Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Olmec World of Michael Coe

Largely through the work of Michael D. Coe — renowned among historians as a great maven for pre-Columbian civilizations, particularly the Maya — we now know considerably more about the Olmec civilization.

The worldview of the Olmec civilization was that of a multi-layered world inhabited by a pantheon of deities. A world tree (axis mundi) perforated and stabilized the constituent layers of sky (upper world), earth, and underworld, but also provided a highway to traverse them.

This Olmec figure, from Tabasco, Mexico, and dated to
1500–800 BCE, is compact and only slightly modified
from the original cobble of which it was carved.
In order to travel between the realms to effect change, cure disease, etc., a shaman had to undergo a spirit journey in a transmuted state aided by animal helpers. Sculptures show human shamans in varied states of transforming into animals for such passages.

An enigmatic, crouching Olmec figure, carved of hard greenstone, may be part of the myriad representations that relate to the shamanic journey.

This figure seems to combine human and animals traits. Yes, he is seated in an anthropomorphic crouch with arms wrapped around — the right around the lower jaw and the left around the knee and the hands have five fingers.

But the feet are claw-like and the face is somewhat simian with a broad, flat nose. A half scallop, incised at the bridge, furrows the flesh and hints at “otherness”. The almond-shaped eyes, which may have originally held inlays of contrasting material, are set within puffy mounds of flesh.

In addition to the hybrid nature of the being depicted, the incised human footprints, circumscribing the eye sockets (and now filled in with red pigment for legibility) may refer to the shamanic journey.

It has been suggested that the implied equivalency between vision and footprints (journey) indicates the acquisition of spiritual knowledge. That the mouth is covered, i.e., metaphorically sealed, one may infer that such knowledge will remain secret.


  • Michael D. Coe, et al., The Olmec World: Ritual and Rulership (The Art Museum, Princeton University) Princeton, New Jersey (1995) p. 187, no. 67.


  • European private collection
  • Spanish private collection
  • Edward H. Merrin Gallery, Inc., 1968

Monday, July 25, 2011

Invitation from Ed Merrin – Waterlily Concerts

Floral arrangement by Ed Merrin,
photo by Ismael Ramirez.
Once again, Vivian and Ed Merrin are sponsoring The New York Botanical Garden's Waterlily Concert Series. This year's series, which will have a Spanish theme as part of the Garden's current exhibition Spanish Paradise: Gardens of the Alhambra, will be held on the evenings of August 4, 11, and 18.

The waterlilies and lotus collection (in the conservatory courtyard) and Spanish Paradise (in the conservatory) are on view from 6 – 7 p.m., and the concerts on the conservatory lawn begin at 7 p.m.

Visit the NYBG's official website for more information about the Waterlily Concert Series, or for directions to the venue.

Ed Merrin will hold a book signing of "Perfection of the Finite", his book on flower arrangements at each of the three concerts. All of the profits will go to the New York Botanic Gardens, the publisher.

"We hope that you will be able to join us for one or all of these wonderful evenings at The New York Botanical Garden," — Ed Merrin.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tufts Holds Recognition Dinner for Merrins

Ed and Vivian Merrin. Photo seen on The Tufts Daily.
Some time ago, Edward Merrin and his wife Vivian were given a grand dinner by Tufts University at Daniell’s, one of New York's most prestigious restaurants. The dinner was in recognition of the large Merrin-gift given to the university for scholarship funds, in the hope that it will allow the university to become tuition blind.

(Tuition blind means that one day, hopefully, all of the applications will be in one group, and acceptances will be made regardless of need; where all the needed help will be provided and no one will be refused because of funding. Similar to the current admissions and need-based scholarships at Harvard University.)

Edward Merrin recollected of that night, "One of the scholarship students gave an outstanding talk to the one-hundred attendees of the dinner, expressing the importance that the scholarship money was to her and how, in fact, her life was changed by it."

Hitting the nail on the head, the wish to 'help change the world' has been the main intention of Edward and Vivian's philanthropic pursuits — as was reported on Edward Merrin's givings. And this belief runs strong in the Merrin family, passed down through generations.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Updates: Winter & Ed Merrin

The latest updates on Ed Merrin.
Highlights of the Edward Merrin Blog over the past several months include a look at Edward's beginnings as an art dealer starting out in New York, as well as his breakthrough and success.

The story doesn't end in the '90s, with retirement from the antiquities business, but continues until today — through Ed Merrin's financial support of research and aid programs at Tufts University and New York University's medical branch. This is, in fact, preceded by an active life of giving — since very early on.

Ed Merrin Supports Tufts

Explores the philanthropist's motivation and history in supporting financial aid programs at the university. Includes further reading from sources at Tufts University and media outlets. Also, read on the financial significance of Edward Merrin's gift to Tufts.

Edward Merrin & Medicine

Details Edward Merrin's endowment to support the Chair of Medicine at NYU's Langone Medical Center, as well as his previous support of the medical institution.

Origins: Edward Merrin and The Merrin Gallery

The full take (or a brief look) on Edward Merrin's antiquities career — starting with his accidental introduction, to his prolonged success as a world-class art dealer.

On Ed Merrin's Professional Past

As updated on LinkedIn, Mr. Merrin has been actively involved with various NGOs and non-profit organizations since very early on in his life.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Revisiting African Art at the University of Missouri

A while back, Edward Merrin presented the University of Missouri's own Museum of Art & Archeology with an African art of the 1900s. While not particularly ancient, it was among an exhibition of African art at the university's museum, which presented quite a few objects of African art. Art to us, that is, as these objects (e.g. masks, figurines, headwear) were used in everyday life. Or in the case of Edward Merrin's gift to the institution, they were most often used as funerary figurines.

Wooden pounders by gift
of Edward Merrin. Credit:
MAA, University of Missouri.
The pair of figures, known as the "Children of Poro", originate with the Senufo people — in this case, the modern-day Côte d'Ivoire. A secret society of people, the Poro used deble like these in various funerary ceremonies, and simply placed them alongside the deceased. In fact, this particular pair is special, and rare, known as pombibele, it depicts the perfect unison of model citizens — who follow tradition and pay homage to the dead.

The pombibele were used to strike the ground at the funerals of their elders — hence the figurines are also called 'pounders'. Similar to the traditions of ancient Egypt, this was done to lubricate the passage of one's spirit into the afterlife, known as the "village of the dead". Although such 'pounding' also provided an accompaniment for the ritual African music and dancers.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Edward Merrin's Contribution to Medicine

New York University School of Medicine.
With previous givings to the institution, Edward Merrin will be honored after the first of the year, 2011, for the gift of a chair in medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center. The recipient of the chair will be announced shortly, and Edward Merrin feels sure that the recipient will be a doctor of renown and "will improve the world".

With a cost of a few million dollars, the chair in medicine will allow the recipient, and all future recipients of it, to have their salaries, secretary, traveling, and other professional necessities paid for. The hospital will use the money in Mr. Merrin's endowment to pay these each year.

The previous Merrin-aided program at the NYULMC was successful, and continues to function today:
In 2003, with generous support from the Merrin Family, we designed, implemented and evaluated a theory-based faculty development program ...  to improve the proficiency and quality of bedside teaching in the Department of Medicine/Division of General Internal Medicine. Our intent was and remains, providing patient centered, compassionate care for every patient. This program is led by Drs. Adina Kalet and Mitchell Charap.

In 2006, we initiated the next phase of our program, the two-year Merrin Master Clinician Fellowship Program.