Penn State’s Matson Museum Of Anthropology engages, educates the community | Lifestyle

When Penn State students walk into the Matson Museum of Anthropology, their eyes may immediately snap to the vibrant hats of the collection titled “Hats of Many Colors.”

The Matson Museum, located on the second floor of the Carpenter Building, takes visitors on a journey back in time to see how people all over the world used to live.

Director of the museum James Doyle, a former assistant curator for the Ancient American Art section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, said the museum is made up of three galleries, each with its own subset of human culture and history.

“We can use collections to be that public face of the anthropology department, and that’s really what the goal is to get the word out to the public,” Doyle said. “So, what is anthropology in general, but also what is Penn State doing that’s really exciting that’s happening right here?”

The museum works hand in hand with the anthropology department, according to Doyle.

He said the first gallery focuses on biological anthropology, which centers on the history of human evolution and what people can learn from bones.

The second gallery is focused on “ethnographic materials”, according to Doyle, which are from the 20th century to today. This gallery features garments, as this gallery focuses on human expression.

Doyle said the last gallery focuses on archeology and material culture, featuring many ceramics.

Doyle’s goal with what is placed in the museum is to find a “group of objects that can tell a story or ask a question that would allow a visitor to learn something that he or she didn’t know before.”

The museum gets its artifacts from a multitude of places, according to Doyle, with some from alumni giving back to the museum. Several classes feed directly into the museum, which means students make projects and create things to display in the museum.

The museum will move into a much bigger space in the future Susan Welch Liberal Arts Building in 2024, according to Doyle.

Doyle said the museum’s “main priorities” are getting acclimated to the new building.

The Carpenter Building, which houses Penn State’s Department of Anthropology and the Matson Museum of Anthropology, on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021 in University Park, Pa.

“We’ve just been accepted to a program with the American Alliance of Museums specifically for collection stewardships, so it’s kind of a grant/evaluation program that will allow us to do a workbook and have an outside review of our current storage and our plans for the new building,” Doyle said. “So, it’s really about the long-term care of the collection.”

When students walk into the museum, they are greeted by museum expert and Penn State alumna Melina Porro, who said she truly loves the museum.

“I think that it’s so meaningful to expose people to things they would not have access to necessarily otherwise and to see their reactions and to talk to them. Sometimes it’s not even talking; it’s just seeing how they are reacting to the things they are looking at,” Porro said. “We have the opportunity to open people’s minds and be part of this movement through diversity and through expansion.”

The museum gets all kinds of visitors who come to learn, Porro said. She said she thinks it’s great to watch the interactions between people when they visit the museum, as sometimes people come in with knowledge who share what they know with their companions.

Porro said she sees great value in the museum and thinks that it can only benefit people.

“I think it’s always a gain to open your eyes to the spectrum of different cultures throughout time and geography,” Porro said. “There is no waste exposing yourself to other cultures, ever. So, this is a great opportunity to expose yourself to things you haven’t seen before.”

Current Penn State student Jay Falcone works at the museum and heard about the job through his anthropology major. He (junior-anthropology) said he’s incredibly grateful to be working there and loves every minute of it.

Falcone’s favorite part about working at the museum is interacting with a broad range of ancient artifacts. He’s worked with everything from ceramics to textiles from the Middle East and pottery from ancient Greece.

He also said the museum has taught him a lot about conservation.

“You learn how to be very delicate with stuff and also appreciate the history when you’re holding it. You can feel the hundreds of hands that maybe have held it before,” Falcone said. “It feels like your kind of this preservationist for the future, so when you keep it in your hands, you have to make sure it’s safe for the next person to see it and hold it.”


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