Friday, June 16 // Final thoughts from Selena Houk

This experience has really opened me up to the world and let me see it in a new and tangible way. I’ve always imagined people in different countries living parallel lives with similar struggles to my own, but this experience allowed me to immerse myself more than being an average tourist. I got to see a bit of what it would be like to wake up, go to work, go out and TO LIVE in Greece.

Looking back, I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity. This experience allowed me to make a lasting difference with my art, helping others to study and understand the vessels that were found at Pacheia Ammos through my illustrations. This journey also reminded me of my dad, and his love for history and allowed me to mildly live out my childhood fantasy of being Indiana Jones without having to get too dirty or combat snakes and near-death experiences.

Aside from the work of drawing burial vessels for a dig that had never been documented completely since the 1910s, there were other great things we did in my last week. We visited Knossos, a structure believed to be a palace added onto over centuries that was essentially remodeled instead of preserved when it was first excavated (this is frowned upon now by archeologists). Knossos is the second largest tourist attraction in Greece. We also went shopping as the area has a wide variety of high fashion stores, not just box stores. We went to see the Japanese “Legacies of Beauty” exhibit at the Heraklion Museum that just opened last Friday (June 2, 2023) after being postponed since 2020 and the Japanese ambassador and his wife were there. It’s the first large exhibit of Japanese art in Greece.

Andy Warhol-inspired pop art piece of Pinocchio on the wall inside La Brasserie.

Not only were the sites and museum impressive, but the restaurants were too. We ate at a place called La Brasserie with an Andy Warhol-inspired pop art piece of Pinocchio on the wall, the owner’s Pomeranian, Koko, prancing around, and a staircase straight out of Alice in Wonderland. It also had a canopy of purple begonias filling the retractable enclosure. 

The beach in Rethymno where we went the Saturday before leaving was perfect. The water was so clear. You could see fish swimming around your feet. We also stopped by what essentially was the farmers market (laiki in Greek) and explored all the shops and restaurants. It was beautiful. Some of my favorite streets in Rethymno looked like open yellow stone corridors covered in sprawling purple or pink bougainvillea trees. There was so much that I did, improved at and learned. It’s truly hard to describe all of it. 

While it may be hard to cover everything about my Greek adventure, there are a few people I want to thank. I want to thank my professor, Dr. Laura Ursprung Nerling for selecting me for this experience. I’d also like to thank Professor Danielle Langdon and Professor Naomi Sugino Lear for believing in me and recommending me. It means so much to me to have had this opportunity. I hope the book Dr. Ursprung is finishing turns out great and I’m thankful for my small part in that!

On the road to Rethymno


Tuesday, June 13 // Final thoughts from Dr. Laura Ursprung Nerling

This study is over for now! It will probably require one more additional week (Summer 2024) to finalize and double-check details. Selena is on her way back to Columbia and I’m on my way to another study also located on the island of Crete.

That site is called Gournia. It’s part of the Gournia Excavation Project (GEP). I’ll be working there for the next couple of weeks looking at the figurines, the beads and the jewelry that emerged from the site between 2400 and 1200 BCE. That site just happens to be located about four miles away from Pacheia Ammos (the vessels that Selena and I were working on).

Gournia was originally excavated by an amazing pioneering female archaeologist in 1901! She paved the way for subsequent female archaeologists and future generations. It was relaunched in 2010 under the State University of New York through Professor L.V. Watrous, and it’s currently in its seventh study season.

Gournia Excavation Team 2014. Photo by

For more information see the following webpages!

See everyone in the Fall!

View of Gournia from the South. Photo by


Thursday, June 8 // Concluding the study & final sightseeing

There is so much to say at the end of this study. First of all, the study went really well and Selena was a huge help! I wanted to have at least 45 vessels drawn by the end. Without Selena, I would only have had about 21 illustrations ready to be inked (that is finalized for the final publication). So, of course, a huge thank you to Selena and also kudos for learning and working with an entirely new skill set.

Second, the study is likely to continue next year, as I finalize all the details and make sure everything is correct before heading into the writing and publication phase.

As a side note, as we finished up the week, we also were able to attend the opening of a new special exhibition at the Heraklion Museum that looks at the similarities between the development of Minoan art and early Japanese art. Since both cultures emerged as island nations, there were a lot of comparisons. We were able to attend the opening remarks by the directors of the Heraklion Museum and the National Museum in Japan. It also included remarks by the Japanese ambassador and the Governor of Crete. It ended with a private guided tour in both languages with the directors of the exhibition.

Japanese Ambassador speaking to the audience at the opening of the Exhibition “Legacies of Beauty” on display until the end of Sept. 2023 at the Heraklion Museum.

We ended the entire trip by taking a full day to do some sightseeing. We headed to Rethymno on Saturday for some well-deserved rest and relaxation. The city of Rethymno is also the home of the University of Crete and an ancient Venetian fortress. We didn’t have enough time to do everything, but there were certainly some lovely streets and views along the way.

Part of the Venetian fortress and port at Rethymno, Crete.


Tuesday, June 6 // Focus on Ancient Pottery

Example illustration, drawn by Columbia College graphic design student Selena Houk.

We’ve now been in the museum for just over a week and a half! We still have several vessels left to draw, and we probably will not quite finish everything up. 

This week has been all about the pottery and not much else, but we’re seeing how some of the larger pots were constructed almost 4,000 years ago. 

We are also well into the groove and we’re noticing different patterns as a result of the illustrations. Archaeological illustrations are extremely useful because they provide important details like profiles of the vessels, dimensions and decorative details that might otherwise be hard to see (see example above).

The illustrations will eventually make their way into the final publication of the cemetery, which will be used by other researchers and scholars to make comparisons. 

We’ll be finishing up on Friday of this week and then hoping to visit a beach before heading out of Heraklion.

Visual Arts & Music Assistant Professor Dr. Laura Ursprung Nerling.


Friday, June 2 // Weekend Fun!

Venetian Loggia in center of town. Photo by Dr. Laura Ursprung Nerling.

On Saturday, May 27, we rested up from our first week in the museum, which had been hectic with something new every single day. So, on Saturday, we largely explored the town, went to the port, looked around at the shops and relaxed for the first time since beginning the study.

On Sunday, May 28, we went to the ancient site of Knossos (legendary home of King Minos of Crete, Princess Ariadne, Theseus and the Minotaur. We spent a couple of hours exploring the site, which is extensive and also the 2nd largest tourist attraction in Greece just behind the Parthenon in Athens.

Next week (May 29-June 4), we will move into a slightly more rhythmic groove as we work through the remaining vessels.

Laura and Selena at Knossos. Photo by Dr. Laura Ursprung Nerling.


Tuesday, May 30 // Update from Selena

Columbia College graphic design student Selena Houk works on her pottery. Photo by Dr. Laura Ursprung Nerling.

This has been a really rewarding internship so far. I’ve had the opportunity to see a different country, full of history and culture, and been able to interact with that history firsthand, drawing ancient pottery from about 2,000 B.C. found in Pacheia Ammos, Greece.

Each day, I feel like I’m learning a new technique on how to draw pottery since there’s such a variety and quantity of things we’re trying to document. Not only am I learning about how pottery was made back then, but I’m also learning a bit about the Greek government, getting permissions and how it’s working with a museum (it’s a lot more intensive than I would have imagined!).

Greece itself, Heraklion specifically, is an interesting city. There are a lot of boutique shops and restaurants fitted between apartments and grocery stores. In all honesty, it reminds me a bit of Bleecker Street in Manhattan, New York, with slightly fewer people; normal life happening while the city buzzes.

So far, my favorite parts have been the window shopping, since they have high-end and local stores side-by-side, and the food (one restaurant pictured below), where we’ve been given a dessert on the house at the end of almost every meal. Some things that I could live without are people not picking up after their dogs (which they don’t tell you about in the travel blogs) and Greek coffee, while strong (a definite plus), isn’t filtered so all the grounds were at the bottom.

All in all, this has been a really great experience!


Tuesday, May 23 // We’ve Arrived to Greece!

Good morning, Columbia College!

We’re here! And today (Monday, May 22), we begin the museum study. The museum has a long and rich history. The original museum was set up when archaeology was only a nascent discipline and it has been through several earthquakes and thus different physical versions since 1878!

Exterior shot of the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. Photo by Discover Greece (

As it was the only storage facility for antiquities in 1915 (the year the objects we will be studying were found), everything was brought to this location.

We’re thrilled to get started and see what’s in store for us!

Visual Arts & Music Assistant Professor Dr. Laura Ursprung Nerling and Columbia College graphic design student Selena Houk begin their work at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum.


Thursday, May 18 // Introduction from Dr. Ursprung Nerling

Good morning, Columbia College!

Visual Arts & Music Assistant Professor Dr. Laura Ursprung Nerling.

As a quick introduction, for those of you who I haven’t yet had in class, my name is Dr. Laura Ursprung Nerling. This summer, I’ll be working with a graphic design student, Selena Houk, on a museum project studying an ancient cemetery located on the island of Crete in Greece.

This cemetery was originally excavated in 1913 by archaeologist Richard B. Seager in the village of Pacheia Ammos (pictures below), but the resulting study didn’t provide much detail.

Selena and I will be documenting all of the remaining vessels and preparing them for book publication. This means studying them, analyzing them, photographing them and drawing them.

We’ll be starting in the museum on Monday, May 22, and providing the Columbia College community with updates along the way! Of course, this isn’t just about the museum, as we’ll also do a little traveling and exploring along the way so we should have a lot of really exciting pictures from Greece and Crete to share with you.

Stay tuned as we arrive, study and explore abroad!

Village of Pacheia Ammos from above. Photo by Dr. Laura Ursprung Nerling.


Village of Pacheia Ammos beach front where the cemetery had been located. Photo by Dr. Laura Ursprung Nerling.