Category: Summer Internship – 2019

The Bryan/Gruhn Archaeology Collection contains over 10,000 prehistoric and historic artifacts that contextualize past societies. The artifacts are frequently used by students in research and in learning anthropological concepts. Looking at some of the artifacts, it would be easy to think that they are just stones. In reality, these are stones that past societies had intentionally shaped into tools, like blades or scrapers, to use in their daily lives. Modern-day archaeologists find these tools across the world. Each artifact advances our understanding of how historic populations functioned and reveals their level of innovation and creativity. 

Artifacts from the Bryan/Gruhn Archaeology Collection with the original labeling of the archaeologist

Artifacts from the Bryan/Gruhn Archaeology Collection with the original labeling of the archaeologist

The Bryan/Gruhn Archaeology Collection is digitizing its artifacts by producing high-quality photographs for upload onto Mimsy XG. Mimsy is a museum collections management software used by UAlberta Museums to database many of its collections. This system contains the specific data information for each museum object within a collection. By uploading photographs of each artifact into Mimsy, we ensure that we have adequate visualizations of what exists in the collection. In the future, this information can be transferred into a public search site, allowing the collection to be visible and accessible to all.

Comparing a physical artifact to its edited photograph

Comparing a physical artifact to its edited photograph

During my time in the Bryan/Gruhn Archaeology Collection, I worked with artifacts found in France by archaeologists conducting fieldwork. I learnt how to set the camera and manipulate lighting to take detailed photos of the artifacts. The artifact is photographed next to a scale to clearly depict its size. After photographing the artifacts, I edited the photos on Adobe Photoshop to get the closest representation of the physical object. Shirley Harpham (Archaeology Technologist of the collection) taught me how to analyze the artifacts to understand which side was the dorsal (front), ventral (back), and lateral (side). These are important details that are added to the photographs to help viewers better understand the artifact.

Photographing an artifact

Photographing an artifact

Photographing artifacts is just one of the many ongoing projects in the Bryan/Gruhn Archaeology Collection. If you’d like to get involved in the collection, there are volunteer openings for students! To learn more, you may contact Shirley directly. 

This opportunity helped me understand that managing a museum collection includes much more than overseeing the physical artifacts. Just as importantly, it also includes managing the artifact’s associated data information and organizing an online version of the collection. It was an honour to learn from Shirley’s expertise! Watch the film to get a detailed look at the work entailed in digitizing the Bryan/Gruhn Archaeology Collection. 

Beautiful B.C. Thermal Blanket – Gloria (1982.14) by Canadian artist, Gathie Falk, has adorned the walls of the Agriculture Forestry Centre for the past 25 years. This work of art appears to be a quilted textile, but it is a painting. It is one of the University of Alberta Art Collection’s approximately 7,000 pieces, which displays some of its collection across campus for public enjoyment. Public artwork serves society by generating meaning, wonder, and discovery in spaces. 

Art is exposed to many threats when on public display. Public places generally have harsh environments with uncontrolled temperatures, humidity, and pollutants in the air. Although the art displayed on campus is checked regularly by Museums and Collections staff, some pieces require a little extra attention to preserve them from deterioration. When possible, it is important to provide artwork with periods of rest from public display. Due to renovations in the Agriculture Forestry Centre, the Faculty of Agriculture, Life & Environmental Sciences requested that we remove the painting to keep it safe. Museums and Collections staff decided to take advantage of the deinstall by dry surface cleaning the painting and storing it in a room where the temperature, humidity, and light are controlled. 

Scaffolding was set up to facilitate the safe deinstallation of the piece.

Scaffolding was set up to facilitate the safe deinstallation of the piece.

The deinstallation team included Jennifer Bowser (Collections Management Advisor, Registration/Preventive Conservation), Tom Hunter (Collections Assistant, University of Alberta Art Collection), Emerald Johnstone-Bedell (Assistant Curator, University of Alberta Art Collection), and myself. Our day was packed with action: we deinstalled, transported, examined, treated, and stored the painting. 

Protecting the piece with polyethylene sheeting to prepare it for transportation.

Protecting the piece with polyethylene sheeting to prepare it for transportation.

The team had intricately planned the deinstallation and transportation of the piece, which helped us through every unexpected obstacle. Since we did not have firsthand knowledge of the methods used to install the artwork, we revised our plans as the day unfolded. Despite many unknown variables that could not be planned for, such as vehicle traffic, the deinstallation and transportation of the painting went smoothly. 

We then used dry surface cleaning techniques to carefully remove the 25-years worth of dust that had accumulated on the painting. Dry surface cleaning is the manual removal of any dirt from the surface of a piece that may damage it or obstruct its visibility. Using a soft brush, we carefully swept the dust away from the surface of the painting into a vacuum. This technique granted us greater control of what was removed from the surface, and at what pace. Dry surface cleaning ensured the preservation of Falk’s painting so we may continue to enjoy and learn from it for many years to come. 

Dry surface cleaning using a brush and a vacuum to remove dust.

Dry surface cleaning using a brush and a vacuum to remove dust.

This was an exciting opportunity for me to understand the versatile skills required in planning and implementing a museum project. Planning the deinstallation of the painting required months of research, coordination with a variety of people, and preparation of materials. Everyone from the team exhibited their strong attention to detail and ability to problem-solve on their feet. I also got a close look at the effects that an uncontrolled environment can have on public artwork and how we can intervene to preserve it. Watch the film to see the team in action as they expertly brave scaffolding and layers of dust! 

My first memory of bugs is one of utter horror. I still remember it distinctly, almost 20 years later: my twin brother and I were playing outside on an ordinary summer’s day. My brother picked up an ant, so I picked one up, too. I innocently observed the red ant as it crawled around my fingers. Totally unwarranted; the ant bit my tiny finger. The battle scar that remained served as a reminder of the foundational lesson I learnt that day: bugs are my enemies.

Even as an adult, I have a low tolerance for insects of any kind (excluding lady bugs and butterflies, of course). Whenever a bug trespasses into my room, I need to call my sister to remove it, even if it’s the middle of the night. I felt pretty nervous about working in the E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum, one of the 29 University of Alberta Museums registered museum collections,which contains about one-million specimens. The last thing that I expected was to feel awestruck by the wonders of insects. 

My new friends: the beetles.

My new friends: the beetles.

I spent two-weeks in the museum working with over 1,600 beetles from the West Indies. These specimens were collected during research trips that ranged from 1934 to 2006. Although these beetles are in the collection, their information hasn’t been uploaded to the Entomology Collection online search website. Using an Excel spreadsheet, I input data on each beetle’s characteristics (including its species, subspecies, habitat, sex, and life stage) and details on each beetle’s collection (including where it was collected and how). I then used Google Earth to find the latitude and longitude coordinates of where each beetle was collected. This allows the search website to visualize the distribution of specimens on a map. Digitizing the data for the beetles will increase their exposure to the world, and makes the collection more accessible to both local and international researchers. 

My favourite specimen in the E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum.

My favourite specimen in the E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum.

It was inevitable that I would feel astounded by the beetles after working so closely with them. Danny (Assistant Curator of the E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum) taught me that there are over one-million insects identified in the world (with more being discovered), and 40% of them are beetles. I worked with beetles that are menacingly large and beetles that are smaller than a speck, and each of them play a pivotal role in sustaining our Earth.

My two-weeks in the E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum taught me that it’s easy to enjoy my work when I’m among incredible people, even if I’m working with insects. Danny and Felix Sperling (Curator of the E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum) are experts of their fields, and it was a privilege to spend time with them. Everyday with them was full of adventure and new learning. Thanks to Danny and Felix, my fear has been replaced with fascination at the insects that live amid us. Watch the film to get an inside-look at my unforgettable time in the E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum!