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New Director Aims To Lead Penn State’s Matson Museum Of Anthropology Into New Era

Soon, Penn State’s College of the Liberal Arts is set to break ground on the new Susan Welch Liberal Arts Building, which will also be the new home of the Matson Museum of Anthropology. The facility will be housed right across from Cafe Laura and the Mateer building in University Park.

Credit to Penn State College of Liberal Arts

The Matson Museum was first put on display in the mid-1960s and found its permanent home in the Carpenter Building in 1987. The “Matson” name came shortly after in 1991 in honor of Dr. Frederick Matson, who was a professor here at Penn State in the department of anthropology.

In light of the new location, the department appointed Dr. James Doyle as the museum’s director after the former director, Claire Milner, retired in 2021. Doyle brings extensive experience to Happy Valley after obtaining degrees from Vanderbilt and Brown and a post-doctorate fellowship from Harvard.

Doyle, who previously worked as an assistant curator for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, says he’s ecstatic to get to work here at Penn State.

“When the opportunity arose here to do the academic anthropology museum but also be accessible to the public of Centre County and visitors to campus and design this new space, that’s really exciting,” he said.

The museum and its multiple exhibits display artifacts, bones, clothing, ceramics, and much more from all around the world. The main focus, though, will come from the history of Pennsylvania and the many walks of life that call the region home.

“Since I’ve been here, I have gotten a lot of interest from people to learn more about who was here in State College before the school,” Doyle said. “We hope to collaborate with the Indigenous faculty and staff alliance to think about how we can tell the story of the Indigenous past of Pennsylvania and specifically Centre County.”

Doyle made the Penn State connection even closer by saying, “You know the Penn State ‘We Are’ mantra. The museum asks, ‘Who are we?’…It’s talking about the entire human experience.”

The curator says he’s happy to bring his past experience and expertise to this new project. Since the new building is set to open in fall 2024, he and his staff have time to archive artifacts, work with architects, and even start shaping the new image of the museum.

“We will be able to rotate more often, so, over time, we will be able to show more from the collection,” the director said. “I imagine that more people will be excited to come back. That’s what we’re hoping. We will be able to change things so that it’s not the same thing that you saw last year.”

Anthropology is an extremely wide subject, but Penn State is home to one of the best programs in the country. From alumni donations to discoveries of their own, the museum is sure to offer something new every time visitors come back to visit.

The new director will have plenty to work with, as just 5% of the collection is currently on display in the Carpenter Building on campus. A more extensive collection is archived at the moment. Doyle, as well as a group of graduate students, is preparing the collection to be moved in the coming years leading up to the new museum’s opening in fall 2024.

“I’m excited to really build out our story of anthropology,” Doyle said. “That’s our goal with the Matson: to allow people to be curious and learn something.”

The Matson Museum is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday on the second floor of the Carpenter Building. More information can be found about the museum on its website linked online.

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About the Author

Mara McKeon

Mara is a senior staff writer majoring in English and public relations. She loves all things sports and anything that has peanut butter. You can usually find her obsessing over country music or Penn State wrestling and counting down the days until she gets to see Luke Combs in Beaver Stadium. Feel free to reach her on Twitter @MckeonMara, and for more formal affairs, her email is [email protected].

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