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Student Architectural Model Featured in Exhibit at Smithsonian

A scale model of the Roman villa San Marco constructed by three Southwestern University students will be added to a featured exhibit at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. this month.

The model will be part of In Stabiano (In the Territory of Stabiae): Exploring the Ancient Seaside Villas of the Roman Elite. Featuring artifacts from an on-going archaeological excavation, the exhibit opened at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History on April 26 and runs through Oct. 24. After its run at the Smithsonian, In Stabiano will travel to other museums around the country. Thomas Noble Howe, professor of art at Southwestern University, is the senior co-curator of the exhibit and Coordinator Generale for the Stabiae excavation site in Italy.

At the start of their semester-long seminar, neither Howe nor his students Caitlin Allday, Albert Bui and April Martin knew that such an opportunity would present itself. Says Howe, “I realized this was a group of remarkable and enthusiastic young people whom I thought deserved a special experience.” With assistance from his Brown Professorship and Southwestern’s Sarofim School of Fine Arts, Howe secured funding to send the three undergraduates to Italy to conduct field research on the villa San Marco. “It was a rare pleasure on my part to be able to bargain the status I have developed for myself as a professional researcher into a pretty unforgettable experience for students!” explains Howe.

Fieldwork opportunities like this are typically reserved for promising graduate students and seldom available to undergraduates. Student responses to the research experience indicate, however, that it is an extremely powerful learning tool that gave them the insight needed to complete the model of San Marco for the In Stabiae exhibit. Bui notes, “This visit allowed us to experience the actual villa, to feel the presence and emotion of the building.” Howe has a long history of involving Southwestern University students in exciting fieldwork and the payoff has been extensive for all involved. Working on this historic excavation and exhibit even led one of the students to alter her career path. Says Martin, “This semester with Dr. Howe has made me re-evaluate my goals and plans.” In addition to completing and publishing her research on the Stabiae site, Martin now hopes to become a professor of archaeological history.

Buried during the same eruption of Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii in A.D. 79, the Stabiae site near the Bay of Naples in Italy is perhaps the only area in the entire Mediterranean where the possibility remains of excavating an entire Roman villa complex and gaining a true sense of the luxury enjoyed by its inhabitants. This excavation offers up a wealth of archaeological and artistic finds as well as insight into cross-class cultural influences. The Stabiae site provides present-day visitors a glimpse into the lifestyles of Rome’s rich and famous during the first centuries B.C. and A.D. Many of these villas were over 33,000 sq. ft. in size and built to take in the still stunning seascapes and mountain views of the surrounding countryside. Caesar, his father-in-law and Cicero all owned villas in this prestigious part of Italy.