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PACSCL Hidden Collections Processing Project » Blog Archive » Why is a Museum Director like Indiana Jones?
 

Why is a Museum Director like Indiana Jones?

Written by Carey Hedlund on April 15th, 2014

While working with the records of Langdon Warner (Director of the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Arts, 1917 to 1923), we were struck first by the fact that Mr. Warner was far away from the Museum a good deal of the time: December 1917 through January 1919. And struck next by the interesting places that some of his correspondence was from. When in residence at the museum, his correspondence reveals that he wandered still: scattered amidst his administrative correspondence at the Museum are reports of archeological expeditions in the Middle East and Asia, photos of artifacts from far flung locations and reports of Bolshevik activity in Siberia.

With some time left the following week, we became curious enough to do a little exploring ourselves. If you Google Langdon Warner the first thing you find out is that almost everyone mentions him as a model for the character of Indiana Jones. We had to admit, the photos bear a distinct resemblance …

Langdon Warner and Indiana Jones. Striking, no?

Langdon Warner and Indiana Jones. Striking, no?

Warner became the Museum’s Director while relatively young, but his interests in Asian art and archaeology were already well established. While a student at Harvard University he traveled to Russian Turkestan with the Pumpelly-Carnegie Expedition in 1903. He traveled to Japan in prior to becoming the associate curator of Asian art at the Boston Museum of Art (1906 to 1913), and he was Director of the American School of Archeology, Peking, directly before coming to Philadelphia. While on leave of absence as the Museum’s director, his travels with a Smithsonian expedition were interrupted by the Russian Revolution and he was recruited as the United States Vice Council in Harbin, traveling extensively as the liaison between the State Department and Czechoslovakian exiles.

After leaving the Museum, he taught at Harvard University, became the Curator of Oriental Art at the Fogg Museum of Art and he participated in many other projects related to Asian arts and traveled an estimated 18 times to Asia.  Apparently quite modest, he was, however, highly influential as an educator and scholar, very well respected, and an entertaining and dedicated correspondent.

Photographs of artifact acquired and excursions made by Warner.

Photographs of artifacts acquired and excursions made by Warner.

Warner has not escaped controversy. Early discovery and collection of artifacts by Western scholars and archeologists has come under scrutiny and many now consider the actions taken by these early collectors as damaging, as well as ethically questionable. If Warner was indeed involved in such activities, it would certainly be balanced by his later work during World War II; as a “monuments man” –one of over three hundred other museum directors, curators, art historians, artists, architects, and educators–he was tasked with the mission of protecting cultural treasures in harm’s way. Warner is specifically credited with taking actions that protected the cities of Nara and Kyoto during the Allied bombings of Japan in 1946 and this work reflects his very real concern for the preservation of cultural heritage sites. Warner died in Cambridge, MA, in 1955; after his death Japan awarded him the Order of the Sacred Treasures.

All in all, maybe better than a movie…

 

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