Brandie Ratliff, the research associate for Byzantium and Islam, joined me recently for a chat about her participation in the show. She worked closely with the curator Dr. Helen Evans on many aspects of the exhibition and catalogue.
Annie Labatt: What was the most exciting part of the exhibition for you?
Brandie Ratliff: Once you see the color proofs for the catalogue, you know you are almost done with the book, and it's really exciting. Putting together a catalogue for an exhibition like this is a Herculean task. Installing is also really great. It's wonderful to see the objects come out of boxes and crates.
Annie Labatt: What is your favorite piece in the exhibition?
Brandie Ratliff: Can I only have one?
Annie Labatt: Please have more than one!
Brandie Ratliff: I really can't stop looking at the Grado Ivories. I had read really dry articles about where they came from, and dates, and asking if they are really from the same piece, and they don't photograph very well. But to see them in person, especially the Annunciation ivory, is pretty spectacular.
Something that I was excited about and I really pushed for the whole time were the papyrus pattern sheets. I love them. It's so cool the way that they were part of a weaving process. The Persian riding coat also did not look great in the reproductions. I didn't know what color it would be from the photographs, so I had no idea what it would look like—certainly not that beautiful turquoise.
I really love the little glass flask from the David Collection. It's so gorgeous. And then the big reed mat from the Benaki. I can't believe it's made from reeds because it is so soft and supple. I can't imagine how they made it look like that.
Annie Labatt: Were there any ways in which the exhibition changed the way you interpreted this period?
Brandie Ratliff: Having all of the objects together I can better see what Helen's concept was for this show, with these communities that were originally very porous becoming more rigid. Also it was really possible to see the transition of the motifs, like the vine scroll, that march throughout the exhibition and carry through a huge time period and geographic region.
Annie Labatt: How did you get interested in this period?
Brandie Ratliff: When I was researching Sinai I became very interested in the collection that they have of books—all of the languages that are represented there and the colophons that show you that these manuscripts are coming from all over the region. That's when I really started thinking about this Christian community in this part of the world.
Annie Labatt: If you could chat with any of the major figures in the exhibition, who would it be?
Brandie Ratliff: I would really like to talk to whoever was involved in the mosaic from Ma'in, Jordan. I want to understand who altered the "cat" and why all of those mosaics in the region were changed.
Annie Labatt: If you could go to any of the sites that are represented in the exhibition, where would you go?
Brandie Ratliff: I would love to go to Jordan—I would like to go Mount Nebo and Umm al-Rasas, to Saint Stephen's, and the Madaba map.