Wednesday, May 5, 2010

100-year-old Antarctic artifact, once again, travels the globe

In my role as communications coordinator, part of my job is to discover (and share!) cool and interesting Royal BC Museum stories. Wait… I get paid for this?

The story I’m going to blog about today first came across my desk a few months back. Tim Willis, director of exhibitions and visitor experience (and also the infamous author of a previous blog post) called one rainy afternoon to tell me about a project going on in the conservation department. (And if you’re not 100 per cent familiar with museum-lingo, this department is charged with caring and preserving more than 7 million artifacts, specimens and documents that make up the Royal BC Museum and BC Archives collections. Now that’s a big job!)

Meares’ pennant
One of our interesting artifacts is a pennant (read: flag) that once belonged to an explorer of the ill-fated 1910 Scott Expedition to the South Pole. Cecil Meares, the designated dog-handler of the trip, retired in Victoria, BC. After his death, Meares’ family donated the flag to the Royal BC Museum. (Photo credit: © Royal BC Museum.)

Each of the men on the expedition had a distinct pennant to fly from their sleds. Usually sewn by the explorers’ mothers and wives, pennants were also hung at the base camp during special occasions and major sledge journeys. Meares’ pennant can be seen in this photograph taken during the expedition (see the man standing on the right? Look at the flag right above his head and count three to the left). Meares himself is sitting at the table, second from left. (Photo credit: © Royal Geographical Society, with IBG).

Making repairs
It so happens that the American Museum of Natural History is about to open an exhibition based on the Scott expedition. Since Race to the End of the Earth is presented in collaboration with the Royal BC Museum, it only made sense to include the Meares’ pennant in the exhibition. But before the 100-year-old flag could make its 4,800 km journey to New York, the Royal BC Museum conservation department had to make a few repairs on this delicate artifact.

To reinforce and protect the fragile George Cross, textile conservator Colleen Wilson (right) first had to sew a backing of red material onto the flag. Next, she meticulously dyed virtually invisible silk gauze to match the colour of the cross. Finally, she hand sewed the silk directly over the cross with a thread finer than spider’s silk. (Photo credit: © Royal BC Museum.)

Race to the End of the Earth will focus on both the Norwegian and British expeditions to the South Pole and on the challenges both crews faced. Highlights of the exhibition include authentic clothing and tools and life-sized models of the base camps. The exhibition travels to the Royal BC Museum in summer 2013 – stay tuned for more information.

Is there is anything you ever wanted to know about the Royal BC Museum (but were too afraid to ask)? If so, leave me a comment and I’ll see what I can do to address it in future posts. I’m looking forward to sharing more museum stories with you!

For additional reading on the Scott Expedition to the South Pole
Be sure to check out author Adrian Raeside’s book: Return to Antarctica: The Amazing Adventure of Sir Charles Wright on Robert Scott’s Journey to the South Pole (2009 by John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd).

American Museum of Natural History

Antarctic Heritage Trust

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