This week I have decided to take a different approach to my blog. Rather than provide the typical update of what I have been doing over the last week, I have taken the opportunity to gain some more insight into what some of my fellow summer student colleagues are up to. I sat down with University of Alberta Art Collection summer students, Georgia Ashworth and MorningStar Willier, and got to learn a little more about their work here at the University of Alberta Museums and what they think about life as a summer student!
Q: What are your backgrounds?
Georgia: I have a Bachelors of Arts in History from McGill University in Montreal.
MorningStar: I am in my second year of Native Studies with a minor in Anthropology here at the University of Alberta.
Q: What are your titles here at the University of Alberta Museums, and what do these roles entail?
G: I am a Collections Assistant [with the University of Alberta Art Collection (UAAC)] working on the Public Art Program. I am working on streamlining our copyright procedures and obtaining copyright licences for the artwork in the Art Collection, and will be writing art labels for the works on placement.
MS: I work as a Collections Assistant for the O.C. Edwards Ethnographic Collection, as part of the Art Collection, and I do research on the ethnographic artifacts.
Q: What drew you to these positions with the University of Alberta Museums?
G: I was hoping for an opportunity to gain more direct museum experience to further my career aspirations within the museum and heritage sector.
MS: My minor is anthropology and I enjoy the sociocultural side of anthropology, so working directly with ethnographic material, particularly Indigenous material, directly pertains to my degree and interests.
Q: Do you believe that it is important for young people to be able to receive summer positions at universities and museums such as the ones you have? If yes, why?
G: Yes, I believe it is very important. It is a great way for young people to gain experience in the museum field, and become more connected to their university.
MS: Yes, because it shows me what I can do with my degree after graduation.
Q: What would you say is the value of having an art and ethnographic collection such as this on a University campus?
G: I believe that as a university, for students studying in areas related to art or ethnography, it can be very important to be able to interact with and view the artifacts first hand instead of just reading about the material.
MS: I agree with Georgia, the chance to study the material in person is invaluable.
Q: What is the value of summer students doing this work, compared to other staff members?
G: The Young Canada Works program, which is the program that both MorningStar and I are part of, provides partial funding for our wages. This can help organizations which may not have a large budget for the type of work we do. Also it allows permanent staff members to focus on the big picture while students do some of the more time consuming work.
MS: We are able to do the work that other staff members are unable to fit into their schedules, due to other pressing matters.
Q: What is your favorite part of your jobs, and what are you looking forward to the most?
G: My favorite thing that I have been able to do so far is redesigning the copyright section for our online database. This should make it a lot more useful to our museum staff. I am also looking forward to writing art labels for the collection.
MS: My favorite part so far has been going into the O.C. Edwards Collection storage room and working directly with the artifacts. I am also looking forward to updating descriptions of the artifacts within our online database, which uses the software program Mimsy.
Q: What are your plans after these positions wrap up? Do you plan to stay in the museums field?
G: This fall I am starting a Masters degree in Archaeological Heritage and Museums at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. Afterwards I am looking forward to continuing to work the the museum field.
MS: I am still unsure at the moment whether or not I will continue in the museum field , but I really enjoy the research and curatorial aspects of museum work so I think I may.
Q: Finally, do you have a favorite artifact or piece of art from the collection?
G: I like the Norman Yates mural, West and North, on the north side of the Education Building, and the Steinhauer, Treaty Bear sculpture in Main Quad.
MS: I love all of my collection, but really love the steer hide painting, from the Blood Reserve in Southern Alberta.
This past week I have I have been working with Jennifer Bowser here at MACS. Jenn is our Collections Management Advisor, with a specialization in registration/preventative conservation.
Preventative conservation is a very important aspect of museum practice which needs to be undertaken in order to ensure the long-term preservation of objects in the University’s collections. Essentially, preventative conservation is what the name suggests: in a museum environment once an object is received, measures are taken to ensure that it will stay in the same condition that it was received for as long as possible. This is especially important due to the nature of many collections at the University. Preventative conservation is important to the health of teaching and research collections which are handled and used frequently. These measures can include regular cleaning, condition reporting, protective storage, and of course careful care and handling of museum objects. The main concept of preventative conservation is to catch issues which may lead to deterioration of the object before they become a problem, rather than allow them to progress to a point where there is permanent damage. Of course, this is at times impossible but it is the job of specialized museum professionals to prevent this deterioration as much as they can.
There are other factors rather than just the passing of time that come into play and affect the stability of a museum object. These other factors are called the agents of deterioration. There are 10 agents of deterioration and they are: fire, water, pollutants, physical forces (such as dropping the object), pests, light damage, incorrect humidity, thieves and vandals, incorrect temperature, and dissociation which is the loss of valuable information pertaining to the object. The agents of deterioration are internationally recognized in museum practise.
Damage from the agents of deterioration can occur over time from factors such as improper storage conditions, or through unexpected events, such as a fire, flood, or theft. It is important to protect against these agents as severe deterioration can even lead to the need to deaccession (remove) an object from a museum collection, a process that all museums try their best to avoid. For example, this is what happened recently to a piece of public art on the University of Alberta campus. Due to damage from vandalism and pests, a work of art that originally consisted of two chairs and a small table located on the north side of the Biological Sciences Building had to be removed from public display. The University will soon begin the process to permanently remove it from the collection as the damage is irreparable.
Some other preventative conservation projects I have worked on this week include:
- Cleaning of the Dentistry exhibit in Edmonton Clinic Health Academy
- Labeling and inventory check of Pathology Gross Teaching Collection
- Preparation of archival materials handout as reference for curators
As an emerging museum professional, it is of course my wish that all museums are able to keep every object in excellent condition and that none are ever damaged. Unfortunately, this is impossible as accidents and unforeseeable events do occur. But through working with Jenn and others at the UofA Museums, I have seen many ways in which to prevent deterioration before it becomes an issue and ensure the care and longevity of museum objects.