Year of Color

The Penn Museum, in association with the 2014–15 Penn Humanities Forum on Color, offers two very different small exhibitions that explore aspects of color—one looking at the role played by colored stone and marble in material culture throughout the ages, the other exploring the role of color through the lens of art, drawing, and photography in the fields of archaeology and anthropology.


Year of Color: Stone and Marble from Antiquity to the Present

Cultures the world over and throughout millennia have used marble and other natural stone for monumental building and the decorative arts. Stone embodies permanence and durability. In its colorful and variegated forms, the material can be used to create objects that signify power, wealth, and luxury.

exhibits yocolorDeveloped in conjunction with the Penn Humanities Forum's 2014–2015 theme, The Year of Color, this special exhibit draws upon more than 25 objects from the Penn Museum collection to explore the human phenomenon of valuing and "collecting color"—colored stone—through the ages. From the dark blue lapis lazuli and deep red carnelian stones quarried in far-flung regions and favored by ancient Mesopotamians, to the many-colored mosaics found in ancient Israel, to the finely chiseled marble sculptures of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and the smooth soap stone carvings of Native American peoples half a world away, human ingenuity with colored marble and stone is on display.

As the 17th century ushered in the era of the European "Grand Tour," wealthy young men traveled throughout that continent, often collecting ancient colored stone samples to be stored in "Cabinets of Curiosities" as a record of their journeys. Antiquarian collections gave way to scientific, and then commercial use collections, as modern quarries, design shops, and stone cutting mills kept pace with new technologies: a collection of such colored stone samples recently acquired by the University from the Vermont Marble Company (1880-1976), is an example of such enterprising collecting.

C. Brian Rose, Curator-in-Charge, Mediterranean Section, Penn Museum, and Frank Matero, Professor of Architecture, Historic Preservation, University of Pennsylvania, co-curated this exhibition, on view in the Special Exhibitions Gallery, 3rd floor, through December 31, 2014.


 Year of Color: Art in the Archives

exhibits archives yocolorToday, capturing a scene in color can be as easy as pulling out a phone, snapping a photo, and sending it into the Cloud. The 1839 invention of photography was revolutionary, and instantly useful to archaeologists, quickly changing the nature of documentation. Yet reproducing color in photographs remained a technological and costly challenge. Year of Color: Art in the Archives renews an appreciation for color photography, past and present.

The Penn Museum Archives hosts this special exhibition of drawings and photographs exploring the concept and value of color imagery, the spectrum of techniques used, and the artistry of Museum illustrators to convey the textures, dimensions, and inscriptions of objects in the Museum’s collection. Among the more than 40 images on display are detailed watercolor paintings of Maya pottery and the Sumerian Bull-Headed Lyre by M. Louise Baker, Museum Artist from 1908 to 1936. Also featured are Albert Schuler’s black-and-white print and vibrant photochrome counterpart of a Swiss town in the late 1800s, and an illustrated translation of the famous Rosetta Stone.

Alex Pezzati, Senior Archivist, Penn Museum, Eric Schnittke, Assistant Archivist, Penn Museum, and Joani Etskovitz, Summer intern, co-curated this exhibition, on view in the Penn Humanities Forum and Penn Museum Archives corridor, 2nd floor, through May 31, 2015.


 Images, top and bottom: In the Penn Museum’s special exhibition, Year of Color: Stone and Marble from Antiquity to the Present, against the wall to the right stands a 19th-century wood cabinet, which houses samples of colored marble from the Vermont Marble Company. The Year of Color: Art in the Archives special exhibition explores the evolution of color imaging in archaeology, including a 1930 watercolor image of the Sumerian Bull-Headed Lyre by Museum Artist M. Louise Baker. (Photos: Penn Museum).

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