What’s the difference between a collector and a pack rat? Check out the Galt Museum’s new exhibit and find out. “I think it depends on how the collector defines their own collection. Things that may seem like throwaway items to one person can be highly valuable to another person, for their own reasons. A lot of collectors have an emotional connection to what they choose to keep, and other people might not understand why,” Jane Edmundson, guest curator of a new exhibit at the Galt Museum “For Keeps: Collecting Memories,” noted via email.
The exhibit opened last weekend and continues until April.
It combines collections from the Galt Museum Archives with unusual collections from southern Alberta collectors plus several multi-media presentations featuring some of the collectors explaining the stories behind their collections.
“Jane Edmundson worked in our collections department for two years and the exhibit came from her curiosity about the stories behinds some of the items in our collections,” said Galt Museum Marketing and Communications officer Graham Ruttan, noting the exhibit opened to the public on Sunday, Jan. 28.
He noted the Galt Museum is taking a more proactive approach to collecting items from events in Lethbridge which will have historical significance, like the protests.
“Because it is more difficult to find items from an event that happened 80 or 90 years ago,” he said.
“The exhibit is about exploring what transforms everyday objects into treasures that we want to collect and preserve,” Edmundson related via email.
The bulk of the main room features a variety of items from the Galt Museum collection including a collection of anti-Trump protest signs collected last year from a women’s march in Lethbridge held simultaneously with the women’s march on Washington after U.S. Donald Trump’s inauguration, and a police revolver used in a police shooting in 1982.
The smaller room features collections from local people from the expected, like buttons, Levi Cox’s collection of Barbie dolls to the unusual, like a 12-year-old’s collection of egg cartons.
“The idea for the exhibit started when I was working as the Collections Assistant at the Galt, doing research to uncover the histories behind objects that had incomplete records or unknown stories,” Edmundson explained. “The research involved looking through newspapers, archival records, and tracking down donors or next-of-kin to try to talk to them about the artifact, and what it meant to them before they donated it to the museum. I learned that the stories behind artifacts are what makes them special and important to preserve for the future.”
“While I was working in Collections, I became interested to specific objects; some with detailed, recorded human histories that relate to Southwest Alberta, some with known histories that do not relate to Southwest Alberta, and some about which very little or nothing is known (despite research efforts).
“I wanted to include a selection of artifacts from each of these three categories for the exhibit, to show the public about the work that Galt staff are constantly doing to improve the relevancy of the museum’s collections,” she added.
The Galt Museum put out a social media call to get the community involved in the exhibit.
“The Galt put a call out on social media for local collectors who were interested in participating in the exhibit, and I also approached some people I know who collect interesting things. I wanted to feature some atypical collections (like playing cards, for example!) alongside more common things that people collect (like salt and pepper shakers). The hardest part was only being able to include a small fraction of some of the collectors’ overall collections in the exhibit, due to space limitations,” she continued noting the egg carton collection was one of the most unusual contributions.
“The egg carton collection is quite unusual. But I was also surprised to learn about the depth of Levi Cox’s action figure collection; I knew he had a lot of toys, but I didn’t know he has one of the largest toy collections in North America,” she enthused.
She noted the stories behind the items are what makes them special.
“The stories behind objects are what make them special things that we are compelled to save and preserve. Otherwise, they are just everyday objects that our materialist culture doesn’t value. The objects act as symbols for the human stories; the stories tell us about our history and about who we are.”
A the multi-media part of the exhibit lets the collectors explain their collections in their own words.
“I chose to conduct video interviews with each collector about their collection and what drives them to collect. This is a version of oral history collection, which is the method the Galt Collections staff use with donors of artifacts to the museum, to record the human history behind the artifacts. There are also clips from oral history interviews throughout the exhibit that relate to the Galt’s artifacts, and a video booth that asks museum visitors to make a mini-oral history recording about what they collect in their personal lives,” Edmundson wrote.
“I hope the exhibit helps visitors understand the processes the Galt uses when managing its collections, and how these methods have changed over the museum’s 50-year history. I also hope the exhibit inspires visitors to think about the stories behind the objects they have chosen to collect in their own lives, and how those stories are being preserved for the future.”