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‘Lost Pages of the Codex Americanus’ open house draws crowd

By Staff | Aug 10, 2018

Shepherdstown Music and Dance owner Joanie Blanton, left, talks with Ralph Scorza during the opening reception of his art show at The Bridge Gallery Saturday. Photo by Tabitha Johnston.

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Dozens of community members clustered together in The Bridge Gallery for the “Lost Pages of the Codex Americanus” art exhibit open house on Saturday afternoon.

As attendees sipped wine and munched on a variety of hors d’oeuvres, artist Ralph Scorza, of Shepherdstown, explained how his pages of artwork expressed American history using the Aztec codices, a pictographic system of writing originated by the pre-Columbian and colonial-era Aztecs.

“We don’t know what all of the pictograph meanings were, but we know what some meant,” Scorza said, explaining he spent about one to three months creating each displayed page. “The question I had to ask myself, was ‘How can I depict such and such, using the codices?'”

The exhibit depicts the majority of American history, but does not cover any time in between 1865 and 1944. Scorza said he is looking for inspiration for creating those pages, and is open to suggestions from the community, which can be written in the exhibit’s guest book. Once he finishes documenting U.S. history through completing his Codex Americanus, Scorza hopes to publish the illustrated pages in a book.

Scorza said he isn’t aware of any other artists using the Aztec codices to create art or depict history, a fact that fascinated many of the open house’s attendees.

“I like the idea of using the Aztec Codex to interpret our history — it’s just so creative, and it kind of makes the American history more interesting. It helps us see American history in a different light, while keeping Aztec art alive,” said Barbara Hartman, of Kearneysville.

Gay Shepard Henderson, of Shepherdstown, agreed with Hartman, and said she appreciated how

“I like the vision of it and the visual response it encourages from viewers, as it traces history back pictorially,” Henderson said.

According to Shepherdstown resident Ian McBride, Scorza’s choice to depict modern history through the codices helped him view history in a new light.

“What I admire most about his art, is that he used a pretty ancient art form to tell modern stories,” McBride said, mentioning this was his first time viewing Scorza’s artwork. “Given how old [the codices] are, and how it doesn’t seem to be a popular art form, it leaves a lot of room for experimentation. In a sense, it’s an example of how everything old becomes new again.”

According to Scorza, the pictographic depictions of historical events, like Roe v. Wade and George Washington crossing the Delaware River, allows viewers to interpret the events for themselves. Scorza said he hopes his art will inspire curiosity in viewers.

“As a result of this exhibit, I hope people will look into American history more, as well as learn more about the Aztecs and ancient civilizations that were before us. We need to look at these previous cultures and learn from their mistakes,” Scorza said.

The exhibit will be open through Sunday, when Scorza will deliver a second commentary on the Codex at 2 p.m.