Friday, August 26, 2011

Scavenger hunt

From the desk of
 Sean Rodman

Strategic Partnerships
at the
Royal BC Museum

School hasn't started yet and, as I am writing this, it's raining here in Victoria.  So, what to do with the kids?  Come down to the Royal BC Museum and go on a scavenger hunt! I've taken 5 mystery photos, and attached a few clues to help you out.

Can you figure out where I took these pictures in our galleries?


From his perch high up on the old stone wall,
This raven keeps guard,

Over those entering our hall.

Boots made to order, 
While you listen to the sounds,
All around you in Canada's oldest Chinatown.

Barrels by the shore, all ready to go.
Have a drink in the tavern,
While the sea breezes blow


His home is not in the sky, not on the land.
This whale flies through the air,
- so give him a hand!

It looks like a dino, but don't get it wrong.
This old horse ate grass,

All day long!


Last but not least - a present for you!
Bonus points if you can... 
Identify the poo!

Friday, August 19, 2011

An Acquired Taste

from the desk of
Genevieve Weber

Collections, Research
and Access Services

Royal BC Museu


People often ask me what my favourite part of my job is.  The answer is easy: looking through the records.  I review new acquisitions, decide whether they fit with our mandate, and write proposals recommending whether we should add them to our collections or send them on to a more appropriate repository.  So, a big part of my job is looking through records – before anyone else!  Even better!
The BC Archives collects records relating to the political, business, and social history of British Columbia.  Often people and companies want to donate their records to the Archives, but before we accept them there are a number of things to consider.  For example, do we already have related records?  Were the records created in the province?  Was the creator from the province or did s/he spend a significant amount of time here?  Do the records provide evidence of activities, people, and life in the province?
As I research the records to determine these things, I often find interesting extras tucked in amongst the documents.  The archives generally accepts paper, photographic, audio-visual, cartographic and electronic records, but often other types of objects are included in an acquisition.  When this happens, I have a choice to make: the archives can keep the object and consider it a record; the object can be offered to another part of the museum, such as the Human History department and transferred accordingly; or it can be returned to the donor if it is considered to be irrelevant to the rest of the records.  In the past few months we have found some fascinating items:
  • -      Driftwood painted with the image of a seagull (kept with the records of the B.C. Indian Arts and Welfare Society fonds)
  •         A sad iron from the 19th century (to be returned to the donor as the provenance is unknown and it is unrelated to the records)
  • -      A lock of hair (re-housed and kept with the records – as it was with a letter it is considered to be a part of the correspondence)
  • -      Pince-nez (armless eyeglasses) belonging to a former BC Premier (transferred to Human History)
  • -      A 19th century cash box, used to store the diaries of a former BC Premier (transferred to Human History)
Example of a 19th century
sad iron

Cash box containing: 
diaries and pince-nez case
RBCM 2011.156
Sometimes I determine that the records would be better suited to another institution.  The BC Archives communicates with museums and archives throughout the province and the country to ensure that records are being stored in the most suitable place possible.  This spring we were offered a group of records that I determined would better fit the mandate of the Japanese Canadian National Museum in Burnaby.  The records, although created in BC, were related to a federal activity and therefore would be more suitable in a national institution.  The donor agreed, and the JCNM was thrilled to be the recipient of the donation.  Likewise, a colleague recently called me from Arizona to offer us some records that had been created in BC and which he felt were completely out of his repository’s scope but may fit in ours. 
Once I have determined that the records are related to BC and fit our mandate, I write a proposal to the Collections Committee, which has to approve each new acquisition before it can be added to the collection.  The proposal is jointly written by an archivist and a conservator.  For each item or group of records offered to the Archives, a conservator must ascertain the state of the records.  As the majority of records are paper, the main concerns are mold, bleeding ink, rust from staples or paperclips, disintegrations, etc.  However, there may also be a concern about “red rot”, something that happens to leather book covers, or photographic emulsion peeling back from the images.  Audio-visual records have their own set of conservation issues. 
Archival Conservator Betty Walsh
examining a registry that is part of
a new acquisition

Recently acquired records vary in scope: registers of mining company shareholders; personal photograph albums created by a Victoria teacher and administrator; the private records of politicians from the last two centuries; sketch books with images by a magazine illustrator; corporate records of BC companies and organizations; and commercial photographs taken of events and places around the province.  With so many intriguing records to examine I am constantly setting myself strict timelines – otherwise I would be at risk of spending all my time reading old letters and looking at pictures but never getting any work done! 
Do you like to look through old stuff?  I would love to hear your stories about interesting things you have found – perhaps in a relative’s home or even your own attic!

Monday, August 15, 2011


From the desk of Kelly Sendall, 
Manager of Natural History
Royal BC Museum

The practice of preparing specimens for a museum's reference collection is by and large standard the world over. Chances are that a flying squirrel specimen collected for the museum in Paraguay would be prepared in the same way a flying squirrel specimen is prepared here at the Royal BC Museum. Most natural history museums, at least those large enough to have a preparator, will have a living colony of scavengers. I'm talking about beetle colonies maintained to help clean and prepare skeletons of birds and mammals. These are dermestid beetles, sometimes referred to as carpet or larder beetles, and are commonly found in the wild in most parts of the world. Those used most often by museums belong to the species Dermestes maculatus (right)

One of two cabinets at the museum
containing one colony each.
The beetle colonies are kept in a secure and beetle-tight room so that there is little chance any escapees can make their way back into the museum collection. This is important as the "untrained" beetles will indiscriminately munch away on a variety of natural materials not intended for them, therefore,  the door to the room containing the colonies and the cabinets themselves are sealed from the exterior with plastic pipe or ribbon gaskets.
A colony busy munching on a raptor skeleton
for the reference collection.
Ribs and breastbone are visible in the upper right
of the picture.
The beetles are very thorough at cleaning all muscle and connective tissue from carcasses and, for that reason, very important in helping out with museum specimen preparation. Although colonies can be started from wild caught beetles they may be carrying uninvited guests such as mites which compromise their ability to survive. Colonies may also be purchased.  The museum is fortunate to be able to share efforts with the University of Victoria in keeping colonies viable between the two institutions.
Here are 18 bats just dropped off for a
beetle cleaning. After a couple of weeks
these will be 18 beautifully cleaned skeletons.

Some prepared skeletons of
northern flying squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus)
ready for the collection.

The fine details of the bones are now visible
with virtually no damage to even
the tiniest of bones.

Being able to examine the fine details and accurately measure features or lengths of bones is often very important in identifying smaller species of mammals. The single bone in the small vial (pictured below) is only about 5mm long.

baculum from specimen of Glaucomys sabrinus

Once all the beetle work is done the skeleton
is reunited with the rest of the specimen
in the reference collection

If you would like to read more about these beetles as preparators in natural history museums please see:

Friday, August 5, 2011

Kids Discover Emily

From the desk of Kim Gough, Program Developer at the Royal BC Museum

Camp Inside-Out at the Royal BC Museum lets children between the ages of 8 and 10 experience a week at the museum. Kids get to visit with curators, go behind the scenes and go into the galleries early. This year they are also learning about Canada’s greatest woman artist, Emily Carr.

Jessie Jakumeit is one of this year’s camp coordinators. An artist herself, she has loved Emily Carr since she was a young girl. Most of the kids in camp know about Emily Carr, but unlike Jessie, they aren’t all fans of her art – at least when the week starts. They do like to hear stories about her – especially when it includes anecdotes about her pets.

During the camp, Jessie tries to emphasize the process of making art rather than the finished product itself. Although kids like to get their hands dirty, and have big imaginations, they can struggle with knowing where to start. Following the philosophy of John Cage who says “begin anywhere”, Jessie leads the kids in some simple warm up exercises like drawing a straight line down the page and drawing circles that get smaller and smaller as you go.

Once the kids are warmed up they get to experiment with all types of mediums and formats. One of Jessie’s goals is to expose the young campers to a variety of new materials. In addition to crayons and markers, kids try water colours, tempera, charcoal, ink and even making art with rocks.

One thing that surprises Jessie is the amount of direction that they want; she finds that she needs to demonstrate each art activity for them. After a general demonstration, she visits each artist with her own sketchbook so she can answer their questions in a visual way.

Making art and learning about Emily Carr is just part of this year’s camp, and the kids enjoy the variety of activities. The art is highlighted at the end of the week when their parents are invited to the museum and the kids proudly show them their art work displayed in the gallery.

By the end of the week the campers know a lot more about how the museum works and about the people who work there. And if they haven’t all learned to love Emily they have learned to recognize that rather than depicting a realistic scene Emily was depicting feelings and emotions in her art. As Emily once said, “It's all the unwordable things one wants to write about, just as it's all the unformable things one wants to paint – essence.”