What do you do at the Penn Museum?
I’m the Head Conservator. I work, with the help of all the staff, to preserve the Museum’s artifacts. And I go to meetings. Lots of meetings.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
Working with the incredible artifacts and amazing people. Our collections are one of the best in the world and with over 1 million artifacts, I’m constantly seeing something new and wonderful. The researchers and Museum professionals here are always interesting, and I use that adjective advisedly.
How did you begin working at the Museum?
I was working in Hong Kong when a conservator friend who’d been my first mentor wrote me to say that there was an opening at the University Museum (as it was then known) and that it would be perfect for me. I applied but they decided not to fill the position then. A year later, I was working in Ottawa when the search was re-opened and I applied and was hired. The funny part is that the Museum was closed due to a snowstorm the day I came to interview, so I took the job pretty much sight unseen. I’ve rarely regretted it.
What would the title of your autobiography be?
To Be Continued. or maybe Connecting The Pots. or maybe The Mystery of the Egyptian Maya Mummy (which has nothing at all to do with my life but I’m assured that those are all words that sell books)
What previous jobs have you removed from your resume?
What do you do for fun?
I’m boring: reading, gardening, eating chocolate…
What is your favorite word and why?
Serendipitous. I like the way it sounds and love the idea of a word that means “happy accident”.
What is your favorite object in the Museum?
That changes pretty much weekly. Whatever I’m working on is usually close to the top of the list. Even the most humble artifact can get to you if you spend enough time with it.
What is your favorite work story?
We often get calls from the public asking us how to clean things. A man called about a Chinese carved ivory. I explained that we usually use spit (I said, ‘saliva’) on cotton swabs for cleaning ivory. He sounded pretty dubious, so I explained that the enzymes are especially good at removing grime gently and it’s easy to control the amount of moisture used. He thanked me, hung up, and a minute later I heard my colleague’s phone across the hall ring. I then heard her give him exactly the same answer and the same reasons. Guess he needed a second opinion.
What would you do if you weren’t a (list job title)?
I spent many years finding this career and it’s now hard to imagine anything different. Though whenever I spend any time in the Museum archives, I think that would be almost as much fun.
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