The Penn Museum Collection consists of archaeological and ethnographic materials from most regions of the world. The majority of the collection was formed in the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century through hundreds of archaeological and anthropological expeditions.
On April 1, 1970, the Penn Museum fundamentally changed the Museum’s acquisitions policy by issuing the Pennsylvania Declaration, which states that no object be purchased unless accompanied by a pedigree, including “information about the different owners, place of origin, legality of export, etc.” Several months later, UNESCO adopted the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Since 1970, archaeological materials uncovered at foreign excavations, typically stay in their countries of origin. The Penn Museum Collection, however, continues to grow, primarily through donations, institutional exchanges, and the occasional purchase.
In the past two decades, the Penn Museum has accepted an average of 15 to 20 donations (including from bequests) each year, totaling more than 35,000 objects and photographic prints. Institutional donors, including The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the American Philosophical Society, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Commercial Museum (Philadelphia Civic Center Museum), have transferred approximately 30,000 objects to the Penn Museum, many of which had previously been on long-term loan. In addition, individual donors, who often collected objects while travelling or during their field expeditions, or inherited materials from earlier collectors, have donated about 5,000 objects and photographic prints to the Penn Museum.
Some of the objects acquired by the Penn Museum have travelled interesting journeys prior to entering the Collection. The Penn Museum gradually hopes to add to each of their stories as they help us to fulfill the Museum’s mission to transform understanding of the human experience.
Fig. 1 Clockwise from left: 87-41-5 Hair Comb, Tonga Islands / 87-39-966 Hand Axe, France / 87-41-3 Bag, Tahiti. Over 2,600 objects were on long-term loan from the American Philosophical Society (APS) for several decades before being donated the Penn Museum in 1987. The donation was split into five subgroups, based on the collectors that originally donated the objects to the APS. Some of the original collectors include Benjamin Franklin Peale and Titian Peale, the sons of Charles Wilson Peale. Others include Joel Poinsett (namesake of the poinsettia flower) and William Keating, who collected while they were travelling in Mexico in the 1820s. Poinsett was the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico and Keating was a geologist from the University of Pennsylvania who prospected for American mining interests.
Fig. 2 Clockwise from top left: 96-10-14/ 96-10-15 / 96-10-19 / 96-10-16, Huipils, Guatemala. These cotton huipils are embroidered with colorful silk in registers depicting humans, animals, flowers, and geometric designs. These objects were collected by Williamina and Rodolphe Meyer de Schauensee during a trip to Guatemala in 1934, and include 19 textiles. The group was donated to the Penn Museum in 1996 by their children, Maude de Schauensee and Mrs. Howard Lewis, in memory of their parents.
Fig. 3 Clockwise from top: 97-12-5, Child’s ceremonial jacket (Tong), China / 97-12-7, Men’s jacket panel (Tong), China / 97-12-6, Women’s jacket panel (Tong), China; all made by Tongying Wu’s mother. Shown above are three textiles from a group of seven Miao textiles purchased from Tongying Wu in 1997. The collection represents three generations of textile artistry from one family, with textiles created by Tongying Wu, her mother, and her grandmother.
Fig. 4 Clockwise from top left: 97-123-25, Statue (Attic), Syria, Baalbek / 97-120-493, Fan, Fiji Islands / 97-84-483, Mask (Inupiaq), Alaska, Cape Blossom / 97-84-2022, Earrings (Shoshone), Utah, Weber River / 97-84-1058, Moccasins (Sioux), South Dakota, White River. In 1997, over 20,000 objects previously on long-term loan from the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia since 1936 were donated to the Penn Museum. These objects were collected from across the globe. The largest lot (97-563) consists of over 11,000 objects from the Americas.
Fig. 5 Clockwise from top left: 2004-21-9 (detail) / 2005-19-13 (detail) / 2006-18-2, Huipils, Guatemala. The Penn Museum’s Guatemalan textile collection, one of the finest in the country, has been further enhanced by several gifts from Theodore T. Newbold and Helen Cunningham, over the course of several years. Many of these textiles were collected in the late 1980s and through the 1990s.
Fig. 6 From left: 86-35-53 Saddleflask (Roman) / 86-35-87 Flask (Roman) / 99-21-3 Necklace (Etruscan), Italy. George Vaux III and Henry J. Vaux donated over 350 objects to the Penn Museum in 1986. An additional 20 objects, found in the Vaux family attic, were donated by Katharine Vaux McCauley (daughter of George Vaux III) and Mary James Vaux in 1999. The objects in these donations were collected by three generations of the Vaux family: William Samsom Vaux [1811–1882], George Vaux [funded an expedition to Egypt in 1901–02], and George Vaux, Jr. [collected Roman glass from 1905–15].
Fig. 7 From left: 2001-15-41 / 2001-15-42, Tiles, Iran. A group of more than 50 objects, 70 photographs, and two maps were gifted to the Penn Museum in 2001 by William G. Warden and Sally M. W. Stone. The donors are the children of Nancy and Clarence Warden, Jr. Several decades prior, Nancy had taken a trip around the world, stopping in Iran to visit her sister-in-law, Mary Helen Warden, who was married to Penn Museum archaeologist, Erich Schmidt, who conducted fieldwork in Iran from 1931 to 1939 and was director of the Museum’s excavations at Tepe Hissar and Rayy. The material in this donation is a mix of objects purchased by Nancy Warden, material given to her by Erich Schmidt, and photographs of her time spent in Iran.
Fig. 8 Clockwise from top left: 2003-39-5, Man’s Jacket, China / 2003-31-27A, Sheath Ornament (Bagobo), Philippine Islands / 2003-43-46, Blouse, Siberia / 2010-10-36, Basket, Senegal. A selection of more than 5,000 objects was transferred from the Philadelphia Commercial Museum (also known as the Philadelphia Civic Center Museum) in 2003. Of these, many had travelled to World’s Fairs, such as the more than 334 objects from the Philippines that were exhibited at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis and the 139 objects from New Caledonia and 562 African Section objects that went to the 1900 Paris Exposition.
Fig. 9 Clockwise from left: 2004-23-15, Spirit Mask made by Justus Mekiana (Nunamiut) / 2004-23-30, Pot (Acoma Pueblo), New Mexico / 2004-23-31, Pot (Acoma Pueblo), New Mexico. In 2004, Frederica De Laguna, Honorary Curator in the American Section, passed away at the age of 98. She was a renowned anthropologist of Alaska’s Native peoples and led several expeditions to Alaska’s Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound, and Yukon Valley for the Penn Museum’s American Section in the 1930s. De Laguna bequeathed a collection of 68 North American objects, including Hopi katsina dolls (tithu), Tlingit carved wood bowls, and pottery from Acoma Pueblo.
Fig. 10 2008-10-1, Stela Fragment, Egypt. This object was excavated by Sir Flinders Petrie at the site of Dendhereh in 1898 and is roughly from 2350–2130 BCE. This fragment is from the stele of Uaru-Kau and shows a seated wife and husband. A servant, shown in a smaller scale, offers a drink to the husband. Hieroglyphic text is found above the scene. The fragment is a gift from Mrs. Eleanor T. Fischer, wife of archaeologist Henry George Fischer, who had purchased the object at auction in 1965. As a result of the division of archaeological finds between financial supporters of the Egypt Exploration Society, artifacts from Petrie’s excavation were dispersed to many institutions. This fragment went to a museum in Scotland prior to being purchased by H.G. Fisher. The Penn Museum also received material from this excavation, therefore this stela fragment joins other material excavated from Dendhereh.
Fig. 11 Clockwise from top left: 2011-14-3A, Sculpture of Monk, Burma / 2011-14-1, Sculpture of Temple Dancer, Thailand / 2011-14-6, Bust of Buddha, Burma / 2011-14-13, Lacquered bowl, Burma. These objects are from a 2011 gift from Kathryn Smith Pyle. Pyle’s aunt, Aileen Pyle, and uncle, Robert Porter Sechler, had collected the objects while living and traveling in South and Southeast Asia in the 1950s and 1960s. This acquisition complements the Museum’s existing collection of Southeast Asian Buddhist and ethnographic materials.
Fig. 12 Clockwise from top left: 2012-25-72, “Man and Dog” by Lucassie Echalook (Inuit) / 2012-25-110, “Muskox” by Barnabas Arnasungaaq (Inuit) / 2012-25-46, “Polar Bear” by Henry Evaluardjuk (Inuit) / 2012-25-86, “Drum Dancer” by Axaquyak Shaa (Inuit). In 2012, the Museum received a bequest of 130 sculptures, 6 prints, and 5 photographs from John P. Doelman III (University of Pennsylvania alumnus 1956). The sculptures in this collection were carved by Inuit artists between 1960 and 2006. Thanks to Mr. Doelman’s diligent and enthusiastic record keeping, we know the names, villages, and cultural affiliation of most of the artists, in addition to the year he collected them. This acquisition enriches the breadth of contemporary artistry represented in the Penn Museum’s American Section collections.
Fig. 13 Clockwise from top left: 2005-10-25, Buddha Parinirvana figurine, Thailand / 2005-10-17B, Standing Buddha statue, Burma / 2005-10-15, Seated Buddha, Thailand / 2005-10-13, Statue of female attendant, Burma/Northern Thailand / 2005-10-14, Statue of male attendant, Burma/Northern Thailand. Gift of Doris Duke’s Southeast Asian Art Collection. Thirty-seven Southeast Asian objects, originally part of the “Thai Village Project” collection, were assembled by Doris Duke, heiress to the American Tobacco Company, around 1960. She amassed a large Southeast Asian decorative art collection with the aim of recreating a Thai village that would be on public display in the United States. Although this never came to pass, following her death in 1993, The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation donated most of her museum-quality collection to several museums including the Penn Museum.