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The Curation of Traditions: Halloween Edition

Confessions of a Curator

By JoAnne Himmelman

Sigh…this time of year always leaves me so melancholy. While my red hair might indicate my love for autumn, I have to tell you that it lies. I actually get quite sad when August fades into September and Pumpkin Spice takes over the world. I am a summer person, through and through. I love warm summer nights, dipping my feet in the lake, enjoying  a glass of wine by an evening bonfire, and listening to the calls of the loons (no not my children)… I mean actual loons as they hunt for their dinner. We get such a short summer season that I just want to wrap it up and hold onto it… I have yet to figure this out.

As I wave goodbye to summer, my family is ushering in the hockey and dance season. We say hello to homework, intramural sports, extra art classes, football, hockey road trips, and dance shoe fittings. My husband and I become a tag team and ships that pass in the night….we race the roads, we sit on narrow dance benches and in cold arenas, we text each other updates about our days and we long for the quiet respite of Summer.

October is here and almost over…we have settled into our back to school things and maybe have gouged out a groove to the routine…maybe?

So while I am looking at travel sites and planning my sunny vacation to the South this winter, because you know..its sunny and hot!! My daughter is looking at me to make her Halloween costume. Sigh…it really is October.

From the Archives of Lennox & Addington

While I have limited time to do a lot of extras right now… I must say… I make great costumes. I am not the mom you go to when you need cupcakes, cookies, or even spare time anymore…I honestly don’t have it and I don’t bake!  But if you need me to pull out a costume for a school play, event, or holiday ….I am your gal.   Maybe it’s the exhibit designer in me!!

So what does this have to do with anything museum, you might ask?   Well…here’s the thing.  It’s about the tradition.  We create tradition with our holidays that build into excitement, expectation, and genuine joy.   It’s about that time spent with your children, spouse, and friends during that celebration that creates the stories, objects, and photos that eventually make their way into a museum collection.

Have you ever just stopped to think about why we do things?  Where did it all start?  My every day at work is this very question – why?

My job as the curator is to hold the stories and curate them into an exhibit of objects that sparks emotion (good or bad).  So while I was making my daughter’s costume last night, I was mulling this.

Here I am making tail feathers for my daughter’s Peacock costume and in the background, my kids are setting up their Halloween village, a collection of Halloween houses they have been building since they were little.  I realize while I am in the thick of being the “tired mommy”, my kids have keen expectation and exude joy at our simple family traditions. But to them they aren’t simple…they are the extraordinary in our ordinary life.   Do you remember the exhibit I installed last year on this very thought….the ordinary is the extraordinary!

So while I am curating my family life into a series of holidays and celebrations. I realize it is what I do within the museum as well. I curate those human interactions, I document the time, the story, the object and then box it up, where it waits to be pulled out and celebrated again.  Just like we do in our homes…we box up our traditions and we bring them out to celebrate our holidays and special days.

Museum curation is a special job.  I get to safeguard the stories, I get to care for them and hold them dear for future generations to enjoy.  Much like my mom life at home…I hold my own family’s stories dear for my grandchildren to hear some day.  I will pull out the photos, the keepsakes, a costume or two….and I will celebrate the traditions we held dear.

So this was kind of deep thinking on a Tuesday night, after a long work day, in between folding laundry, making supper, and walking the dog and of course designing the important Halloween costume. 

Over the past 14 years, I have made over 20 costumes.  I love the challenge of creating what my children ask me to make them.  Halloween is a holiday steeped in darkness…made lighter by costumes  that are worn to trick the dead/souls that wander the earth on October 31st, we carve pumpkins (originally turnips) to ward off spirits,  we collect candy…wait a minute…why do we collect candy???

I love the history, the tradition, the fun, and the creativity that comes with every Halloween….so maybe, just maybe my goodbye to summer is a touch more bearable…if I think about all the traditions and family fun that come after the summer fade….

OH BTW….I have scavenged the museum collection and we have NO costumes or objects from past Halloweens… sad. Do you have a Halloween story for the museum?  Do you have some photos, costumes, home décor from your childhood?   Let the museum know at

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