Why Ceramicist Louise Belanger Is Supporting the Nikté Yucatán Project
Ceramicist and archaeological illustrator Louise Belanger fell in love with Maya architecture and history during her time living in the Belizan rainforest. It was there that she saw the famous Lamanai — a once major Maya city. And that experience has fuelled her passion for ancient Maya culture ever since.
Louise reached out to the team at Nikté Yucatán recently to show her support for our conservation work and commitment to the ancient principles of Maya beekeeping. We took the opportunity to speak about her career, her love of Maya culture and her pleasure with what we’re trying to achieve.
A Lifetime of Passion for Archaeology and Ancient Artefacts
Louise Belanger has always been fascinated by archaeology and ancient artefacts. It was this passion that persuaded her to pursue a career in ceramics and sculpture. While teaching ceramics in London, Louise developed a keen interest in how ancient pots, sculptures and mysterious artefacts were made. To pursue this interest and broaden her knowledge, she travelled to countries around the world to work as an archaeological illustrator in her spare time.
As well as spending time in Turkey and Italy, Louise was fortunate enough to be selected as the archaeological illustrator for the Lamanai Archaeology Project in Belize. And it was there that her love of Maya culture began.
Louise could participate all aspects of the archaeological excavation of the Lamanai site. She was able to see unique Maya pottery, stucco masks, temple architecture and carved stelae as they were revealed for the first time in thousands of years. And she had the unique opportunity to draw these ancient artefacts and share them with the world.
We asked Louise about her experience at Lamanai. She said:
“Lamanai is a site of major importance to the understanding of the history of the Maya, particularly with reference to changing architectural styles and ceramics.
“It is one of the longest-occupied sites from the Preclassic era — its earliest remains date back to 1600 B.C. through to the construction of the 19th-century British sugar mill.
“ The project lasted a total of 12 years to 1986. Further research has been ongoing since 1998. The Royal Ontario Museum excavation programme at Lamanai was directed by David Pendergast from 1974 to 1986. In 1997 Elizabeth Graham became director of the Lamanai Archaeological Project and research continues to the present day. The major temple groups have been cleared and documented, and over 1000 ceramic artefacts have been illustrated”
What Does Louise Find So Special About Ancient Maya?
Louise Belanger is, among other things, an artist. That’s why she’s naturally drawn to the artistic achievements of the ancient Maya — which were, in many respects, well ahead of their time.
She’s fascinated by the way they used ancient materials to create beautiful sculptures and pottery. The likes of cotton, wood, clay and stone were utilised in highly innovative ways. And even by today’s standards, the artistry involved never fails to impress Louise.
As well as the high-quality craftsmanship demonstrated by the Mayans, they’re known for their enigmatic motifs, symbols and ceramic vessels. This creativity is one of the reasons why Louise is so captivated by ancient Maya. She said:
“I became more and more interested in the epigraphy, mythology and iconography of the ancient Maya, and how these were translated into symbolic designs on their vessels. This area of study is constantly being added to and expanded by specialists in the field.”
Living in the Belize Rainforest
While Louise’s time in Belize was consumed by the Lamanai excavation, she was able to take the time to soak up the unique atmosphere created by the flora and fauna of the Belize rainforest.
She developed the same love and passion for this stunning natural wilderness that we at Nikté Yucatán have for the Yucatán Peninsula. She was able to live in a traditional Maya house during her trip — ancient architecture we discussed in a recent blog post. And while the weather posed a real challenge, Louise’s overall experience was quite simply life-changing. She said:
“We were surrounded by huge trees with orchids hanging from their branches, palm trees and ferns. The air was filled with the sounds of the jungle — the constant call of birds and howler monkeys, the croaking of frogs and the loud buzzing of cicadas.
“We experienced all weathers from torrential rain and thunderstorms to stifling heat and humidity, but to be so close to nature was a thrilling experience.”
What Attracted Louise to Ceramics?
If it hadn’t been for Louise’s passion for ceramics and her vast knowledge on the subject, she may never have experienced an ancient Maya city first-hand. But perhaps this was her destiny all along. She was passionate about the subject from an early age, and that passion inevitably led her to the subject of ancient Maya. She said:
“I studied ceramics at art school, and so had an understanding and appreciation — from the point of view of the Maya artists — of the technical problems they faced in producing such amazing vessels and sculptures, both in terms of scale and complexity. It was a privilege to be able to draw and record this very varied collection of ceramics.”
Why Does Nikté Yucatán’s Project Resonate with Louise?
Nikté Yucatán seeks to maintain and protect the ancient principles of beekeeping in Maya tropical forests. The work we do respects and protects the rich biodiversity of the local flora.
We’re able to live in harmony with the region’s delicate ecosystem — and ensure the ethical beekeeping methods perfected by ancient Mayas are handed down to the next generation. This inextricable link between our honey and the Maya culture is what first caught Louise’s attention. She said:
“I like the idea that the project is helping the local people to maintain their traditional way of beekeeping — thereby ensuring that the environment is protected and also providing them with fair income.”
We’re confident that our honey is among the best in the world. And we’re proud that it’s made according to the beekeeping traditions of the ancient Mayas “respect and be in balance with nature”.
Please follow the link to discover her interesting work and books on Belize!
The Lamanai Guidebook
Text by scholars who have worked at the site and edited by Prof Elizabeth Graham
The Altun Ha Guidebook
Text by by David M. Pendergast
Lamanai Recipe Book and Herbal Walk
by Louise Belanger and Brenda Arevalo