Guest Curator: Arlene Gehmacher

Banner for the guest curator series. CANADA 150 is in red along the left side of the banner and then the bilingual text: Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? and under that text is Guest curator series.Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? is a new exhibition by Library and Archives Canada (LAC) marking the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. This exhibition is accompanied by a year-long blog series.

Join us every month during 2017 as experts, from LAC, across Canada and even farther afield, provide additional insights on items from the exhibition. Each “guest curator” discusses one item, then adds another to the exhibition—virtually.

Be sure to visit Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa between June 5, 2017, and March 1, 2018. Admission is free.


Bunch of Wildflowers by Susanna Moodie, ca. 1870

Yellow dandelion in front of blue and pink wildflowers mingled with leaves, painted on sepia card.

Bunch of Wildflowers by Susanna Moodie, ca. 1870. (MIKAN 2837436)

Susanna Moodie called Canada’s woods “the prison house.” Flower painting may have been her form of therapy. It allowed her to impose order and refinement on one small piece of nature.


Tell us about yourself

Studying the visual culture of Canada has been a pursuit of mine since first being hired to research primary archival and printed sources for an exhibition on historical art produced in Canada. I was hooked—the material satisfied both my love of fine art as well as cultural context. I feel very fortunate to have been able to make it my career.

Is there anything else about this item that you feel Canadians should know?

Watercolours, such as Bunch of Wildflowers, were for Moodie not just a pastime to create gifts for family and friends, but also a commodity that could be used for cash income or trade. With a price tag of $3 to $5, she could pay her servant. William Notman, the famed Canadian photographer, is known to have accepted—at his own suggestion—an autographed watercolour as payment for his photographs. (Moodie obliged with A Group of Crimson, White, Yellow, and Pink Roses.)

The bunch of wildflowers—including periwinkle, dandelion, and clematis—may well have been picked by Moodie herself, but her arranging them into a watercolour was part of her domestic economy.

Tell us about another related item that you would like to add to the exhibition.

Two colour plates of colourful flowers with green leaves. Left: Wild Orange Red Lily, Harebell, and Showy Lady’s Slipper. Right: Sharp-lobed Hepatica, Large-flowered Bellwort, Wood Anemone, and Spring Beauty.

Image on the left: Wild Orange Red Lily, Harebell, and Showy Lady’s Slipper (MIKAN 2905466) Image on the right: Sharp-lobed Hepatica, Large-flowered Bellwort, Wood Anemone, and Spring Beauty (MIKAN 2905471) Plates from Canadian Wild Flowers by Agnes FitzGibbon, published by John Lovell, Montréal, 1868 (AMICUS 49189)

Agnes FitzGibbon, daughter of Susanna Moodie, collaborated with her aunt Catharine Parr Traill (Susanna’s sister) on Canadian Wild Flowers, published in 1868 and praised for its scientific accuracy. Susanna Moodie’s Bunch of Wildflowers bespeaks her joy and passion in picking and aesthetically arranging flowers, and immortalizes her artistry in watercolour. In contrast, FitzGibbon’s fine illustrations are informative, her delineation precise to ensure legibility of specimen.

FitzGibbon’s project was from the start a business venture, each of the 500 copies containing 10 lithographed plates, each hand coloured (with help!), and accompanied by Parr Traill’s descriptions both poetic and naturalist. Executed over 1867 and 1868, Canadian Wild Flowers in subject and timing surely assumed a mantle of national relevance.

Biography

Colour photograph of a woman standing against a turquoise tiled wall.Arlene Gehmacher, PhD, is Curator of Canadian Paintings, Prints & Drawings at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto, Ontario, where she develops collections-based research and exhibits. She also teaches; her course “Collecting Canada” deals with the acquisition, interpretation and display of the ROM’s picture collection and is offered through the Art History Department of the University of Toronto. Her publications cover the 19th to 21st centuries, and include articles on Ozias Leduc (1996), Cornelius Krieghoff (2003), Naoko Matsubara (2003, 2016), Paul Kane (2010, 2014), Arthur Heming (2013), and William Blair Bruce (1999, 2014).

Related resources

Guest Curator: Tania Passafiume

Banner for the guest curator series. CANADA 150 is in red along the left side of the banner and then the bilingual text: Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? and under that text is Guest curator series.Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? is a new exhibition by Library and Archives Canada (LAC) marking the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. This exhibition is accompanied by a year-long blog series.

Join us every month in 2017! Experts from LAC, from across Canada and from other countries provide additional information about the exhibition. Each “guest curator” discusses one item, then adds another to the exhibition—virtually.

Be sure to visit Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? at 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa, from June 5, 2017, to March 1, 2018. Admission is free.


Temples of Today by John Vanderpant, ca. 1934

Black-and-white photo of a grain elevator with tall, circular towers in front of a taller rectangular building.

“Temples of Today” by John Vanderpant, ca. 1934. (MIKAN 3784205)

Photographer John Vanderpant saw Canada’s grain elevators as temples. They were part of his utopian vision for the country, based on a faith in trade and industry. For him, industry would define the nation’s future.


Tell us about yourself

I knew I wanted to be a conservator since I was 13 years old. At this time, my uncle had married a wonderful woman named Janice. She was a fine art conservator, hence she treated paintings, works of art on paper, and photographs. I was very influenced by her, and it led me to work in her private lab as I was studying at university. It provided me with experience before I even started my graduate classes in conservation. When I graduated, there was no employment in Canada, and my aunt had closed her lab and was traveling that particular year. I ended up going to the George Eastman House on a whim. It was supposed to be just for three months. Instead I stayed there three years and three months! It was when I became passionate about photography, particularly historical processes. My hands were often black due to all the silver nitrate I was playing with! And now, I see my aunt’s name on a report or two, as she had actually interned here at LAC many years before me.

Is there anything else about this item that you feel Canadians should know?

LAC’s collection of photographs is really diverse. You can always find a variety of processes and images. For this exhibition, I favor Temples of Today by John Vanderpant. I am a photograph conservator, so often I look beyond the image, looking deeper at the materials and how the photograph was made, or if anything has been altered. Many times, not to be distracted by the image itself, I turn the photograph around, so that the image is upside down, making it less distracting, so that I can concentrate on the material and not the image before me. But for this item, all I had to do was lean down and look at the surface of the photograph in raking light. That is when light is falling across the surface and I am almost at eye level with the surface. It is at this point you can really “see” an object; all the handling dents and deformities are really pronounced. When you do that with this item you see cat paw prints! We actually think that the cat walked one way, turned around and walked back! The photograph was already mounted on the paper support when the cat had walked on it. This is noted as one of the prints lies on both the photograph and the support. Perhaps Vanderpant had a cat who would visit him in the studio? I really enjoy finding these hidden secrets. I did try to remove or at least reduce the paw prints, but they appear to be stuck within the emulsion. So I could not do much as for treatment, and the paw prints remain.

A photo on a table with a bright light raking over it reveals a cat’s paw prints.

Viewing Temples of Today under raking light reveals a cat’s paw prints. Photo taken by Tom Thompson.

Tell us about another related item that you would like to add to the exhibition

A photograph that I enjoy showing people is a daguerreotype from July 1858. The daguerreotype has captured the Molson Brewery in Montréal, after a fire. It is a half plate in good condition. The image is sombre as the fire has left nothing. In the centre of this emptiness stands a man with a seated female to the left with a small child, who moved as the image was taken and is blurry. It is a moving image, as you can imagine that the daguerreotypist had to be physically there, at this moment to document this period of time. A few years ago, this item was going on exhibition; therefore I was fortunate enough to be able to open the daguerreotype package (the original sealing tape had been previously removed), to examine the plate. Upon removal of the brass mat, I immediately noticed in the upper left corner, a finger mark. This was hidden behind the brass mat. This fingerprint could be from the daguerreotypist, who is, at this moment still unknown. It could have been accidently placed there as he or she was developing the plate or placing it into the daguerreotype package. For me it is a sign of the mysterious past—a bridge, a connector between these people in the image and to the person behind the camera who is not visible and us, the current viewer.

 The corner of a daguerreotype showing a fingerprint on the edge of the plate. The plate depicts a closeup of the Molson Brewery after a fire. A woman with a baby is sitting at the bottom edge.

A detail of a corner of a daguerreotype showing a fingerprint on the edge of the plate. Photo taken by Jennie Woodley. (MIKAN 3192967)

Black-and-white image of rubble in the foreground with a damaged building in the background. A woman with a baby sits in the middle to left of a standing man.¬

Full image of the Molson family brewery after the fire of 1858. (MIKAN 3192967)

On this theme of animals and photography, I would like to include the “Decadog,” as we call it at the Preservation Centre. This is a perfect example of an animal being an animal. It is a nitrate panorama negative of 7th Draft, “C” Battery, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery (RCHA). These were the units of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) and the Royal Air Force who trained at various camps in Ontario; here it was in Kingston. It was taken between 1914 and 1918. The nitrate negative was discovered when my colleagues Carla Klück and Louise Perrault were scanning the nitrate panorama collection in 2011. At first glance this long negative, which is 200 mm high x 1060 mm wide, is another documented proof of military troops from the turn of the century. On closer examination, a dog appears in the foreground. But not just any dog—a dog with eleven legs! Viewers are always confused when they notice this unusual aspect. Someone has previously outlined in black ink on the negative (which appears white on the positive print), ten of the legs (hence the name Decadog), omitting the second last paw on the left. You may be asking—how did this dog exist in Kingston? Easy enough answer is that the photograph was taken by a panoramic camera also known as a Cirkut. The Cirkut is a rotating camera that would capture a panoramic scene by pivoting horizontally while a roll of film moved across the film plane. At just the right moment, the dog must have walked as the camera was rotating from left to right. Consequently, the slow capture could capture the slow movement of the dog walking across the plane of view. To prove that this Decadog is a “normal” four-legged friend, I have included an additional nitrate panorama from our collection. This time it is from the 8th Draft “C” Battery, RCHA, CEF, Petawawa Camp on June 1916. From his face markings, we think that this is the same dog in both nitrate panoramas.

Black-and-white panorama shot of two rows of uniformed soldiers between two wheeled cannons. The Decadog is in front of the group. Barracks can be seen in the background.

7th Draft, “C” Battery, RCHA, CEF group photo with the Decadog by Andrew Merrilees. (MIKAN 4474227)

Black-and-white panorama shot of three and a half rows of uniformed soldiers in front of trees and tents. A soldier in the centre of the front row holds a dog on his lap.

8th Draft, “C” Battery, RCHA, CEF Petawawa Camp with a dog in the centre by Andrew Merrilees. (MIKAN 4473482)

Biography

Colour photograph of a woman looking at the viewer.

Credit Tom Thompson

Tania Passafiume has been the Head Conservator of Photographic Materials for Library and Archives Canada since 2005. After graduating from Queen’s University with a Master’s in Art Conservation (specializing in photographs, works on paper and book conservation), she moved to Rochester, New York. It was in Rochester at the George Eastman House where she remained for over three years, first participating in the Certificate Program in Photographic Preservation and Archival Practice and then as a Fellow in the first cycle of the Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in the Advanced Residency Program in Photograph Conservation. For the following three years, Tania was an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow, in Photographic Conservation at the Art Institute of Chicago. Tania has also worked in the following institutions and private labs: Jana Conservation, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, National Archives of Canada, City of Vancouver Archives, and Canadian Centre for Architecture. With the Canadian Conservation Institute she has published “Silver Gelatin Paper Sample Sets,” which is based on her George Eastman House thesis. Also stemming from this was research on Hippolyte Bayard, a topic on which she is currently working with the Centre de recherché sur la conservation des collections (CRCC), Paris. More recently, she spearheaded a LAC project with the Cultural Affairs Department of the City of Paris/Atelier de Restauration et de Conservation des Photographies de la Ville de Paris (ARCP) in a collaboration to create the first English-French visual glossary of photo conservation terms in enhanced eBook format called Lingua Franca: A Common Language for Conservators of Photographic Materials which will soon be available for free on iTunes.

Guest curator: Vasanthi Pendakur

Banner for the guest curator series. CANADA 150 is in red along the left side of the banner and then the bilingual text: Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? and under that text is Guest curator series.Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? is a new exhibition by Library and Archives Canada (LAC) marking the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. This exhibition is accompanied by a year-long blog series.

Join us every month during 2017 as experts, from LAC
, across Canada and even farther afield, provide additional insights on items from the exhibition. Each “guest curator” discusses one item, then adds another to the exhibition—virtually.

Be sure to visit Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa between June 5, 2017, and March 1, 2018. Admission is free.


“Wild” woman of Canada, 1784

A colourful print of a pale woman with blond hair dressed in a yellow dress with green edging, white apron and pink tights. She is also wearing a blue necklace and blue boots.

“Wild” woman of Canada from Mœurs et coutumes des sauvages du Canada, 1784 (MIKAN 3025442)

The images of Canada published by serious travel encyclopaedias are often surprising. This woman seems more European than Indigenous… just look at her blonde hair! Continue reading

Guest curator: James Bone

Banner for the guest curator series. CANADA 150 is in red along the left side of the banner and then the bilingual text: Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? and under that text is Guest curator series.Canada: Who Do We Think We Are?

Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? is a new exhibition by Library and Archives Canada (LAC) marking the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. This exhibition is accompanied by a year-long blog series.

Join us every month during 2017 as experts, from LAC, across Canada and even farther afield, provide additional insights on items from the exhibition. Each “guest curator” discusses one item, then adds another to the exhibition—virtually.

Be sure to visit Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa between June 5, 2017, and March 1, 2018. Admission is free.


A square sepia stamp. Each corner has the number three indicating the cost. A ring around the center reads, “Canada Postage Three Pence” with a crown between the top words. In the center of the circle is a beaver beside running water with a mountain and trees in the background.

The Three-Pence Beaver designed by Sir Sandford Fleming, 1851 (MIKAN 2184475) ©Canada Post.

The beaver was seen as a good stand-in for the average Canadian: industrious, tenacious… and with great building skills. This is one reason why it appears on the nation’s first postage stamp.


The Three-Pence Beaver designed by Sir Sandford Fleming, 1851

Tell us about yourself

I acquire and process philatelic archives from private, or non-governmental, sources. Although LAC holds the extremely important Post Office Department fonds containing the records of Canada Post, the study of philately is one that happens entirely in the private sphere. So to complement the official records, LAC also collects the records of stamp designers, engravers and artists along with those of printing companies, Canada’s philatelic study societies and prominent philatelic researchers and exhibitors.

I recently represented LAC at the 2016 British North America Philatelic Society Exhibition in Fredericton, New Brunswick where I sought to foster knowledge of LAC’s holdings and how to use them, while also making a pitch that members of the society could have archival records of interest to LAC’s growing collection.

I did not entirely expect to find myself at LAC. After completing my undergraduate studies in 2006, I received a full scholarship for a year to continue my studies in Chinese language at Beijing Normal University in preparation for a planned MA program in Chinese history. However, illness and a change of direction brought me into the workforce. I worked in technical support in London, Ontario and later supervised a technical support team in Montréal for several years before returning to graduate school. Continue reading

Guest curator Meaghan Scanlon

Banner for the guest curator series. CANADA 150 is in red along the left side of the banner and then the bilingual text: Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? and under that text is Guest curator series.Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? is a new exhibition by Library and Archives Canada (LAC) marking the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. This exhibition is accompanied by a year-long blog series.

Join us every month during 2017 as experts, from LAC, across Canada and even farther afield, provide additional insights on items from the exhibition. Each “guest curator” discusses one item, then adds another to the exhibition—virtually.

Be sure to visit Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa between June 5, 2017, and March 1, 2018. Admission is free.


Les voyages du sieur de Champlain…, Samuel de Champlain, 1613 and its map, the Carte geographique de la Nouvelle Franse faictte par le sieur de Champlain [Geographical map of New France by Samuel de Champlain, 1613]

Les voyages du sieur de Champlain…, 1613 and its map Carte geographique de la Nouvelle Franse faictte par le sieur de Champlain [Geographical map of New France by Samuel de Champlain], engraved by David Pelletier in 1612. (MIKAN 3919638) (AMICUS 4700723)

Les voyages du sieur de Champlain…, 1613 and its map Carte geographique de la Nouvelle Franse faictte par le sieur de Champlain [Geographical map of New France by Samuel de Champlain], engraved by David Pelletier in 1612. (MIKAN 3919638) (AMICUS 4700723)

Explorer Samuel de Champlain saw Canada as a land of potential. He published this book, with an eye-catching map, to advertise its possibilities to investors. The beautiful drawings of plants are probably his own. Continue reading

Introducing LAC’s guest curator blog series and our upcoming exhibition!

Banner for the guest curator series. CANADA 150 is in red along the left side of the banner and then the bilingual text: Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? and under that text is Guest curator series.Over the next year, keep your eyes open for a new and exciting series of blog articles, promoting Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) upcoming exhibition, Canada: Who Do We Think We Are?, developed in recognition of the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. The exhibition opens on June 5, 2017, while the year-long blog series starts in January 2017.

Reading the blogs

Through this series, you will hear from staff who helped develop the exhibition, including anecdotes about their work at LAC. The series also includes articles by scholars, experts and ordinary Canadians, who all depend upon LAC’s collection, from across Canada—and even the other side of the globe!

In each article, a different “guest curator” will examine one item from the exhibition. We have come up with four questions, which we have had each of our guest curators answer. The questions give the curators a chance to tell us a bit about themselves, to provide extra information about their item and, finally, to virtually add an item or two to the exhibition.

The guest curator blog series will be published every month, between January and December 2017. Be sure to stay tuned all year, in order to find out who our guest curators are and what they chose.

Visiting the exhibition

And be sure to visit the physical exhibition in downtown Ottawa where you can see these, and many other Canadian treasures, in person. Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? will be on display free of charge at 395 Wellington Street between June 5, 2017, and March 1, 2018.

The exhibition explores different ideas of Canada, and being Canadian, over time.

Some of these ideas will be familiar today, and rather comfortable to us all—something like old, worn-down slippers. The idea of Canada as a “northern” nation, for example, goes right back to the colony’s earliest days. Others may simply seem old fashioned, like a 1944 image of the “typical” Canadian family. And still others may seem wrong, or even shocking, to modern eyes. These include certain past attitudes towards immigration, for example, and the country’s First Nations peoples.

Engraved map of New France. The land mass with trees, mountains and rivers is bordered by the ocean, which depicts ships and sea life. A compass, seal and sun are also included. A scene of First Nations people is set above a band of plant life surrounding the legend.

Carte geographique de la Nouvelle Franse faictte par le sieur de Champlain, 1613 [Geographical map of New France by Samuel de Champlain, 1613]. Samuel de Champlain’s beautiful illustration advertises the land’s wealth to investors (MIKAN 3919638 or AMICUS 4700723)

Continue reading