The American School of Classical Studies at Athens is pleased to welcome Ashley Eckhardt, Ph.D. candidate in Art History at Emory University, as the School’s first Hesperia Fellow. Specializing in ancient Greek art and archaeology, Eckhardt’s dissertation, entitled “The Crafting of Cult Statues in the High Hellenistic Period,” examines the production of cult statues and temples across the Mediterranean in the second century BCE.

Now with a semester’s experience behind her, Eckhardt speaks about her editorial work, art historical research, and experiences at the School.

Welcome Ashley! Being the Hesperia Fellow is far from your first experience at the American School, however. Will you please tell us a little about your history here?

My first exposure to the American School was through the traditional Summer Session, which was an invaluable experience and remains integral to my research and teaching. I not only vastly improved my understanding and visualization of ancient Greece, but also formed connections with fellow participants and scholars that continue to this day. Most recently, I spent the 2018-2019 academic year at the ASCSA as the Jacob Hirsch Fellow, during which I completed my on-site dissertation research. I thoroughly enjoyed being in residence for an entire academic year and deeply miss the camaraderie and community of Loring Hall and the Blegen. With the assistance of the wonderful staff at the ASCSA, I was able to study objects in the National Museum, on Delos, and at several archaeological sites in the Peloponnese. It was an exciting year!

How did you become interested in the fields of archaeology, art history, and classics?

As a child, I looked forward to class visits to our local museums. Living in rural Wisconsin meant that we rarely encountered artifacts from the ancient Mediterranean, but I enjoyed learning about history, especially through objects. I didn’t have access to Greek and Latin courses until I went to college, but then I was immediately hooked! I also started taking Greek and Roman history courses and found that I most enjoyed the days when we talked about art and architecture. I eventually discovered that studying art history would allow me to combine my interests in classics, archaeology, and material culture, while also giving me an excuse to visit museum collections around the world.

Eckhardt presents her research on the Temple of Despoina at Lykosoura to Regular Members during their 2018 Deep Peloponnese trip.
Your thesis focuses on cult statues in the High Hellenistic Period. How have you brought this project to life?

My dissertation examines cult statues produced in the second century BCE in Italy, Greece, and Asia Minor. I investigate the materials and techniques used in their construction; the human agents, such as sculptors, architects, and patrons, who participated in the crafting of these monuments; and the deities represented and what they signified for their communities and patrons. I also look at the relationship between these cult statues and their architectural spaces to determine how sculpture and architecture worked together to facilitate encounters between worshippers and deities. Using three-dimensional digital models, I have been recreating the spatial environment of cult statues to assess issues of scale, visibility, and lighting. These visualizations have offered an effective means by which to test the complementarity of the cult statue and its architectural frame and to consider the visual effects that set a cult image apart from other sculptures.

As an archaeologist, your fieldwork primarily centers on Samothrace. What has it been like to work on the site?

Getting to (or from) Samothrace can be an Odyssean adventure, but the journey is absolutely worth it! Once you’ve worked there, the island never really lets you go. We currently have a lot of exciting projects taking place in the Sanctuary of the Great Gods. Recent on-site efforts have focused on the central ravine, stoa, Nike precinct, and theater. In addition, the Samothrace digital model continues to be refined, providing a clearer idea of how worshippers moved throughout the sanctuary. My own participation in the Samothrace excavations has been wide-ranging, which has allowed me to learn about multiple facets of archaeological excavation. Among my responsibilities on Samothrace have been assisting in stratigraphic excavation and surface survey within the sanctuary, geographic surveying, the production of photogrammetric models of structures and objects, architectural study, the cataloging of artifacts, and the development of an exhibition plan for the reinstallation of the recently renovated site museum. I am thrilled to transition into the role of registrar for the upcoming season and look forward to what we’ll discover—we’re always hoping for the head of the Nike!

Eckhardt at the American School 2019 Open Meeting with Director of Samothrace Excavations Bonna Wescoat and ASCSA Fellows and Samothrace team members Philip Katz and Hannah Smagh.

What drew you to the Hesperia Fellowship? Have you worked in editing or publishing before?

I’m one of those strange people who actually enjoys the minutiae of citations and bibliography, so editorial work really appeals to me. I also had some editorial experience prior to beginning the Hesperia Fellowship. As a member of the Samothrace team, I helped create the index for the latest excavation volume, The Monuments of the Eastern Hill, published by the ASCSA. For three years, I also served as editorial assistant for an Emory professor’s book project. Through this position, I participated in all stages of the project from manuscript to proofs, including conducting bibliographic research, copyediting, liaising with the publisher, proofreading, and consulting on design choices. The book was just published by Oxford University Press and it was very exciting to see it in the exhibit hall at the recent AIA/SCS meetings in Washington, D.C.

What are your duties as the Fellow? Are you working on a project now?

I’ve so far been able to work on articles in various stages of the publication process and as a result have learned a great deal about publishing and the amount of work required to produce a journal of Hesperia’s quality. My tasks have included proofreading, checking figure scales, and verifying and editing bibliography and citation notes, while also acclimating to the journal’s style guide. I have also completed a few small research projects that looked at the production history of the journal. Right now, we’re working on the final edits and proofreading for the articles for the next issue, coming out soon!

How do you hope this position will influence your own scholarship?

I’ve already seen beneficial effects on my own writing and scholarship as a result of this position. I also have the privilege of working directly with Jennifer Sacher, who has been a wonderful mentor and guide to the world of academic publishing. One of the greatest benefits, however, is learning about the exciting new research being conducted across the field and thus breaking down the blinders that all too often go up while working on a dissertation. I also fully believe that the editorial, organizational, and communication skills that I’m developing will be critical to my future scholarship and career.

Eckhardt measures the torso of the cult statue of Artemis as part of her research in the Lykosoura Archaeological Museum.

What are you currently reading?

I spent part of last summer conducting research in western Turkey and Istanbul, during which I visited the Museum of Innocence. Despite having not read the book on which it is based, the museum was a profound experience. Consequently, The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk got put to the top of my reading list when I returned to the U.S.

What do you miss most about Athens?

I don’t think I can list just one thing! The food—especially gyros, grilled octopus, and shopping at the laiki—but also pizza lunch and taco night at Loring. The unprecedented artifact and library collections of the city’s museums, archaeological sites, and foreign schools. Conversations with friends and colleagues at one of the craft beer bars in the city and exploring the Greek microbrewing scene (which is steadily growing!). Walking to the top of Lykavittos for a stunning view of the city.

Which museum in Athens is your favorite?

In Athens, I really enjoy visiting the Piraeus Museum. It’s often quiet so you can really spend time looking at the objects without distraction. And those bronzes deserve a lot of consideration! Among Greek museums in general, I love the Olympia Museum and all its wonderful sculpture. I also thoroughly enjoyed visiting the Kalymnos Museum last summer, which has a fantastic second-century cult statue in addition to the remarkable Lady of Kalymnos.