suitcase

Baker established an “international reputation as the preeminent archaeological artist of her time with unmatched technical skill in scientific illustration,” according to the Penn Museum's archives.

Photo: Victoria Meng

M. Louise Baker was a renowned feminist, Quaker, illustrator and archeological hero, which is why Senior Archivist Alessandro Pezzati at Penn’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology jumped at the opportunity to obtain Baker’s suitcase, left unopened for more than 50 years.

Pezzati opened the suitcase two weeks ago during one of his “Unearthed in the Archive presentations, which are held every Friday.

“She went by Louise, not Mary. And she moved to Philadelphia at the age of 19 to study art. She specialized in all kinds of illustrations,” Pezzati said, introducing the artist to the crowd who had gathered to witness the opening of the suitcase.

The suitcase locks did not budge at first. However, after several attempts to unlock the valise, he was finally able to jolt it open with a screwdriver.

The suitcase only contained a few photographs, a small notebook and a letter she wrote en route to Israel more than 75 years ago.

Although the suitcase did not contain anything other than small personal items, the objects inside the suitcase add to the museum’s already extensive repository of Baker’s works, papers and other personal possessions.

Baker was hired by Penn as the museum artist in 1908 and created illustrations for museum publications, exhibits, models and replicas. She established an “international reputation as the preeminent archaeological artist of her time with unmatched technical skill in scientific illustration,” according to the Penn Museum’s archives.

Baker traveled extensively around the world documenting archaeological artifacts, as the stickers on her suitcase from various travel destinations suggest. Her works for the Penn Museum include paintings of Maya pottery, paintings of royal tombs of Ur — the Sumerian city-state in ancient Mesopotamia — and a reconstructed drawing of Piedras Negras.

Baker was one of the few artists entrusted to produce accurate and detailed illustrations of archaeological artifacts during a time when one could not simply take a color photograph, according to an article written by the Penn Museum’s 2015 volunteer of the year, Elin Danien.

In her article, Danien also celebrated Baker’s courage, determination and independence. Danien wrote that the artist remained passionate about her work despite her lifelong health problems and traveled around the world alone during a time when it was rare for women to do so.

“She traveled everywhere,” Pezzati told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “Berlin, the Yucatan, Mexico, Guatemala, Iraq. Nothing scared her. She was a remarkable woman.”

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