Collection Glimpse: American Folk Art Museum

This is the third segment in a series of posts entitled, “Collection Glimpses.”  Each post in the series  focuses on a unique collection, innovative repository, or a not well known cultural heritage institution. The first post highlighted the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archive and the second installment focused on the Gardiner Museum

 Established in 1961, the American Folk Art Museum is dedicated to the display, preservation, and interpretation of traditional folk art and contemporary self-taught artists from the United States and internationally.  The museum hold folk art items from the eighteenth century to the present.

In addition to an extensive collection dedicated to traditional folk art of all mediums and contexts, the Museum’s Contemporary Center highlights recent works of art and culture which reflect the ongoing tradition of self-taught artistry in the United States.  The Center presents lectures, symposia, and special events.  A portion of the Center’s contemporary works can be viewed online

Other than the unique items in the collection, the factor which makes the American Folk Art Museum stand apart is the museum’s commitment to outreach and educational programming.  The Museum has an extensive collection focused lecture, tour, and workshop schedule.  Other outreach initiatives include hands on DIY craft  sessions, guitar afternoons, and free music Fridays.

For those interested in American folk art and not unable to visit the museum, there are a wide array of social media and digital display techniques used by the museum. The museum has digitized a number of items and made them available via an image gallery.  Additionally, in the past the Museum has produced some exhibit specific apps and digital promotions.  The “Infinite Variety: Three Centuries of Red and White Quilts” app is an interesting example of an app allowing remote access to an exhibit.

Overall, the abundance of digital resource and research potential provided by the American Folk Art Museum left me longing for a Canadian equivalent.  The Canadian Museum of Civilization does collect Canadian Folk art, however at the moment that collection isn’t overly accessible in a digital format.

Photo credit: joevare, cliff1066, and Steve and Sara,

Collection Glimpse: The Canadian Lesbian and Gay Arcvhies

This is the first post in a new series of posts entitled “Collection Glimpses.”  Each post in the series will focus on a unique collection, innovative repository, or a not well known cultural heritage institution.

We are family button- Karen Andrews. CLGA

The Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA) is located in Toronto, Ontario and was founded in 1979.  CLGA aims to “acquire, preserve, organize, and give public access to information and materials in any medium, by and about LGBT people, primarily produced in or concerning Canada.”  Currently CLGA is the second largest LGBT archive in the world.

The CLGA’s archival holdings are unique not only in their subject matter but in the inclusion of nontraditional archival material types.  For example, the CLGA has an extensive collection of t-shirts, buttons, matchbooks, erotica, and other material related the the Canadian LGBT community.  The CLGA also has a variety of more traditional archival material including personal and organizational records, photographs, artwork, cartographic material, and audio-visual items.

 In addition to the extensive holdings of the CLGA, the Archives has an rich publication history. Since 1979, the CLGA has published or helped publish 15 works  on Gay and Lesbian heritage and culture.

The current downside of the CLGA is the limited hours the Archive is open to the public.  Recently, this lack of on site availability has been partially compensated by the digitized holdings which can be browsed and searched online.  However, currently only a small percentage of items have been made available online and most researchers are still reliant on the physical holdings of the CLGA.

Despite the limited hours, the CLGA is the best resource for primary source material on the Canadian LGBT heritage.  The grassroots and community based nature of the CLGA is evident in its holdings, collection policies, and outreach.

Photo credit: Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives

Museum of Online Museums

I recently came across the Museum of Online Museums (MoOM) site. The site is one of the initiatives undertaken by Coudal Partners, a company focused on design, web publishing, advertising, and commerce. Sadly the site isn’t useful as a searchable database of museum exhibits and it is a bit awkward to navigate. However, it does provide an interesting look at a seemingly random collection of online “museum” exhibits. Note: Museum has been placed in quotes as the site uses the term museum very loosely and includes links to exhibits from personal collections.

The main feature of MoOM is an aggregate list site of museums with online exhibits and virtual exhibits. The Museum Campus portion of the site highlights some of the more well known museums (eg. Smithsonian, MoMA, and the Virtual Museum of Canada) which have an online presence. This list in an interesting mixture of institutions and it’s not entirely clear what criteria an institution must meet to be placed on the list.

The site also includes a section devoted to interesting small collections and galleries. The majority of these exhibits are hosted on personal websites and are not affiliated with a heritage organization. For the most part this Galleries, Exhibits, and Shows portion of the site focuses on personal collections not on museums. Some of the more interesting collections currently in this section include: the Library of Dust, The Tiny Pineapple Nurse Book Collection, the Matchbook Registry, and the advertising gallery Found in Mom’s Basement.

Although I didn’t find the Museums of Online Museums site horribly useful from a heritage professional or educational standpoint, the site did provide an interesting look at what people outside of the heritage field consider to be museums or collections.

Institutional Personality

The National Portrait Gallery of London recently released an online collection catalogue and made some of the institution’s historical records available online. The Gallery’s institutional records were previously not accessible to the general public and include a number of insights into the unique history of the institution.

One of the more shocking bits of institutional history released is a document which examines a murder-suicide occurred in the the Gallery’s east wing in 1909. The Gallery’s records also include a report which highlights the rat problem the Gallery faced during WWII. The majority of the previously unreleased institutional history focuses on exciting, bizarre, and exceptional events.

The inclusion of interesting anecdotes in an institutional history allows for the history of the Gallery to appeal to a wider audience. By placing emphasis on unique occurrences at the Gallery, the Gallery’s past becomes interesting, making people want to know more about the institution itself. I think the release of this material to the media was a great public relations move by the Gallery. This release has allowed the Gallery to gain a more youthful and interesting personality in the face of a public which isn’t always interested in history, art, or museums.

Summer Whirlwind

After completing the course work portion of the UWO Public History program, I packed all my bags and moved to Ottawa. I spent the summer working as an intern for The History Group and volunteering at the Canadian Museum of Nature. I enjoyed my time at both organizations, and was able to gain a number of valuable experiences.

The History Group (THG) is a historical research company that focuses on a variety of research topics including: archaeological, first nations, anthropological, and civil litigation. While working with THG I worked on various source identification, and research organization projects. This work was primarily involving collections held by Library and Archives Canada. Working with these collections was both time consuming and interesting. My experience with THG allowed me to gain an understanding of how to organize huge amounts of material effectively, and which research techniques work best for me.

While volunteering at the Canadian Museum of Nature I assisted in the botany collection. Prior to volunteering my knowledge of botany was limited at best. Spending hours mounting various types of grasses from British Columbia, forges a new interest and appreciation for botanists. Additionally, unlike many of my past experiences the Canadian Museum of Nature was not comprised soley of those from the historical field. A large portion of the staff at the Museum of Nature are scientists and researchers. This mix of professionals was interesting and exposed me to a facility which combines history with numerous other fields.

Overall, my summer was filled with diversity. Historical research and museums collection work are drastically different. This diversity is something which speaks to the field of public history and the variety of fields which a public historian can find employment in.

Online Resource: Our Ontario

I recently stumbled across an interesting digitization project. OurOntario.ca is a division of Knowledge Ontario. The project aims to make various cultural collections in Ontario more accessible through digitization. Our Ontario works with community organizations throughout Ontario to establish effective and efficient digitization plans. Additionally, the site is geared toward researchers of all ages and the digitized documents from all across Ontario are easily searchable. The site also features a number of social media initiatives including social tagging.

One of the downfalls of this site however, is that not all documents which appear in the search results are viewable online. In some cases copyright restrictions have limited access to material. Despite this, adequate information is proved to describe material to researchers, and to assist in locating potentially useful sources.

The variety of material available on OurOntario is one of the site’s greatest features. The site features sources of a variety of facets including: audio, text, photo, video, and object. The site is also searchable by collection. Additionally, the site features collections from a variety of institutions including: libraries, archives, museums, historical societies, community groups, and government organizations. The variety of content makes this site an increasingly centralized place to conduct a variety of research.