The work of Preservation Studies Doctoral Program (PSP) student Sanchita Balachandran is featured in UD's Research magazine, as she uncovers hidden clues in ancient Greek ceramics. From the article "Beyond the hands of a potter: Uncovering hidden identities" by Tracey Bryant:
She rises early in the morning and goes to bed very late at night. Sanchita Balachandran said the long days were actually one of the joys of going back to graduate school a few years ago, while raising a family she adores and working full-time at her dream job as associate director of the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum. Trying to do it all now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, seems impossible at times.
“Trying to navigate work/life and the kids’ online/hybrid learning is, well, chaotic,” she said in early November 2020. Nevertheless, she is driven to continue her studies.
“I’m inspired by the professors and excited about the materials I’m studying every day,” she said. “It’s really exhilarating.”
Balachandran already has two graduate degrees — in art history and art conservation — from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. But a few years ago, after a project with her students generated more questions than answers, she gave in to the relentless desire to know more and applied to the Ph.D. program in preservation studies at the University of Delaware.
Rather than a discipline-based course of graduate study, UD’s program combines cross-field expertise, integrating ideas and methods from a full range of preservation-related disciplines — in Balachandran’s case that includes archaeology, art history, history, chemistry and materials science, pottery-making, cognitive science and drawing pedagogy.
“I work with very technical things to very traditional historical texts, and I kind of need everything to explore the questions I’m interested in,” said Balachandran, who also is a senior lecturer in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins. “That’s what really drew me to UD’s program.”
Balachandran’s doctoral research originally was inspired by a question that comes to mind when you see or hold an object from the past: How in the world did they make that? As her work has evolved, she now asks: What can we know of the person who made the object through only what they left behind?
Exploring such questions took hold in a big way in 2015, when she and 13 undergraduate students set out to re-create one of the most iconic and elegant objects from ancient Greece — the kylix (pronounced “kye-lix”), or cup. . . . Over 1,400 pounds of fire clay was purchased to construct a kiln. Each classmate used a potter’s wheel to form a kylix, and the team attempted to make slip — the thinned clay for creating the black background color. . . . Besides gaining an immense appreciation for the ancient artisans, the students asked numerous questions: How did the artisans stack the cups in the kiln for firing? (Location has a lot do with the success of the dark lustrous color.) What did they use to paint such detailed features? (Horse hairs, hog hairs and even cat whiskers were tested.) What did it taste like to drink from the cup? (It has a mineral taste.) The class made about 10 pots, and scores more materialized over the next year as part of a research project funded by Johns Hopkins. They documented their trial and error through writing, photography and film.
To read more about Sanchita's research in UD's Preservation Studies Doctoral Program, visit the resesarch.udel.edu web article.