Friday, 30 September 2016




To start off this year taking charge of this column, I thought long and hard about the title: Conservation Tips... There are so many out there! So many great institutes around the world write documents specifically for people like us: what type of damage is possible, how to repair/prevent damage on artifacts, proper storage, pest management, etc.

So what did I want to do for my first article to help contribute to this ever-expanding pool of strong conservation materials? I began to feel a heavy weight upon my shoulders... what can I, a student with nothing but a keen interest in conservation and very general experience, give to those who want to learn more?


What I wanted was to create a resource that could be useful to people in a big picture sense, especially those who may not know where to start when it comes to conserving. This could be consultants, archaeologists, museum employees, local heritage professionals, or anyone with an interest in conservation!

So I came up with these babies: The Conservation Cheat Sheets (or more professionally--according to my document titles--Conservation 101 Sheets)! Actually, you can call them anything you want: Weird Looking Charts, Lots 'o' Lines, whatever you feel like. There are two: one for inorganic artifacts and one for organic. Below are their previews.

(c) Kristen McLaughlin

(c) Kristen McLaughlin

INORGANIC CONSERVATION PDF (with working links!)

ORGANIC CONSERVATION PDF (with working links!)

Say you have a basic conservation problem. Maybe you want a starting point to jump off from and Google is overwhelming you. All you have to do is open the handy dandy Conservation Cheat Sheets! You have a leather item that's so brittle it makes you nervous? Follow the lines to get to a useful source link. What about a piece of flaking pottery? No problem, just follow the path! Because that, my friends, is the destination. Each final result is actually a working link that will take you to the institution's webpage about said topic; usually there is even more useful information right on the page.

This means: the best part comes when you download them. You can then click the links at the bottom of your flowchart journey and bam, you have a place to start, a resource already in front of you.

So even though the images above may (generally) help you figure out the basic issue with your item, make sure to download them for clickability! Then you can keep them on your computer forever.

You can be a ninja conservator now! Whoo! Source.

PS: These charts are very general and are meant to be more like starting off points. There was no way I could possibly link to all of the sources I wanted to, nor delve into the more complicated problems and sub-problems that occur in the fascinating world of conservation (not at this point, anyway!). I hope these interactive charts help out at least a few of you as you embark on your conserving adventures!

Here are the sources I used for the PDFs:


Texas A&M Institute: Cleaning of Iron (a variety of methods)

CCI: Tannic Acid Coating for Iron

The Archaeologist's Manual for Conservation (PDF): Iron Chapter

Texas A&M Institute: Cleaning Copper

SHA: Cleaning and Mending Ceramics

AIC: Dealing with Old Ceramic Repairs

Texas A&M Institute: Removal of Salts and Stains

SHA: Mending Glass

CCI: Cleaning Ceramic/Glass


Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA): Holes in Wool

Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI): Stitches in Textile Restoration

Smithsonian Institution: Mouldy Textile

CCI: Removing Mould from Leather

Texas A&M Institute: Brittle Leather

Society of Historical Archaeology (SHA): Consolidating Brittle Bone (scroll down to section)

Texas A&M Institute: Flaking/Dirty Bone/Ivory/Antler

CCI: Consolidating Wet Bone

Texas A&M Institute: Waterlogged Leather

Texas A&M Institute: Waterlogged Wood

Make sure to explore them further!

Thursday, 29 September 2016




I began my day by reading an interesting article about the National Museum of Video Games in Texas and of course, sipping a hot cup of coffee.  My interest in this article may have been spurred by the impending stress of upcoming assignments for the new semester and consequently a longing to escape into the world of video games.
That being said, I had a brief virtual escape to the Video Game Museum which displays everything from old Pacman games to a giant game of Pong. 

National Video Game Museum. Source. 
The museum which opened just this past April is laid out in stages allowing visitors to progress from exhibits such as a timeline of consoles, to an 80’s Arcade and finally to some of Nintendo’s first “prehistoric” creations. The museum also offers educational programs which provide interactive tutorials in the areas of science, technology and engineering for kids and adults. Another interesting, interactive feature of this museum is that the old arcade systems are made available for visitors to play! Wicked.
National Video Game Museum Arcade. Source
This brings me to a third feature of the National Video Game Museum and that is its promotion of Pokémon Go. The Museum advocates playing it through social media and has even held a Lure party in July. The adoption of this innovative, geographically sensitive game seems natural on the part of the Video Game Museum, as it not only fits their collection theme but will no doubt become ingrained in their history. However, how do other Museums whose objectives and themes differ from the Video Game Museum cope with the impact of Pokemon Go? The mission of museums initially seems mismatched with the use of Pokemon Go - a distracting technology that puts its users in what I like to call the Hunched Zombie texting position.

Photo Courtesy of New York Times Post: The Texting Dead
Museums are being creative in approaching the Pokemon Go phenomenon. For instance, the Royal Ontario Museum offers an online tour of Pokemon Go in the exhibits and reminds players of the historical significance of artefacts where Pokestops are located. For example, the Leading Content Producer Sarah Elliot informs players that this bust:
Photo Courtesy of Royal Ontario Museum Blog
which at first glance may look like a Pokestop, is also a portrait of Lucius Verus who served as a co-emperor in Rome from 161-169 CE (source). 
Photo Courtesy of SI Instagram
 This is an innovative way of helping players relate to materials in the museum through a form of technology that can also be used as a culturally relevant form of education. 

The Smithsonian Institute on the other hand has used many references to Pokémon Go in their blogs, Instagram and Facebook, to similarly help Pokémon Go players relate to objects and visit the museum. On the Smithsonian Instagram the accession of a new 1989 Gameboy is captioned with the label “Before Pokemon Go there was the 1989 Nintendo Gameboy...This one is now in our @amhistorymuseum"(Source).
Another Blog post by the Ocean Blog compares favourite Pokemon to the specimen in the museum, another innovative way to use the prevailing Pokemon Go fever to draw interest into an educational experience.
Photo courtesy of SI Ocean Blog 
However, a disgruntled Facebook comment in response to this blog post suggested that the Smithsonian draw back the adults to the real world and focus on Smithsonian issues. This embellishes the fine line that museum professionals must balance in using new innovative technology to provide education for all ages and interests.

What do you think? Is Pokemon Go an avenue for education in museums? Or is it an innovation that ultimately takes away and distracts from the museum exhibits? 

Wednesday, 28 September 2016




Hello fellow Musers! For my inaugural post in the "Greatest Hits" column I want to talk about Madeline Smolarz's discovery of the Museum of Endangered Sounds.

It's quite telling that the website chose the word museum to define and describe its collection of nostalgic technological sounds. It implies that a lot of care and specific planning went into the selection of these retro sound bites. As Madeline highlights in her incredibly fun blog entry, the creator Brendan Chilcutt justifies the existence of the website in a clever and intentionally dramatic blurb that pokes fun at our post-modern obsession with nostalgia while also embracing it.

So why do we find nostalgia so enticing? And why is the Museum so much fun to visit and write about? 

I think a partial answer to my latter question lies in the novelty of sound-based media. We are so often bombarded with visual nostalgia. Auditory nostalgia? Not so much. Even modernized or repurposed retro objects still usually have the insides of contemporary technology. I could go out and buy a beautifully designed modern radio that looks exactly like one made in 1942, but it wouldn't be the same. I wouldn't want to sacrifice things like modern sound quality, or wifi capabilities. Even if I could somehow program this radio to sound retro when I wanted it to, it still wouldn't be the same. And it really shouldn't be. A reproduction can enhance but not replace a real artifact.

What makes the Museum such an interesting little detour is its simplicity. It's fun to reminisce and take stock of where we once were. Michael Enright's CBC podcast "Rewind" does this as well, and audio is once again front and centre because the CBC archives are the source material. But as with any podcast there is a time commitment and there are underlying themes in play. With the Museum of Endangered Sounds, you can pop in and out of the past at your leisure. You can combine random sounds from different generations, or listen to your favourite sound over and over, just because.

Familiar sounds and smells can trigger strong emotional responses. Sometimes we just want to go home again. And sometimes, however briefly, we can. Do you agree?

Tuesday, 27 September 2016




Welcome to the first post of a new column for Musings! As we are becoming increasingly aware (with classes such as Project Management and Fundraising) museums are not just collections and exhibitions. In fact, it could be suggested that one of the greatest challenges museums face today is fundraising. This column is intended to bring to your attention the multi-faceted and innovative efforts the sector is making to meet needs, make budget, and (hopefully) create fun programming and events!

Fundraise for museum dance parties, if nothing else. Source.
Although the theme of this column is not "let me bore you with money talk" I figured the first post was best spent outlining the basics... with a promise to reveal all kinds of innovative (fun)draising [get it?!] examples in the posts to follow.

The Strategy

A fundraising strategy might include:
  • A statement of the museum’s particular aspirations (its ‘vision’)
  • The stepping stones or stages by which it will achieve its vision
  • The methods to be used (e.g. sponsorship, trusts and foundations)
  • A budget for fundraising costs, annual and other milestone targets, income projections and a timetable for implementation
It might also set out policies and structures for organizing and providing the resources for people who will help to raise the funds. These should include senior volunteers such as Board members, whose influence will help open doors to prospective donors and supporter organizations which raise money for the museum as part of their role.

The Key Methods

  • Capital appeals
  • Corporate giving and sponsorship 
  • Fundraising events
  • Individual giving
  • Legacy gifts
  • Friends/Memberships
  • ... and more
If this is your current state - I have a point! Source

The 'So What'? 

So what is the point in dedicating resources to secure funding? Let's take a look at a couple current fundraising campaigns in Canadian museums... 

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts:


"A donation to the Museum is really a gift for the children of future generations, who will be able to enjoy these unique collections of Quebec and Canadian Art, Old Masters, International Modern and Contemporary Art, Decorative Arts and Design, as well as art from World Cultures."

North Vancouver Museum and Archives:


"The City Council of North Vancouver endorsed a resolution that authorized the North Vancouver Museum and Archives (NVMA) to undertake a Fundraising Feasibility Study that included the development of a recommended timeline for a capital campaign for a new North Vancouver Museum to be located in the Pipe Shop on Lot 4 of the Pier development."

Diddy making it rain. Source.

The Point

If you aren't P Diddy (or don't have Puff sitting on your Board of Directors), fundraising is hard work. It demands patience and persistence. 

Development directors at the Smithsonian Institution identified personal connections as the most important component in successful fundraising. In developing personal relationships, fundraising is “community building” or creating a feeling that being a part of the museum is important. In community building, a museum’s donor clubs and volunteer committees are viewed as important resources. 

If you're at all skeptical about the Smithsonian Institute's strategy, check this out:

The newest addition to the suite of Smithsonian museums, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, approached the leaders of the historic Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria with a surprising request: Would the African American congregation pledge $1 million to become a founding donor to the $540 million museum?


This request highlights the bold thinking of the museum’s fundraisers, who tapped into Alfred Street’s tradition of service and its pride in its 200-year history in making their appeal. 

Next time you are in a museum or gallery, I hope the takeaway from this brief (and gif filled) intro to fundraising has you thinking about how the travelling exhibition you're visiting was feasible, how the institution can afford to maintain its collections, and/or how your membership makes a difference. 

Please share any exciting fundraising events or campaigns below! 


Anderson, E. 2006. "Fundraising for Museums". Association of Independent Museums.

McGlone, P. 2016. "How the African American Museum is Raising the Bar for Black Philanthropy". The Washington Post.

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. n.d. "My Museum, My Masterpiece". 2015-2016 Fundraising Campaign. Accessed September 26, 2016. 

Optimus Fundraising. 2016. "Review of Campaign Status and Future Fundraising for the New Museum in the Shipyards". North Vancouver Museum and Archives.

Smithsonian Institution. 2001. Fundraising at Art Museums. Smithsonian Institution.

Monday, 26 September 2016




            Ahhh Autumn. The crispness in the air, the falling of the leaves, and the pumpkin spicing of every baked good and caffeinated drink in sight. It's also "back-to-school" season which means that classes have started again at our beloved iSchool. Welcome back second-years and to incoming first-year students, make sure to check out my previous column, The Grad School Guide, where you can hopefully find some helpful info about life as a Museum Studies student.

            This particular September marks an immense milestone in my academic career: my last first day of school and the last time I can thrive on the sense of possibility, opportunity, and excitement that accompanies a new school yearat least for the foreseeable future. Ever since I was a kid, I always loved the feeling of going back to school and to this day, this season is a nostalgic reminder of the strange sentimentality that comes with buying school supplies, creating new schedules, and contemplating future learning activities. School has always been fun for me, and so have museums, so I thought to myself: "this edition of Museum Mondays should address something that is an amalgamation of both schools AND museums!"

Not me at all. Source.
            Enter the fact that there are many museums and galleries established in buildings that were former public schools or school houses, and in current academic institutions. I first became curious about this idea during my internship at the Koffler Centre of the Arts, which is in the office and library of a former public school. The similarities in practice between schools and museums, such as using primary sources to ignite students' learning experiences, make the establishment of a museum in a school an intriguing, and decidedly apropos concept. Now let's discuss a few galleries and institutions, located in schools, that I think have employed the school-museum shtick to the fullest. Please reply in the comments with your favourite museum-school hybrids!!!

Stavanger School Museum
            As a fan of Scandavian design and culture (hygge anyone?), I was more than pleased to read about the Stavanger School Museum in southwestern Norway. Located in a 1920's-era school house that formerly housed the Kvaleberg school building, the museum exhibits the history of the Norwegian elementary school system from the 1800's until today. The museum also possesses a large collection of school-related artifacts, and is home to a collection of over 25,000 historic textbooks (Source). Imagine purchasing 25,000 textbooks at the UofT bookstore! A girl can only dream.

The lovely-looking Stavanger School House. Source. 
MoMa PS1
               Once home to the first public school in Long Island City, Queen's, New York, MoMA PS1 is now the location of one of the foremost contemporary art institutions. The gallery is dedicated to "displaying the most experimental art in the world" (Source), and is also one of the oldest contemporary art institutions, dating back to the 1970's, prior to its affiliation with MoMA (Source). MoMA PS1 definitely plays up the fact that it functions in a former school house in its public programming. From a summertime workshop and lecture series titled "Summer School" to the "Warm Up" party series reminiscent of gym classes of yore, PS1 seems to emphasize its origins and weave this narrative throughout its current operations.

MoMA PS1. Source.
Old Library Building at Trinity College, Dublin
                Part of Trinity College in Dublin: the oldest university in Ireland; the Old Library Building at this school is home to an exhibition on the Book of Kells and the library holds an extensive book collection comprising a copy of every book ever written in Ireland. I had the opportunity to visit the Old Library and exhibition space this past summer, and words can hardly describe the feeling of being surrounded by that many historic books all at once. If you are a book-lover and a "back-to-school" aficionado, like myself, prepare to be awestruck by this old school (pun intended) library.

An image of the Library's Great Hall from my travels this summer. 

Friday, 23 September 2016




From a conservationist standpoint, light is often viewed as an enemy, causing damage to objects within a museum collection. However, light can be used to create unique displays that inspire visitor engagement. This is seen in the new Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) exhibit entitled: Chihuly.

I was really impressed with the way the exhibit controlled light. Throughout the exhibit there are interesting displays that reflect, absorb, and manipulate the light in order to complement the glass work itself.

I think the best example of this mastery of light is seen in the Persian Ceiling. The Persian Ceiling has many works of glass arranged to form a ceiling and there are lights shining above the artefact.

Personal Photo Credit: Hayley Mae Jones
The art installation is enclosed in a room with cream coloured walls. These cream walls/floor of the exhibit were a beautiful canvas for the multi-coloured light reflecting through the art work. This showed off the natural beauty of the glass work, while compelling visitors to look up towards the ceiling.

Personal Photo Credit: Hayley Mae Jones
The multi-coloured light also drew my eyes upwards towards the placement of the object, and made visitors arch their necks. The light really felt like a part of the object itself.

Personal Photo Credit: Hayley Mae Jones
The ROM also provided visitors a place to sit and lie down within this exhibit space providing visitors with different perspectives and methods of experiencing the light shining through the art work. This allowed the visitors to view the glass work, and light from different angles.

Museums should take into consideration, how light can be used to create different types of visitor experiences, and how light can dramatically impact an exhibition.  Light is what allows visitors to view objects within a collection, and poor lighting design can cause a negative impact on the visitor experience.  That doesn't mean that all museums should push for elaborate light shows within their exhibitions.  Dramatic lighting effects are not always possible, due to the materials and condition of the objects displayed. Museums should take into consideration how to best use light to meet their exhibition, collection, and visitor needs.

That being said, the Persian Ceiling shows how combining objects and light can create a unique visitor experience.

Thursday, 22 September 2016




Art and Innovation: Traditional Arctic Footwear from the Bata Shoe Museum Collection. Photo Credit: Sadie MacDonald.
This week I went to the Bata Shoe Museum for the first time! Generally shoes aren't my friends (having flat feet with a significant discrepancy in size will do that to you), but I easily put that troubled past aside while visiting here.

These shoes rule. Source.
I especially enjoyed the semi-permanent exhibition Art and Innovation: Traditional Arctic Footwear from the Bata Shoe Museum Collection, which opened earlier this year. If you haven’t gone to see it yet, you really should!

This exhibition features boots, clothing, and sewing tools from various people who live around the Arctic. Cultures from three continents are represented, from Inuit to Sami to Nenet. The showcases are grouped by region (Greenland, Canada, Alaska, Western Siberia, Eastern Siberia, and Sápmi) and are positioned according to those regions’ respective location around the Arctic within the room’s space (clever, clever). This project is the result of field research organized by the Bata Shoe Museum, and interviews and demonstrations were conducted with the objects’ makers. The opening statement reminds us that “many of the boots in this exhibition have a story to tell.”

The Art and Innovation exhibition's glacial ambience. Photo Credit: Sadie MacDonald.
The room is lined with sharp-edged, glacial white displays that surround an expanse of space. Interspersing this cold set-up are the stunning and eye-catching featured objects, which imbibe the area with vitality and activity. The exhibition design reflects the popular idea of the Arctic as a barren wasteland and simultaneously challenges that notion by pointing to the vibrant and diverse cultural traditions of those who live there.

While they are all grouped under this exhibit as part of the Arctic in general, the articles on display are from a variety of cultures and were made for a variety of purposes from a variety of materials. Utility, ceremony, gender identity, and straight-up artistry are common themes. Materials include reindeer pelt, seal intestine, grass, fish skin, and duck skin.

Slippers made from eider duck skin – seriously! Meeko, Silatik. Sanikiluaq, Belcher Islands, Nunavut, Canada. 1989. Photo Credit: Sadie MacDonald.
I really appreciate how this exhibit credits nearly all of the makers of the objects on display, and in the very few cases where the artist is not known, the label acknowledges it. The labels also frequently provide the artists' cultural background and their reasons for making the pieces. This personalized labelling was part of a deliberate effort to avoid the anonymity that tends to accompany indigenous artifacts. Senior curator Elizabeth Semmelhack wanted to move past the “anonymous maker” concept; in this exhibit, “we know the names of all the makers, who they made the pieces for, and why they were made in that way.” Sometimes museums present indigenous works as generalized, representative examples of the cultural practices they originate from, but here, these objects have particular stories and were made by and for specific people.

Siberian white reindeer boots. Moldanova, Natasha. Beloyarsk, Ob Basin, Siberia, Russia. 1980s. Photo Credit: Sadie MacDonald.
The boots above, for example, were made in the 1980s by Khanty seamstress Natasha Moldanova for her son Valery. He would wear them while undertaking activities like hunting, fishing, and the annual March reindeer festival. You can learn more about Siberian reindeer boots like these at the Bata Shoe Museum blog here.

These must have taken forever to make. Okadluk, Leah. Arctic Bay, Northwest Territories, Canada. 1987. Photo Credit: Sadie MacDonald.
My personal favourite were these awesome sealskin kamiks made by Leah Okadluk, an Iglulingmiut Inuit artist, for the 1987 Bata Shoe Museum Foundation Decorated Moccasin competition. She won second place (Joyce Growing Thunder Fogarty won first). These show a complicated fur inlay technique, in which the artist crafts stylized motifs from aligning different types of fur in a smooth effect. Get a load of those polar bears!

Take a closer look at that snout. Photo Credit: Sadie MacDonald.
The photo above shows traditional Sami shoes called gallohat. This pair was made by Berit Karen Bongo Utsi for her husband Nils using the pelt off a reindeer’s head. See where the nose is? And with that nose fur the artist managed to get the nice curled toe that is distinctive to Sami footwear.

The exhibited objects are in beautiful condition – lots of glossy pelts and bright colours here! Most of these items were made during the 20th century by skilled craftworkers. It’s an important reminder that these are contemporary objects involved in ongoing cultural traditions and everyday activities, and not artifacts from dead, ancient history as popular perception too often casts indigenous works. Here, they are alive.

True to their word, there are many stories told by these shoes. Give them a listen sometime!