of codices, which were in Europe, was a problem. Scholars often found it difficult to obtain permission to view and copy them, and the manuscripts obviously did not travel. Many of the codices were large and intricate, and the process of copying was difficult and time consuming. And there was still no satisfactory...
28: The Onset of the War
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Australia was “most interesting in every way, with all sorts of problems waiting to be solved” (ibid.), she wrote Hrdlicka, referring, presumably, to unspecified professional questions. She and Alesˇ Hrdlicka shared a common interest in physical anthropology and early man. She was...
29: In Search of Health
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The precise state of Adela’s health, like the state of her finances, is hard to determine. She did suffer from recurring bouts of malaria, and she did have some form of arthritis. Damp weather aggravated her arthritis and affected her general feeling of well-being. Her tendency to get headaches probably wasn’t helped by the close...
30: Home Again
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Adela’s homecoming was busy with both personal matters and professional business. She visited cousins, caught up with Harry, spent time in London (dealing with some Americanist business!), and sought out old friends, including the Maudslays. “I have an immense quantity of reading to get through,” she wrote Ella, “publications...
31: Last Travels
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She managed to attend the meetings and participate a little. She was not, however, up to going on any of the excursions. Shortly after the meetings she came down with dysentery, and arrangements were made for her to go to a private hospital up in the hills close to Rio. She was comfortable, and she wrote that friends visited her...
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After Adela’s death knowledge of her work quickly disappeared. In the 1920s when the Carnegie Institution worked at Chichén, members of the expedition either did not know about or did not recognize Adela’s work of copying the murals and bas reliefs twenty-five years earlier....
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This book would not have been possible without the help of Sue Giles, Curator of Ethnography & Foreign Archaeology, Bristol’s City Museum & Art Gallery. She has answered so many requests and questions; her insights into Adela and the collection at Bristol have been invaluable; but beyond that, her friendship...
Appendix A: Locations of Paintings and Drawings
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Appendix B: Archival Materials
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Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 20 halftones, 1 map
Publication Year: 2005