2019/2020 Annual Report

From the Director

2020 has been an extraordinary year in every sense of the word. Our lives have been altered, our customs and perspectives shifted by a historic pandemic. The COVID-19 public health crisis has prompted many to look deeply at our values, our communities and the impact that our lives have on others.

It is in this spirit of introspection that we launch the publication of an Annual Report for the Peabody Essex Museum. The theme is TOGETHER. In 2020, we are more aware than ever of our potential when bonded together by a common purpose. Over the last 25 years, PEM has undergone an unparalleled transformation as it combined two regional organizations — the Peabody Museum and the Essex Institute — in order to create a world-renowned art museum that is now among the largest in the country.

Since joining PEM in July 2019, I have participated in hundreds of meetings and one-on-one conversations with my leadership team, PEM staff, community leaders and many of you. I have heard your dreams for the museum and these ideas have been central to our strategic planning process.

Having concluded an ambitious building phase, PEM is now entering a programmatic phase. This will allow the museum to reinforce its ties to the community, to become ever more central and relevant in people’s lives.

Over the course of more than two centuries, PEM has continuously embraced a state of renewal and reinvention. Make no mistake — there is great promise in our moment. Thank you for joining us on this journey and for bringing your passion, talent and generosity to bear.


Brian P. Kennedy
The Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Director and CEO


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We are at a pivot point, on the cusp of the great next chapter in the museum’s history.

On July 15, 2019, Brian Kennedy invited staff to a meeting in East India Marine Hall on his first official day as the new director of the Peabody Essex Museum. He chose the location for a reason. The historic hall, in many ways, is the heart of the museum. It’s also a visible link to the museum’s founders, the visionary Salem ship captains who sailed around the globe and returned home with a diverse collection of objects and experiences that they wanted to share with the community.

That morning he invited everyone in the room to think like a founder — to imagine being tasked with the role of creating a new museum for today. What should it look like? How should it behave? Who should it serve? In the months that followed, the PEM community has worked on this challenging yet exhilarating directive: Consider how to take the best parts of our past into the present to create a better future.

PEM is at a pivot point, on the cusp of a great next chapter in the museum’s history. Like the bold founders who created this museum in 1799, we are driven by curiosity and open to taking risks. We are still asking questions, of others and ourselves.

After the official ribbon cutting, local children race to enter the new wing.

Strategic Plan

Let's start at the very beginning

PEM is an international museum with deep local and regional roots, a contemporary institution with DNA stretching back more than two centuries. To create a long-range plan for the future, America’s oldest continuously operating museum began with a study of its past.

PEM’s Board of Trustees and Advisors officially launched the strategic planning process, an intensive, collaborative undertaking. It was clear the aspirations of the early founders would provide promising clues for the museum’s evolution and goals.

1799 Founding of East India Marine Society

1821 Founding of Essex Historical Society

1825 East India Marine Hall

1833 Founding of Essex County Natural Historical Society

Founding of China Trade Museum

1848 Merger forming the Essex Institute

1857 Move to Plummer Hall

1867 Peabody Academy of Science

1983 Merger forming Peabody Museum

1992 Merger forming Peabody Essex Museum. Dan L. Monroe is hired as the first director and CEO.

2003 Safdie Wing Opens

2019 Ennead Wing opens. Brian P. Kennedy is hired as PEM's second director and CEO.

The conversations began with a question: what is the purpose of PEM?

Brian Kennedy invited staff members, Guides, Trustees and members of the Board of Advisors to roundtable sessions to launch the strategic planning process. Individuals wrote and spoke candidly about the role they felt museums, and PEM specifically, should play in people’s lives. The responses were cataloged, analyzed and shared. The document had many voices, but common themes surfaced.

The next question sought to clarify who is PEM for? The museum needs to be more accessible and inclusive, outward facing and engaged with its many communities came the chorus of answers. The relationship between PEM and the Salem community needs to improve.

Throughout this process, PEM worked closely with strategic planning consultant András Szántó, Ph.D., who provides counsel to museums around the world. He studied the museum’s DNA and identified throughlines for how PEM can be true to its roots while also embracing innovation.

He and Kennedy began to outline the direction of the strategic plan, review the museum’s foundation statement and prioritize critical issues.

When the pandemic interrupted in-person meetings, sessions resumed virtually. Surveys were sent this fall to museum members, community leaders and the public to ensure that their insights inform PEM’s strategic plan. Meanwhile, staff tackled developing the specifics: What are we going to do? How are we going to do it? And who is going to do it? This was the most rigorous portion of the strategic planning exercise.

In December, PEM’s Board of Trustees will be asked to approve the five-year strategic plan, along with a one-year plan for FY 2021. The document will identify PEM’s goals, action steps and assessment tools needed in place to determine if objectives are met. Expect more information about this collaborative and disciplined effort to create the museum all of us want it to be.

Stilt walkers dressed as butterflies greeted guests during the free opening weekend.

New wing opening celebration

Over the course of four days in September 2019, more than 15,000 people flooded through our doors for members’ open houses and free public events for the opening of the new wing. Smiling PEM staff in red T-shirts, roving musicians and street performers on stilts set a festive tone and a palpable sense of energy and enthusiasm flooded the new sun-dappled spaces.

The stunning 40,000-square-foot addition designed by Ennead Architects, the vision of former longtime Director Dan Monroe, added three new floors of gallery space, a light-filled atrium and a welcoming entrance for school groups. An outdoor garden designed by Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects added multiple water features, diverse plantings and inviting spaces to sit, talk and contemplate.

The $125 million expansion, a component of the museum’s $650 million Connect Campaign, provides new opportunities (and the glorious space) to display more works from PEM’s vast permanent collections and to tell new, engaging stories. Each installation is distinct in its ideas and design.

The new maritime gallery offers dramatic paintings by celebrated artists next to objects made by lonesome sailors aboard ship, both reflecting the creative output long inspired by the sea.

The Byrne Family Gallery of Maritime Art.

With more than 200 sumptuous works made in China, Japan and South Asia specifically for other markets, the new Asian export art gallery reveals that today’s complex global economy is not the first, by any means. And the fashion and design gallery combines traditionally disparate collecting fields to explore how we are creatures who continually design, manipulate and mold our changing world.

The opportunities to explore the collections extend beyond the new galleries. The expansion brought new works by commissioned artists, more art in public spaces and a gallery devoted to the Phillips Library collection. Kūka‘ilimoku, a rare sculpture of the Native Hawaiian god, is now situated outside East India Marine Hall and facing west toward his homeland.

All eyes were on the crane operator and the crew as they guided the anchor to its base.

Dropping anchor

On a warm afternoon last fall, hundreds of Salem residents, community leaders and PEM staff celebrated the return of a 4,450-pound iron anchor to its home outside East India Marine Hall. PEM removed the popular landmark for safekeeping during construction of the new wing, which allowed time for extensive conservation work.

Made for an unknown ship sometime before 1820, the anchor was hand-forged during the era of the early frigates. Its twisted shank suggests it endured a storm powerful enough to bend iron.

The anchor’s return underscored Salem’s origins as a maritime and global trading community, one that cherishes its spectacular historic architecture. It also marked the beginning of a concerted effort to create more exhibitions with local and regional connections. One year later, Salem Stories and The Salem Witch Trials 1692 exhibitions have opened to the public.

Director Brian Kennedy said the presence of the anchor, a sentimental favorite of many, reaffirms PEM’s commitment to be an anchor institution in the city of Salem. “I see it as our collective responsibility to continue to show deep respect to the history and legacy that brought us here to this moment today,” he added.

Three hundred varieties of shrubs, 60 trees, 37 species of flowers and three distinctive water features are found in the new garden.

Executing new vision for PEM campus

With the opening of the new wing signifying the completion of many years of building expansion, the need for a holistic campus master plan became apparent. This effort will produce a comprehensive strategy to ensure PEM’s 55 acres, 32 individual buildings, 560,000 interior square feet, and 105,000 square feet of public gardens and grounds are aligned with the museum’s mission.

Since opening in the summer of 2018, the Collection Center in Rowley has become a vital operation for PEM and a hub of activity as the new home of the Phillips Library. The space provides the highest standards of preservation, protection and care for PEM’s large and diverse collections. It also makes the collections more accessible in the support of exhibitions, programs and research.

PEM’s architecture collection is the largest of any American art museum, including four properties designated as National Historic Landmarks. Under the direction of Robert Monk, Chief of Security, Facilities Operations and Planning, historic preservation efforts continue on many museum sites. In the last two years, extensive work has been completed on the Daniel Bray House, Plummer Hall and John Tucker Daland House (the former Phillips Library), the Lye-Tapley Shoe Shop, the Cotting-Smith Assembly House and the Peirce-Nichols Carriage Barn, which is now leased by cookie company Goodnight Fatty.

Last year, for the first time in many years, PEM hosted several public programs inside the restored Cotting-Smith Assembly House on Federal Street. There is much excitement about future plans to unlock the full potential of these important properties.

Peabody Essex Museum Campus

Main Building

1 PEM Museum Building & Garden 161 Essex Street
2 East India Marine Hall
3 Yin Yu Tang House
4 Axelrod Garden Walkway
5 Armory Park

Historic Properties

6 Crowninshield-Bentley House 126 Essex Street
7 Gardner-Pingree House & Carriage House128 Essex Street
8 John Tucker Daland House 132 Essex Street
9 Plummer Hall 132 Essex Street
10 John Ward House 9 Brown Street
11 Lye-Tapley Shoe Shop 9 Brown Street
12 First Quaker Meeting House 9 Brown Street
13 Derby-Beebe Summer House 9 Brown Street
14 Daniel Bray House 1 Brown Street
15 Federal Garden 1 Brown Street
16 Andrew-Safford House & Carriage House 13 Washington Square West
17 Gilbert Chadwick House 24 Charter Street
18 Vilate Young House 26 Charter Street
19 Samuel Pickman House 45 Charter Street
20 Summer School Building 45 Charter Street
21 Ropes Mansion, Garden & Greenhouse 318 Essex Street
22 Peirce-Nichols House & Carriage House 80 Federal Street
23 Cotting-Smith Assembly House & Carriage House 138 Federal Street


24 Museum Office Center (MOC) (also known as L. H. Rogers Building) 144 Essex Street
25 PEM Connect Building 135 Essex Street
26 PEM Receiving/Shipping 54 Charter Street
27 Armory Building 2 New Liberty Street
28 Leased Retail & Future Development 173 Essex Street
29 Leased Retail & Future Development 179 Essex Street
30 PEM Retail Space Rental 181 Essex Street
31 Brown Street Parking Lot 1 Brown Street
32 Charter Street Parking Lot 26 Charter Street
33 Maintenance Storage Shed 45 Charter Street

What are your best memories at PEM?

This question was posed to hundreds of people at the start of PEM's strategic planning process. Find more favorite memories as you explore ahead.

Best memories at PEM

“On the beach with Theo Jansen.”


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PEM staff installed this message of uplift in the windows of historic East India Marine Hall.

2020 has been a year like no other

On March 12, 2020, we posted a red “closed” sign to the front door of the Peabody Essex Museum. Nothing could have prepared us for the shock of this moment, created by a pandemic that has remade daily life around the globe.

While the majority of staff quarantined, PEM’s facilities and security teams reported to work each day to care for the museum. They filled a pallet with gloves, Tyvek suits and N95 masks to donate to local healthcare workers after Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll issued an emergency call for personal protective equipment.

Over time, the strangeness of video calls and working from home offices that sprouted from family rooms/bedrooms was replaced by the bond of our shared experience. We met children and pets who made cameos on screen. We sewed masks for one another, traded recipes and confided fears. The #PEMfromHome campaign introduced new digital content to help those in quarantine engage with lifelong learning, meanwhile curatorial teams planned exhibitions via Zoom.

When news broke in May of the killing of George Floyd by police, many people spoke out about injustice and racism. While the museum has more to do to become more inclusive and address systemic inequities, amid this tumult we commit to becoming even more relevant to our community.

PEM staff installed signs of uplift throughout the city of Salem.

Staying connected

With the doors to the museum closed, the #PEMfromHome campaign created new opportunities for engagement and fostered a sense of community. The portfolio of programs will continue to grow under a new effort to expand and promote PEM’s digital campus

To support at-home parenting, our education teams turned PEM Pals, the much-loved early literacy program, into a weekly virtual production complete with its own theme song. Staff also created a wide range of art-making videos for YouTube with complementary downloadable handouts. All of the activities above, and more, provided content for an expanded e-newsletter sent weekly to some 25,000 subscribers.

PEM curators took over our Instagram account to promote the collection, give sneak peeks of upcoming exhibitions and share candid accounts of their own experiences in lockdown. The museum’s podcast, the PEMcast, launched a special series about Creative Constraint, in which curators talk about artists’ creative responses to harrowing circumstances.

Campaign recognizes heroic hospital workers

To express gratitude for healthcare workers on the frontlines of the pandemic and to demonstrate the consoling power of art, the museum launched #WeArePEM last spring.

The fundraising campaign, supported by generous museum members, patrons and donors, helped provide 300 memberships to essential caregivers at North Shore Medical Center (NSMC).

The healthcare professionals were also invited to PEM for two special preview days before the museum reopened in mid-July.

“We are so grateful to PEM for thinking of our team at this extraordinary time,” said Laura Fleming an NSMC spokesperson. “As lead institutions in this region, NSMC and the museum have a long history of collaboration to enhance the quality of life in our community. It is so gratifying to see their support and care.”

Outdoor classroom crops up

Little Green Thumbs, our community planting project, invited people of all ages to learn the basics of gardening. Over the course of a month, wearing face coverings and practicing physical distancing, nearly 40 families worked alongside Head Gardener Robin Pydynkowski and staff volunteers in the Ropes Mansion Garden to get their hands dirty, reconnect with nature and bring the space to life.

Records indicate that in 1944 and 1945 the garden was used as a community victory garden to provide fresh vegetables for local residents dealing with shortages and rationing resulting from World War II. Similarly, we hope that Little Green Thumbs inspired a sense of community and created a spirit of camaraderie.

Physically distant but together

Physically distant but together

The constraints of being apart have encouraged PEM staff to be more connected than ever. At the very beginning of quarantine, Director of Education and Civic Engagement Siddhartha V. Shah created a series of short videos and invited staff to meditate “together” online. It seemed an ideal time to turn our present situation into an opportunity to go inside — physically and metaphorically.

Meanwhile, Director Brian Kennedy hosted a weekly Director’s Address on Zoom to share updates and answer staff questions. On Instagram, #PEMquaranTEAM shone a daily spotlight on colleagues working from home who, in turn, offered recommendations for good books, hiking trails, and movies.

The Museum Messenger, an internal e-news for staff, went out weekly with important and uplifting information. And, in a first for PEM, an ambitious curatorial team created two new exhibitions from their respective homes, Salem Stories and The Salem Witch Trials 1692, both of which opened in September 2020.

ABOVE IMAGES: 1. Brian Kennedy introduced virtual conversations with guests from the arts community in the Director’s Dialogue Series, which featured artist Bethany Collins on August 25. 2. Weekly PEM Pals, our story hour for preschoolers, went virtual with Miss Bethany. 3. Education team members introduced art-making tutorials for YouTube. 4. Curators (and sometimes their children) took over our Instagram accounts, livestreaming to our more than 40,000 followers.

Best memories at PEM

“Dancers on the bridge for Rodin.”


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Yoan Capote, Immanence, 2015. Mixed media including hinges, wood doors and metal armature. Museum purchase, 2017. 2017.36.1. Photo by Bob Durling.

PEM is committed to creating transformative, multisensory experiences of art, culture and other forms of creative expression that encourage exploration, discovery and wonder. Our exhibitions offer a means of understanding the world, addressing urgent topics and universal experiences.

Over the last decade, PEM has collaborated with major museums, including the Palace Museum in Beijing; the Victoria and Albert Museum in London; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Freer|Sackler; the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands; and the National Museum of the American Indian.

The success of the exhibition program is a credit to the innovative leadership of longtime Chief Curator Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, who recently assumed a new role at the Royal Ontario Museum. Her departure has prompted a restructuring of the curatorial department with a focus on teamwork, collaboration and impact.

Petra Slinkard, The Nancy B. Putnam Curator of Fashion and Textiles, is now Director of Curatorial Affairs; Karina Corrigan, The H.A. Crosby Forbes Curator of Asian Export Art, is Associate Director – Collections; Daniel Finamore, The Russell W. Knight Curator of Maritime Art and History, is Associate Director – Exhibitions; Trevor Smith, Curator of the Present Tense, is Associate Director – Multisensory Experience; and Siddhartha V. Shah, Curator of Indian and South Asian Art, has been appointed Director of Education and Civic Engagement. Together they will take the museum in exciting directions.

Artist Jacob Lawrence (detail). © Robert W. Kelley/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images.

Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle

Struggle is a national treasure. It is a work of sustained brilliance by one of America’s finest artists working at the height of his powers.”
The Washington Post

2020 opened with Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle, the first museum exhibition to reunite Struggle: From the History of the American People, a series of paintings Lawrence completed during the early days of the Civil Rights era.

Lawrence often said that struggle is what we all have in common as Americans. After five years of exhaustive research at the 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library, he set out to paint a version of American history that was more complete, and complex, than had been previously known or told. His 30 intimate panels interpret pivotal moments in history, from 1770 to 1817, and as he wrote, “depict the struggles of a people to create a nation and their attempt to build a democracy.”

The groundbreaking show, which left PEM in July to embark on a two-year national tour beginning at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, also included works by contemporary artists Derrick Adams, Bethany Collins and Hank Willis Thomas.

As a complement to the show, PEM created a digital experience that featured each of the 30 panels in greater detail, as well as a virtual gallery tour. The museum’s education team organized a dynamic range of family-friendly programs for Martin Luther King Jr. weekend and during winter school vacation week in celebration of Black History Month.

Hans Hofmann: The Nature of Abstraction

“Hofmann’s paintings translate the visual and spiritual essence of nature.”
— Lydia Gordon, Associate Curator

Color was everything to Hans Hofmann. “Our entire being is nourished by it,” he once said. Organized by Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, this invigorating exhibition celebrated this highly influential painter with longstanding ties to New England.

Through vibrant paintings from 1930 through the end of Hofmann’s life in 1966, the exhibition explored the arc of the artist’s career and the role Massachusetts played in his development as an artist. “It was here that Hofmann found the artistic community he had lost in Europe,” said Lydia Gordon, Associate Curator. “The coastline fostered the artist’s constant evolution and experimentation.”

Raised in Munich, Hofmann first arrived in Provincetown in the summer of 1935 to set up an art school, where he returned for the next 20 years to teach his students his famous “push and pull” technique. The museum’s exhibition project team commissioned a designer to build a 3-D tactical reproduction of his painting Morning Mist. The multisensory experience invited people who are blind or low-vision to interact with artwork in a meaningful way.

PEM’s education and curatorial team organized a panel discussion of local artists to examine Hofmann’s influence in New England, as well as a drawing workshop.

Kimsooja: Archive of Mind

“This work shows us the significance of slowing down and paying attention.” — Trevor Smith, PEM Associate Director – Multisensory Experience, Curator of the Present Tense

South Korean artist Kimsooja offered visitors something rare — a quiet space to empty their minds of distraction. In this contemplative installation, people were invited to pick up a lump of clay, take a seat at a communal table, knead the clay into a ball and roll it toward the table’s center.

Clay, says the artist, is a container that stores the energy and intentions of the person holding it. “If we focus on this activity with a little bit of openness, we can reach the experience of emptying ourselves,” she said.

Looking small at first glance, these individual gestures cumulatively generated a complex array of texture, scale and tone, revealing traces of their makers. By the exhibition’s end, visitors created more than 60,000 clay balls amounting to more than eight tons of material, which was later donated to local nonprofits to recycle for art projects.

Where the Questions Live: An Exploration of Humans in Nature

“Within the first five minutes, I knew I wanted to work with Wes.”
— Jane Winchell, The Sarah Fraser Robbins Director of the Art & Nature Center

Artist Wes Sam-Bruce has described this magical installation as a place for kids that’s secretly for adults. Best known for his immersive exhibitions, the Brooklyn-based artist created a site-specific, multisensory installation in the Dotty Brown Art & Nature Center that functions as an enveloping world within a world.

The childlike spirit Sam-Bruce brings to his work is contagious. In the large space, there are places to crawl into and explore, suitable for families and adults. “Playfulness allows us to maintain curiosity. It’s fuel for a good life,” said the artist, who takes much inspiration from his childhood exploring the outdoors of northern California.

The exhibition resulted from a year-long collaboration between the artist, PEM and the community and involved the use of a mobile art studio, walking adventures, poetry, meditations, education programming and art making, as well as an online archive that chronicled the year and the project. The exhibition also features an original soundscape, scored by award-winning composer Ruth Mendelson.

Alison Saar, Weight (detail), 2012. Fiberglass, resin infused with coal dust, found metal and wood objects, and rope. Museum purchase, made possible by the Willoughby Stuart Memorial Fund. 2018.35.1.

Powerful Figures

“I would really love visitors to leave this installation and consider how they can experience power in their own lives.”
— Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, former Chief Curator

Eight sculptures — drawn from PEM’s African, American, Asian Export, European, Indian, Japanese, Native American and Oceanic collections — explore how artists from around the world relate to and depict power.

The works for this ongoing exhibition were selected because they are visually captivating, represent a human form and were made by artists for the purpose of addressing power within their culture, personal circumstances or time period.

Artist Alison Saar’s sculpture Weight depicts a young girl on a swing, hanging from a cotton scale and weighed down with work tools. The piece asks the viewer to consider how the value of this young Black girl’s life is measured. Other works on view include Mr. Nobody made by an unknown Chinese artist, the mid-19th century Goddess Vasurimala and an intricately carved rosary bead.

The intimate installation prompts visitors to think about how they see themselves in relation to power, both the power they possess in themselves and the ability to empower those around them.

Alexandre Hogue, Crucified Land (detail), 1939. Oil on canvas. Gift of Thomas Gilcrease Foundation, 1955. Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa Oklahoma. © Estate of Alexandre Hogue. 0127.2000.

Nature's Nation: American Art and Environment

Organized by the Princeton University Art Museum, the exhibition examined how American and Native American artists have reflected and shaped our understanding of the environment over the last 300 years.

This timely exploration opened on the heels of landmark reports from the United Nations that underscored the dire consequences of climate change.

The exhibition featured major paintings, photographs, works on paper and sculpture drawn from museum and private collections around the country. Artists included Ansel Adams, John James Audubon, Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Edwin Church, Thomas Cole, Dorothea Lange, Kent Monkman (Cree), Georgia O’Keeffe, Jacob August Riis, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (Salish-Kootenai) and Andrew Wyeth.

J.O.J. Frost, The March into Boston from Marblehead, April 16, 1861: There Shall be No More War (detail), about 1925. Oil on fiberboard. Peabody Essex Museum. Gift of Peter S. Lynch in memory of Carolyn A. Lynch.

A Passion for American Art: Selections from the Carolyn and Peter Lynch Collection

Opening on what would have been the couple’s 51st wedding anniversary, A Passion for American Art showcased the very personal journey Peter and Carolyn Lynch shared for nearly half a century.

“This exhibition clearly demonstrates that they were a thoroughly modern collecting couple, combining their love of life and art and total devotion to each other,” said Dean Lahikainen, The Carolyn and Peter Lynch Curator of American Decorative Art.

The exhibition featured classic furniture from Boston, New York and Philadelphia, paintings, sculpture, pottery, Native American art and works by modern furniture master Sam Maloof.

In memory of his late wife, Lynch gave PEM three works that were on view in the exhibition, paintings by Childe Hassam, Georgia O’Keeffe and J.O.J. Frost (which is pictured above).

Olivia Parker, Pomegranates on Cookhouse Ledge (detail), Paros, Greece,1992. Four-color carbon print (Evercolor). © Olivia Parker.

Order of Imagination: The Photographs of Olivia Parker

For more than 40 years, Olivia Parker has created alluring, poetic photographs that transform the every day. This first career retrospective invited visitors to enter the creative and imaginative world of one of the finest photographers working today.

The exhibition featured more than 100 intricately composed works from the 1970s to the present: captivating still lifes to 18th-century china, compositions about the history of knowledge and science and her most recent work exploring her husband’s memory loss. Parker has been an integral member of the PEM family as an EIMA member for over 25 years and as a Photography Visiting Committee member.

What is so striking about the artist and photographer is her ability to collect the world around her and use it as raw materials for her artwork. She approaches life, and work, with a playful sense of humor and an intense curiosity about what she sees around her.

John Thomson, The Island Pagoda (detail), from the album Foochow and the River Min, 1873. Carbon print. Gift of the Estate of Mrs. Anthony Rives, 1972. PH26.19.

A Lasting Memento: John Thomson's Photographs Along the River Min

An extraordinary photographic treasure, John Thomson’s album Foochow and the River Min captured scenes from southern China in the 19th century. Fewer than 10 of the original 46 copies of this book survived, and PEM is fortunate to own two of them.

The exhibition presented this rare collection of photographs for the first time, featuring nearly 70 striking landscapes, city views and portrait studies of the southeastern Fujian province.

As viewers followed the Scottish-born Thomson’s journey up a river, from the city of Fuzhou to Nanping, they were able to see his extraordinary gifts for striking compositions.

Accompanying Thomson’s photographs were 10 works from contemporary photographer Luo Dan, who was inspired by Thomson to undertake a similar journey in southwestern China.

In 2019, PEM opened a new gallery devoted to showcasing exhibitions drawn from works in the Phillips Library collection.

The Creative Legacy of Nathaniel Hawthorne: Selections from the Phillips Library Collection

Nathaniel Hawthorne is integral to Salem’s rich history, and PEM’s Phillips Library collection includes over 3,000 individual volumes by the famed author. He has inspired artists for nearly 200 years — and not just writers. Modern-day artist Mindy Belloff tapped into his genius when she designed A Golden Thread: The Minotaur, a contemporary reinterpretation of Hawthorne’s short story The Minotaur. Her book became the centerpiece of the exhibition.

Focusing on the visual artistry of bookmaking and printing, from cover designs to typography, the exhibition highlighted the full creativity present in books as art objects, as well as the authors and illustrators who are still inspired by Hawthorne today.

Opening on the same day as the new wing, this new gallery space will continue to feature exhibitions drawn from the Phillips Library’s singular collection.

Charles Sandison, Figurehead 2.0, 2019. Computer-generated data projection. Peabody Essex Museum. 2011.23.1.

Charles Sandison: Figurehead 2.0

Internationally renowned for his animated digital projections, Charles Sandison created this experience with PEM’s East India Marine Hall in mind. The artist scanned handwritten entries from the Phillips Library’s collection of ships’ logs and sailors’ journals, some dating back to 1750. He then projected the words and drawings using algorithms based on patterns he observed in nature.

The result is an immersive digital environment that fully encompasses the viewer in forever moving pixels and projections washing across the floor, ceiling and walls. Sandison describes entering the space as “stepping into the belly of a whale.”

Sandison created Figurehead in 2010 to iuhelp launch the museum’s contemporary art initiative. For this updated installation, he incorporated new technologies including real-time location feeds of global ship traffic and weather patterns.

Artist Vanessa Platacis installing Taking Place at PEM. © 2019 Peabody Essex Museum.

Vanessa Platacis: Taking Place

Savannah-based artist Vanessa Platacis reimagined a selection of PEM’s most beloved objects for her wall painting installation. The result is 2,700 square feet of more than 200 hand-drawn and hand-cut stencils, which spans the newly renovated Pamela Cunningham Copeland and H.A. Crosby Forbes galleries. Each of the iconic and beloved objects, she says, still hold their own in the space.

Frequent visitors may recognize the forms of Island Bride by Brian White, beaded boots by Jamie Okuma (Luiseño/Shoshone-Bannock) or elaborate carvings by Samuel McIntire.

Drawing on her background in street art, Platacis and her assistant applied the stencils to the walls and used a variety of spray-paint and graffiti techniques, including drop shadows, high contrast and layering, to apply color to the walls and give dimensionality and life to her forms.

The artist describes the painted environment as an open invitation to the viewer, a site for sociability and community, a place to observe and connect.

A young guest enjoys Carlos Garaicoa’s Partitura.

Carlos Garaicoa: Partitura

Cuban artist Carlos Garaicoa’s immersive installation Partitura looked like members of an orchestra were set to walk in at any moment. Forty music stands were arranged in the gallery, each with an iPad playing the performance of a street musician captured in Madrid or Bilbao, Spain — ranging from an African drummer to an opera singer and jazz saxophonist.

Visitors could put on headphones and move from stand to stand to hear each of the individual performances. Or, they could sit and listen to an original score made from a mix of all the recordings, celebrating the possibility of creating unity out of great diversity.

The exhibition opened one week before the museum closed abruptly due to COVID-19. To comply with safety protocols, and the hands-on nature of the experience, the installation did not reopen.

PEM publications

PEM publishes award-winning books

The museum’s commitment to original scholarship and accessible content is reflected by its diverse array of award-winning projects. Produced despite the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, the Peabody Essex Museum Guide is a beautifully designed book that features more than 400 objects and artwork from the museum’s collections. The 200-page book also includes sections on the historic houses and gardens and the renowned Phillips Library collection.

Additional recent projects included publishing the exhibition catalog for Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle, which received an award of excellence from the Association of Art Museum Curators. The complementary publication, American Struggle: Teens Respond to Jacob Lawrence, highlights the voices of teenagers across America and the struggles they face today.

In 2019, PEM collaborated with author Susan Tan and illustrator Justine Wong to publish PEM’s first children’s book, Piece by Piece, a multigenerational story about a girl’s visit to Yin Yu Tang, the Chinese house. That same year, PEM published the exhibition catalogs for Order of Imagination: The Photographs of Olivia Parker, and A Passion for American Art: Selections from the Carolyn and Peter Lynch Collection.

In 2020, PEM Associate Curator George Schwartz’s book Collecting the Globe, the first in-depth exploration of PEM’s precursor, the East India Marine Society Museum, was published by the University of Massachusetts Press. The release of the book was serendipitous, as it framed many conversations surrounding the development and execution of our strategic plan.

Best memories at PEM

"Just a few days after the Boston Marathon bombings, over a thousand people came to a Nick Cave Soundsuit performance. It was an incredibly powerful moment."


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Dancers perform at Lunar New Year Festival.

Inside and outside the museum, we came together through music, dance, art making, theater, film and, of course, food. From free neighborhood block parties that drew hundreds to art-making workshops designed for a handful, people came to PEM to play, laugh, celebrate and learn.

Like it does every year, the Lunar New Year Festival brought large crowds to the Atrium. The Pride Party, Continuum Gala, and PEM Pals, too, gave people a reason to dance with abandon. Artists taught painting classes in the Ropes Mansion Garden and educators led tree treks around the museum campus.

The annual summer Block Party draws large crowds.

For the 2019–2020 school year, about 1,200 students and 55 teachers from 11 schools came to visit for the multiple-visit program called Creative Collaborations. A partnership with Mass STEM Hub brought nearly 125 middle-schoolers to PEM for a Pull Toy Showcase that blended engineering and design principles.

The pandemic provided an opportunity to explore how to work with program partners in new ways. A collaboration with Salem public school art teachers, for instance, led to the development of bilingual gallery-based activities for students at home.

Expect more multisensory experiences that inspire wonder and learning, draw in new audiences and bring out the best of our shared humanity.

New England Gospel Ensemble performs during opening weekend for Jacob Lawrence: An American Struggle.

PEM programs reach new audiences

PEM exhibitions offered exciting opportunities to expand upon themes that were explored in the galleries, including a dynamic schedule of programs created for Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle. For the public opening, which fell over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, the museum offered free admission for three days. Community leaders stood in front of Lawrence’s powerful works to facilitate listening sessions, a gospel chorus performed in the Atrium and Raw Art Works invited people to contribute to its traveling art work, A Seat at the Table.

February School vacation week brought an equally compelling mix of events, including a freestyle hip-hop performance with local artist collective Wreck Shop Movement, art making with Wee The People and an interactive performance by tap dance sensations Syncopated Ladies in East India Marine Hall.

Outside the museum’s walls, PEM collaborated with the Salem-based artist groups Intramersive Media and Creative Collective to bring the multisensory theater experience Smoke & Mirrors to Cotting-Smith Assembly House.

PEM partnered with Intramersive Media and Creative Collective to present the theater experience Smoke & Mirrors

More than 300 people participated over the soldout, five-week, 10-performance run. Carly Dwyer Naik, Intramersive founder, called PEM’s support a boon to their creative process. “We knew PEM was exploring ways to interact with and interpret the historic houses and knowing how creative and imaginative the other engagements had been, we thought this might be the right time and right show.”

A series of sewing circles held last fall brought the community together for a unique program led by Karen Kramer, Curator of Native American and Oceanic Art and Culture. PEM has commissioned Marie Watt, a contemporary Seneca artist, to create a large-scale textile installation for the upcoming American/Native American gallery. To complete the piece, she invited people to come together — no experience required — to create the unique embroidered components of the quilt-based installation. “Stitching side-by-side, conversations unfolded among neighbors, strangers, friends, coworkers and family to create a lens for not just understanding — but really feeling — connectedness to one another,” said Kramer.

To make the museum more accessible to more people, PEM has partnered with the Massachusetts Cultural Council and EBT Card to Culture to welcome families participating in the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program. The initiative gives free admission to families who may have otherwise been unable to visit.

Best memories at PEM

"Seeing the smile of discovery."


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Electric aerial violinist Irene Fong performs during the 2019 Continuum Gala and New Wing Celebration. Photo by Michael Blanchard.

Each day at PEM we are inspired and humbled by the extraordinary generosity of our donors and dedicated volunteers. On the previous pages, you have witnessed the museum’s mission in action — through innovative exhibitions, public programs, engagement with educators and careful stewardship of the collection. We simply could not accomplish any of this work without all of you.

Your contributions come in many forms and each is deeply valued. Your enthusiastic participation, your financial support of all sizes, your art, and your time make our institution what it is today: a dynamic and welcoming museum.

We are grateful to the donors who believe in our work. We appreciate the devoted volunteers who lead student groups through the museum and introduce new ideas and answer questions with thoughtful care. We benefit from individuals who choose to donate art, attend the Gala and our many events in-person and virtually, serve on our boards, help facilitate new partnerships, offer suggestions and give feedback on strategic planning.

Together, we are embarking on a new chapter. With your continuous support, we will amplify our programs and exhibitions and broaden our reach to new audiences. Thank you for your multifaceted contributions. Your generosity makes PEM vital, innovative and unforgettable.

Conservation work in progress.

Gift and acquisition highlights

PEM has one of the most singular and storied collections of any museum. It is the country’s oldest collecting museum and it is also a museum that has had numerous incarnations over its 220-year history. As a result, PEM is very much a museum of museums.

Thanks to the vision of our donors, PEM’s collection has grown through gifts of artwork and purchases supported by contributions to its acquisition endowment. Here are selected highlights of additions to the PEM collection in 2019 and 2020.

An-My Lê, Untitled, Ho Chi Minh City, 1995 (Eclipse). Gift of the Joy of Giving Something, Inc. 2019.45.687. Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery.


This photograph is from a series An-My Lê created while visiting Vietnam for the first time after the U.S. established diplomatic relations with the country. Lê seeks to resolve memories and images of Vietnam with the reality of daily life there in the present. The photograph is part of a substantial gift from a private collection of more than 1,600 photographs by 123 artists that the museum received from Joy of Giving Something Foundation, Inc. Created by the American financier Howard Stein, this comprehensive collection features photographs and artists’ books by artists primarily of East Asian descent or working in East Asia, from 1930 to the present day.

Shakuntala Kulkarni, Untitled, from Of Bodies, Armour and Cages series, 2010–2012. Cane. Museum purchase by exchange, 2020.20.1.

South Asian

A string of highly publicized acts of violence against women compelled Mumbai-based artist Shakuntala Kulkarni to respond through her work. She produced a series of wearable sculptures — suits of armor made of cane — to convey how the protection of women is also often a means by which to restrict their ability, mobility and comfort. Organic in nature, fragile and feminine in appearance, the armor is both an exoskeleton to defend its wearer from attack as well as a cage in which to confine her.

Hank Willis Thomas, Rich Black Specimen #460, 2017. Aluminum with powder coat and automotive paint. Edition 1 of 2, with 1 artist proof. Museum purchase made possible by the Elizabeth Rogers Acquisition Fund, 2019.


On view in Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle, Rich Black Specimen #460 is sourced from historical visual representations of slavery in America. #460 was one of four specimens used in “runaway slave” advertisements. Hank Willis Thomas presents the figure three-dimensionally as a life-sized sculpture in powder-coated steel, the recasting the specimen’s scale as a means to inject personhood into the otherwise cruelly anonymous form.

Carla Fernández, Manifesto Poncho and jumpsuit, from the Fashion as Resistance collection, Fall/Winter, 2018. Viscose, hand-painted with acrylic paint. Museum purchase made possible by the Willoughby Stuart Acquisition Fund, 2020.7.1AB. Photo courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.


The generous gifts of Susan Esco Chandler, Vivian Hassenfeld, Rana Sadik and the estate of Jane Trigére have made it possible for us to add a significant roster of international modern and contemporary designs either not yet represented or insufficiently represented in our fashion collection. Works purchased by designers Carla Fernández, Jamie Okuma, Becca McCharen-Tran for Chromat and Tracy Reese added to the breadth and depth of the collection. Many of these recent additions, including the one pictured here will be included in Made It: The Women Who Revolutionized Fashion.

Alan Michelson (Mohawk), Hanödaga:yas (Town Destroyer), 2018. Peabody Essex Museum purchase made possible by the Essex Institute Coin Fund 2019.38.1. © Alan Michelson.

Native American

PEM recently purchased this powerful multimedia installation by Alan Michelson (Mohawk). Hanödaga:yas (Town Destroyer) explores the legacy of President George Washington in late 18th century Haudenosaunee Territory through today. Composed of a reproduction Houdon bust of George Washington, projected video and soundscape, antique tripod, and AstroTurf, this piece will be featured in our 2021 Native American and American collection installation in the Putnam Gallery.

Tanaka Yū, Furoshiki, Wrapping Cloth, 2018. Stoneware. Promised Gift of Carol and Jeffrey Horvitz, 2019. Peabody Essex Museum.


Japanese ceramic artist Tanaka Yū created this stoneware sculpture to look like Furoshiki, a type of Japanese wrapping cloth traditionally used to transport clothes, gifts or other goods. The visually stimulating work joined PEM’s collection in 2019 and is currently on view in the fashion and design gallery. Given by Carol and Jeffrey Horvitz, the piece is part of the museum’s plan to bring the collection’s representation of Japanese art and culture into the present.

John Bertonccini, Whaling vessels in the Ice, Herschel Island, about 1895. Museum purchase with funds donated by the Maritime Art and History Visiting Committee. 2019.33.1.


A captain in a whaling fleet, John Bertonccini was an inveterate artist who was said to paint at every opportunity, even using the ship’s paint supplies when his own ran out. His fleet traveled into high arctic waters off the Yukon’s north coast in pursuit of their prey, allowing their ships to freeze into the ice so they could winter over rather than make the long journey home each year.

Here he created a birds’-eye view of their winter grounds, with whaling crews playing soccer and baseball to pass the time.

Probably retailed by Cutshing, active 1826–75, Guangzhou, China, Bracelet, about 1840. Gold filigree. Gift in honor and loving memory of my mother Marion McMillin Wooten by Frank McMillin Wooten. 2019.11.1.

Asian Export

Success often depends on the ability to build and sustain interpersonal relationships. In the 1840s, Chinese merchants inscribed their names on this Chinese export gold filigree bracelet and presented it to Ellen Coolidge, the wife of an American trader in China. A highlight of the new Sean M. Healey Gallery of Asian Export Art, the bracelet was acquired just before the opening of the new wing.

Paa Joe, [Fort] Gross-Friedrichsburg–Princestown. 1683 Brandenburg, 1717–24 Ahanta, 1724 Neths, 1872. Britain, 2004–5 and 2017. Emele wood and enamel. Gift of Jack Shainman Gallery. 2019.58.2. Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery, New York .


This work is one of a series of 13 architectural sculptures created by Paa Joe depicting the slave fortresses of Ghana’s Gold Coast. They were made using the tools and techniques that he customarily used in his work as a maker of figurative coffins, a popular tradition in Ghana. These sculptures are a powerful memorial to the brutality of the transatlantic slave trade. As colonial administrative centers, these buildings housed Africans who were sold into slavery. Jack Shainman donated two sculptures from this series in memory of Claude Simard, who originally commissioned these works.

Financial year in review

July 1, 2019–June 30, 2020

The Peabody Essex Museum’s unique transformation and growth over recent decades has been made possible by by strong leadership and remarkable philanthropy.

From 2003, which marked the opening of the Moshe Safdie building, to 2019, with the addition of the Collection Center and Ennead-designed wing, PEM doubled its operating budget (shown below excluding interest on debt and depreciation) and gave itself the means to present its extraordinary collections and special exhibitions in spectacular spaces.

2020 was an extraordinary financial year in many ways. PEM recently changed the fiscal reporting period from January–December to July–June, which aligns better with the museum’s business cycle.

For simplification, we are reporting the 2020 operating overview as unaudited and annualized to include the full 12 months between July 2019 and June 2020.

Operating Budget | 2003-2019

Gra[h] Chart


  • 40
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  • 10
  • 5
  • 0
  • 2003
  • 2004
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  • 2007
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  • 2019

Revenue and operations were severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic that forced the closure of the museum on March 12, 2020. Between July 2019 and June 2020, a total of 166,700 visitors came to PEM, a decrease of 25 percent compared to a similar period the year before. Earned revenue, consisting of admissions, shop sales, events and programs, were proportionally reduced.

PEM was fortunate to receive support from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a forgivable loan from the Small Business Administration that allowed retention of full staff for eight weeks during closure, and which is recorded as grant revenue. Donors to PEM continued to be very generous during this challenging time. This allowed PEM to retain operating revenue of $33 million to fund operating expenses and some necessary investments.

Operating Revenue | $33 million

PPP Grant
Earned Income

In $ Millions

Earned Income
Endowment Income
PPP Grant
Total Revenues


Operating Expenses | $32.9 million

and General
Programs and
and Security

In $ Millions

Programs and Exhibitions
Buildings and Security
Retail Services
Management and General
Total Operating Expenses


PEM's audited financial statements are available upon request.

When the pandemic began, expenses were immediately put under tight control. Four exhibitions were canceled and one was rescheduled for a fall 2020 opening. While the PPP allowed PEM to retain staff for eight weeks when the museum was closed, PEM had to lay off 15 percent of staff in mid-June 2020 to adjust to a reduced level of operations. Personnel costs represented 61 percent of operating expenses in 2020, which was not sustainable.

Beyond operating expenses, PEM continues to acquire works of art, invest in facilities and technology assets, and meet debt obligations. The largest asset category is the long-term invested portfolio (endowment and board-designated funds) of $488 million, followed by building assets valued at $200 million. The main liability is the debt of $78 million taken at the times of facilities expansions. The statement of financial position is strong with net assets at $633 million as of June 30, 2020.

Best memories at PEM

“Working and bonding with people from vastly different backgrounds.”


We deeply appreciate the contributions of our donors, Board of Trustees and Advisors, PEM members, volunteers, community partners and exhibition and program sponsors.

None of this would be possible without your support.

Envisioning | Adapting | Creating | Engaging | Supporting