Sheramy Bundrick is Focused on the Dynamics of Trade and Etruscan Customers of Athenian Vases

March 7, 2014
Sheramy Bundrick at the Greek Temple of Hera at Paestum
Etruscan tombs at Orvieto, where many Athenian vases have been discovered
The Etruscan necropolis at Tarquinia
View of the Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia
A gallery of Athenian vases in the Museo Gregoriano Etrusco in the Vatican
Part of the library book stash in my study
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Sheramy D. Bundrick is the winner of the American Academy in Rome Post-Doctoral Rome Prize in Ancient Studies and an Associate Professor of Art History at the  University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

What part of the United States did you come from?

I was born in South Carolina, but my family moved to the northern suburbs of Atlanta when I was little, and I grew up there and went to college and graduate school at Emory University.  I spent one academic year in New York on a postdoctoral fellowship at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and then went back south in 2001 to St. Petersburg, Florida and a job, where I have been ever since.  

Why did you apply for the Rome Prize?

My Ph.D. adviser, Bonna Wescoat, had a Rome Prize while I was an Emory undergraduate, so I have known about the Prize a long time.  As my work on Athenian vases has evolved into an interest in consumption and reception, and specifically the Etruscan import of vases, it seemed natural to try for the Rome Prize myself and take advantage of all the resources here.

Describe a particularly inspiring moment or location you've experienced in Rome thus far.

The Pantheon for me is always an inspiration.  It is never the same place twice, and at the same time, there is something comforting in its endurance over time. I am also, of course, inspired by any place where one can find rooms filled with Athenian vases, such as the Vatican or Villa Giulia.  Ideas come easily when one is face-to-face with the real thing.  

To what extent, if any, has your proposed project changed since your arrival?

My original project proposal was focused exclusively on the Etruscan customer of imported Athenian vases.  However, I have become increasingly interested in the dialogue between customer, merchant, and producer, and so the project is evolving in, I think, a more balanced direction in terms of the dynamics of trade and the choices that all these parties were making.  

Have you had any "eureka!" moments or unanticipated breakthroughs in the course of your work here?

Quiet steps forward most of the time, I’d say.  One fun discovery, which I discuss in my Shoptalk, was being able to match a vase that is now in the Walters Art Museum with an Etruscan tomb in Foiano della Chiana, Tuscany, using a tomb report from the 19th century.  It matters when we can recapture context like that and understand the full biography of an object.  

What part of your project has been or do you anticipate will be the most challenging?

The biggest challenge for anyone trying to study Athenian vases in context is that most of them lack provenience, meaning we do not know their original findspots.  By default, I have to work with limited evidence if I want to understand how Athenian vases were incorporated into Etruscan tomb assemblages.  There is also considerably less textual source material for the Etruscans compared to Classical Athens where I usually spend my time, so I have to avoid veering too far into the realm of speculation for many things.

What's surprised you most about living in Rome?

I had been to Rome several times before but as a short-term visitor of a few weeks maximum, so I’ve enjoyed learning the rhythm of the city across the seasons.  Even after several months here, I am surprised that I can still be surprised whenever I walk outside the Academy: whether by a church I’ve never been inside, a street I’ve never gone down, a gelato flavor I’ve never tried.  Rome feels like one of those places where you could live a very long time and still find the unexpected in the everyday.        

How have you managed the balance between your work (time in the studio/study) and engagement with Rome and Italy (travel, sightseeing, interactions with locals)?

Not easily!  Because I have spent time in Rome and Italy before, that has helped, but it is tough not to play hooky from the books and computer and explore.  Sometimes I just let temptation take me and assume that all experiences are for the good.  

How do you anticipate your Rome Prize Fellowship will influence future work?

In so many ways – I have the foundations for multiple research projects now, not just the one I came to do.  I will keep busy for a long time to come.  And there is my teaching: everything I have seen and done will find its way into my teaching, whether it’s art history survey or my upper-level courses in Greek, Roman, and Medieval art.  I look forward to sharing stories of my time here with my students back home in Florida.

What is your favorite spot at the Academy? or in Rome?

At the Academy, I love my second-floor study, which overlooks the cortile and is constantly filled with the sounds of the fountain and birds in the cypress tree.  It is such a luxury to walk right downstairs and fill my study with as many library books as I need..and I am, admittedly, a hoarder in that regard.  In Rome itself, I have already mentioned the Pantheon, and would add anywhere that I can find paintings by Caravaggio!