The Penn Museum’s Conservation Department is tasked with the long term preservation and conservation of the Museum’s object collections.
Working with other Museum staff, our duties include:
Additionally, we have a number of work-study students and pre-program interns helping out.
For the past three years, the Conservation Department has been housed in temporary workspaces in the Museum’s Mainwaring Wing while our usual permanent space in the bottom level of the West Wing of the Original 1899 building undergoes extensive renovation. This has provided the opportunity to plan new, enlarged, and improved laboratory spaces. These will include a large treatment lab with area ventilation; a walk-in fume hood; a separate office space; a ‘clean space’ for working on textiles, paper artifacts, matting, and storage mounts; a digital x-ray suite and laser-cleaning station; a dedicated photography area; and a seminar room/library.
Currently, many of the Conservation Department’s resources are being allocated toward preparing objects to be exhibited in Native American Voices: The People--Here and Now. For every exhibition, Conservators work closely with the Curators and the Exhibitions Department to ensure that the objects selected will be displayed to their best advantage.
Our highly successful open conservation lab recently celebrated its first anniversary in September 2013. We have learned a lot in the past year (Number 1 question asked by visitors: “Is it real?”). Even though the objects being treated in the Artifact Lab have all been in our collections for many decades, the potential for new discoveries (or re-discoveries) has been amazing.
“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”. With collections as large as the Museum’s, it is a major undertaking to try to keep up with their conservation needs. One way to address this is to break it down into manageable chunks. The Conservation Department has, over the past decades, undertaken surveys of discreet segments of the collections, determining their condition, their storage requirements, and prioritizing their conservation treatments.
Conservation surveys provide a useful means of assessing the health of our collections and determining conservation priorities. Current surveys include the Ur Digital Project, funded by the Leon Levy Foundation; the Lapithos survey, supported by a grant from the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation and funded by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation; and the Buddhist Murals survey, supported by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation and Michael Feng and Winnie Chin Feng.
Objects being prepared to go on exhibition get conserved, but they also need care while on exhibition. Each Monday, when the Museum is closed to the public, our Conservation Technicians, together with staff from the Exhibitions Department, and the relevant Curatorial Section, work in the Galleries.
The stone reliefs depicting two of the favorite horses of Emperor Taizong (r. 626-649 CE) are among the Museum’s greatest treasures. Examinations conducted in 2008 showed that the mending, done sometime shortly after the reliefs arrived at the Museum in 1918, was no longer stable.
Collections care and conservation work at the Penn Museum is ongoing and overseen by the Museum’s Conservation Department. As resources become available, the conditions in which our collections are kept are continually upgraded.