Exhibition work is one of my main areas of interest and something I was eager to learn more about this summer. Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to get a feel for the process of exhibition planning by helping with an upcoming temporary exhibit celebrating the 100th anniversary of the University of Alberta’s School of Dentistry. For the exhibit we’ve been working with the Dentistry Collection, which documents the history of teaching dentistry at the University of Alberta from 1917-1942. Working on the exhibit has shown me how much planning and preparation goes into an exhibition and how it combines other area of museum work including research, conservation and communications.
I was introduced to this project when I attended a meeting to discuss the exhibition space. I learned what to consider when planning how to use a space, there were also additional considerations because the exhibit will be in a newly developed exhibition space in a public building that was not initially intended for museum exhibits. It was an opportunity to see how preventive conservation guidelines are applied outside of storage areas where there is ideally more control over the environment. As well as discussing the dimensions, design elements and how objects would be displayed there were considerations for making the space safe for museum objects. For instance, an entire wall is windows which puts objects at risk of U.V. exposure so we’ve been working on a solution that involves a U.V. film would have to be put on the windows to block out harmful rays. The humidity and temperature would have to be monitored as fluctuations can damage objects. Once there was an idea of what the space would look like and security and conservation requirements had been addressed, it was possible to get a better sense of what could be done with the space.
The next steps were writing the exhibition text and preparing artifacts. The School of Dentistry provided the story and idea for what the exhibit would be, so my next task was to help find the objects that fit with this story. This meant looking both in the collection database and the collection itself to find objects that would have been found in a dentist’s office in 1915 around the time dental education began at the University of Alberta. Once we had determined which objects would fit, I began researching the history of dentistry and more specifically, dentistry at the University of Alberta to help write captions for the objects in the exhibit.
With the exhibit set to open after I’ve finished my internship, I won’t be able to work on the entire process, however, in the coming weeks I look forward to preparing some of the objects for display!
One of the goals for my internship was to experience as many aspects of museum practice as possible. The diversity of the University of Alberta’s Museums and Collections has provided opportunities to experience not only a variety of museum collections, but different sorts of collections including archives. Recently, I spent a couple of days working in the Bohdan Medwidsky Ukrainian Folklore Archives, which preserves the experiences of Ukrainian Canadians by collecting a variety of materials including books, photos, documents and objects such as clothing. The Ukrainian Folklore Archives are unique archive in their mission to preserve Ukrainian culture making it a very exciting archive for an introduction to archival skills!
I spent much of my time helping to get documents ready for storage. The documents were examples of the field work by students in Ukrainian Folklore classes at the University of Alberta which make up a large part of the archival collection. Examples of field work projects are interviewing Ukrainian Canadians about their involvement in traditions such as Ukrainian dance. Helping to prepare these documents for storage, I learned about the preservation of paper archival materials. I removed any staples or metal paperclips, because over time the metal can damage archival materials both mechanically and chemically. Mechanical damage includes wrinkling or distortion of the paper, while chemical damage includes chemical reactions such as rusting. If any papers did need to be kept together I replaced the old staple with a plastic paperclip that would not rust. All of the papers are stored, with any related materials, in individual acid-free folders in a document case, that is also chemically inert, and is kept in a dark room to prevent damage from exposure to light.
I also had a chance to learn about the Bohdan Medwidsky Folklore Archives’ collection of books, which can be used by students and researchers. This collection of books features everything from Ukrainian periodicals to children’s books about pysanky (decorated eggs) and books for learning the Ukrainian language. I applied labels to, and shelved new books in the collection. I became more familiar with archival classification systems for organizing and shelving books. Not only did I learn some practical archival skills, I was able to see first hand, how archives preserve culture by seeing what materials are collected.