Heeramaneck Thangkas at Yale
On the surface, “Himalayan Collections of Yale” means one thing: the University’s incredible trove of physical resources—paintings, photographs, correspondence—from the region. But in this class, we’ve learned that the title has a second, and equally important meaning: the scholars, faculty and support staff who dedicate their time to studying, cataloguing and digitizing the physical collection.
This exhibit, Heeramaneck Thangkas at Yale, is about both of these “collections”: an exhibit on the Yale University Art Gallery's Heeramaneck collection of Tibetan thangkas wrapped in a larger exhibit about the people, process and potential problems behind creating such an exhibit.
BIOGRAPHY THROUGH ICONOGRAPHY
Our more traditional exhibit is based in the YUAG’s Heeramaneck collection of eighteen thangkas. One of the most important Himalayan art collections of the 20th century, the thangkas were a gift of Alice and Nasli Heeramaneck in 1988. From that collection, we chose to focus on five biographical thangkas. Though varied in subjects—the Third Dalai Lama, Abhayakaragupta, Khedrup Je, the Fifth Dalai Lama, and Taranatha—the paintings are united by the way they provide a window into the larger usage of thangkas: as a means of meditation to aid the viewer along the path to enlightenment.
THE CHALLENGES OF CONSERVATION AND DIGITIZATION
As we learned from Lama Tsondru, who runs a school for formal thangka painting training in Connecticut, when it comes to thangkas, the process is just as important as the product. Mirroring that, the second part of our project details the process and the people—the other Himalayan collection at Yale, in our view—with whom we worked to produce the first part. As we discovered, this collection of people is just as siloed and segregated as the physical collection. For this exhibition, we have drawn from conversations with people accross a multitude of disciplines at Yale University. This project aims to bring them together and highlight the work and challenges of producing a very modern exhibit on these ancient artifacts.
During the course of this project, we had the pleasure of working with Yale's collection outsanding experts in a variety of fields. We'd like to thank: Professor Andrew Quintman (Religious Studies), Professor Tamara Sears (History of Art), Professor Mimi Yiengprusksawan (Director of Undergraduate Studies, History of Art), Christine McCarthy (Chief Conservator, University libraries), Dr. David Sensabaugh (Curator of Asian Art, YUAG), and Chris Edwards (Digital Project Manager, University libraries). We also drew heavily from the notes of Dr. Amy Heller, noted Tibetologist, and art historian whose curatorial work as a graduate student at Yale inspired much of our project.
Ryan Healey + Cristina Vere Nicoll