20 MAY 2008, PHILADELPHIA, PA—After 37 years as Head of Conservation at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Virginia Greene retires, officially if not entirely, June 30, 2008—and it is safe to say that she will not be forgotten by her colleagues or by the many students and interns she helped to train at the Museum.
With about one million archaeological and anthropological artifacts collected from all over the world, Penn Museum has been a never-ending source of conservation opportunities and challenges. Unlike many conservators who specialize in archaeology or ethnography or certain kinds of materials, Ms. Greene has maintained a Renaissance woman’s wide-ranging interest and capabilities. Among the thousands of artifacts she has examined and conserved over her tenure at the Museum are such diverse objects as the world-famous bull-headed lyre and Lady Pu-Abi’s dazzling gold and lapis lazuli headdress, both from the famous ancient Sumerian site of Ur; intricately woven masterpiece baskets from the Pomo Indians of California; poison darts and textiles from the Dayaks of Borneo; and South American feather headdresses.
Over the last half century, the field of art and artifact conservation has changed rapidly. Ms. Greene—and the University of Pennsylvania Museum—have been at the forefront of the conservation “minimalist” movement, especially popular in anthropology and archaeology museums today. “Essentially, minimalism follows the logic that, the less you do to something, the fewer problems you’ll have,” Ms. Greene said. “When conserving objects today, materials to be used are selected for their long-term stability. We do the absolute minimum necessary to the object to keep it stable. There has been a gradual shift in the focus of the field, where more attention is going to creating environments for long-term preservation, with the goal to prevent future damage.”
While pursuing her master’s degree in Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1960s, Ms. Greene assisted with UPM’s famous ancient Maya excavations at Tikal in Guatemala—where she became interested in pursuing a conservation career. She received her diploma, with distinction, in Conservation of Archaeological and Ethnographic Materials at the University of London’s Institute of Archaeology in 1971, and began her career as head of Penn Museum’s Conservation Laboratory that same year. Since 1972, she has trained and mentored a steady flow of conservation interns who have gone off to pursue careers throughout North America.
In June 2001, her contributions to the field were acknowledged when she was presented with the Sheldon & Caroline Keck Award at the American Institute for Conservation’s annual conference. The prestigious award, founded in 1994, annually honors one or two senior conservators with a sustained record of excellence in the education and training of conservation professionals.
The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, located at 3260 South Streets on the Penn campus in Philadelphia, is dedicated to the study and understanding of human history and diversity. Founded in 1887, the Museum has sent more than 400 archaeological and anthropological expeditions to all the inhabited continents of the world. With an active exhibition schedule and educational programming for children and adults, the Museum offers the public an opportunity to share in the ongoing discovery of humankind's collective heritage. For general information, visitors may call (215) 898-4000, or visit the Museum’s award-winning website at http://www.penn.museum.