University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Celebrating 50 Years of Professional Conservation at the Penn Museum


By: Nina Owczarek

November 1, 2016

The Conservation Department is celebrating its 50th anniversary this fall. The lab was first established in 1966 and is one of the first archaeology / anthropology conservation labs in the US staffed by professional conservators. In the early years, the focus was on conservation treatments. But under the leadership of Virginia Greene, who began working at the Penn Museum in 1972, its focus shifted by the late 1970s, to play a larger role in preventive conservation measures. Working cooperatively with an increasingly professional collections management and registration staff, the department has ultimately transitioned into a dynamic and deeply engaged department, now under the leadership of Lynn Grant.

Virginia Greene, former Head of Conservation, and Adria Katz, Keeper of the Oceania Section discussing and implementing improved storage conditions, c. 2000.
Virginia Greene, former Senior Conservator, and Adria Katz, Fassitt/Fuller Keeper of Collections for the Oceanian Section, discussing and implementing improved storage conditions, ca. 2000.

Our records indicate that over the last 50 years, 90 interns or fellows have spent time in our lab, getting experience in real-life museum conservation. One indicator of our success is that many of those former interns have gone on to illustrious careers in conservation; the list of interns sometimes reads a like a who’s who of archaeological and ethnographic conservators.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary, we recently hosted the symposium Engaging Conservation: Collaboration Across Disciplines. The symposium focused on issues relating to archaeology, anthropology, and conservation and explored the engagement of conservation and conservators in five areas: Education, Archaeology, Community, Institutions, and Science. To frame the symposium in the celebratory light of our 50th anniversary, we introduced each session with short stories relating to the history of the department and conservation at the Penn Museum.

Molly Gleeson, Schwartz Project Conservator, jointly presenting at they Symposium with Eve Mayberger, Mellon Fellow in Objects Conservation at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston on conservation at the excavations at Abydos, Egypt.
Molly Gleeson, Schwartz Project Conservator, jointly presenting at the symposium with Eve Mayberger, Mellon Fellow in Objects Conservation at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, on conservation at the excavations at Abydos, Egypt.

Almost all of the presentations were captured on video, some of which we will share on the Penn Museum YouTube channel. The first video is available now, embedded above, and captures Lynn Grant’s introduction with some great images of the Conservation Department over the years. Please check back for the stories as they are uploaded.

Note: Engaging Conservation: Collaboration Across Disciplines was made possible with generous support from the Kowalski Family Foundation.


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