Category Archives: Penn Museum

Penn Alumni Travel: California National Parks, June 2015

Author: Lucy Fowler Williams, Associate Curator/Sabloff Keeper, American Collections, Penn Museum

In June I had the amazing opportunity to participate on a Penn Alumni Travel tour to the northern California National Parks including Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia.  We saw and learned so much that, among other things, the trip altered my thoughts about guided tours. If you want real R&R, expert insight into nature, history, and the cultural aspects of what you are seeing, and to cover a lot of ground getting to amazing places, this kind of trip is for you.

Yosemite Trees

Yosemite Trees

The group included two tour guides and 42! university alumni representing Penn, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Perdue, the University of Texas, Columbia, and Boston University. After our first happy-hour we were all old friends, and it stayed that way for the full nine days! We started out in San Francisco, but beat feet to Sonoma Valley’s wine country where we toured the Kunde Family Winery, a five-generation vineyard. After sampling the Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, AND the Cabernet, we entered the underground wine caves and sipped from an unfinished barrel of red while listening to legends of the family business. Though my personal preferences tend toward gin, tequila, or aqvavit, this visit definitely rekindled my interest in California wines.  Just yesterday I found Kunde Estate wines in the Pennsylvania liquor store.

From Sonoma we headed east into the Sierra Nevada, and eventually climbed 6,225 feet to Lake Tahoe, the highest and largest alpine lake in the United States.   I’ve wanted to see Tahoe for a long time and in fact it is what inspired me to sign onto the trip.  Though there in the wrong season, and without my skies, I was not disappointed. An incredible blue, Tahoe is 21 miles long and an impressive 1,600 feet deep, surrounded by snow-covered peaks.

Lake Tahoe 2

Lake Tahoe

As a specialist in Native American material culture, it was my pleasure to fill the group in on the fact that while a vacation retreat and tourist destination for many, Lake Tahoe is also the spiritual center and place of origin of the Washoe Indian people, and remains as such today. Through my lectures, I introduced the weaving traditions of Washoe and northern California Indian tribes, some of the finest basketry in the world.  In the late 1800s, weavers skillfully adapted their work to meet the demands of the burgeoning tourist industry in California.  The American Craftsman Movement (1895-1920) celebrated handmade Indian weaving and encouraged a collecting obsession of Indian art across the country.  This was also the Golden Age of Museums, and it is no surprise that the Penn Museum houses exceptional California baskets, of which I shared many examples.  The tragic irony of saving Indian art while killing off Indian people was not lost on my audience.  Later in the trip I introduced NAGPRA and the repatriation movement with a special focus on issues important to California tribes today.

A Mono Lake Paiute basket at the Yosemite Museum

A Mono Lake Paiute basket at the Yosemite Museum

From Tahoe we traveled east over the Sierras and into Nevada’s Mono and Paiute Indian country, back into California, past Mono Lake (one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen), and entered Yosemite National Park from the east.   We spent two days in Yosemite, taking in all of the sites along the Valley floor (Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, the Ahwhannee Hotel named after the Chief of the tribe that inhabited the Valley), and had free time for hiking on ones own or for group tours. My son took off on the 7 mile hike to Nevada Falls, and I spent the afternoon with Barbara Beroza, the Curator of the Yosemite Museum, looking behind the scenes at Washoe, Paiute, and Miwok Indian baskets, and with Phil Johnson, a Miwok/Paiute interpreter in the gallery. Phil showed me a clever and rarely collected woodpecker trap, a long and skinny twinned basket that is tied to a tree over a hole where the ubiquitous woodpeckers are nesting!

Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Valley

From Yosemite we spent two more gorgeous days in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. Sequoia is less travelled and incredibly vast and wild. In addition to much welcomed snow and rain, we saw an abundance of woodpeckers and blue Steller’s Jays, and a total of seven black bears eating grass in open meadows.

But the highlight of the trip was the magnificent Giant Sequoia trees, Sequoiadendron giganteum, the world’s largest living trees that are well protected and cared for in these parks. The General Sherman and General Grant trees standing 275 and 268 feet tall, respectively, were massive and incredibly impressive. While taking them in, I revisited John Muir’s writings and the early history and struggle to secure these incredible parks.  I was continually awed by the grandeur of the woods and reminded of the difference a single person’s actions can make.  And it was a pleasure to be traveling with so many like-minded enthusiasts of nature and of our National Parks.

Sherman Tree

Sherman Tree

With reluctance, we descended west from the cool, quiet, and lush seclusion of Sequoia and across the northern edge of the Central Valley, aka “the Salad bowl.” Impressively, this region grows a staggering one half of the produce in the United States! and we passed mile after mile of thriving walnut, pistachio, almond, peach, pear, nectarine, plum, cherry, and date trees, acres of lettuce, miles of artichokes, and on and on.  After a private tour and elegant dinner at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, we ended our trip at Carmel By the Sea with a tour of the still active Carmel Mission Church, established by Spanish Jesuits in 1793.

The trip gave me the opportunity to experience some of the United State’s most incredible natural beauty, where some of Penn Museum’s California collections were made and used, and time to reflect on the importance of our mission to steward and share those collections broadly.

[Interested in traveling with Penn Alumni Travel? Visit our 2016 schedule here. We will be visiting the Southwest National Parks in September 2016.]


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Penn Museum Lecture Series Returns

Author: Emilie C. K. LaRosa

Every year the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology hosts a thematic lecture series open to the public. This isn’t the first time I’ve touted this fantastic program. As you may remember from my previous posts here and here, last year the theme was “Great Voyages,” and the year before Penn Professors discussed topics on the theme of “Great Battles.” Well this year I’m even more excited about the chosen theme: Great Wonders of the World. Who doesn’t love learning about these mysterious and ancient wonders constructed many millennia ago?


On the first Wednesday of every month–from October 2014 to June 2015–a Penn Professor or visiting scholar will discuss a wonder of the world in about an hour’s time. Some topics that I’m particularly interested in learning about include:

The Great Pyramids of Giza (October 1st with David Silverman, Ph.D., Curator-in-Charge, Egyptian Section)

All Giza Pyramids


Monumental Geoglyphs of Amazonia (December 3rd with Clark L. Erickson, Ph.D., Curator-In-Charge, American Section)


The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus and its Successors (May 6th with C. Brian Rose, Ph.D., Curator-in-Charge, Mediterranean Section)


The Great Walls of China (June 3rd with Ph.D., Assistant Curator, Asian Section)

The Quaker sits atop the Great Wall of China during one of his adventures on a Penn Alumni Travel trip.

The Quaker sits atop the Great Wall of China during one of his adventures on a Penn Alumni Travel trip.

Of course, there are many more fascinating topics for you to explore. To learn more about the lecture series or to sign up for one or more lecture, click here. Hope to see you at the Penn Museum this year!

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Penn Museum Lecture Series

Author: Emilie C. K. LaRosa

One of my favorite things about working for Penn is the access to world-renowned scholars. At Penn Alumni Travel, we find that that is also one of our travelers’ favorite things about touring with us: access to a Penn faculty host during the trip. With over 4,400 standing and associated faculty at the school, it’s difficult to narrow down our list of travel host prospects. Luckily, there are many ways to hear from and learn about a Professor’s work and research. The Penn Museum’s annual lecture series in one such way.

Every year, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology holds a thematic lecture series that takes place every first Wednesday of the month during the academic year. This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged about this lecture series (see my February 2013 post) and, over a year later, I’m still a fan. This year’s theme is “Great Voyages: Travels, Triumphs, and Tragedies.” (Last year’s theme was “Great Battles: Moments in Time that Changed History. I’m excited to find out what next year’s theme will be!)


The lectures take place in beautiful Harrison Auditorium and span such topics as Ferdinand Magellan, the detours of Ibn Battuta, and Gilgamesh. They are an excellent opportunity to learn about something new and hear from some of our best Penn professors in the fields of archaeology, history, and classical studies.

At a Penn Museum lecture earlier this winter.

At a Penn Museum lecture earlier this winter.

There are two lectures left this year: “Searching for the Golden Fleece with Jason and the Argonauts” with Professor C. Brian Rose and “Darwin’s Beagle Voyage” with Professor Michael Weisberg. Both professors are also hosting Penn Alumni Travel trips this fall. Professor Rose is traveling with our group to Turkey and Professor Weisberg with our group to the Galapagos.

If you have some free time tonight or on June 4th, consider spending it at the Penn Museum. I think you’ll find it was worth the effort to come to campus and return home a little later than usual. And, at $5/person, these talks are a great deal.  Click here to register for either Penn Museum lecture.


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Filed under Alumnni Education, Emilie, Penn Alumni Travel, Penn Museum, Travel

100 years with the Sphinx

Author: Janell Wiseley

Have you ever been to the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology?  Have you ever wondered about the Sphinx – a 15-ton single piece of red granite, the largest such stone sculpture in the Western Hemisphere and the sixth largest in the world?  How did it get there, and why is it at Penn?Sphinx-story1[1]

Wonder no more.  Check out the Penn Current for the full story of how the Sphinx arrived in Philadelphia in 1913.

1913 sphinx

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Filed under Historical, Janell W., Penn Museum, Philadelphia

A Penn Wedding to Remember

Author: Gabriela Coya, C’14

When 2009 College graduate Susan Garrigle got engaged to Hugh Mallaney last year, they knew they didn’t want to tie the knot in the typical Philadelphia wedding venue.

Like all newlyweds, Mr. and Mrs. Mallaney wanted to create a night to remember, but they also wanted to offer their family and friends an experience worth traveling across the country for. And when Atiya German, director of Facility Rentals at the Penn Museum, shared the possibilities at the museum where I’m a work-study student, they immediately knew it was the perfect fit.

In addition to already holding some sentimental value (it was the setting of one of their first dates), the museum provided a dazzling reception area just a quick jaunt from Center City.

After their wedding ceremony at St. Agatha – St. James Church at 38th and Chestnut, the couple headed to the Penn Museum to celebrate. I recently caught up with the bride who told me about the new memories she formed at her alma mater.

The bride and groom arrive at the Penn Museum.  Photo credit: Alison Conklin Photography

The bride and groom arrive at the Penn Museum. Photo credit: Alison Conklin Photography

The night started off with a cocktail reception in the Egypt (Sphinx) Gallery, where guests mingled in the presence of the third-largest sphinx in the world and explored a royal Egyptian palace.

Photo credit: Alison Conklin Photography.

Photo credit: Alison Conklin Photography

Dinner under the 90-foot dome in the Chinese Rotunda followed, with family and friends surrounded by ancient Chinese art including the world-renowned Crystal Ball.

Photo credit: Alison Conklin Photography

Photo credit: Alison Conklin Photography

The 55-pound quartz crystal sphere, dating back to the Qing dynasty, was part of the backdrop.


Photo credit: Alison Conklin Photography

Even walking around the reception venue was a bit of a history lesson for the youngest of guests.

The flower girl and her father take in the many artifacts. Photo credit: Alison Conklin Photography

The flower girl and her father take in the many artifacts. Photo credit: Alison Conklin Photography

Afterward, the newlyweds danced the night away in the Egypt (Mummies) Gallery, amidst pharaohs and mummies of Egypt.

Photo credit: Alison Conklin Photography

Photo credit: Alison Conklin Photography

Thank you so much, Susan, for sharing details and pictures from your special day! It was a pleasure to learn more about how Penn’s beautiful campus can be utilized even beyond graduation.

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Using Science and Art to Preserve the Past at the Penn Museum

Author: Gabriela Coya, C’14

For over 125 years, the Penn Museum has been transporting people back in time through artifacts from all around the globe. From 5,000-year-old mummies from Egypt, to Mayan hieroglyphics tracing back to 600 BCE, these diverse and often-fragile artifacts need proper care if they are to be around for future visitors.

This couldn’t be done without the help of researchers and conservators, who often stay behind the scenes but will reveal their secrets at Long Live Our Treasures: The Science of Conservation and Preservation, a Philadelphia Science Festival Signature Event taking place next Wednesday, April 26.

Conservators and researchers from the Barnes Foundation, the Mütter Museum, and even our own Penn Museum will tell all about the science and art involved in preserving our most precious artifacts, such as those from In the Artifact Lab. This new exhibit, which opened last fall, allows you to speak directly to conservators about the artifacts they are working on, including a  fragile coffin from 600 CE in need of repair, a complete adult mummy called PUM I, and this little (and even kind of cute) falcon mummy, which you can learn even more about from the conservators themselves on their blog.

Photo credit: Penn Museum

Photo credit: Penn Museum

Among other treasures currently Penn’s campus is the Lod Mosaic, which has been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and is in its final American pit stop before heading to the Louvre in Paris. The mosaic found near Tel Aviv, Israel, in 1996 was impressive upon first glance — despite being nearly 2,000 years old, I didn’t think it looked a day over 100. The colors are vibrant and nearly each tiny cube on this huge 300-square-foot mosaic is still intact. Learn more about its discovery and conservation story in the video below:

If you’re interested in learning more about how the Penn Museum and other Philadelphia museums use science and art to keep the past alive, register for “Long Live Our Treasures” here. Go give artifacts like mummies a little love and attention; because it turns out they need it too.

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Explore the World in Your Own Backyard

Author: Emilie Kretschmar

This month, there are few alumni tours with Penn Alumni Travel. Our season really gets going again in the spring and so, during this lull of actual travel, I thought I would poke around campus to discover how I could accomplish some virtual travel and, perhaps, be inspired to pull together some future Penn Alumni Travel itineraries.

The first place to come to mind was the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (or the Penn Museum). The museum is a great resource for Penn alumni and Philadelphians alike. Anyone can visit the museum and PENNCard holders (Penn faculty, students, and staff) get in free.  The museum is dedicated to the understanding of cultural diversity and the exploration of humankind’s history. A visit to the Penn Museum allows you to explore artifacts from the ancient Mediterranean World, Egypt, the Levant, Mesopotamia, South and East Asia, and Mesoamerica, as well as materials from the native peoples of the Americas, Africa, and Oceania.

The Penn Museum's Warden Garden

The Penn Museum’s Warden Garden

In addition to its world-renowned collections, the museum also hosts numerous programs including its annual lecture series. This year the theme is Great Battles: Moments in Time that Changed History. As the museum’s site rightly points out, not all battles were fought on the battlefield. This series of nine lectures (one per month, from October 2012 to June 2013) explores wars that not only redrew borders and toppled rulers, but also changed laws, history, and the course of human thought.


The next lecture (March 6, 2013 at 6 p.m.) discusses an actual battle–the ancient mountain fortification of Masada. Jodi Magness, who co-directed the 1995 excavation at Masada, will explore the archaeological and literary evidence surrounding the great 1st-century Roman siege that ended with the mass-suicide of Jewish rebels.

View of Masada

View of Masada

The series switches gears in April with a discussion on the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. This “battle” wasn’t fought for territory or titles, but rather for the right to teach evolution in schools. The trial was a landmark American legal case accusing high school science teacher John Scopes of violating Tennessee’s Butler Act which made it unlawful to teach evolution. Interestingly, the Scopes trial was as much about spectacle as it was about the clash of science and religion. Among those in attendance was a chimpanzee movie performer named Joe Mendi.

Joe Mendi, the chimp actor

Joe Mendi, the chimp actor

To find out more about the Penn Museum’s lecture series or to register for one of the talks, click here. I look forward to learning more about Masada and the John Scopes Monkey Trial myself. Perhaps the Masada lecture will inspire another Penn Alumni Travel trip to Israel. Stay tuned to find out!

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My Top Penn List: I <3 Penn

Author: Casey Ryan, C’95

It’s St. Valentine’s Day and I thought there could be no better use of my Top Penn List blog entry for today then an open love letter to the University.


Things that I Love about Penn:

10. Art. There is treasure trove of public art on campus as well as in numerous galleries (read more herein When the Students Aren’t Here).  Places like ICA and the Arthur Ross allow staff, students, and visitors to take in some art during the work day.

A temporary exhibit at the ICA.

9. Van Pelt-Dietrich Library. As a current student or a staff member, one can take advantage of the impressive collection of novels ranging from current best sellers to the classics. However, there are some additional treats in Van Pelt, like movies, foreign language materials and very comfortable lounge chairs. Plus, you can even find places to get food and drink in the building.

8. Classes. There are so many classes on Penn’s campus that it’s difficult to choose.  I’ve mused about the courses I would take if I had the chance again in my “Do Over” list.

 7. Architecture. We work, go to school and live in the very large and dynamic University of Pennsylvania Campus Historic District, a district that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Many of our beloved buildings are noted on this list. My own office building, E. Craig Sweeten Alumni House (aka Delta Tau Delta) from 1914, makes the grade.

Furness Building, interior .

6. Intellectual Access. We try to capitalize on the educational opportunities here on campus.  Why, just this very year, Sweeten staff members have started a book club. In fact, our first reading assignment came from the one featured by the Penn Reading Project for 2012-2013, John Patrick Shanleys’ Pulitzer Prize winning play, Doubt. The club has continued throughout the year featuring a variety of short stories selections and this year’s One Book, One Philadelphia selection, The Buddha in the Attic.

5. Sports. Penn’s NCAA and club sports make for great athletic viewing here in our corner of West Philadelphia.  From Franklin Field to the Palestra (both also on the National Registry), from Dunning-Cohen Champions Field to Hamlin Tennis Center of Penn Park and beyond, there are many opportunities to watch Penn take on their collegiate foes in the battle for the bragging rights of being the best.

One of the very first iterations of the vision that is now Penn Park.

4. Ben Franklin. Speaking of bragging rights, we have Ben Franklin; Boston’s native son came to Philadelphia and he ended up adopting us. A printer by trade, a scientist by fame and a founding father, he gives 100 dollar bills their nickname and gave life to our great institution.

 Our founder in front of College Hall (P.S. College Hall is on the National Registry).

Our founder in front of College Hall (P.S. College Hall is on the National Registry).

3. Co-workers. I am really excited to have a cadre of colleagues who help make work not seem like so much work.  You have read some of the stories from Kristina, Lisa Marie, Liz Pinnie, Aimee, and former staffers like Leigh Ann and Elizabeth. Their insight and funny stories can give you a little glimpse of how they make Sweeten seem like a home.

2. The Penn Museum. One of our biggest treasures on campus is the Penn Museum; I always find an reason to visit from the Crystal Ball to the temporary exhibits.  The Arts and Crafts and Eclectic style building (which – surprise, surprise – lands it on the National Registry) houses our internationally renowned educational and research institution dedicated to the understanding of cultural diversity and the exploration of the history of humankind.

1. A Piano in the Office. Sweeten has a lot going for it – it’s located in the center of campus, it’s a converted fraternity house, it’s on aforementioned National Registry – but to me, the most noteworthy aspect of Sweeten is the piano in the main room.  While it is a pretty discussion piece, any member of the Penn community can stop by to tickle the ivories during the 9-5 business day. Many times, I have come downstairs for a cup of coffee to find someone playing and brightening up the day with a Chopin étude, a Mozart minute or a good old-fashion song about Pennsylvania.

The inviting piano in Sweeten.

The inviting piano in Sweeten.

What are the top ten things you love about Penn?  I send my best wishes to everyone out there for a very happy St. Valentine’s Day.

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Filed under Alumni Perspective, Ben Franklin, Campus Life, Casey R., Penn Museum, Philadelphia, Sweeten Alumni House, The Sweeten Life, Top Ten

A History of Exploration and Discovery—Online

Author: Alex Fleischman

Happy 2013 to all Penn alumni.

With the holiday break still in session and spring classes still on the horizon, I find myself with time to kill. For those in a similar predicament, I recommend taking a look at the Penn Museum’s website for a compelling diversion. In this new year, we also have a new interactive map and timeline of the museum’s 125 years of anthropological and archaeological research.  The timeline combines pictures, stories, and fascinating information in a fun, accessible format. You can view it all here.

Just make sure you don’t spend more time exploring than you intended and consider getting out of the house and taking a drive into campus to check it out in person. In the meantime, here’s a screenshot of what you’ll see.

museum timeline (2)

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Indiana Jones Day at the Penn Museum

Author: Alex Fleischman

Ask my why I’m studying anthropology and I’ll give you a 30-second rundown of a unique, liberal arts perspective that will help me after college even if I don’t become an anthropologist.

What I won’t tell you is what (I think) most anthropology majors don’t admit—I like the movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. A lot. And even though most of what we anthropology undergrads study isn’t the archaeological adventures we’ll have one day, I’m pretty sure that’s what all of us hope for.

This Saturday from 1 PM to 4 PM, I get to trade in my normal anthropology classes at the Penn Museum for anthropology that’s a little more exciting, if not a little Hollywood-inspired as well.

The museum is honoring National Archaeology Day with an afternoon of celebrating archaeological and anthropological adventure. Indiana Jones Day will feature mummies, a scavenger hunt, and an interactive dig site, among many other fun activities. The event is free with Museum admission. In addition, visitors wearing an Indiana Jones-style fedora receive $2 off the price of admission!

Even more exciting for an anthropology major, National Geographic’s Dr. Fredrik Hiebert will speak about being a real archaeologist and exploring the world.

There’s more information online here.


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