Collection Highlights: Miniatures

This week Summer student Shelby Hamp ends a six-week position as Artifact Photography Assistant at the Huron County Museum thanks to the Government of Ontario’s Summer Experience program. Shelby has been photographing museum artifacts in the Victorian Apartment gallery and main storage. In a guest post for our blog, Shelby shares some of her personal favourites among the artifacts she has taken pictures of. 

 

The Huron County Museum is filled with many weird and incredible things. I have come across little critters in jars, intricate designs on silverware and plates, and the miniature collection.

My job at the museum is to photograph the toy collection, and this week I came across the miniatures. There is a ton of them; little Victorian furniture, coffins, washboards, and many other tiny versions of everyday things. Some were tiny product examples; others were children’s toys. These toys are in very good condition and are toys I wish I had grown up with. The neatest toys I have come across were small parlour items: a clock, couch, dinner gong, and a few other items. Everything is gold and the sofas and chairs have mauve fabric as cushioning. These toys were used between 1890 and 1910; the donor’s mother originally played with them and then the donor and her sister also played with them. Other doll items were also donated with this accession (gift to the museum) in 1995, and all have a history that dates to the late 1800s. The best part is: everything is still in mint condition.

 

Visit the Huron County Museum at 110 North Street, Goderich to see more of our collection! Do you have a favourite artefact? Share with us on Instagram or Twitter

The Gathering Place Part 3: Interviews with Museum Staff

Over the course of the past several months that I’ve spent photographing artifacts at the museum, I’ve been lucky to get the perspectives of several different Huron County Museum staff members to see how they encounter objects and their narratives. Below are a selection of responses from interviews with Curator Elizabeth French-Gibson, Archivist Jenna Leifso, Registrar Patti Lamb, and Museum Technician Heidi Zoethout.

Do you have a favourite artifact/archival document at the museum (either on display or in storage)? If so, could you describe why?

Jenna Leifso (Archivist): I really enjoy the photograph collection and couldn’t pick just one photo because every time I catalogue a new collection or look through the photos I find something that delights me. The facial expressions, the clothes, and the hair are all really incredible.

Elizabeth French-Gibson (Curator): My favourite artifacts are the textiles, primarily the clothing. I look at each piece and wonder about the person who wore it – why did they have it & why did they save it? I am curious to know what other clothes they had and wore out, had and ruined or simply had and didn’t think were significant enough to save. We have many pieces in the collection that are the fancy dress, wedding attire, baby clothing, etc. that are beautiful and special but what about the everyday? What did they chose to simply wear and what to wear out?

Patti Lamb (Registrar): So many of our artifacts tell really cool stories, it’s hard to pick out just one. But my favourite artifact has to be Tiger Dunlop’s silver cup with the gold sovereign in it. We just received it a few months ago. It is so incredible to me to be able to hold in my hands the same silver cup that Tiger Dunlop drank from…someone that was so significant politically to Goderich, the county, our county and the world. The cup was willed to his sister in his quirky will.

Beaded necklace: 1957.10.3. Photo from Huron County Museum’s catalogue.

Heidi Zoethout (Museum Technician): I have a few favourites, right now the top of the list is the carved beaded necklace. The detail in the larger beads is amazing. I did not realize that some beads are carved fruit pits. Something that is normally discarded that can be made into something so beautiful.

Close-up of carved bead.

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What is your perception of artifacts? What place and value do you think they have in society to-day?

Jenna Leifso (Archivist): I think I may have a different perception of artifacts than most people. Growing up, my family always went to museums and historical villages. I think it’s cool to see how we have evolved and how we are always trying to constantly improve.

Elizabeth French-Gibson (Curator): I think that artifacts provide us with a tangible connection with the past. It is necessary to have all types of artifacts available to the public in order to have a better view of the past. It would be easy to change the story, or overlook the mundane if the true pieces were not there. Each artifact has the ability to tell a story but the storyteller must be open to what it is truly saying.

Patti Lamb (Registrar): The artifacts create ties with the past and gives history a visual component. In such a disposable world in which we live, I think it’s important to be able to physically see and possibly touch items from the past.

Heidi Zoethout (Museum Technician): Some people look at an artifact and imagine who would have used it and create a scene in their mind. When I am working with an artifact, I think about the work and thought that went into its creation. Some designs have not changed much over time while others can be seen evolving through the collection we have.Through artifacts we are able to see how our thoughts and values have changed over time as a society and where they have not. It is a common refrain when staff are moving large objects that “they don’t make them like that anymore”. From the materials used, the amount of material used and the details that have gone into producing the product. An example of this is a bicycle that I was preparing for exhibit. It had many grease fittings which we no longer require on bicycles and the rims were made from wood. The wood had been lacquered and pin striping had been applied. When I finished working with the bicycle I came to appreciate it as work of art rather than a mode of transportation.

What would your dream project be? (e.g curating a certain type of exhibition, working with a certain set of artifacts, researching a particular area, etc.)

Jenna Leifso (Archivist): One of my dream projects would be exploring how Huron County residents acquired their clothes. I think there is a misconception that rural citizens were out of fashion and that everything was homemade, drab and boring. It would be interesting to have an exhibit that looks at the clothing factories that used to be here, mail order catalogues like Eatons and Simpsons, and how residents were influenced by fashions overseas. I would use photographs, newspaper advertisements, local directories, maps, correspondence, diary entries, and of course, clothes that are in the collection to research and create this exhibit.
Elizabeth French-Gibson (Curator): I would like to be able to spend more time on research for the Gaol. I think there are resources out there that we have not found yet and the resources that we have that have not been given the focus yet. It would be interesting for me to be able to learn more about the circumstances and lives of the people who spent time in our Gaol, as well as the functions and habits of the Gaol itself.

Patti Lamb (Registrar): My dream project would be anything related to glass or to be able to spend a greater amount of time on the Huron Pottery exhibit and the archeological collection.

Heidi Zoethout (Museum Technician): Currently my dream project would be organizing offsite storage so we could have tours available to the public. There are many details and much work required to make that possible.

Overall, throughout this project one of the most valuable experiences has been hearing the varying perspectives on museums, exhibit design, and artifacts, from such a knowledgeable and unique staff. The differing responses speak to how each of us experiences artifacts and their narratives differently according to our own lived experiences.

The artistic exhibition of photographs taken during this project will be on display in St. Catharines at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts from April 11th – May 5th with an opening reception to be held on April 13th from 5-7pm.

The Gathering Place Part II

Introducing a Brock University Student’s Project in Collaboration with the Huron County Museum & Archives, PART II

For those who missed the last post, my name is Becca Marshall – a fourth year student from Brock University where I am working on a school project with the assistance of the Huron County Museum and Archives. Basically, I am creating a series of analog photographs of museum artifacts along with a research paper as I study the theory of removed perception and constructed narratives in museums. If you want more background on my project, check out the original post that introduces my research! Today I want to update you on one of my favourite artifacts to research and photograph thus far – a linoleum block carved by Tom Pritchard.

IMG_1619At first I think I gravitated towards Pritchard’s linoleum blocks because my “art student” side was simply interested in seeing a piece of this artistic practice, as linoleum block printing is not something you encounter often nowadays. Not only does the museum have a collection of Pritchard’s linoleum blocks, but also a sketchbook and some of his art supplies. The most interesting part of this discovery process was going to find out more about Pritchard in the archives, only to discover that most of his folder was full of documents pertaining to his experience in the war. This incident prompted a line of inquiry in my research regarding human nature’s urge to essentially “fill in the blanks” in order to neatly label someone; many of us don’t like loose ends so we try to wrap our understandings of people into neat little boxes. For example, I had labelled Pritchard as solely an artist in my mind until I read his file – after that whenever I wrote research notes I found myself referring to him as a soldier. In fact, this label became so fixed in my head that when I was sorting through my photographs of
artifacts and pairing them with their donors I mistakingly wrote Pritchard’s name next to a WWII gas mask instead of his linoleum block. As I reflected on this little mishap, I remember thinking of what a large role our minds play when looking at history – as we often take what we consider the most important aspects of someones life and define them by it.
The eIMG_1626xperience with Pritchard’s artifacts and archival file significantly directed my research as I have started looking at more museum studies articles and books on how curators negotiate incorporating narrative within exhibitions, and also the role that the public plays in their interpretations. I am finding it endlessly fascinating how key choices made by the curator can cue certain readings from the public, yet also how each visitor’s lived experience often redefines each interpretation. Luckily for me there is a significant amount of literature that touches on narrative theory in museums, as well as the opportunity to ask questions of the great staff at the Huron County Museum and Archives.
IMG_1621I also thought I might take the time to answer a question I receive often in terms of the artistic component of this project – which is “Why analog photography?” To be honest its a question I ask myself repeatedly as well (usually after a long day in the darkroom when only one print turns out). I chose to work in an analog process for this project because I was hoping that my artistic practice would reflect my experience at the museum – essentially embodying the idea of “careful touch.” I’ve found that working and photographing the artifacts feels like a very reverent experience, so I want my artistic process to reflect this as I take the time to physically manipulate the photos in the darkroom. I also find that there are parallels between working with the artifacts and working with the prints in concerns to preservation and value. To me, an analog photograph has a certain amount of value due to the fact that there are normally limited prints (and even then each print might be a bit different from the last!) as well as a certain level of preciousness since each photograph takes such a long time to process and complete. Additionally, I have been getting to learn a bit more about preservation of artifacts from the Museum Technician, which has lead me to make connections to the steps taken to preserve an analog photograph – such as keeping it in the fixative chemical bath for the right length of time so that the light does not deteriorate the print, or the never ending quest to avoid dust. In this way, I find that the analog process simply connects my practice.

Until next time,

– Becca Marshall

You Tell Us: Why Every Old Artefact has New Secrets to Reveal

Both on & off display, the Huron County Museum houses an incredible collection of objects donated by our community. Staff collect and research as much information as possible about artefacts and their significance to Huron County history when they arrive at our doors, but there’s always more to be added to these objects’ stories, and their significance to the people who made, owned, used or donated them. As wonderfully demonstrated by our recent Community Curators exhibit, fresh perspectives on interpreting artefacts enhance their context and value.  Sometimes only after having an artefact in our collection for years does special knowledge from the public allow staff to identify the people in a black & white photograph, or translate German postcards sent to a Dashwood family. A growing and changing understanding of these objects ensures that they remain dynamic and connected to the community, rather than accumulating dust.

Celebrations Exhibit, Temporary Gallery, Huron County Museum.

A recent revelation about artefacts came this fall when staff were planning Celebrations, the Temporary Gallery’s winter exhibit dedicated to favourite holidays from October to March: Diwali to St. Patrick’s Day. The displays are a combination of artefacts from the museum’s collection and objects on-loan from individuals and families who celebrate each holiday. Lynn Zhu of Toronto, whose husband is from Clinton, shared her memories of celebrating Lunar New Year both in China during her early childhood, and afterwards when she and her parents moved to Canada. Lynn also lent the exhibit a selection of decorations and “red pocket” cash envelopes from past Lunar New Year occasions, providing translations for the Mandarin words.

Ceremonial Chinese sword donated by E. Townsend Family, M970.20.10

While Lynn was translating the decorations, I asked her take a look at a couple of red silk hangings in the museum’s collection, guessing their lettering might also be Mandarin. The banners are part of a collection of objects from China donated by the E. Townsend family in 1970. Elisha Townsend, born near Londesborough, was a Methodist missionary to China in the first half of the twentieth century.

Very generously, Lynn agreed to view photos of the banners, and provide translations. She explained,

The hanging banners you found are in Chinese, and are an example of a
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They should be hung on either side of a door…They usually describe some well wish
in a rhyming matching-syllables way. The particular ones you have are so interesting because they are about God…
There are many churches and Christians in China, but they’re not as obvious as here. So religious

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are not common at all…[T]hey likely were used inside the home or a church. Also, likely they were displayed all year round. (People often leave the

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up all year, so they get shabby looking, and get new ones before the New Year celebrations.[The first banner] says: “God is my herder.” [The second banner] (使我不至窮乏) says: “Let me not be poor and needy.” After some googling, it’s actually the translation of Psalm 23:1. “God is my shepherd, I shall not want/I lack nothing.”

 

Wall hanging donated by E. Townsend Family, M970.20.2

Red satin wall hanging donated by E. Townsend Family, M970.20.1

Thanks to Lynn’s translation more than forty-five years after the Townsend family’s original donation, museum staff can now understand the banners and better appreciate their significance to Elisha Townsend’s missionary work

Lunar New Year begins today, Monday February 8th! You can see the decorations loaned for #HCMCelebrations now through March Break in the Temporary Gallery. Admission next Monday, February 15th, 2016 is FREE for Family Day. 

Can you help with the museum’s current historical mysteries? We’re looking for any extant image of Goderich Township pioneer Agnes (Johnston) McIlwain for our upcoming Migration Stories exhibit in April.