Friday, January 11, 2019

Meet a Roadrunner: Blair Salt is shedding light on an ancient culture

Alumna hopes to expand knowledge of one of Peru's oldest sites

Alumna Blair Salt hopes to expand knowledge of one of Peru's oldest sites.

(May 17, 2017) -- Meet Blair Salt '17. She's digging into ancient cultures after earning her master's degree at UTSA.

A San Antonio native, Salt discovered her love for prehistoric art as a high school student in her first art history class. She initially believed she wanted to be an archaeologist, which led her to earn her undergraduate degree in that area from Texas State University. While she enjoyed her studies, she eventually realized she wasn't quite doing what she loved.

"I went to field school in Belize," Salt said. "It was fun, but it was a lot of difficult, manual labor. At that point, I wasn't sure if I could sweat and dig in the jungle every summer."

After realizing she needed to explore more career possibilities, Salt nabbed an internship with the San Antonio Museum of Art and spent her last undergraduate semester working there. Feeling that she'd found her true calling working in a museum, she completed her degree and began pursuing jobs in that field, without success.

"I had a few jobs writing proposals for various companies," she said. "I found out fairly quickly that museums wouldn't hire me to do the kind of job I wanted to do unless I had a master's degree."

Already aware of UTSA's top-tier anthropology program, Salt sought out faculty in that department to explore the possibility of graduate school. After speaking with them about her interest in ancient art, she was steered toward Juliet Wiersema, assistant professor of art history.

"Dr. Wiersema's expertise is in that crossover between archaeology and art history," Salt said. "After speaking with her, I knew I wanted to earn my master's in art history at UTSA."

After enrolling in the program, she found immense support from her professors, which was especially welcome as she was balancing a full-time job with graduate school.

"It was difficult, but I was able to make it work," Salt said. "UTSA really sets you up for success, no matter your situation."

Eventually, she became a full-time student to take advantage of UTSA's vibrant campus life and internship opportunities, as well as a study abroad trip to Peru that Wiersema suggested Salt take part in.

It was in Peru that Salt fell in love with an archaeological site known as Cerro Sechín, which possibly dates to as early as 2100 BC and was built by a largely mysterious ancient culture. Her graduate thesis is focused on a stone frieze covered in images of human bodies, adorned figures, internal organs and disembodied heads.

"The more I looked at it, the more I realized that it raised so many questions," she said. "I thought, 'How are people not talking about this?'"

What's especially exciting to Salt is that the site might be part of the earliest state in Peru, but it's not more widely understood in her field, mainly because much of the information is difficult to access and is available only in Spanish.

"What I'm working on is miniscule compared to what could be done," she said. "Above all, I want to bring awareness to this site and set the stage for future scholarship."

Salt, who graduated earlier this month, hopes to work in a San Antonio museum.

"I don't know what I would have done if I didn't have the support of my professors," she said. "They want you to succeed in your classes, but they also want to set you up for a bright future. It's been a very moving experience."

- Joanna Carver


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