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Merle Greene Robertson Collection

Identifier: Manuscripts-Collection 133

Scope and Contents

1920s – 2010. Papers of Merle Greene Robertson who was an artist, teacher, writer, and archaeologist. Included are personal papers and correspondence, professional publications, field diaries and research notes, grant proposals and final reports, research of special topics, materials relating to exhibits, conference participation, organization of the Palenque Roundtable conference, and her directorship of the Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute. The bulk of the collection contains most of her original rubbings of Maya monuments and visual materials documenting her 40-year long career. Visual materials include photographs, slides, and negatives, original paintings, and line drawings.

This collection encompasses diverse materials produced and/or collected by Merle Greene Robertson over the course of a more than 40-year career of studying the ancient Maya. The materials stem from her work as an archaeologist, art historian, teacher, writer, and artist. Included are personal papers and correspondence, professional publications, field diaries and research notes, grant proposals and final reports, research of special topics, materials relating to exhibits, conference participation, organization of the Palenque Round Table conferences, and her directorship of the Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute. Most of this type of material is organized in Section I of this guide.

Of central importance in the collection are most of Merle's original rubbings of Maya monuments, which are stored in numbered rolls and organized alphabetically by archaeological site. The inventory for these rubbings are listed in a chart by site name and Roll # found here: Rubbings Chart. A comprehensive guide to the collection can be found here: Collection guide.

A skilled photographer, Merle Greene Robertson also documented extensively the archaeological sites she visited and studied. The photographic materials include prints of various sizes, including enlarged oversize images, contact prints, 35mm slides, and numerous negatives. The photos range in scope from panoramic aerial shots of Palenque to general views of archaeological sites and specific buildings to detailed photos of glyphs, Maya sculpture and other artistic elements. Merle’s photographs of friends, colleagues, social gatherings of Mayanists, the Mesas Redondas, and other related themes provide a visual record of many important scholars and events in the world of Maya studies from the 1960s to the 2010s. Also notable, Merle created several series of thematic bound volumes (see Section II in the Collection Guide), which incorporate photographs, research notes and commentary, sketches, and other relevant material.

The collection also contains dozens of Merle Greene Robertson’s beautifully-executed line drawings of Maya sculptural and glyphic texts (see section III in the Collection Guide). Other sections include a photographic record of figurines from Palenque, audio-visual material, archaeological and tourist maps, and several important examples of Merle’s original watercolor artwork.

The orthography used in this collection guide and associated inventory materials preserves the site names and spellings used by Merle Greene Robertson to label her works and images.


  • 1920s - 2010
  • Other: Majority of material found in 1960-2010


Conditions Governing Access

Open to the public. Consultation of rubbings is by appointment only.

Biographical or Historical Information

Merle Greene Robertson, who is not related to Martha or Donald Robertson although they were good friends, distinguished herself in many fields. Trained as an artist, she began her career as a teacher in California. By the 1960's Robertson was seriously engaged in recording through ink rubbing the relief sculpture of the ancient Maya of southern Mexico and Central America. Enduring hardships and facing untold dangers, Merle, along with her husband Lawrence Robertson (“Bob”), eventually made close to 2,000 individual rubbings of monuments at sites in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Belize, as well as those pieces housed in museums and private collections. Thereby, she preserved much of the Maya monument and architectural art and epigraphy, which has been systematically pillaged or lost to the natural elements over the centuries and which has accelerated during these most recent decades. Some of Robertson's rubbings have been displayed in numerous exhibits over the past fifty years including those held at the Museum of Primitive Art in New York and the New Orleans Museum of Art. A generous grant from the late Edith Stern allowed Merle to give the bulk of her rubbings to The Latin American Library, where they are now held and available for research purposes. Merle was also a skilled photographer. She photographed all of her rubbings and documented all of her research, recording methods, and travel.

In the 1970's, Merle established the Pre-Colombian Art Research Institute (PARI) at Palenque, Mexico. The Institute provided research facilities for students and scholars and visiting researchers from other scientific institutions, and included a library containing over 6,000 volumes. She regularly held Mesa Redondas, or Round Tables, at Palenque for the presentation of scholarly papers which were then published. The 1982 eruption of the nearby volcano, El Chichón, forced her to move the Institute to San Francisco, even though the Mesa Redondas continued to be held at Palenque, and only in the latter years of her life had the series been relocated to Mexico City. Merle Greene Robertson was long recognized as an archaeologist. She became an Associate at the Middle American Research Institute of Tulane University and in 1987 she was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters by Tulane.  Perhaps her most important contribution to the archaeological field may be her work at the sites of Palenque and Chichén Itzá and her multi-volume publication The Sculpture of Palenque. After finishing her project at Chichén Itzá in the early 2000s, Merle no longer ventured into the jungle to make rubbings. Yet she remained dedicated to promoting the understanding and preservation of Maya art. In her final years she traveled and recorded her travels with water color paintings. Merle died in 2011.


942.00 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Arrangement Note

The Merle Greene Robertson Collection is organized into seven series as follows:

I. MGR Papers and Activities

A. Personal Papers Boxes 1 - 3; B. Correspondence Boxes 4 - 8; C. Merle Greene Robertson's Published Books and Articles Boxes 9 - 14; D. MGR Research Notes, Publication Drafts, Press Releases, and Reviews Boxes 15 - 16; E. Archaeological Projects Boxes 17 - 25; F. MGR Diaries, Travel Logs, and Field Notes Boxes 26 - 29; G. Other Academic Activities Boxes 30 - 35; H. MGR Personal and Miscellaneous Boxes 36 - 43; I. Oversized Materials Flat file holdings, Rolls 1 - 3;

II. MGR Bound Volumes

A. Field Notes Boxes 44 - 59

III. Line Drawings

A. MGR Palenque Line Drawings ("Red Volumes") Boxes 60 - 63; B. Miscellaneous Drawings from Palenque and Other Maya Sites Boxes 64 - 77; C. Photographs of Line Drawings for Figures in the Sculpture of Palenque Volumes Boxes  78 - 82; D. Line Drawings Oversize Boxes 83 - 87, Flat file holdings, Rolls 1 - 6;

IV. Photographs

A. Rubbings Photographs Boxes 88 - 119; B. Slides of Rubbings Box 120; C. Archaeological Site Photographs Boxes 121 - 166; D. Archaeological Site Slides Boxes 167 - 208; E. Figure Archive Boxes 209 - 260; F. Private and Museum Collections Boxes 261 - 265; G. Maps and Plans, Special Studies, and Exhibits Boxes 266 - 276; H. People Photographs and Slides Boxes 277 - 283; I. Negatives Boxes 284 - 300; J. Oversize Photographic Materials Boxes 301 - 315, Rolls 1 - 2;

V. Audio-Visual Materials

Boxes 320 - 331

VI. Maps

A. Folded Maps and Photocopies Boxes 332 - 334; B. Oversize Maps Flat file holdings and Roll 1

VII. Art

A. Merle Greene Robertson's Original Art Rubbings (see Inventory of Rubbings here): Inventory of Rubbings by Site; Flat file holdings and framed rubbings; Original paintings, photographs, and slides in Boxes 335, 337; B. Art from Friends and Colleagues Boxes 336, 338

Merle Greene Robertson Collection
Manuscript Collection 133, Manuscripts, The Latin American Library, Tulane University
Christine Hernandez and David Dressing 2012
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Latin American Library at Tulane Repository

7001 Freret Street
Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, 4th floor
Tulane University
New Orleans Louisiana 70118 US
(504) 865-5681