THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG: THE MUSEUM & ART GALLERY COLLECTION
Sunday, May 4, 2014 at 06:50PM
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            It's difficult to believe that the plethora of objects -  the memorabilia, vintage maps, exquisite textiles, the unique artifacts -  carefully selected to illustrate the new permanent Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery exhibit, “Remarkable Red Deer: Stories from the Heart of the Parkland”, are just the tip of the iceberg of an extensive and fascinating collection.

            Thousands of objects, from the exotic to the mundane, are housed behind the scenes. Valerie Miller, Collections Coordinator at the Red Deer MAG explains that while the collection contains fossils that are millions of years old, not everything is unique or rare. Many contemporary objects, including a funky bench made out of skateboards, are also representational of life in Red Deer.

            A prisoner of war uniform held in the MAG collection was donated by a local farmer who had purchased the pants, jacket, and hat as a set at an Army & Navy Surplus Store. Manufactured by the Great Western Garment Co. in Edmonton, and worn by international soldiers detained in Canadian work camps, the uniform is rare and unique because it is a complete set. Consequently, it is a much requested item for loan to other institutions.

            As in the case of the uniform, the MAG receives many donations from the public. “When we receive items, we consider what gaps are currently in the collection, and what we can actually store and care for here. We are somewhat selective in what we can accept, “ says Miller. “The object has to fit with our mandate and help tell the story of what it represents, but we're very pleased when people call us with something they think might have historical significance.”

            “Sometimes we approach people in the community to obtain a specific item if it can help tell the story of life in Red Deer, “ she says. For the new exhibit, staff identified a gap in the collection of objects from the oil and gas industry. They are currently working with community advisors to acquire the appropriate items that will illustrate the narrative of the impact on local life by that sector.

            It isn't all just an exciting treasure hunt, though. Miller acknowledges that sometimes the objects that support a storyline no longer exist. With or without a particular item, a lot of effort and research goes on behind the scenes. The MAG staff collaborates closely with Red Deer Archives staff, the Glenbow Museum archives, and provincial and national archives to research the supporting documentation that provides a context and brings the stories to life.

            For example, the Red Deer Archives supplied a photographic image of Ella Parsons for the new exhibit. The MAG textile collection (the largest in Western Canada) holds the actual clothing Mrs. Parson is wearing in the photograph

            Similarly, researchers and students can arrange to access the holdings, as well as the MAG library, whether they are interested in quilt and clothing patterns, vintage fashion magazines, or in home canning utensils and blacksmithing tools.

            While the MAG houses thousands of items, it is also a repository for just as many stories. “Meeting the people, talking about their experiences, their work, their, life: that's what I love,” says Miller.

 

Published in Red Deer Advocate Special Sections 2013.

May not be re-printed without permission of author.

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