Over the last few weeks, I have been assigned the task of doing inventory, cataloguing, and condition reporting artifacts in “Amy Galbraith’s Dress Shop,” in the Museum’s Urban Gallery. I have also cleaned and photographed the objects. Through this process I have been delighted to learn more about the history behind the artifacts that we see in this 1920’s shop. I thought you might enjoy some of my findings!
Hats were a staple of the 1920’s wardrobe. The Dress Shop has nine hats that help to portray life and style during the 1920’s. Some of the hats stand out in my memory just because of where they are from. For example, the hat with gold feathers [H9-8-396 (1)] is from Holt Renfrew and the green hat [H9-38-496] is from Eaton’s. With some of the hats, we are lucky enough to have a more detailed recorded history. The pink hat [H9-4-451B(1)], which you can see in the window of the Dress Shop, is also from Eaton’s and it was worn by Miss Hazel McMillan as maid of honour at her twin sister’s wedding in 1929. The one with green chiffon roses [H9-5-147] was worn by Mrs. James A. Richardson during a visit to Buckingham Palace in 1919. These generous donations, which the Museum received in the 1970’s, help us to understand and imagine Winnipeg in the 1920s.
From left to right: H9-8-396 (1), H9-38-496, H9-4-451-B (1), H9-5-147 © Manitoba Museum
Strolling through the Urban Gallery, one may not at first realize how many artifacts are in each room. Take another look! Each room is an incredibly detailed portal into Manitoba’s past. The Dress Shop has a number of smaller objects that help to complete the room. These items include hatpins, hairpins, mirrors, shoes, sewing supplies and handkerchiefs. On the counter, there are a number of handkerchiefs. Here are some pictures of some of the handkerchiefs that help add to the 1920’s feel of the room.
From left to right: H9-5-4-h, H9-5-4-d © Manitoba Museum
My time at the Manitoba Museum has been filled with learning. Sometimes these moments happen in unexpected places. For me, the Dress Shop has something I had never heard of before. The small bowl with a hole in the centre was a common dressing table item, called a “hair tidy” or “hair receiver” [H9-3-720]. Women used these items to store hair that came out in their brushes or combs. This hair would then be used for different purposes. One thing women would use their hair for was to create hair pieces, or “ratts.” These pieces would be added to the elaborate hairstyles of the 1920’s to help give a natural volume. A second thing women would use their hair for was to make pin cushions, as hair is less prickly compared to pinfeathers and the natural oil from the hair would keep the pins in good working order.
Hair Tidy, H9-3-720 © Manitoba Museum
Next time you pass by the rooms in the Urban Gallery make sure to stop and look, you might be surprised at some of the interesting artifacts you can see!
Post submitted by Ellen Stothers, Collections and Conservation Assistant (YCW summer student)
Every object you see when you visit our museum galleries, from tiny insects to the Nonsuch, has a special number assigned to it that helps us to track all its movements and link important information to the object. Assigned at the time the object is accessioned – when it officially becomes part of the museum collection – the catalogue number is always inscribed on the object in an inconspicuous place, which is why you’re not likely to see many of these numbers when viewing an exhibit.
Deciding where and how to apply these numbers is part of my job as the Human History Cataloguer. Methods of applying numbers depend mainly on the nature of the object – paper objects like certificates and books will get a number handwritten in pencil, for instance. A number should be removable, in case the object is deaccessioned, meaning we never ever use permanent marker or a knife to etch the number onto an object. Ok, fine, it’s happened once or twice well before my time. Museum practices have come a long way!
Harpoon Head (HBC 11-59). Catalogue number etched into metal, an example of how not to number an object. © The Manitoba Museum
A recent acquisition of material from the C. Kelekis Restaurant allowed me to practice the primary ways we apply numbers in Human History.
C. Kelekis Restaurant Menu (H9-38-491 A). Paper objects are numbered using a No./HB pencil.
© The Manitoba Museum
The most straightforward and simple application is by good old No. 2/HB Pencil. Pencil can be used on paper, wood, Ivorex or French Ivory, some plastics, unglazed ceramics, etc. All I need is a freshly sharpened pencil and I’m good to go!
Above: A selection of supplies used in the numbering process.
Below: C. Kelekis Restaurant Menu (H9-38-490 A). Catalogue number printed on acid-free paper is applied to this laminated menu with Acryloid B-72. © The Manitoba Museum
For metals, some plastics, glazed ceramics, glass, etc., things are more complicated. I use an in-house produced material called Acryloid B-72 to adhere a number printed on acid-free paper to the object. A second coat of B-72 is applied over the number to seal it. Waiting for everything to dry takes longer, but the number is easy to read and reversible, meaning it can be removed even after a long time.
C. Kelekis Restaurant Souvenir T-shirt (H9-38-489 A). Label with catalogue number is sewn onto garment.
© The Manitoba Museum
In the case of fabrics, such as a garment, flag or pillowcase, the number is written in archival ink on a synthetic fabric, called Hollytex, or cotton twill tape and sewn onto the object with a few quick stitches. I’m sure it goes without saying, sewing with Nitrile gloves on is challenging (one should always avoid getting blood on the artifacts).
Why number an object? The catalogue number itself reveals a lot about an object. It could tell us which department is responsible for the object, when the object was accessioned and even where the object comes from, in the case of archaeological specimens. The catalogue number links the objects to all their information in our collections database. Finally, with large numbers of similar objects (like 2,361 bottles or 688 dolls in our History collection, for instance), the catalogue number allows us to distinguish one object from another. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg that is collections management!
Blog submitted by Cortney Pachet, Cataloguer (Human History)
Whenever someone walks into the Conservation lab, they are usually awed at all the scientific equipment. Large wall cabinets filled with chemicals, adhesives, paints, glass beakers and flasks. There is safety equipment, such as fume hoods and spiralling exhaust vents hanging from the ceilings to ensure proper precautions are taken. With this complex system, it looks like conservators are risking their lives every day to preserve and protect cultural heritage. However, I am about to share with you one of our dirtiest cleaning secrets that we keep hidden behind these lab walls.
SALIVA. Yes, that is correct. At some point you’ve probably heard of the saying when cleaning something to give it the old “spit shine.” Although we don’t actually spit on our artifacts, nor do we lick anything, conservators do use their own saliva as one method to clean a number of different types of artifacts. The technique is relatively simple in that a cotton swab is hand rolled onto a wooden probe and lightly dampened by placing the swab into our mouth (generally pre-lunch). The swab is then rolled onto the surface that we are cleaning to remove the desired residue. Tests are always done prior to a full cleaning to make sure that other soluble materials that we want to stay on the artifact don’t get swept away.
Now why this technique is used and how well does it really work? Human saliva is composed of amylase, which is a type of enzyme. Enzymes are used to break down particles depending on their make-up, so in the instance of amylase it helps humans to break down food particles. For conservators, amylase is also very useful in removing built-up grime and dirt that are found on artifacts. The benefit of using “enzymatic cleaning” (a more professional term for those completely grossed out) is that it is readily available, free and does not require us to use large safety equipment such as fume hoods.
As mentioned, a range of artifacts can be cleaned using this technique, including leather, beading, oil paintings and wooden surfaces. Now, I probably wouldn’t recommend trying this at home, as there may be an instance that something gets removed from your precious heirloom that you didn’t want to remove, but you are always welcome to contact a conservator here at the Manitoba Museum, who can advise you on the process first. In the images below, you will see a before and after picture of an oil painting that was recently cleaned using saliva. Happy cleaning!
Fort Garry, 1869
Signed L.-S (likely Lionel Stephenson)
Oil painting on artist’s board
Oil painting before treatment. Copyright the Manitoba Museum
Oil painting after treatment using saliva cleaning technique. Copyright the Manitoba Museum
Blog submitted by Carolyn Sirett, Conservator
The programs and activities of the Manitoba Museum are supported by over 200 volunteers. These dedicated individuals sometimes bring specialized knowledge that casts new light on items within the Museum’s collections. Lee-Ann Blase has volunteered for many years in the Department of Collections and Conservation. She applies her background in textiles and historic costumes to preparing condition reports and reviewing descriptions of the clothing in the History collection.
Volunteer Lee-Ann Blase examines a dress in the History Lab © Manitoba Museum
Recently, Lee-Ann was delighted to discover an embroidered cotton dress in pristine condition that dates back over 200 years to the era of the Napoleonic Wars. Imagine Josephine Bonaparte and her contemporaries portrayed in a diaphanous gown such as this, with its high empire-style waist, daringly deep neckline and short bloused bodice, and short puff sleeves.
L to R: Empire dress, viewed from behind and front (H9-4-414) © Manitoba Museum
The A-line skirt is composed of four panels and finishes with a small train. Drawstrings at the neck and waistline tie at the back, creating tiny pleats in the bodice and skirt.
What makes this dress truly unique are the hundreds of delicate metallic leaf motifs hand-embroidered on the fine muslin. Each leaf is outlined using narrow silver metallic strips and has two metal spangles in the middle, held in place with small metal prongs.
Close-up of metallic embroidery © Manitoba Museum
The richness of the embroidery suggests an outfit for evening wear. Imagine the gown sparkling with the reflection of numerous candles and lamps! Given its age, the dress would have been completely constructed by hand. The fine needlework skills may be the work of a professional dressmaker.
Unfortunately, we know virtually nothing of the original owner of the dress beyond the suggestion that she was a forebear of Lt. Col. Thomas Clarkson Scoble (1840-1900). Thomas Scoble was born in Kingsbridge, Devonshire, England to Rev. John and Mary Anne Stainburn Scoble. His father, John, was active in the British Abolitionist movement and immigrated with his family to Canada in 1853 to continue his work in this county. Thomas studied engineering at the University of Toronto, and combined careers in the military and engineering. He moved to Winnipeg in 1881 with his wife, Georgina Carruthers, where he was a devoted advocate of the Hudson Bay Railway. He also served as editor of the Nor’Wester and the managing editor of the Great West Publishing Co. The complete story of how this delightful dress made its way to Manitoba may never be known, but it is certainly one of the many treasures in our collection.
Post submitted by Nancy Anderson, Collections Assistant (Human History)
Recently, my husband asked me what I was working on, and when I told him I was updating the nomenclature for specimens in the Family Polygonaceae, he looked at me funny. I realized that as a non-biology person, my response was not that informative to him. It did not tell him that I was working on updating the official names of plant specimens, or even which plants they were, and it also did not make sense as to why their names would even change.
When a living organism is recognized as being unique and different from other organisms, it is assigned a scientific name. This is the name that is used in the Museum’s database. A common name may be also included, but common names are not as useful or informative. This is because common names are different in each language. For example, the domestic dog is “perro” in Spanish, “chien” in French, “sobaka” in Russian, “gŏu” in Mandarin, “hund” in Danish, and “cane” in Italian. However, the scientific name for dog is Canis familiaris, and this is the same everywhere in the world.
Even in the same language, it is not unusual for a common name to vary from country to country or region to region. A common ditch plant in Manitoba is seen below. Its scientific name is Tragopogon dubius. In Manitoba, this plant’s common name is most often Goat’s Beard, but in Europe it is known as Salsify, and in the southern United States it is called the Wild Oyster Plant.
So, each different type of organism is assigned a scientific name to be sure scientists know what organism they are talking about. Scientific names have two parts to them, the genus (Tragopogon) and the specific epithet (dubius), and these are latinized words. The scientific name is therefore a binomial, that is, it has two parts to the name. The genus is always capitalized, and the specific epithet is not. To show that this is the official scientific name of an organism, the two words are either underlined (usually done when handwritten) or italicized (usually used when typed).
There are strict rules for naming organisms. In biology, the sub-discipline of naming organisms is called taxonomy. There are international conferences and conventions where scientists meet to discuss and agree upon the rules for taxonomy, and this may mean that names changes.
1. Sometimes a specimen is reclassified, and the name has to change to reflect this.
2. Sometimes a specimen was incorrectly identified. In the bottom photograph at the left, the original name was actually correct. Someone changed it in 1997, and then in 2014 it was changed back to its original, correct name.
3. Sometimes it is discovered that specimens with different names are actually the same thing, and so one name is adopted over the other.
4. And sometimes, if you wait long enough, an older name resurfaces (as in the bottom right photograph).This is usually because of a reorganization of the naming system.
Post by Karen Sereda
One of the lesser known aspects of museum work involves the lending and borrowing of artefacts and specimens. This isn’t to say you can borrow the Nonsuch for a lovely family sailing holiday, but other museums and heritage sites often work with us to make the most of our collections. Lower Fort Garry has several pieces of our HBC Museum Collection onsite to illustrate the rich history of the fur trade, for instance. Loans can be short little stints for special events or drag on for decades as the original paperwork yellows in its file folder. As I wrapped up cataloguing all of the Criddle collection, I realized that one remaining artefact had been on loan to the Sipiweske Museum since 1991. Other than a black and white photograph, we had no data on this object –a telescope used by Percy Criddle to observe Halley’s Comet in 1910– which meant…a ROAD TRIP!!!
All objects in our collection need to be catalogued and undergo a condition report, so your friendly neighbourhood cataloguer (me) and our conservator extraordinaire (Carolyn) headed off on an adventure towards the quiet, picturesque town of Wawanesa, 202 kilometres west of Winnipeg, to visit the elusive Criddle telescope.
We were making good time, so I decided to show Carolyn some of my favourite stops along Highway 2, including the World’s Largest Smoking Pipe in St. Claude (my grandpa’s hometown!) and Sara the 17 foot tall Camel in Glenboro.
Arriving in Wawanesa, we headed to the Sipiweske Museum and made our way through the winding galleries until we arrived at the telescope. We wasted no time getting to work, examining the 130 year old telescope from every angle. This Browning telescope was made in London and brought over to Percy Criddle in 1885 by his friend and benefactor, J.A. Tulk.
Pulling apart the eyepieces, I found a lovely surprise – Percy Criddle’s name, written in his own hand inside a lens piece, preserved for all this time. He treasured this telescope and observed many celestial events with it, including the passing of Halley’s Comet and a lunar eclipse.
After all the disassembling, measuring, describing, photographing and reassembling, we celebrated with a telescope selfie, as you do.
Before heading back to Winnipeg, Carolyn and I decided to visit Aweme (now the Criddle/Vane Homestead Provincial Heritage Park), the homestead of the Criddles from 1882 to 1960. Sadly, the big house, St. Albans, was destroyed by fire in June 2014. We poked around the sandy patch where the house once stood, trying to picture it.
We hiked around the short trail, exploring Norman Criddle’s entomology lab and the crumbling foundation of Stuart Criddle’s former home, Gardenview, before stopping to pay our respects to Percy Criddle and his family at the graveyard.
Percy’s telescope has been catalogued, all its information and history entered into the collections database, the loan renewed for a five year term. Head out to Wawanesa and see it for yourself!
Cortney Pachet, Cataloguer – Human History
Within the History Collection at The Manitoba Museum, we have sub-collections of artefacts, tied together by object type (like our collection of crocks) or social movement (like our fraternal orders material). One of our significant collections comes from a homesteading family whose breadth of material culture has caused my coworkers and I to ask on more than one occasion, “did the Criddles ever throw anything away?!”
In 1882, an Englishman and his family immigrated from Addlestone, Surrey, UK to a patch of sandy land east of Brandon, Manitoba to try his hand at farming. Unlike typical homesteaders of his day, Percy Criddle was the son of aristocrats, schooled in medicine and music at Heidelberg. He fancied himself a renaissance man, dabbling in sport, astronomy, law, medicine and music, hosting weekend parties and maintaining a detailed meteorological record from 1884 until his death (and then perpetuated by his children until they abandoned the homestead in 1960). The most compelling peculiarity, however, is his family. Percy met Elise Harrer while he was studying in Germany; the two never married, but Elise moved to London after Percy returned to the UK and they proceeded to have six children –one of whom died in infancy. Shortly after Elise became pregnant with their last child, Percy married an Englishwoman named Alice Nicol. Alice gave birth to four children in the UK and another four at Aweme, their Manitoban homestead. After moving to Canada, both women (with Elise now using the surname “Vane”) lived under the same roof and the children were raised together, although their understanding or acknowledgement of their relationships has been the subject of debate.
From the meteorological record, visitors’ register and diaries to scientific catalogues and photographs, the Criddles were a well-documented family. The documentation pales in comparison to the material culture accumulated and preserved by the family from 1882 onward. Percy details purchases and acquisitions in his diary, noting their prices and sources and writes about his opinions on objects like his new telescope or organ. He also talks about items produced by the family; building blocks Percy made for the children or the house flag sewn by Alice. Percy and the family were regularly visited by an old friend, J.A. Tulk, who travelled from Surrey to Aweme on an annual basis, lugging all sorts of medicines, scientific instruments, books and other gifts for the Criddle-Vane family.
109 years after the Criddles arrived in Manitoba, a handful of Percy’s grandchildren donated the bulk of
their grandparents’, aunts’, uncles’ and parents’ belongings to The Manitoba Museum –a whopping 3481 artefacts and 302 specimens! Over the past six months, the majority of my time has been dedicated to completing the cataloguing of this collection. Hundreds of Criddle artefacts have passed through my hands and I count myself lucky to have access to these amazing items. Here are a few of the most memorable artefacts I catalogued from the Criddle Collection:
1. Storage Box made by Stuart Criddle in 1903. This box, decorated with mother of pearl inlay, is one of many inlaid pieces created by the Criddle sons on winter evenings at Aweme. Lined with lush blue velvet, the box has an internal locking mechanism that is released by pressing a small piece of inlay located near one of the hinges. It took a lot of fiddling to discover exactly how it opened, so I noted the specifics in the catalogue record for future reference. The question remains…what was Stuart hiding in there?
2. Seed Samples collected by Norman Criddle between 1906-1933. Mainly known for his work in entomology, Norman Criddle was appointed the Manitoba provincial entomologist in 1919 and ran an entomology lab at Aweme. However, like his father, Norman had a range of interests, so it comes as no surprise that he was also a renowned watercolourist, his delicate illustrations of local flora gracing the pages of agricultural books like “Fodder and Pasture Plants” and “Farm Weeds of Canada”. During the second half of his life, Norman developed a collection of seeds totalling nearly 700 samples sourced primarily from Aweme and the surrounding area. Each sample was stored in a vial and all the relevant information was scrawled by Norman on tiny labels adhered to the vials. Deciphering what I refer to as “historical handwriting” is an arduous task and my colleagues started asking “Still working on the seeds?” I would shoot daggers from my eyes.
3. 129 Homemade cut-outs of Animals, including cows, bulls, horses, and dogs, made by Alma Criddle, circa 1909. According to Criddle-de-diddle-ensis: A biographical history of the Criddles of Aweme, “the cows were such favorites that [Alma] made paper replicas of them, instead of the usual “paper dolls” of childhood.” She cut out animal bodies from scraps of paper and used watercolours to tint the animals, replicating their unique looks. In the case of the cattle, Alma wrote the name of each animal near its belly, including bulls Carrot, Rhubarb and Radish and cows Rice, Nectar, Sylvia, Myrtle, White Rose and Pansy. I seriously had a huge smile on my face the entire time I worked on these paper animals.
4. The St. Albans house flag was made by Alice Criddle in 1888. St. Albans was the title Percy assigned to the family home at Aweme, in the tradition of great English houses. Why he chose the name is never explained in his diaries, although his granddaughter speculates at length why he may have selected St. Albans in her book “Criddle-de-Diddle-Ensis”. The flag is well preserved and I love that it lends to Percy’s established reputation as an eccentric.
Now that the work is complete, I find myself feeling a mix of relief and longing –I’ll miss this peculiar homesteading family but other collections beckon. Stay tuned!
-Cortney Pachet, Cataloguer
As a child, the Manitoba Museum was my favourite field trip destination. I loved it all, but my favourite part was the Urban Gallery- particularly Madame Taro’s small apartment, which I thought was quite glamorous. Visits to the museum— either with classmates or family— activated my interest in history and museum work, and this summer I was given the opportunity to join the team through the Young Canada Works program as Collections and Conservation Assistant.
One of the first projects I took on was identifying locations for human history artefacts whose locations are “unknown” in the database- 527 artefacts, to be exact. It could be summed up as a glorified treasure hunt. I spent a good few weeks going through the human history storage room— climbing up ladders, rifling through drawers, looking for catalogue numbers on hundreds of artefacts— and finally whittled the number down to 188! This was certainly one of my favourite projects of the summer. It was really fascinating to explore the variety of objects in the collection—everything from night caps to an Oh Henry bar package.
Throughout the summer I performed various forms of preventive conservation. At the end of each month I went through the galleries, labs, and storage vaults throughout the museum to take temperature and humidity measurements, as well as check the bug traps (yikes!). In August, a few of us went down into the hold of the Nonsuch to take taper gauge and trammel rod measurements to determine if the wood of the ship had expanded or contracted in the last six months. Even being on the ship for a couple hours felt a bit claustrophobic- I can’t imagine sailing for months at a time! In addition to these larger projects, I made boxes, altered mannequin forms, and recovered the bales in the Nonsuch gallery. The skills I had learned in 8th grade Home Economics finally paid off.
Perhaps one of the coolest things I did this summer was make a replica of a felt pennant for the upcoming “Nice Women Don’t Want the Vote” exhibit (which potentially thousands of people will see- no pressure!). Because the original artefact is quite worn and faded, a replica is more suitable to send along with the travelling exhibit to prevent further damage. Although I was a bit concerned about my lack of sewing and crafting skills, I am incredibly happy with and proud of the final product. The theme of the exhibit—women’s suffrage in the early 20th century—has been an interest of mine for quite a few years, and to be involved in the exhibit in any way was really incredible.
I had a great time at the museum this summer and was able to work on projects in many different areas of collections and conservation. The skills I built on and developed will no doubt open more opportunities for me in my (hopefully) museum-based future. The entire experience—the work and the people—was incredible, and I hope to be back here in the future!
There are two new exhibits opening this summer in our Parklands/Mixed Woods Gallery here at The Manitoba Museum and we couldn’t be more excited to soon be able to share our work! The Conservation lab has been working hard these past few months to get everything documented, cleaned and mounted for its grand debut, including a very important Mann. Yes, this Mann was in fact a man, more fully known as William Mann, William Pennefather or Chief Kakekapenais, who signed Treaty No. 1 at Lower Fort Gary on behalf of the Fort Alexander Band (now Sagkeeng First Nation).
An original photographic silver-gelatin print of William Mann taken around the same time as the signing of Treaty No. 1 in 1871 was recently acquired by the Museum; however, the condition of the photograph was quite poor. As The Manitoba Museum is on Treaty No. 1 land, it is important for us to display such a prominent figure and significant artefact in our galleries; but to ensure its long term preservation, it first required a careful touch from our conservators before it could be hung on the wall.
Smoke, water and mould damage, as well as acidic backing materials and pollutants in the air causing the photograph to have a mirrored finish, were all contributors to the poor condition of the Mann photograph. The frame was also very dirty and had numerous areas of broken plaster molding. So we said – hey, let’s fix it all!
But with many artefacts there are challenges a conservator faces and this artefact proved to be one of them. As much as we want to be able to clean and revive artefacts to their former glory, sometimes certain conditions do not make it possible. After several spot tests on the front of the photograph it was found that we wouldn’t’ be able to clean it without risking more damage to the emulsion (the photo-sensitive side of a photograph). In this case the best thing to do was nothing!
The cleaning and repair of its original frame proved to be much more successful. After swabs and swabs of grime were removed and the gaps filled, the frame looks like a million bucks. We re-matted the photograph with acid free materials for its long term care and at the end – to our complete surprise – the features and contrasts in the photograph actually became more visible, even though we hadn’t intervened at all. Sometimes prevention is the best form of conservation.
With a few more weeks to go before this new exhibit opens, I have provided a few before and after images of the Mann photograph as a sneak peak of what changes are coming to our galleries.
Carolyn Sirett – Conservator
When people ask me what inspired me to work in the museum field, I can pinpoint my answer to a single visit to The Manitoba Museum when I was twelve years old. That summer we spent our vacation touring around Manitoba on day trips, packed into our Pontiac 6000 station wagon, visiting small local museums and landmarks that set one little town apart from the next (here’s looking at you, Sara the Camel!). On the roster of things to see was The Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature (as it was called back then). Thanks to my babysitting job, I was armed with a newly purchased camera and ready to capture every moment of our visit. Rounding the corner away from the bison that greeted us in the first gallery, I stopped. There it was, colourful and bold, larger than life. The mural. Snapping a photo, I decided at that moment, I needed to work at a museum. I still can’t say for certain what it was about that mural that led me to this epiphany, but twenty years later, here I am, working at the museum, blogging about it.
Daphne Odjig, a Potawatomi artist from Ontario, was commissioned to paint the mural, “The Creation of the World”, in 1972 as part of the Earth History gallery. Odjig was living in Manitoba at the time and later went on to cofound the Professional Native Indian Artists Incorporated with artists such as Jackson Beardy, whose works also appear at The Manitoba Museum. As I studied Odjig’s larger oeuvre in university, I came to appreciate the uniqueness of “The Creation of the World”, both in its subject matter and execution. Odjig’s paintings often depict human relationships, focusing on mothering, with images composed of darker, more muted colours bordered by softer lines while still harkening to the Woodlands School style “Creation” celebrates.
Forty-two years on display had begun to show on the face “The Creation of the World”…pencil marks, gouges from countless strollers crashing into the curved wall, cracks from the shifting plywood have marred the surface of Odjig’s beautiful contribution to the museum. On Valentine’s Day, art conservator Radovan Radulovic and his assistant Vitaliy Yatsewych began a three day restoration of the mural, a process of cleaning, filling in holes and painting. Radulovic describes the work as trial and error; creating a colour by mixing acrylic paints, painting a spot, letting it dry, deciding if the colour matches the original and starting again, if necessary. The aforementioned cracks, however, are impossible to repair without going in behind the mural or removing it altogether. For the time being, Radulovic and Yatsewych, by all accounts, have brought “Creation” back to its former glory. The addition of a rail guard will prevent errant strollers and carts from damaging the mural and new exhibit panels will put further emphasis on this cherished piece.
Have a good look at “The Creation of the World” the next time you visit The Manitoba Museum. Marvel at its scale. Absorb the colours. Take a photo. Appreciate its creator and those who continue to preserve it for future museum-goers (so, don’t touch it, ok?).
Cortney Pachet, Cataloguer-Human History