My latest post can be read over at Activehistory.ca. The post, “Interpretation, Interaction, and Critique at House Museums,” discusses using Anarchist Tags in the public history classroom as a way to teach critical thinking skills about heritage spaces and allow students to interact with heritage sites in a new way. Using the tags was a new experience for me and in the post I explain how they work and reflect on their effectiveness in the classroom.
A huge thank you to Will Hollingshead of the Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site for his willingness to collaborate on this project and all of his creative ideas that he brought to our class site visit.
The second museum I decided to visit while in Toronto was the Textile Museum of Canada (TMC). If you’ve been following this blog for awhile you know I get really exited about seeing textile arts in mainstream museum spaces – so visiting the TMC seemed like a logical way to build on that love. The TMC is the only museum in Canad that “explores ideas and builds cultural understanding through the universally relevant media of textiles.” The Museum is also well known for its education and interactive programming.
Unfortunately during my visit they were just in the midst of changing out one of the main exhibit spaces so the amount of content on display was substantially smaller than normal. The main exhibit that I was able to see was Sheila Hicks: Material Voices. The exhibition focused on the work of artist Sheila Hicks whose practice ranges from weaving to found object sculptures to large scale architectural installations.
This was a wonderful exhibit that included a wide range of Hick’s work in different mediums. The exhibition also included a number of audio-visual stations some of which included films focusing on Hick’s practice and others explaining works on display by the exhibition curator. I found the videos showing Hicks process for some of her large scale installation projects particularly interesting. I also just generally loved her art and her ability to use textiles in so many different ways. The exhibition is open until February 5, 2017 and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in textiles, mixed media art, or installation art.
While in Toronto recently I had some time before my flight home, unsurprisingly I used that time to visit bookstores and heritage sites. I was torn between all the possibilities in Toronto but opted to visit a couple of museums I hadn’t been to before. The Gardiner Museum located in Toronto is Canada’s national ceramics museum. Founded in 1984 by George and Helen Gardiner it was originally designed to house their collection of ceramic art. Since the 1980s the collection has grown substantially and is now viewed as one of the most substantial collections of ceramics in North America.
The ground floor of the Gardiner includes Modern/Contemporary ceramics, Ancient Americas, Italian Miolica and English Delftware. There is also currently as small exhibition dedicated to Edmund De Waal and another one to Vimmy Ridge. My favourite part of this floor was the numerous audio visual stations which included tablets where you could learn about different ceramic techniques, the historical significance of pieces on display, and about the collection more broadly. I particularly enjoyed a video clip which showed an artist recreating an 18th century puzzle jug. Puzzle jugs were used for drinking games in pubs and taverns and I found the whole idea and complexity behind them fascinating. In case anyone else is interested (and because it’s just so cool), I’ve included the video which was created by the Victoria and Albert Museum below:
This floor was dedicated to Japanese and Chinese porcelain and also included a substantial European porcelain gallery. The narrative and historical context in the European gallery was extremely well done. It placed ceramics within larger political and social movements. It also really connected the narrative to the idea of a war of personalities and tangible excitement around the idea of collecting new types and styles of ceramics. I found myself oddly invested in the text panels and wanting to know how the narrative concluded. This gallery also included a number of slightly bizarre pieces of ceramics – weird looking cats and a monkey orchestra. In more than one instance I found myself laughing out loud (and probably looking like a crazy person) at some of the stranger items.
The George R. Gardiner Special Exhibition Gallery is located on the third floor of the Gardiner. At the moment this space is hosting True Nordic: How Scandinavia Influenced Design in Canada. This space was by far the most crowded in the Museum and it was also my least favourite gallery. The Nordic exhibition focuses on seven decades of Scandinavian influence on Canadian design. It included ceramics, furniture, glassware, interior design pieces, and textiles. The exhibition also incorporated a couple of National Film Board clips showing various Canadian artists at work – eg. a family making Nordic inspired ceramic light fixtures. I did really enjoy some of the textile pieces in this gallery – but I love almost any example of textile as art – so that probably isn’t too surprising.
I would recommend the Gardiner to anyone interested in ceramic art. It’s not a huge museum and you can easily take it all in a couple of hours. The gallery spaces were well laid out and had a variety of media incorporated to engage all type of users. I also noticed that Sundays they do programming specifically geared at bringing children into the museum space which I’m always happy to see.
For the next couple of months my work will be hosting the Archives of Ontario travelling exhibit A Lifetime – Day by Day, Five Women and Their Diaries. I booked that particular exhibit with the knowledge that we have lots of material relating to women in the archives that would be excellent to showcase along side the travelling exhibit. But other than that general idea I hadn’t really started to think about specific content until last month.
When I started speaking with a few people on campus our ideas around a companion exhibit quickly evolved into featuring the lives and work of Indigenous women. This idea evolved partially out of the fact that the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre preserves a lot of content relating to Indigenous communities and women. It was also partially inspired by the knowledge that the AO travelling exhibit panels all feature content focused on white pioneer women. We hope our companion exhibit would help provide a more balanced glimpse at women’s history in Canada.
This week we setup the first display case (below) of our Indigenous Women Rebuilding A Nation companion exhibit. I feel incredibly lucky to work with such strong and inspiring Indigenous women on a daily basis and to have their help in putting together this initiative. In addition to this single display case next week we plan on installing a larger exhibit highlighting the Mother Earth Water Walk and the women involved in running the water walks.
As part of my recent visit to Sudbury I spent some time at Dynamic Earth. I remember years ago visiting Sudbury as a child and I have a vague recollection of going underground as part of that visit. But I haven’t been back to Dynamic Earth as an adult or visited since it received a substantial renovation.
The main floor during my visit featured an exhibit on Megalodon, the largest shark that ever existed. This was an interesting exhibit that had a number of interactive panels and well researched text, but I struggled with it being at Dynamic Earth. The content didn’t relate to Sudbury or mining and it seemed out of place. I think it would have worked better as a special exhibit at Science North, where the focus isn’t as narrow as at Dynamic Earth.
The lower floor of Dynamic Earth has a number of interactive exhibits all focusing on mining. Visitors can pan for gold, remotely operate mining equipment, and learn about local history. There is also a large mining themed indoor play area geared explicitly to children.
My favourite part of our visit was the underground tour. The tour is over an hour long and takes visitors underground to learn about mining from the 1800s to now. I was surprised by the production values of the tour, they have put a lot of money into interpretation including video screens, special effects, and reconstruction of historical looking mining conditions.
Our tour guide did an excellent job of talking about local history, the impact of social history (women’s rights, workers rights, environmental legislation) on mining, and the technical changes in mining. It was informative but also done in an engaging way that invited questions and was suitable for all ages. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in learning a bit more about mining, Northern Ontario history, or who is just looking for a fun family outing.
I’m definitely more of a history buff than a science person, but as you might have guessed by the numerous times I’ve written about it I think Science North is a pretty awesome place. It’s rarely crazy busy, encourages hands on learning, and is a perfect size to cover in an afternoon. This past weekend my partner and I teamed up with some relatives and visited Science North with our daughter for the first time.
This was our daughter’s first foray into any time of museum, gallery, or science centre. Our visit went pretty well – she’s only 1.5 years so her favourite parts were walking up the ramp, a sketch of a dog, the glass elevator, balls, and the water table. She also liked the toddler specific areas that had toys geared to her size. I imagine in a short time she will be loving Science North for completely different reasons. Some of the highlights for me this time around were the Bufferfly Gallery and a couple of the hands on learn about the physical body exhibits on the third floor.
I was also really impressed with Imaginate, the special exhibit that is currently in the lobby of Science North. Developed by the Ontario Science Centre Imaginate is all about innovation, seeing ideas come to life, and hands on learning. It was great to see all the creative ideas that children and other visitors had created and were now part of the exhibit itself. I loved the sound panel area where visitors could create a personal soundscape using touch panels. There was also a really interesting piece of interactive art at the entrance to Imaginate that invited users to hold onto sensor bars and the visuals in the sculpture then adapted to their heartbeat.
Overall this was another great visit to a place I love. I’m looking forward to future visits as my daughter grows and watching the ways in which she interacts with museums, galleries, and science centres changes over the years.
During my last day in Baltimore I took the Charm City Circulator to the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA). The effort of looking up a free bus service and dragging myself outside on a raining day was definitely worth it. The BMA is free and is well known for its contemporary art collection. It was pleasantly surprised by the range of artwork in the museum, the innovative displays, and the effort made to make the space friendly to families.
There were a number of great exhibitions on during my visit but a couple have stuck with me in the weeks following my trip. I was really excited when I saw that there was an Art Quilts exhibition currently at the BMA. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile you might know that I am fascinated by textile art (eg. I loved the Ethel Stein Master Weaver exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago). So I was intrigued by the idea of an exhibition dedicated to art quilts. Though the exhibition was very small – probably under ten times on display I still really enjoyed the pieces and contextual information included in the exhibition. The quilts on display were all from the 1980s onward and showed the conscious choice of artists to use quilting as an artistic medium, often merging previous artistic practices with this quilt medium. I really enjoyed this small look at quilts as art.
The other memorable exhibit was the Imaging Home exhibition, which is the inaugural exhibition in the Patricia and Mark Joseph Education Centre. Imaging Home was really accessible to all ages and I loved the interactive components and activity spaces that were integrated throughout. The ‘Home Stories‘ video stations were particularly powerful. These videos focused on families and their experiences living with a reproduction of one of four art objects that are currently on display in Imaging Home. The households featured this project ranged greatly in age, race, neighborhood, and family makeup and the works of art included a shower curtain from The Thing Quarterly, Issue 16, featuring text by human branding opportunity Dave Eggers; a set of four annotated photographs from Jim Goldberg‘s “Rich and Poor” series; Alfred Stieglitz’s photograph “The Steerage”; and Walter Henry Williams’ painting “A Quick Nap”.
The Home Stories stations include tablets where visitors can listen to interviews to the participants responses to the artwork. I found these responses insightful, moving, and a very powerful addition to the overall exhibit. The idea of how artwork and conceptions of home can impact your life if really communicated through these videos. I love the idea of using creative ways to connect people to art. And a number of these videos included children responding to the artwork, which I think is important in engaging other kids in discussions around art.
I also found the “Three Sheds for Three Sites, Shed I: Home Shed” companion piece by Marian April Glebes‘ a great example of using sculpture to inspire conversation. This installation piece is a set of connected cabinets on wheels filled with household/domestic items. Visitors to the space are invited to actively engage with the installation by opening drawers, rearranging items, and talking about conceptions of home. I loved watching families engage with this work and was inspired by the conversations started in Imaging Home.
I really enjoyed by visit to the BMA and was pleasantly surprised by the variety of artwork on display, the creative installation methods, and the friendly staff.
The Walters Art Museum in Balitmore was a short walk from the NCPH conference hotel and was free, so I made an effort to take a walk over there one evening. The building itself is architecturally beautiful and the museum is well know for it’s collection of European artwork. The material on display during my visit included a lot of religious artwork, European and Asian, artwork, as well as design artwork.
There were two exhibits that I found particularly interesting at the Walters. The first was the From Rye to Raphael: The Walters Story exhibition which highlights the role of the Walters family in amassing the core art collection of the Museum. The exhibition was an interesting mixture of family photographs, artwork of numerous mediums, and explanations of the how the Walters family obtained certain items. I particularly liked the emphasis on how the collection developed – we often don’t think about the donors behind museum items but their history is crucial to understanding the provenance of items and creating a complete narrative. The artwork in this exhibition was largely European with some interesting textile works, but for me it took second place to the historical family narrative of the exhibition.
The second exhibition that I really enjoyed at the Walters was the Madame de Pompadour, Patron and Printmaker exhibition. Okay, I admit the first thought I had when I saw Madame de Pompadour’s name was about the “Girl in the Fireplace” episode of Doctor Who. Once I got over that particular train of thought, I really enjoyed the selections from Madame de Pompadour Suite of Prints which were featured in this exhibition. The Suite of Prints first edition held by the Walters includes a set of etchings created by the royal mistress in the 1750s. Fewer than 20 of these suites were made overall and the Walters has the only full remaining copy, which was also Madame de Pompadour’s personal copy.
The exhibition included etchings created by Pompadour of gems that were carved by Jacques Guay. These gems included carved images of French culture and portraits of royalty. I found the explanation of how etchings were created from the gems, the print making process, and the preservation of carvings in gems particularly interesting. The etchings were complimented by additional items that reflected Pompadour’s wider interest in arts including paintings, tapestries, and porcelains.
I really enjoyed my evening at the Walters and would recommend it to anyone visiting Baltimore who is interested in art, history, and culture more broadly.
It is fairly common for archives, local heritage groups, historical societies, and small museums to have relatively small budgets (or no budgets) for creating displays.
Everyone likes the ideas of displays and of putting items from the collection into public view, but finding money for this type of work can be challenging. When I first started creating low cost displays I was fortunate to work with a colleague who was passionate about exhibits and who was infinitely creative in coming up with affordable ways to display material. I learned a lot from her and have been able to reuse some of the display ‘tricks’ she showed me.
I am definitely not a ‘crafty’ person. But I’ve learned a few simple things that can help in creating basic exhibits:
A decent printer, cardstock, and basic digital design skills can be a life saver. Creating labels, small text blocks, and basic signage in-house is often much cheaper than sending things out to a printer. Though doing things in-house does mean you may be limited in size and unable to print large format items.
Creating template styling and formatting that can be used on all your labels can help make your work look uniform.
Basic sewing skills can be useful. Some broadcloth and stuffing can create simple display pillows or props to support small artifacts or books.
X-Acto knifes can do a lot. From creating stands out of coroplast to trimming labels and shaping foam supporting it’s a handy tool to have around.
Create things that can be reused or re-purposed for future displays. Be this signage, stands, or design templates.
Purpose built display cases are really expensive. They might be worth the cost but cheaper alternatives might work when you’re just starting out. Retail or home display units that are made of glass can often be suitable alternatives.
Purchasing a few multipurpose display stands that can be reused can help up the quality of your displays. Things like book cradles, book stands, and basic object stands can be reused again and again.
What are some of your favorite low cost display hints and tips?
While visiting the Dufferin County Museum and Archives (DCMA) recently I was able to take in the Gerald Richardson – Life Through The Lens exhibit that was in the Silo Gallery. The exhibit featured many photographs by Richardson that are on loan to the DCMA.
Richardson was from Orangeville, Ontario in Dufferin County and is well known for his photographs of the British Royal family, the Canadian navy, and Canada at war. Richardson famously photographed the Royal tour of 1939 and 1951. Richardson started his career as a photographer taking family portraits and went on to serve in the the Royal Canadian Navy as the first Photographic Officer.
The Silo Gallery at the DCMA is named that because it is literally located in the top portion of a silo. The rounded small space has beautiful views of the surrounding area but is challenging as an exhibit space. Despite the small rounded area I’ve seen a number of successful art, photograph, and print based exhibitions in this space over the years. The Richardson exhibit did an excellent job of highlighting his connections to Dufferin County, displays some of his more well known works and iconic photographs of the Royal family. The exhibit had both local, national, and international historical content making it an exhibit which would appeal to most visitors.