Report of the Director

By: George C. Vaillant

Originally Published in 1942

View PDF

THE University Museum has had a year of considerable accomplishment in spite of events within and without the Museum which have disrupted the orderly tenor of its way. Within the Museum we have had a change of administration, and outside the Museum we have seen our country gearing itself to an economy for total warfare. The previous administration brought the Museum gloriously through the hazards of worldwide economic depression. The brilliant direction of Mr. Horace H. F. Jayne, despite the relentless curtailment of Museum income, created none the less the most harmoniously arranged museum in the country. In addition his judicious sense of acquisition enriched our collections with many masterpieces. Mr. John Story Jenks, through his selfless and patient interest, brought the organization of the Museum through many serious problems. Miss Jane M. McHugh’s unswerving devotion and profound knowledge of every detail of the Museum’s activities created a precedent hard for a succeeding generation to maintain. These three individuals not only bequeathed to the new management the fruit of their skillful work, but also developed our three loyal and devoted groups, our Museum members, our staff, and our Board of Managers.

Ceremonial mask that has an open mouth with representation of teeth and is fringed all round with hair, shell inlay eyeballs, around the bottom fringe is of dyed grass
Ceremonial Mask from New Guinea
From the Special Exhibit Series “Native Peoples in the Theatre of War”
Museum Object Numbers: 29-50-651A / 29-50-651B
Image Number: 239

The present administration is fortunate in what has already been done, but our present task is to orient the Museum toward effective public service in wartime. As a nation our people have changed from thinking in terms of the static conception of defense to the dynamic belief in a relentless offense against our enemies. Our Museum, although it cannot actively engage in the war effort, must also pursue an aggressive policy. It must use its present available resources to the utmost and avoid any demands that will interfere with the effective prosecution of the war. The digest of our activities this year and our plans for the future may serve as a measure for our activity.

The new administration received a warm welcome at a brilliant reception given in their honor by President and Mrs. Thomas S. Gates, who brought together the members of the Museum and interested members of the University faculty. On every hand the administration has met the most cordial and helpful reception from individuals and institutions in the Philadelphia area. Our Women’s Committee not only has contributed generously to equipping the Museum, but also has provided an acute and forward-looking critical opinion to the policy and program of the Museum. Our members have likewise continued their loyal support and have approved a policy which affords them the satisfaction of contributing to a good cause since, owing to present conditions, we have drastically curtailed our social program. On our part we extend a most cordial invitation to use those facilities toward which they contribute and to avail themselves of the beauty and knowledge which are theirs for the asking. Relying on this support, we have endeavored to maintain and extend our program of conservation, research, and education in its widest application.

The basic core of the Museum is its building and the collections housed therein. We have taken the standard protective measures against the ordinary hazards of warfare. At the same time we have tried to maintain our exhibits in an accessible state for visitors and students. We have instituted a series of exhibitions designed to show the native background of the theatre of war, to focus, as it were, interest on the manifold social problems which underlie the tactical movements on the battle field. We have endeavored to maintain a judicious course through which the people of Philadelphia may enjoy the treasures accumulated for their benefit and at the same time preserve these wondrous examples of past civilizations.

Excavation and collection of new specimens have of necessity been curtailed. In spite of external conditions we have had three expeditions in the past year: Mr. McFadden continues his supervision of the classical site in Cyprus; Dr. Howard completed last summer the successful archaeological survey in Wyoming and as a part of this research Mr. Ele Baker surveyed northeastern New Mexico for remains of Early Man; this spring Mr. Corning made an interesting survey of an unknown region of southeastern Georgia. For the coming year we have decided to continue our program for research on Early Man. Believing that fruitful research is best obtained through cooperation, we have set up a fund to be used to grant small sums of money to enable studies to be continued on the problems relating to the presence of Early Man in the American continents. We are accumulating the remainder of our income for field excavations until we can assure ourselves of the most fruitful field for exploration in terms of the needs of the scholars and the demands of the public at large.

The program of education that we have envisaged is on a broad scale. Education and research are united: without an outlet research would become sterilely abstract; without research education would bog down in a morass of static dogma. Education as well must extend over a wide area not only penetrating the formal class-rooms of school and college, but also stimulating a wide variety of informed interests. To accomplish this purpose the staff of the Museum has been active in a wide sphere. Within the Museum we have had two exhibits on The Native Peoples of the Theatre of War covering the peoples of the Philippines and Melanesia. We have just opened an exhibit of manuscripts and editions of Walt Whitman, who felt most ardently, perhaps, of all our American writers the physical and spiritual background of the American continent. Across the street at Houston Hall the Museum has placed small exhibits relating to Mexico, the drama in Java, Oceania as seen through the eyes of Robert Louis Stevenson and our Indian West as reproduced through one of the first of our ”grass root” artists, George Catlin. Further exhibits of this nature are planned relating the Museum collections to contemporary interests like medicine and sport.

The Department of Education, despite a reduction of staff, gave instruction to thousands of school children from both public and private institutions. In addition, this department has experimented in taking exhibits to schools which would fit in with the specific requirements of their curriculum. This program is laying the groundwork for a series of Institutional Memberships. The lecture course went through a full season, bringing notable speakers to address our members. However, war conditions, combined with a nationwide shift of interest away from the lecture program to the radio, prevented any very great audiences. Completely novel in our Museum experience was the production of nine radio plays participated in by the University Department of Dramatics reinforced by members of the Museum and University faculty and professional radio artists. These plays endeavored to vitalize regions and times represented in our Museum halls, and, while it is not possible to calculate their effect, our experience more than justifies the continuation of experimentation in this field of combining education with sheer entertainment. Individual members of the staff likewise gave scores of lectures to various groups ranging from formal learned societies to classes of school children. The Museum staff took part as well in broadcasts sponsored by the Pan-American Association and other organizations interested in the forging of closer bonds with Latin-America. Learned articles as well as popular ones have been prepared and published in appropriate outlets. In relation to the University, courses have been given within the halls of the Museum and next winter several courses given by members of the Museum staff will enrich the offerings of the Graduate and Undergraduate Schools, and several projects are in progress for a closer integration between the scholarship maintained at the Museum with that of the different schools and departments of the University.

To receive the advantage of critical guidance in pursuit of research, the Museum has established a body of fellows drawn from the active research men from institutions all over the country. In addition, members of the Museum staff serve as officials in various scholarly organizations representing many different fields of research.

The preparation of loan shows is an active department in our Museum functions, serving two purposes: one, of making more widely available our Museum materials, and two, of reinforcing the facilities of our sister institutions. Such cooperative endeavors are essential to the process of adding to the edifice of civilization.

We have been fortunate this year in receiving various gifts and permanent deposits, including collections from such institutions as the Brooklyn Museum and the Academy of Natural Sciences, as well as from private donors, notably from Mrs. Morgan Wing and Mr. Percy Madeira.

A most serious problem is that of adequate publication. Our immediate objective is the preparation of a guide to the Museum. This goal we are planning to attain through the medium of next year’s Bulletin, issuing a guide in parts over the course of the year. A more serious and more difficult situation arises from the publication of our great expeditions of the past. Such vast accumulations of data require extensive and expensive methods of printing and reproduction and the answer is not yet in sight. However, we feel that before undertaking elaborate programs in any of the fields already covered by the investigations of the Museum, we must publish adequate reports of the work already done. Such is our obligation.

It can be seen from this resume that the Museum has tended to expand rather than to curtail its activities. This resume likewise shows that our expansion has been along lines of human relationships rather than the bare acquisition of objects. The question of morale which has loomed so importantly in this war is paramount in the work of the Museum. Behind the active participation of our people in the war effort must likewise continue the preservation of those attitudes and ideals for the defense of which we are dedicating our lives and our wealth. Therefore, our policy is to seek new and better ways for enabling people to make use of their heritage.

Education is a much abused word that sometimes has the direst connotations. Acquaintance is perhaps a better term. Our policy is to establish contacts leading toward a closer acquaintance with our materials through the medium of the individual visitor, of the reader, of the student, and through the activities of the organized groups, schools, and school and college classrooms, and finally through the air in terms of radio. The objects which we house at the Museum, ranging as they do from the highest manifestations of the spirit to the utensils of domestic use, symbolize the experience of man in his efforts to establish a decent manner of life. Each object has behind it the experience and hopes and fears of many people. Thus, far beyond the bare acquisition of specimens of purely intrinsic significance, we have in our custody materials for a philosophy, that of the enduring ability of man constantly to evolve better and better spiritual, intellectual, and material equipment for his life on earth. Thus, our work in the Museum in its widest sense maintains the faith of man in himself and in his work.


Cite This Article

Vaillant, George C.. "Report of the Director." Museum Bulletin IX, no. 4 (June, 1942): 5-9. Accessed July 15, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

Report problems and issues to