Contests of will between “task master” director Gordon and his artist M.L. Baker

George Byron Gordon, Museum Director, 1910-1927, "a good chief." Penn Museum image #19134

George Byron Gordon, Museum Director, 1910-1927, “a good chief.” Penn Museum image #19134

University Museum artist (1908-1936) M. Louise Baker, acclaimed for her archaeological illustration of Mayan pottery and Nubian and Ur excavation finds, considered Museum Director Dr. George Byron Gordon to be “a hard task master but a good boss, appreciative and withal, most likable.” However, Gordon had a well-deserved reputation for being tight with money, except for new acquisitions, and he and his strong-willed, very accomplished staff artist had their differences of opinions.  Baker submitted her bill for 91 hours at one dollar per hour in a letter of September 27, 1920.  She admitted that this was an advance over her former wage, but added that her museum work had taken years of training, therefore “I am quite sure that thee will agree that… I am, at least, worthy of a wage equal to that of a coal wagon driver.” (Baker was from a staunch Quaker background.)

M. Louise Baker painting the "Luna" Vase (Chama, Maya), Guatemala City, 1931. Museum image #176327

M. Louise Baker painting the “Luna” Vase (Chama, Maya), Guatemala City, 1931. Museum image #176327

In her unpublished autobiography, Louise Baker wrote that “when I was available he [Gordon] would have no other artist.  But he was at times most exasperating and twice I fired myself furious at his attitude.”

Maya Chama pottery vase, painted by M. Louise Baker, 1933. Penn Museum image #165148

She related that Gordon would not tolerate visiting during business hours, and on one occasion evicted a restless intern from her office and locked her door from the outside to prevent repetition.  “My office was small, the day exceedingly hot, the electric fan I had requested weeks before had not arrived.  The sum total was too much.  In a trice I slipped from my stool, donned my hat and started for home; unfortunately I had to pass his office door.  Looking up and sensing revolt, he sprang to his feet and demanded the cause of this early departure.  I replied curtly –‘I have never been locked in my office and I’m not going to begin now and in this heat!’ To my amazement, he promptly agreed ‘You are quite right Miss Baker’ and before I realized it I was being personally returned to my office with apologies and solicitations en route. His electric fan was transfered to my room with in the hour.”

The Throne Room in the Palace of Merenptah, Memphis, Egypt, watercolor reconstruction by M. Louise Baker. Penn Museum image #150556

The Throne Room in the Palace of Merenptah, Memphis, Egypt, watercolor reconstruction by M. Louise Baker. Penn Museum image #150556

Gordon’s death from a fall on January 30, 1927 “was a hard blow,” Baker wrote in her diary.  “He was always so aggressive and dominant that I can’t see myself at the Museum without his presence filling the whole place.  A tremendous loss all along the line.” She added on February 3, 1927, when “the gong rang,” the gates were locked, and everybody at the Museum went to his funeral, “we lost a good friend.”

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