A replica of a piece of Egyptian art from the Brooklyn Museum’s collection made a recent cameo on HBO’s saucy vampire drama True Blood, and the museum’s online community helped administrators take notice.
During the second season premiere of the show, Sam Merlotte, the puppy-dog-eyed roadhouse restaurant owner, pays a visit to mystery woman Maryann Forrester’s house. On her coffee table, he sees a statue that looks like a series of Ancient Egyptian sculptures called Bird Lady figurines. He is struck with a flashback of breaking into Maryann’s house when he was a teen and having wild, um, relations with her. With its womanly shape, birdlike face and limbs curling toward the sky, the original Bird Lady statues are thought by scholars to depict a goddess. The Brooklyn Museum included two Bird Lady figurines in a recent exhibition called The Fertile Goddess.
A blogger noted the art history shoutout and another Brooklyn Museum community member commented about the statue’s appearance in the online archive. Then the Brooklyn Museum’s faithful online community‘s Twitter tweets helped Shelley Bernstein, chief of technology, and Madeleine Cody, a research associate for Egyptian, classical, and ancient Middle Eastern art, get in touch with @TrueBloodHBO, the official True Blood twitter feed. They coordinated a call this week with True Blood‘s production designer Suzuki Ingerslev.
So how did HBO discover the Bird Lady and create a replica on the show?
The researcher Ms. Cody explained in a blog post on the Brooklyn Museum’s site:
How True Blood found the “Bird Lady”
The script for Episode 1 of Season 2 called for “a primitive piece of art; like a dancing girl” to be placed on the character Maryann’s coffee table. Suzuki and Cat Smith, Art Director, went to Google to look for images that fit these requirements, hoping to find something that inspired them. They looked at many different types of ancient images including Mycenaean, Etruscan, and Minoan examples. Entering search terms something like “Egyptian female statues,” they came across our very own “Bird Lady.” They printed out a selection of appropriate images and presented them to Alan Ball, the show’s creator.
He was immediately drawn to the “Bird Lady,” seeing something so elegant, beautiful and perfect in her form that she became the obvious choice. As Suzuki pointed out, though she is not the first to do so, this ancient figure looks both modern and primitive at the same time. In terms of the show, she said using it helped to emphasize that Maryann’s character is timeless.
We also found it interesting that Suzuki said they looked at a lot of Egyptian images and chose this one precisely because it is not a “typical” ancient Egyptian representation. This was precisely the thinking behind curator James F. Romano’s choice of the “Bird Lady” as the signature image for the reinstalled Egyptian galleries, which opened in April 2003. As usual, he wanted to get people to stop, look and think twice.
How True Blood created their “Bird Lady”
As part of Alan Ball’s vision for the show, which involves going the distance to add a level of authenticity, an artist was hired to make a version of the “Bird Lady” based on renderings off the web. Cindy Jackson made three statues in case one got broken during filming. Suzuki wanted a base that let the figure float and emphasized its sense of movement. So the artist drilled a rod into the bottom of the statue that connects to a flat base. We explained that we obviously couldn’t do that to a 5,500 year old object but we do have a special mount that safely produces the same floating effect.
As far as whether or not the statue gives some clues into Maryann’s past? Maryann’s houseboy (or whatever that bald guy is) tells Sam the statue is “Mycenean or something” and Maryann raises her arms in the statue’s pose during the episode, while she is with Sam in the bedroom. “This gesture was directly inspired by the choice of the ‘Bird Lady’ for the statue,” according to Ms. Cody’s information from True Blood‘s producers. “And yes, the ‘Bird Lady’ can be read as a clue to Maryann’s eternal nature, but no, there is not necessarily any further connection.”
Huh! We’ll just have to watch to see how these “eternal natures” play out in Maryann. We just wonder why she keeps getting everyone all black-eyed and sexually crazy like it’s the ’70s … and why she keeps on turning poor Sam into a dog without his permission. Bad goddess!