Like Father, Like Daughter: One Family’s Unique Bond with the Penn Museum

Molly Gleeson, Rockwell Project Conservator of In the Artifact Lab: Conserving Egyptian Mummies, recently welcomed a special, and especially determined, young guest.

One week every summer for the past four years, Jessica "Jessie" Schwartz, with her parents, Penn Museum membersJessMolly1 Dr. David Schwartz and Stephanie Schwartz, have traveled from Atlanta, Georgia so Jessie can participate in the Museum's Anthropologists in the Making camp, usually during the Egyptian-themed camp weeks. Last summer after the fourth grade, she discovered the In the Artifact Lab workspace exhibition through camp activities in the galleries, but felt torn between finishing the camp day or speaking with an In the Artifact Lab conservator at 2:00 pm.

"When her parents picked her up from camp one afternoon, they caught me leaving In the Artifact Lab," said Ms. Gleeson, who stayed and answered Jessie's questions nonetheless.

That's when Jessie, who had already adopted her father's anthropological and archaeological academic interests, decided she wanted to specialize in archaeological conservation. She told her parents, her teacher, and her classmates.

"She downloaded Ms. Gleeson's photo from the Museum's website for a class project this past year, and wrote an essay about her dreams of becoming a conservator," said her mother Stephanie.

Jessie emailed Ms. Gleeson regularly during the school year. Anticipating this summer's visit, Ms. Gleeson collaborated with Exhibitions, Public Programs, and Anthropologists in the Making Summer Camp Manager Jennifer Reifsteck to create a special behind-the-scenes experience for the aspiring conservator.

Ms. Gleeson and Jessie reconnected like old friends. Jessie arrived with a gift for her, and the conservator greeted herJessMolly2 protégé with a pair of blue gloves similar to her own. For nearly two hours, Jessie enjoyed a private tour, using her mentor's binocular and polarizing light microscopes to examine textile fragments from a Predynastic mummy, making scarab amulet impressions, and trying on one of the optivisors the team uses to examine objects.

"She's so excited, it's going to be hard to get her to bed tonight," her mother Stephanie said.

A FAMILY TRADITION

Jessica's father Dave Schwartz shared his memories of growing up in West Philadelphia. As young as nine years old, he'd skip school, and visit the Penn Museum. The hieroglyphs fascinated him.

A chance encounter with a famous Penn Museum archaeologist changed his life. He was spotted in the galleries by Dr. J. Alden Mason, who had retired from the Penn Museum as Curator Emeritus of the American Section in 1955, but was still active in the Museum. Dr. Mason was the archaeologist who obtained permission for the Museum's excavation of Piedras Negras in the early 1930s, and later excavated at Sitio Conté, Panama, at a remarkable pre-Columbian site to be featured in the upcoming exhibition Beneath the Surface: Life, Death, and Gold in Ancient Panama, opening in February 2015.

Dr. Mason and his colleagues nurtured Dave's interest in archaeology and anthropology through his teen years. After some fits and starts, he became an archaeology major at university. Dave is now a physician specializing in overseas public health and tropical medicine. He regularly draws from his anthropological background to note connections between health risk factors and sociological trends and behaviors in communities, and is currently completing a new textbook involving maternal health and medical anthropology in developing nations.

Watching his daughter enjoy In the Artifact Lab, Dr. Schwartz admitted to encouraging Jessie's career expectations, and to consider such specialties as socio-cultural anthropology and classics in addition to archaeology and conservation. It turns out that a love of archaeology and the Penn Museum runs in the family.

 Jessica wrote about her experience in a guest post on the In the Artifact Lab blog. Read it here.

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