Confessions of a Curator
Is it conceivable that not everyone loves history? Is it possible for anyone to look at a pair of women’s gloves or shoes from the 1920’s and not imagine who wore them and what fantastic party they went to? I didn’t think so, but sadly, it’s true – not everyone cares. The curator in me rises up and I am challenged. I must help the non-caring and must show them the beauty in the living history that surrounds us, the material culture left behind for us to touch, the photographs and diaries that shed light on day to day activities from our past.
Museums inspire, they allow you to breathe the same air of some of the great moments of history. A couple of years ago, I visited several of the Smithsonian museums. I was stunned to see the objects that have defined the greatest moments of American history- the Wright brothers early flying machines, NASA space capsules, letters and stuffed animals placed on the Vietnam War Memorial for lost loves. I visited Lincoln’s memorial and stood where Martin Luther King spoke those famous words, “I Have A Dream…”. While exploring the museums in Washington, I walked the road of Route 66, gazed at Dorothy’s ruby slippers, chuckled at Archie Bunker’s chair, got very nostalgic looking at Kermit The Frog, and was engrossed in Julia Child’s kitchen. For those few minutes, I was part of their history. That’s what a museum does…it lets you escape into the wonder of it all.
For a brief moment I was part of their history. Gifts given at the wall of the Vietnam War Memorial- the 1960s NASA Space Race, and standing on the steps where “I Have A Dream…” was first voiced.
I have felt the same sense of wonder when I visited The Louvre and gazed at the masterpieces of the Greek and Hellenistic period through to the Impressionist period. It seems you walk for miles, then you turn a corner, and there she is- the great lady herself- Mona Lisa. It is amazing, in that moment, I am sharing a space with Da Vinci himself. Can you believe it?! During that same trip, we drove to Giverny to stand in Monet’s house and see his lily ponds. While there, we made our own art and got lost in all the magic. I was there with my children and I shared that experience with them. While they were young and perhaps didn’t quite grasp the awesomeness…some day they will understand.
Shared experiences in France with my children. Although they were young, those profound experiences are imprinted. Four years later, we still talk about seeing Monet’s gardens and the artwork at The Louvre. I don’t think the memory will fade anytime soon.
I do not need to travel internationally to get a historical rush. I have visited many Canadian facilities and have stopped in wonder at the bones of the Blue whale in the Canadian Museum of Nature, I have watched the drill of the Fort Henry Guard on a warm summer’s eve, I roamed the red beaches of P.E.I and visited Green Gables. I have walked every gallery in the Canadian Museum of History several times over and always with pride. We live in an amazing place and I usually share these experiences with family and friends. Museum experiences are imprinted into our memories and I feel are best shared with friends.
My kids are as excited as I am to visit museums. I am raising another generation of history geeks, but at the same time instilling within them a sense of place, giving them moments to wonder, and letting them ask questions
It is the idea of sharing the same space that links you to that moment in time. As a museum curator, I carry this same feeling as I assemble my own exhibits. As an example – in our collection, we have a pair of World War Two military boots, they are very worn, tread bare, the toes have holes, the leather cracked but none of that matters…those boots landed on the beaches in Normandy.
Donated by Wes Alkenbrack several years ago. He was well known in the community , an incredible story-teller and poet. I did meet him and listened to his stories. The boots have taken on a whole new meaning for me. In the moments that I have prepped them for exhibit, I have been transported to France and I try to imagine the fear, pain, cold, and hunger felt by Wes when he wore those boots.
I want you to have those moments too! That is what I want to create for you when you visit the museum. Whether it is looking at the 1920’s bathing suits, photographs of life on the Napanee River, or the whimsy of the recent art exhibition. The intent is to captivate you and get you wondering.
Boots worn by Wes Alkenbrack. He served in the 47th (R) Field Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery before enlisting in the 32/34 Field Regiment, (R.C.A.) on 8 June 1940. He served overseas with the 34th Field Battery, 14th Field Regiment, (R.C.A.). Landed at Bernieres-sur-Mer Normandy, France as part of the first assault wave on June 6th, 1944.
Perhaps, I am just a museum geek and I am alone in my thoughts, but I have given this some thought. Why do you visit a museum? Well here it is – laid out for you, the *top reasons to visit a museum.
1. Museums make you feel good
They let you slow down and do things at your own pace.
2. Museums educate you
It becomes nearly impossible to exit a museum without having gained any information or insight during your visit.
3. Museums are community centres
Museums are a lot more than collections of artifacts; they allow you to meet with neighbors, discuss thoughts and opinions, and become an active part of the community. Museums are hot-spots for community engagement.
4. Museums inspire
Exhibits and programs will connect you – these personal memories imprint on you for life.
5. Museums are a great way to spend time with friends and family
Sharing learned experiences with family and friends enrich relationships.
6. Museums are community and business partners
Museums are economic stimulants – often working with local printers, electricians, plumbers, caterers, artists, and musicians.
7. There is ALWAYS a museum close to you…visit it!
No excuses. Go and visit. Feel inspired, slow down the world for a while and enjoy.
*courtesy of Colleen Dilenshneider, Chief Market Engagement Officer for IMPACTS, a global leader in predictive market intelligence
At the end of the day, I am not sure if I can convince everyone to love history, but you can bet, I am going to try! The past enriches our lives. Visiting a museum, art gallery, botanical garden, zoo, and archives, puts us in touch with our historical, cultural, and natural heritage and allows us to grasp who we are and understand where we are going. It doesn’t get any better than that. I challenge you to visit the museums in your backyard, please start with the Lennox and Addington County Museum and Archives! I bet you will be surprised what you will learn and how much you enjoy it!