Expedition Magazine - Penn Museum (2023)

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There is a new sense of excitement in the Museum’s Mediterranean Galleries, which aredevoted to the cultures of ancient Greece and Italy. It allculminates in spring 2003, when three newly installed and refurbished galleries, the Introductory Gallery,the Kyle M. Phillips, Jr., Gallery, and the Andrew N.Farnese Gallery, join the Ancient Greek World Gallery,reinstalled in 1994, to complete the suite of expansiverooms on the Museum’s third floor. Beyond the fresh and state-of-the-art lighting, visitors will notice agreater variety and number of objects on display, with Greece and Italy. The third-floor galleries formed achain of domed and barrel-vaulted spaces filled withlight, so much light that one of the final orders for thenew museum was for 270 window and skylight shadesfrom Gimbel Brothers department store.The original third-floor exhibition scheme reflectedlate-19th-century notions about the relative importance of the cultures represented there. HistorianSteven Conn has argued that the exhibition of thesecivilizations in the most important galleries was a manifestation of the cultural bias of the Museum’s plannersand administrators. Nevertheless, contemporary conservators will agree that the ethnographic collectionswere better preserved in the lower, darker galleries. TheGreek and Roman sculpture collection—including a number of plaster casts, such as the Roman imperialreliefs from the Arch of Trajan at Benevento—filledPepper Hall at the top of the wide main marble stairway. Important artifacts that the Museum had recentlyacquired from excavations in Italy were housed in thegallery between Pepper Hall and the Upper FitlerPavilion. This installation was named for PhoebeA. Hearst, one of the Mediterranean Section’smost important early benefactors. In 1904, JohnWanamaker, the department store magnate who wasalso an important early supporter of the Museum,donated a large collection of bronze reproductions ofRoman sculpture. Along with several Etruscan stonesarcophagi given by Hearst, these casts transformedPepper Hall and the stone stair that leads from theMuseum’s main entrance.

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At the west end of the building, the Upper BaughPavilion and the adjacent gallery housed the collectionsof the“Babylonian and General Semitic Section.”Thepavilion was named for Daniel Baugh, who had servedas chairman of the building committee and played animportant role in securing construction funding. Onthe east end, the Upper Fitler Pavilion balanced theUpper Baugh Pavilion. Named in honor of formerPhiladelphia mayor Edwin H. Fitler, the paviliona more comprehensive interpretation that will betterrepresent the Museum’s holdings.

The restoration has given the museum an opportunity to turn a reflective gaze on itself. Planners ofthe new Mediterranean Section wanted to base theredesign on an understanding of how the galleries hadgrown and changed over the past century. Ideas aboutmuseum exhibition and display have changed dramatically since the University of Pennsylvania Museumopened its doors in 1889. Moreover, the backdrop forthe exhibits—the Museum itself—is an ever-changingwork of art in its own right. The stately building is aphysical expression of the ideals of its leaders andbenefactors through the years, as well as a functionaltestament to the vision of its designers.Because these galleries are the result of three separatebuilding campaigns stretching over more than 70 years,they represent a capsule history of the building’s growthand change. And creating a unified series of galleriesout of such diverse architectural expressions provedchallenging. Although the final design of the exhibitionpresents a thematic vision of ancient Greek and Italiancultures that does unify the galleries, the designersdecided to exploit their architectural differences ratherthan ignore them. Restoring the galleries to theiroriginal appearance as much as possible became animportant component of this project. The resultingplan mirrored the archaeological process, relying oninformation gathered on site, as well as from historicphotographs, to help interpret that physical evidence.

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The Original Museum

The oldest part of the Museum was constructedbetween 1896 and 1899, the work of architects WilsonEyre, Jr., Cope and Stewardson, and Frank Miles Dayand Brother. When the Museum opened in late 1899,the third floor was the main exhibition floor, housingcollections from Egypt, the Near East, and ancient Greece and Italy. The third-floor galleries formed achain of domed and barrel-vaulted spaces filled withlight, so much light that one of the final orders for thenew museum was for 270 window and skylight shadesfrom Gimbel Brothers department store.The original third-floor exhibition scheme reflectedlate-19th-century notions about the relative importance of the cultures represented there. HistorianSteven Conn has argued that the exhibition of thesecivilizations in the most important galleries was a manifestation of the cultural bias of the Museum’s plannersand administrators. Nevertheless, contemporary conservators will agree that the ethnographic collections were better preserved in the lower, darker galleries. TheGreek and Roman sculpture collectionincluding anumber of plaster casts, such as the Roman imperialreliefs from the Arch of Trajan at BeneventofilledPepper Hall at the top of the wide main marble stairway. Important artifacts that the Museum had recentlyacquired from excavations in Italy were housed in the gallery between Pepper Hall and the Upper FitlerPavilion. This installation was named for PhoebeA. Hearst, one of the Mediterranean Section’smost important early benefactors. In 1904, JohnWanamaker, the department store magnate who wasalso an important early supporter of the Museum,donated a large collection of bronze reproductions ofRoman sculpture. Along with several Etruscan stonesarcophagi given by Hearst, these casts transformedPepper Hall and the stone stair that leads from theMuseum’s main entrance.

At the west end of the building, the Upper BaughPavilion and the adjacent gallery housed the collectionsof the“Babylonian and General Semitic Section.”Thepavilion was named for Daniel Baugh, who had servedas chairman of the building committee and played animportant role in securing construction funding. Onthe east end, the Upper Fitler Pavilion balanced theUpper Baugh Pavilion. Named in honor of formerPhiladelphia mayor Edwin H. Fitler, the pavilion housed the Egyptian collection. All these galleries werefurnished with an early form of electric lighting. Theseunusual fixtures held weak carbon filament bulbs thatare a striking feature of many of the early photographsof Museum interiors.Although the Mediterranean Section sculpture wasmoved from Pepper Hall to the west gallery after thecompletion of the Harrison Wing in 1915, the collections remained on the upper floor of the 1899 buildinguntil the completion of the Administrative Wing in1929. The collection was then moved to the wing’sthird-floor galleries. In 1958, the Upper Fitler Pavilionwas added to the Mediterranean Section’s gallery space.

The Upper Fitler Pavilion

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The Egyptian collection was housed in the Upper FitlerPavilion until 1926, when it was transferred to the newlydedicated Coxe Memorial Egyptian Wing. A vaultedcorner pavilion with large windows that faced east andsouth, the Upper Fitler underwent many changes whenthe Administrative Wing and its Sharpe Gallery wereattached to it between 1927 and 1929. These alterationsincluded rewiring and new lighting, and where the newwing joined the 1899 building, the skylight was partiallycovered and the east windows sealed. After the completion of the Administrative Wing, the transformed UpperFitler Pavilion was set up to display various Museum collections, as well as loan exhibitions. Among the installations were Greek vases of the Albert Gallatin Collection, an exhibition on the ancient Maya, and musical instruments of the Sarah Frishmuth Collection. Although theskylight was a major architectural feature of the gallery, itwas sealed sometime after 1929 (probably during WorldWar II because of the required blackouts) and finallyremoved during a reroofing project in the 1980s, leavingonly the interior ceiling sash in place.In April 1958, the galleries reopened after undergoinga major rehabilitation and modernization under thedirection of G. Roger Edwards, curator, and DavidCrownover, manager of exhibitions. This was a stylishrenovation with a very spare display of objects.

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TheUpper Fitler Pavilion became a kind of introductor outer court with a display of classical sculpture. It wasintended to be seen from a distance and attract visitors tothe Sharpe Gallery, which was then, in effect, a dead end.The walls were painted dark blue to set off the whitemarble sculpture, and the objects were dispersedthroughout the gallery with a minimalist aesthetic.In the Sharpe Gallery beyond, objects were displayed in steel-and-glass cases designed in what couldbe called a combination of international style andPopuluxe, reflecting postwar optimism and an attemptto reinvent the museum experience. This moderninstallation demonstrated that an archaeologicalexhibition need not be old-fashioned and dowdy.Archaeology and museology, like the rest of the modern world, were about to enter an era of discoverythrough science and technology. One of the moreunusual changes made to the Sharpe Gallery was themodification of its windows. The round-headed windows were partly walled over to make them square,and plaster infills between the marble sills created single uninterrupted strip, giving the windows astreamlined appearance.

The Administrative Wing and The Sharpe Gallery

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Archival documentation and a close study of theAdministrative Wing and its third-floor Sharpe Galleryreveal a complicated history. The original organizational scheme, in which the third floor served as the mainexhibition floor, was maintained while the master planwas built out in three phases between 1915 and 1929.The Harrison Wing, with its Rotunda and HarrrisonAuditorium, was completed in 1915. Providing bothexhibition and storage space for the Egyptian collections, the Coxe Wing was built between 1924 and 1926.The Rotunda, the Harrison Auditorium, and the Coxe Wing all incorporated the Guastavino vault construction system introduced in the United States in the 1880s.Planning began on the Administrative Wing as soonas construction commenced on Coxe. This new wing was to provide a new entrance, new offices, and galleries that connected back to a new rotunda, larger thanthe one finished in 1915. The intent of the originalmaster plan was eventually to connect the FitlerPavilion at its south side to an enormous centralrotunda by way of a gallery that helped enclose theentrance courtyard. After preliminary designs for thisnext phase were prepared in 1924, it was decided toscale back the building program for the time being, sothat only the entry court and the wing parallel toSouth Street would be built. Originally conceived assemicircular, the street-side gallery was straightenedout and connected to the Fitler Pavilion’s east sidethrough an enlarged masonry opening at the site ofone of the original windows. The other three windows were filled with hollow terracotta blocks andplastered over Archival documentation and a close study of theAdministrative Wing and its third-floor Sharpe Galleryreveal a complicated history. The original organizational scheme, in which the third floor served as the mainexhibition floor, was maintained while the master planwas built out in three phases between 1915 and 1929.

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The Harrison Wing, with its Rotunda and HarrrisonAuditorium, was completed in 1915. Providing bothexhibition and storage space for the Egyptian collections, the Coxe Wing was built between 1924 and 1926.The Rotunda, the Harrison Auditorium, and the CoxeWing all incorporated the Guastavino vault construction system introduced in the United States in the 1880s.Planning began on the Administrative Wing as soonas construction commenced on Coxe. This new wing was to provide a new entrance, new offices, and galleries that connected back to a new rotunda, larger thanthe one finished in 1915. The intent of the originalmaster plan was eventually to connect the FitlerPavilion at its south side to an enormous centralrotunda by way of a gallery that helped enclose theentrance courtyard. After preliminary designs for thisnext phase were prepared in 1924, it was decided toscale back the building program for the time being, sothat only the entry court and the wing parallel toSouth Street would be built. Originally conceived assemicircular, the street-side gallery was straightenedout and connected to the Fitler Pavilion’s east sidethrough an enlarged masonry opening at the site ofone of the original windows. The other three windows were filled with hollow terracotta blocks andplastered over.

The design program for the spaces in the scaled-down Administrative Wing was always in flux, particularly when building costs had to be reduced. About40 percent of the aboveground space in the wing wasdevoted to exhibition. On the south side of each floor,a gallery space, a 14-foot-wide corridor, spanned thelength of the Administrative Wing. On the main(third) floor, this gallery was named for Richard andSally P. Sharpe, parents of two of the donors to thebuilding fund. Over time, the entire addition cameto be called the Sharpe Wing. The basement and subbasement were to be used formechanical systems and storage. The ground (first) floorwas to be the main entrance, as conceived in the masterplan, and consequently, a large coatroom and rest roomswere included on either side of the entrance. The mezzanine (second) floor contained a central gallery overlooking the main entrance. It was flanked by the boardroomto the east (the present director’s office) and the executive office suite to the west (the present Nevil Gallery).On the main floor, the space adjacent to the SharpeGallery is six steps above the exhibition floor, and theAncient Greek World gallery and the departmentaloffices of the Mediterranean Section are located therenow. The original intent was to use this area foradministrative purposes. Schematic drawings showthis space as wide open, undivided, and labeled as“Studio/Filing Space/Office Space.”

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George ByronGordon, the director, requested that it be left undivided, with the idea that partitions could be added lateras the function of the space became more clearlydefined. Budgetary constraints probably also played arole in this decision. All the galleries were to have beenfinished with brick walls and vaulted Guastavino tileceilings like the Rotunda, the Harrison Auditoriumand the Coxe Wing, which was then under construction. This did not happen.Existing documentation of the Administrative Wingreveals two separate sets of drawings, the schematicdesign set and the actual constructiondocuments. The architects determinedbuilding costs on the basis of theschematic design drawings, and they announced in a letter of September 4, 1926, that theproject was estimated to be 30 percent over budget.Severe cuts were made to the project before the drawingswere completed and sent out to bid. Extensive changesresulted, including reduction of the structural capacityof the floors and the quality of the finishes. The Museumalso made many deletions from the plans, such as thesubbasement, boardroom paneling, fireplaces, chimneys, light fixtures, operable window sash, elevators,marble borders on the floors, and most of theGuastavino vaults throughout the building. After bidswere received, the budget allowed some deleted items tobe added back into the project. These included the sub-basement, operable window sash on the north side of thebuilding, and the courtyard with sculpture by Alexander Calder, gates by Samuel Yellin, andmodest landscaping. One fireplace and chimney werekept for what was to be the boardroom (now the director’s office). The resulting galleries were plaster with canvas coverings and lighted by ordinary“schoolhouse”fixtures. The handsome Guastavino vaults were kept only on the first floor and in the third-floor central gallery that would connect to a future rotunda addition. TheMediterranean collections were reinstalled in the170-foot-long Sharpe Gallery for its opening. The Administrative Wing became, and remains, the home ofthe Mediterranean Section’s galleries and offices. Thewing had no official opening in the dramatic contextof severe cutbacks, Gordon’s sudden accidental deathduring construction, and the stock market crash inthe autumn of1929.

The Academic Wing — Elevator Lobby

There was no new construction at the Museumbetween 1929 and late 1968. Work began on the largeAcademic Wing in 1968 using designs by the notedfirm Mitchell/Giurgola Associates Architects. As partof this construction, a pair of egress stair towers withempty elevator shafts at the back of the AdministrativeWing was demolished and the new building wasattached at three locations: the east end, where a newfire tower was built; the south side of the centralgallery, where a new elevator lobby was added at eachfloor; and the west end, by way of a bridge at the third-floor level connecting the Roman Gallery with theUpper Egyptian Gallery. The small third-floor elevatorlobby is now part of the Mediterranean Section galleries, with both a stair towerand an elevator connecteddirectly to the entrance below. This space is designed tofunction as the entry point to the new galleries.

Renovation of the Galleries

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Developing a restoration scheme for the Sharpe Gallerywas complicated by the difference between the originaldesign intent of the architects and the simplified result.In a workable compromise, all the original finisheswere restored, but the schoolhouse light fixtures werenot replaced. In the Etruscan gallery, we installedmodern recessed spotlights in the plaster vault, and salvaged, restored, and hung historic light fixtures from thecontemporaneous Coxe Wing. The historic configuration of the windows was also restored. In the centralgallery, the Guastavino vault and brick walls were cleaned, and a reproduction of one of the originalchandeliers from the Upper Egyptian Gallery was hung.The exposed concrete walls and terracotta tile floor inthe Academic Wing elevator lobby were cleaned. In theRoman gallery, the skylight, dark for over 50 years, wasreilluminated using artificial lighting. All the originalfinishes were restored, including the unusual, andimportant, early terrazzo floor and the unique glass tilefloor light. The carbon filament lights could not berestored, but modern track lighting has been positionedin the original locations.

Microscopic paint analysis showed that the original color scheme was a sober grayand white. The walls had been painted many times since1899, however, so it seemed appropriate to select a colorscheme that complements the new installation.In the end, the Etruscan and Roman galleries reinstallation has been a compromise between restoring the original configuration and meeting modern exhibitionrequirements. The Museum building is itself a three-dimensional archive and thus merits archival preservation. But it is also a dynamic work of architectural art, apoetic expression of the spirit of its founders, leaders,and supporters. As such, the galleries deserve a share ofthe ardent stewardship dedicated to the objects displayedwithin their welcoming spaces.

Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Alessandro Pezzati, JackMurray, Irene Bald Romano, Donald White, LynnMakowsky, Francine Sarin, and Jennifer Chiappardi,the University of Pennsylvania Museum; ShawnEvans, Atkin Olshin Lawson-Bell Architects; WilliamWhitaker, the Architectural Archives, the Universityof Pennsylvania; and Andrew Notarfrancesco, TurnerConstruction Company. The renovation of the galleries was supported by a generous grant from theWilliam B. Dietrich Foundation.

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