Visitors can watch conservators work at Penn Museum

Dear Benny:
A friend of mine visited the Penn Museum recently and got to see an Egyptian coffin being restored by a conservator. My friend was told this is a new attraction at the Museum. Can you tell me more about this program?
—Mummy Mystery

Dear MM:
What your friend came upon is the Museum’s newest exhibition, designed to give visitors a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes work that goes into cleaning, restoring, and researching historic artifacts. The exhibition is titled “In the Artifact Lab: Conserving Egyptian Mummies.”

The work is happening in a glass-enclosed laboratory on the third floor in the Special Exhibitions Gallery. Molly Gleeson, the Museum’s principal project conservator, and others will work in full sight of the public, preserving and researching some of the Museums 42,000 ancient Egyptian artifacts. The lab is a real working space for the conservators, equipped with several high-powered microscopes, a fume extractor, special lights, and a host of special hand tools, adhesives, solvents, and chemicals. The air in the room is climate controlled and specially ventilated to protect the artifacts.

The really special part of this exhibition is that twice a day—from Tuesday through Friday at 11:15 a.m. and 2 p.m., and on weekends at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.—the windows of the laboratory will swing open and visitors will have a chance to ask the conservator questions. 

If visitors can’t make it to the question-and-answer sessions, they can still follow what the experts are doing inside the lab because a “smart board” will provide updated information when the conservators are engrossed in their work.

And for those who can’t make it to the Museum at all, there is a blog that will report on the progress and post photos of the work the conservators are doing. Find that blog at www.penn.museum/sites/artifactlab/.

Originally published on November 15, 2012