KIDS’ BLOG! Today’s Art Inspired by the Ancient Maya and Aztec Civilizations

Monster Mash by Dan Fenelon

Monster Mash by Dan Fenelon

Dan Fenelon, AntiquityNOW’s Virtual Artist in Residence, looks to the past to feed his boundless imagination.  He reaches in to antiquity and plucks inspiration from many ancient cultures to create a new art that is both modern and timeless.  Two of the civilizations that inspire him are the Mayas and the Aztecs.  Both flourished for thousands of years and created some of the most beautiful and recognizable works of art and architecture.

The land from central Mexico south to Honduras and Nicaragua is called Mesoamerica.  Several ancient civilizations settled in this area many thousands of years ago, including the Aztecs and the Mayas, and each developed a unique style of art.  They used bright colors and drew intricate repetitive designs to decorate pottery, architecture, clothing and jewelry.  Art was used to honor the gods, depict mythological scenes, tell stories, or purely as decoration.  Even the alphabet was art.  Both the Mayas and Aztecs used a series of glyphs rather than letters to create an alphabet.

Aztec wooden ceremonial shield with mosaic inlay, 15th-16th century AD, Mexico. Image courtesy of the British Museum.

Aztec wooden ceremonial shield with mosaic inlay, 15th-16th century AD, Mexico. Image courtesy of the British Museum.

The art styles of the ancient Maya and Aztec Indians have many very similar features:  the way the teeth, fingers, toes, and eyes are drawn, the bright colors, the repetition of patterns and the prevalence of animals.  Both civilizations made statues from stone and large circular stone calendars with intricate designs and symbols.   Religion was a main theme and gods were often shown as part animal and part human.  The depictions were very elaborate with rich colors and lines.

Ratinlinxul Vase, Maya, Chamá-style cylindrical vase

Ratinlinxul Vase, Maya, Chamá-style cylindrical vase

Art for both the Aztecs and Mayas was often used to tell stories so it included many people and animals. The pictures of people and animals in early Maya paintings seem to be very flat, as if the ancient artists weren’t sure how to show three dimensions on a two-dimensional surface.  Their paintings were more cartoon-like than realistic and did not use shades of color to show that something is three-dimensional.  Occasionally, they did use a row of repetitive patterns to hint at where shading should be, for example along one side of the body seen on the Ratinlinxul Vase above.

Dan has taken the ancient art of the Mesoamerican civilizations along with numerous other ancient tribal civilizations and creatively woven them into a fresh, modern art style.  His unique creations reflect how the cultures of the past can influence us today to create something exciting and new.  He draws the heads, teeth, fingers and toes in a similar style to the ancient Mayans.  He adds repeating patterns and lots of bright colors just as both the Maya and Aztecs did.  His paintings are not copies of the ancient art, but rather he has added his own creativity and style in the way he uses curved lines and colors.  Some objects even appear to hide deep within his paintings.  You can have fun finding them.  See his artwork for yourself at

Dan will further explore antiquity’s influence on art during our partnership for AntiquityNOW month.  Over the next year he will create a timeline of ancient cultures interpreted through his inimitable art.  Stay tuned for updates on his progress and to view the fascinating work as it unfolds!

Scroll down further on this page to find fun activities comparing Dan Fenelon’s painting to ancient Maya and Aztec art!



Word Challenge:

Did You Know These Words from the Kids’ Blog?  unique, intricate, repetitive, artifact, dimensions, tribal

If you weren’t exactly sure, look them up at so that you won’t be stumped by them when you see them again!

Picture Search Challenge:

The painting below is called, “Walk in the Sun,” painted by Dan Fenelon.  Find the sun and moon, a fish, horse, bird and daisies in it.  The picture underneath magnifies one section of the painting so that we can see the details.  How many unique patterns can you see in this section?  When Dan paints a pattern with different colors, what effect does it have?

Dan Fenelon 5

Now, take a look at the Aztec Sun Stone below. Can you find three objects in Dan’s painting that resemble the drawing style used by the Aztecs on their Sun Stone.

Aztec Sun Stone

Pattern Challenge:

On a separate sheet of paper draw three repeating patterns that you see in Dan Fenelon’s art that could have been inspired by Aztec or Mayan art.

Color Challenge:

Below is one of Dan’s Art pieces for you to print out and color in.  Called “Jabor Wocky,” it contains pictures of animals and has many similarities to Mayan and Aztec art.  See if you can find the following:  a snake, cat, fish, horse and a warrior.  Explore the painting and see how many other smaller images you can find in it.  As you color it in, try using bright colors the way Dan does in his paintings. Click on the picture to download it for printing.

Jabor Wocky

One response to “KIDS’ BLOG! Today’s Art Inspired by the Ancient Maya and Aztec Civilizations

  1. archivemanager

    This is so cool. I have never heard of Fenelon, I looked up some of his other stuff. It is awesome!

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