In Focus

The History (Provenance) of the Maya Eccentric Flints [1983.45.McD and 2009.26]

The following account documents the possible history (provenance) of the Maya Eccentric Flints [1983.45.McD and 2009.26]. This account was originally noted in a letter from John Lunsford to Harry S. Parker and Steven A. Nash regarding the Peter Wray collection (dated March 23, 1983), and was later compiled by Carol Robbins, the former Ellen and Harry S. Parker III Curator of the Arts of Americas and the Pacific.

Early in 1983, it became known that Peter Wray of Scottsdale, Arizona, would be selling the collection of ancient American (pre-Columbian) art that he had quietly assembled over the previous eight years or so. Museums and private collectors were invited to visit. The first visitors from Dallas included Harry Parker, Irvin Levy, and Lonnie Pollock. John Lunsford (then Senior Curator) followed in March, and reported to Harry Parker and Steve Nash that "Picking the three or four greatest pieces from such an exceptional collection is most difficult, since the quality of the top 15% is consistent. …There are in the Wray collection easily thirty to forty pieces of the highest excellence which would grace any collection." For the Museum, John recommended the Olmec Seated figure with upraised knee (1983.50) and the Maya Eccentric flint depicting a crocodile canoe with passengers (1983.45.McD). Those two 1983 acquisitions, which celebrated the long-anticipated opening of the downtown building in 1984, are acknowledged today as absolute masterworks of the DMA Mesoamerican collection.

Irvin Levy bought significantly from the Wray collection in the Maya area. (His choices were later dispersed at auction.) Lonnie Pollock—who was not a collector of pre-Columbian art—was, so the stories go, immediately drawn to a Maya eccentric flint and committed to acquiring it on the first visit. Shirley Pollock always referred to the flint as "Lonnie's flint"—often emphasizing the connection by describing Lonnie as her "flinty eccentric." Lonnie's flint is not merely an impressive work of art, vigorously conceived and impeccably executed. According to information provided in 1983, the Pollock flint (2009.26), the DMA crocodile canoe flint (1983.45.McD), and a third flint now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, were found together, reportedly in Guatemala.[1] That was truly an extraordinary cache. We are fortunate indeed to be able to reunite two of them.

[1] For more information on the Houston flint, please see the Web Resources section on this page.

Excerpt from

Carol Robbins, DMA unpublished material, 2009.

Related Multimedia

Collection smARTphone video; Carol Robbins discusses Eccentric flint depicting a crocodile canoe with passengers, from Mexico or Guatemala, Maya culture (DMA collection, 1985.45.McD)

Web Resources

Museum of Fine Arts Houston
Read more about the flint in the MFAH's collection.