The good, the bad and the (really) ugly

Goodness gracious, where did all of January go?? So much for “slow time” at the MSA… Anyhow, I’m very happy to be able to say that I have two students working with me. Angie comes to us from UFV and puts in 10 hours per week on our behalf. She doesn’t spend all of them here, but she does help me with things such as our educational kits, my catalogue, fundraising and PR – all then things we do in a day. James is much younger and comes to us via the school district. He is a terrific help at the office. It may sound stupid, but trust me, some of the really simple tasks like shredding, alphabetizing things and scanning bugs us down in a big way. There are a zillion miniscule tasks to be completed each week that are simple but time consuming, and James can do those things for us. The best part is that Sheila has been hired on full time now. Sheila is a colleague and also my friend, so the atmosphere in the office at the moment really could not get any better. It’s nice to be able to say that I belong to the small part of the work force that actually looks forward to going to work every day.

I am saddened by the news of the extensive purposeful damaging and looting of archaeological artifacts in Egypt. Not only are the buildings in which the artifacts are being housed damaged, but magazines that were sealed off for the protection of either people or artifacts (sometimes both) have been breeched, stores looted and for some reason, some people have felt the necessity to willfully damage some of the thousands of years old mummies. Because I am active within the archaeological community, I am now starting to get some very distressing messages from Egypt requesting help to protect these artifacts. Many people are very reluctant to get involved, as this is to do with politics and a political uprising that we do not want to or are unable to take sides in, but then again, it is called World heritage. It is such a shame. I suppose that if one is starving and looking to feed ones family, then one will do just about anything to do so, but an awful lot of this has to do with just wanton destruction of cultural property. In the end, the people that I am really appalled with are the shylocks that actually buy these stolen treasures. I can go to the net right now and find you stolen artifacts, and not just from Egypt. That makes me sick.

A few years ago, this beautiful mummy from one of the world’s war torn regions was available for purchase at a popular on-line auction site. It was purported to be several thousand years old, had some gold foils and gem stones on the casing and so on. Fortunately, someone with some actual authority got wind of this. By that time, the on-line bids were up in the hundreds-of-thousands of dollars. The mummy was confiscated through an international sting. Turns out it really was a mummy. Turns out there was gold leaf and some cheap gems. Turns out the mummy was not old but new. Hopefully the woman whose body was mummified was already dead, as opposed to killed for this specific purpose. Hopefully she has no grieving family that does not know where her grave is or are wondering if she is dead or alive.

All I’m saying is that this stuff is not addicting like heroin. You can just NOT buy the stuff, because if there is no market for stolen property, then there will be no vendors of it, either. Kind of like that old saying “what if there was a war and nobody came”.

Happiness in a thread

Soooooo…did you have a good Christmas? (Providing, of course, you celebrate Christmas in the first place!). I’ve had a nice, relaxing time off, as the museum closes over the holiday season. I’ve spent the time re-visiting some arts and crafts that I’ve not had a chance to practice for about a year now. I used to knit a lot when I was younger, and I decided I needed to make some more knitted santas – a lot more. Mostly I took the time to churn out a bunch of card woven ribbon and I managed to at least cut out all the pieces for a Viking Age style woman’s caftan in wool. The ribbon is to go on it eventually, and now I am looking to get going on a card woven hair band. Card weaving, or tablet weaving as it is also called, is one of those things that I got into as a form of experimental archaeology. I figured I’d understand it better if I could figure out how to make it myself. Said and done, I set off on this journey of discovery that has lead me down some very interesting paths. You see, you can’t just…well, you can, let me rephrase that…I can’t just stick to store bought stuff, of course, so learning how to weave entails learning how to make the cards, the carding wool/preparing flax for linen or nettle for thread and so on, the dyeing with natural materials and spinning and so on. During this journey I have learned ever more difficult patterns and techniques. At the moment I am working on figuring out different ways to set up the weave (there are a variety of looms and such one can use, or just a belt and a doorknob) and fiddling around with materials I’ve not used before, and it was during this journey that I have found happiness in a thread. Silk thread, to be precise. Anyhow, that’s all personal things that I’ve done over the Christmas holiday… Now for something more work related:

Yet another year’s gone by. All things being relative, this is the slower time of the year for me here at work. By that I mean that I’ve got a couple of days at this time of year to catch up on things that have had to be left for a while, “tasks to be completed later”, and begin more detailed planning of the things we’ve decided to plan for the upcoming year. The event schedule is set no later than December, but now comes all the nitty-gritty planning, such as timelines of the day of an event, figuring out how many volunteers we will need, how many tents and who will cater it all and so on. As the collections manager, I also have time to do much needed research for exhibits, educational kits and objects in the collection, and as of late, I have tried to cram in as much of that as possible. The research is always put on file in report form, of course, but it is from these files that I can extract information for exhibit notes and such. This is the part of my job that I relish. I love to write, I love historical stuff, not to mention pre-historic stuff, and I love to disseminate knowledge about the things that I love. Some things about collections management is not so fun, like dealing with mind numbing data entry and/or uncooperative computers/software, but it’s all in a day’s work. With some luck, we can find volunteers to help out with some of those things, too. As with most non-profit organizations, we would be dead in the water without our volunteers. I cannot reiterate this fact enough: We have the best volunteers ever and we would not be as good at what we do were it not for them, so Yay for our volunteers!

Our Biggest Treasure

Where on earth did a whole year go?? I feel like I just started my position here at MSA Museum but I realized the other day that I’ve been here for over a year now. Summer students have come and gone, exhibits, too, have come and gone, and loads of events. We’ve hosted loads of fun events – Sweet connections, St. George’s Day, Heritage Fair, Nordic Spirit, Optimist Fun fair, the CPR Magic Lantern opening event, Trethewey House Autumn Wine festival, Halloween and just this past week, the Old Fashioned European Christmas Market, to name a few. The House has seen several weddings and some other rentals, and the Gallery has been booked for a variety of meetings and even a birthday party. We’ve also participated in off-site events hosted by others, such as Arbor Day, Abbotsford Police Family Day, Berry Beat, Canada Day, Agrifair and Abbyfest. We would not have been able to do any of this if we did not have volunteers to help us. Our volunteers are our biggest Treasure. We need help with everything from answering the phones and general office duties to hosting school tours to set-up and take-down before and after events. Since I started here, my Treasures have helped me move the whole collection, collapse, move and re-assemble the shelving (who knew Jerry Gosling was part monkey?! He is, I know because I’ve seen him climbing from shelf to shelf ten feet off the floor…), set up and tear down for all of the aforementioned events, pick up and return tents, fencing, lights and other equipment, picked up our recycling and returned our empties, tended to our plants, decorated for Halloween and Christmas, acted as docents, Father Christmas and one room school house teachers, not to mention scared the living daylights out of small children during Halloween. There are a million small tasks that need to get done, but when you add up all the small tasks, all of these little molehills become a substantial sized mountain. Without our volunteers, we’d run out of time to perform a huge chunk of our respective job descriptions. Then there are times when we just need raw muscle, and quite frequently we need someone with a truck larger than mine or, alternatively, someone who can wash linens without turning them pink. Either way, in short, we love our volunteers because they provide vital services to us, but I personally just plain love our volunteers because they are lovely people. Period.

My Many Hats

You know when you go to a party or some kind of event where you meet strangers who may or may not become your friends and/or acquaintances, how, invariably (unless, of course, you’re like me, and you wear your name tag at all times – my boss, Mrs Van der Ree taught me that trick!), the conversation always comes to a point where someone says ‘What do you do?” Well, I am one of those people who do more than one thing, so this becomes a bit of a tricky question… I am the event planner here at the museum, I am an archaeologist who does archaeological research and write articles and reports, and I am also the collections manager at the MSA Museum. So what is it that I do? Well, since you asked…(you did, right?)
As the event planner I am the one who plans special events here at the museum. This includes such things as booking any entertainment, the decorator, vendors and food, buying supplies and anything that we may need for concessions, planning arts and crafts- or interactive activities for the general public, putting together back boards promoting the museum, pitching tents and so on, as well as setting the time, date, place and all that important stuff for the event at hand. I also have to maintain the cost analysis for each event, search for sponsors, manage a float during the event, help a bit with some of the advertising and finding and managing the volunteers for each event, create a footprint of the site, create and stick to a time line, report back to my ED with all of these details and…there are probably a number of things that I’m forgetting to include! My most important tool for this job is probably my truck. I can drive to pick things up and meet with people, and I can haul big tents, signs and boxes and boxes of stuff we need for on- and off-site events.
Although I do wear three hats, I don’t wear a fedora. My name is Christina Reid, no relation to Harrison Ford whatsoever, actually, nor to some guy named Indy or some girl named Lara Croft. And no, I don’t “do” dinosaurs (people, seriously, I am an archaeologist, not a paleontologist).
As an archaeologist, at the moment I do mostly research in metrology, and mostly after I’m done my day here at the museum. Because I am working here at MSA, I don’t currently have a task that entails excavating, but I do use my skills in archaeology for this job, too. Archaeology entails an awful lot of interpreting objects, cleaning them and generally giving them TLC, and that I do do here. The archaeology training complements the conservation training nicely, as it is immensely valuable to know how to write a proper report, journal article or a paper, how to do a condition report, take a photo of an object in the correct manner, know how artifacts are best stored and cared for, how to draw an archaeological object and all of these other things that are drilled into you while you train to be an archaeologist.
It is through archaeology that I have learned how to do something called public archaeology, something that I draw from a lot in my work here. It is, among other things, how to present archaeology as a whole, but also how to present each artifact or object to the public, and how to present the context surrounding it in a valuable way.
My most important tool for this part of my job? Sorry, dear beloved precious, well cared for and massively expensive Trowel, but it’s my knee pads. I can excavate without a trowel, but I can’t walk afterwards without my knee pads. I love them almost as much as I love my dog. (I have the best supplier of knee pads ever: my mom. I love her more than my dog, though!)
Obviously, the collections manager does a lot of research and a lot of conservation work. Conservation work includes such things as taking care of the objects in the collection in general, making sure they don’t suffer damage while they are in my care, cataloguing them all, setting up environmental controls and monitoring humidity, temperature, light and so on, installing and maintaining certain software programs and some hardware for the computers, tracking and recording all the objects within the collection and their details along with a number of other things that are made much easier in this day and age because we now have machinery of all sorts to help us complete the tasks. The research revolves around the objects themselves, the original owners, the time and place that it was created and used in and so on, but it also entails assembling the kits that I’ve written about before and the research around them, plus purchasing objects, ephemera and so on for them, all of which gets put into lesson plans and written documents that are gathered up in a big binder that goes with each kit full of artifacts. Then, of course, there is the planning, mounting and dismantling of the exhibits. That includes creating a layout of the display and a number of exhibit notes and programs as well as transporting the objects to and from our storage facility. In the past, it has been my job to plan and arrange that storage facility together with a number of great volunteers. We’ve still got some fine tuning to do, but it’s livable now!
In my case, I try to plan an event to go with the exhibit, or an exhibit to go with the event. For International Museums Day the internationally flavoured Nordic Spirit photographic exhibit was teamed up with a complementary exhibit of objects and ephemera from our collection along with a living history event. At Christmas we will be doing an old fashioned European Christmas market and tea with the House all decked out for Christmas, and for Remembrance Day I try to create something in honour of out veterans and their fallen comrades.
Most important tool? The computer. Can’t live without it. Or maybe it’s out volunteers, but then again, far be it from me to call my volunteers tools…I’ve learned that in Canadian, that’s not a nice thing to call someone!
So, Dear Reader, what does your hat look like?

Reduce, reuse and recycle – and when in doubt, call me before you throw it out!

I think I already told you I am the collections manager around here. That means that I am the one whom people call when they want to donate something. Most of the time the general public will only call me if they think that have something especially valuable to donate, like very old handcrafted tools or hand crocheted bed spreads. When they come here with their objects, and we chat as we fill out paper work and I look their things over, they often tell me stories like “My grandmother made that for my parents as a wedding gift. I forgot I had it. It was in a box full of Grandmother’s other junk, like costume jewelry, some old toys and an old diary. Stuff with no value, you know? I threw it out a coupe of days ago”. People, please don’t do that! One man’s junk is another man’s (or in my case, collection manager’s) treasure. Obviously, I love things like your great grandmother’s hand made quilt and that single tea cup left from Aunt Edna’s Limoges, but to me there is great value in your old junk. Please don’t assume that it’s junk to me – I am, after all, trying to furnish a complete 1920’s household. There are two beds in the house, but I bet I have at least three bed spreads for each bed. What I don’t have is the “junk”, as in the pillow cases and the bottom sheet and the blanket that goes under those bed spreads. People throw those out, because they have been used and look the part, and people have no idea how valuable they are to us here at MSA. But if there is hand tatted lace on the pillow case, someone took the time to make it, and if someone stitched the pillow together, it’s still special to me. A strip of lace like that takes just as long to make as some of the quilts in my collection. Night shirts and bloomers take a long time to make, too, and I am not embarrassed when you bring them, either… And besides, what’s a bed without at least one sheet, and back then, who would have slept in it without night shirts? And ladies, men’s things other than tools are also valuable (I have very few items in my collection that have anything to do with the things that men did, unless they are tools and work related objects – I know pioneer men did not have all that much free times to pursue hobbies, but surely there must be a harmonica or at least a whiskey glass somewhere out there?). I would love to have your old 1920’s costume jewelry. Why? Well, because it shows fashion of that era, and it’s the kind of jewelry that Joe Blow’s wife would have been able to afford to wear to church. Diaries show the stories of regular people. As an archaeologist, I know that many, many everyday activities are now lost in the mists of time because they were so everyday that it was assumed we’d always remember how to do them. If we found a diary of a lady who lived in the 1200’s, we’d know skyr. Bet you don’t know how to make skyr. I do, but only because I studied the topic and did experimental archaeology type things with the material, and because I got my greedy little hands on someone’s old diary! I love your old monogrammed kitchen towels – and bathroom towels, too, for that matter. Again, not that I don’t love your fancy marble busts, I really do, but you know, it’s really nice to have knick-knacks that everyday sort of people would have had in their homes, too. So next time, before you throw it out, call me!
The other thing that comes into play is stuff like family Bibles. I recently had to turn one of them away. It was a beautiful example of a family Bible, with terrific tie-ins to the community and it was in pristine condition, to boot. The catch was that if I wanted it, I had to display it permanently. I have had similar offers for uniforms and other such things. Here’s the problem: A. If you display something in the wrong humidity, the wrong temperature and/or the wrong type of lighting 27/7/365, your precious object will suffer damage. Not immediately, but over time. Also part of the equation is that if I displayed all the items that had been offered to me under the condition that I display them permanently in this small museum, the walls would explode and collections objects would spill out onto the street. I just can’t do it, folks. Not right now, anyhow. B. Family Bibles and uniforms are of great sentimental value to you, but in terms of a museums collection, they may not have anywhere near as much value to us as they have to you. Then they should stay with you. Last week when I was searching for yet another good home for yet another exquisite Bible, I was told by more than one archivist that family Bibles are the scourge of museums and archives. I wouldn’t put it so harshly to the people that come here and offer up their beloved family heirlooms, but sometimes what is valuable to you is not to me, but the box that you stored the item in, although junk to you, merely a container, may have been of great value to me – until you threw it out. So, again, please don’t throw it out before you ask me. I love your old junk!

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