Eight Years with Julian Siggers

At the Museum

Originally Published in 2020

View PDF

Over the past eight years, Williams Director Julian Siggers led the way in transforming our Penn Museum.

Re-imagining how visitors experience our building and our galleries led to the most extensive renovation of the Museum in a century, including moving the massive Sphinx of Ramses II. New K–12 programs invited students to engage with the ancient world, at the same time that Penn researchers were continuing more than a century of groundbreaking discoveries. Conservators preserved artifacts in newly state-of-the-art spaces, including a public lab. Numerous special exhibitions expanded the range of collections on display. Penn students from across departments, through the Center for the Analysis of Archaeological Materials (CAAM) and many Academic Engagement programs, felt at home in the Museum. Visitors found new ways to engage with our research and the collections we care for, with a wide range of public programs both in-person and, more recently, virtual.

We have said farewell to Julian, now President & CEO of the Field Museum in Chicago, and his wife Marianne, with gratitude and best wishes. And we know that Julian’s exemplary commitment to making this a place where everyone is welcome to engage with our shared human story will resonate, as these pages show, in every aspect of the Penn Museum for decades to come.

Julian holding a book next to the Bull Headed Lyre.
Julian in 2014 with DK’s History of the World in 1,000 Objects, featuring the Museum’s bull-headed lyre.

Julian and Marianne Lovink at a gala.
Julian and Marianne Lovink at the Museum’s first Golden Gala in 2016.

Marie-Claude showing two students ceramic pieces in a lab.
Students study ceramic thin-sections with CAAM Director and Teaching Specialist for Ceramics Marie-Claude Boileau.

Academic Engagement

A 2013 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation—the first major institutional grant of many in Julian’s tenure—sparked a blossoming of the Museum’s Academic Engagement Program. The program has transformed opportunities for Penn students to have a relationship with the Museum, with a multitude of faculty now bringing classes to the Museum, and offerings that include intensive classes, work-study opportunities, summer fieldwork support, senior capstone programs, social programming, and student-led docent tours. 2014 saw the opening of the Center for the Analysis of Archaeological Materials, offering the facilities, materials, equipment, and expert personnel to teach and mentor Penn students in a range of scientific techniques crucial to archaeologists and other scholars as they seek to interpret the past in an interdisciplinary context which links the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. The Academic Engagement Program and CAAM, together with our vast collections, and opportunities to work with Penn’s faculty in numerous field projects, have made Penn the preeminent institution for object-based learning and the study of archaeology.

Three museum interns with museum professionals, artifacts on a table in front of them.
Among the offerings of the Academic Engagement Program, led by Director Anne Tiballi, is an annual curatorial internship program in which three undergraduates curate a small exhibition from start to finish. Student curators of Memory Keepers (2019) are seen here with Research Liaison Sarah Linn and Associate Curator Phil Jones.

A heap of large clay jars in the desert.
In 2016, the team at Abydos, Egypt, discovered a large cache of clay jars, shown here with Off-site Collections Manager Kevin Cahail.

Julian, Marianne, and Brian looking at plans of an archaeological site.
Julian and Marianne (standing) look over plans with project director and Ferry Curator-in-Charge C. Brian Rose during a visit to the excavations at Gordion, Turkey, in 2014.


Over the last eight years, Penn archaeological and anthropological fieldwork and research has flourished. Across the world, from long-running excavations at Gordion, Turkey, and Abydos, Egypt, to new excavations at Smith Creek, Mississippi, and Tel Yaqush, Israel, to returning to sites at Lagash and Ur, Iraq, Penn archaeologists have added to our understanding of our shared human story. Their research findings are incorporated directly into the Museum, whether in signature galleries or in special exhibitions, to invite visitors to share in that process.

The Moundbuilders exhibit, showing an array of pottery from Mississippi.
Opened in 2017, Moundbuilders told the story of the 5,000-year- old practice of mound construction in Native North America, highlighting Weingarten Assistant Curator Meg Kassabaum’s ongoing work in the southeastern U.S.

A display from the Beneath the Surface exhibit showing pottery and gold from Panama.
Special exhibitions like Beneath the Surface (2015), highlighting ancient Coclé artifacts from Panama,

The opening panel for the Golden Age of King Midas exhibit.
and The Golden Age of King Midas (2016), featuring more than 100 objects on loan from Turkey, reached new audiences.

A Global uide in the Middle East Galleries giving a tour to guests.
The Museum’s innovative and popular Global Guides program started in 2018 with a grant from the Barra Foundation, offering gallery tours led by immigrants and refugees. Yaroub Al-Obaidi, born in Iraq, gives tours of the Middle East Galleries.

Public Engagement

Under Julian’s leadership, the Museum renewed and expanded its commitment to engaging visitors of all ages through a wide range of public programs, new K–12 programs, and special exhibitions on a range of topics. Landmark exhibitions reached new audiences, while programs invited everyone from schoolchildren to scholars to form their own connections to the Museum’s collections and research.

A group of school children in the Middle East Galleries with hands raised to ask questions of the tour guide.
Starting in 2014, the Museum has partnered with the School District of Philadelphia to connect middle-school students with ancient cultures through a free outreach and field trip program, Unpacking the Past, lead-funded by the Annenberg Foundation. Ellen Owens, Merle-Smith Director of Learning and Public Engagement, leads a group of students in the Middle East Galleries as part of a module on ancient Mesopotamia; other topics include ancient Egypt, China, and Rome.

The Artifact Lab, a conservator working in the background.
In the Artifact Lab and the conservation labs, conservators care for the objects the Museum is privileged to steward.

Two conservators showing Julian their work on a duck frieze.
Julian joins conservators Tessa de Alarcon and Jessica Byler to see a duck frieze conserved in 2018 for display in the Middle East Galleries.

Collections Stewardship

The Artifact Lab opened in 2012—Julian’s first autumn as Williams Director—offering the public a chance to watch conservation in action and, twice each day, interact directly with conservators at “open window” sessions. Collections care was a major focus of his leadership. On his watch, thousands of objects were treated and/or safely rehoused for gallery and exhibition projects or just for careful stewardship; a state-of-the-art suite of conservation labs was opened, and conservation teaching was integrated into the curriculum of the new Center for the Analysis of Archaeological Materials.

A group of conservators removing wall size Buddhist murals from the Rotunda.
Large-scale projects like the stabilization and removal for conservation of the massive Buddhist murals in 2017 ensure that these artifacts will be preserved for generations.

Julian on stage in Harrison Auditorium speaking to a packed audience.
In November 2017, the “groundbreaking ceremony” for the Museum’s Building Transformation took place in the Harrison Auditorium, featuring remarks from Penn leadership and the symbolic removal of chairs to kick off the first phase of construction.

The new Middle East Galleries showing Queen Puabis outfit, the Bull Headed Lyre, and the Ram in the Thicket.
The Middle East Galleries—the Museum’s first new signature galleries in almost two decades, showcasing objects primarily excavated by Penn archaeologists—opened in April 2018.

Building Transformation

Julian’s vision for a new Penn Museum, with reimagined galleries and fully accessible public spaces, led the
way to the Building Transformation project—a true transformation in every sense of the word. Renovations to the historic building have been accompanied by changes in approaching gallery design and programming to invite visitors of all ages and backgrounds into a conversation. Construction began in 2017, with a first phase including renovations across the Museum’s Main Level and in its Harrison Auditorium. Two years later, in November 2019, Julian welcomed visitors to the new Penn Museum. He has laid the groundwork for even more transformations, including new Ancient Egypt and Nubia Galleries, to come.

The Sphinx in outside in the Museum courtyard on its way to the new entrance gallery.
In July 2019, the Museum made a monumental move: the Sphinx of Ramses II was transported from the lower Egyptian gallery, across the inner courtyard, and into the new gallery space created by covering over a large staircase.

The Sphinx in the new entrance gallery, a sign welcoming visitors in a variety of languages.
The great Sphinx now anchors the visitor experience inside the Main Entrance, with a welcome wall and a land acknowledgment leading the way to the light-filled Sphinx Gallery.

The new Mexico and Central America Gallery.
The Museum revealed an entirely reimagined Main Level in November 2019, featuring the new Sphinx Gallery, a beautifully renovated Harrison Auditorium, and the dynamic and engaging Mexico and Central America Gallery

The new Africa Galleries.
and Africa Galleries, where visitors connect as never before with these artifacts and the cultures that created and used them.

Cite This Article

"Eight Years with Julian Siggers." Expedition Magazine 62, no. 3 (September, 2020): -. Accessed April 12, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/eight-years-with-julian-siggers/

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 digitalmedia@pennmuseum.org.