Monday, 7 September 2015

First Time Curation: The Trials and Tribulations

For the majority of my life, I have romanticized about being a curator. I have always loved the idea of collecting beautiful, old objects - objects with their own past, and a narrative to tell - and displaying them in an interesting and informative way.

This summer I was given the opportunity to curate my very first exhibit here at the Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove Museum.

Curator, Katie Harvey, putting the finishing touches on The Mysterious Outer Cove Plane Crash exhibit. Photo by Kenneth J. Harvey

The idea just sort of fell into my lap. Gary Hebbard wrote an article for the Telegram early in the summer about a military plane that crashed into a house in Outer Cove in 1956. One of the members of our Heritage Committee sent it to me to put in our archival collection. 

And so it began.

I decided my first step would be to interview people in the community who could supply me with first-hand accounts of that day. 

Easier said than done. The plane crash happened in 1956, so not many people who would have been old enough at the time to remember it are still alive today. I was lucky to find three wonderful informants who shared their memories with me.

Kenneth J. Harvey was kind enough to offer his time and talents, as he came along to each of my interviews (some scheduled very last minute, might I add) and took portraits of each of my informants.

Initially, I was at a loss for what sort of artifacts I would display in this exhibit. I wrote a blog post earlier in the season called Searching for Plane Crash Relics. It focused on the day Gary and I scoured the crash site with a metal detector for relics of the T33 aircraft. I hoped to find even a small fragment of the plane, but we had no such luck.

My next thought was to have a model built of the plane, and Gary put me in contact with the International Plastic Modellers Society. They were enthusiastic to help, and the finished product was more amazing than I could have ever imagined.  

The research and writing was much what I expected. For me, research is always pleasant and rewarding. I believed I was wrapping things up when I finished writing the exhibit text. Boy, was I wrong.

When I went to the sign shop to have the exhibit text printed, I realized I knew absolutely nothing about measurements, fonts, colours, design, tools, acrylics, foam core, pvc, standoffs, and the list goes on and on. So I returned to the drawing board, and I researched all that I could find about proper exhibit design and display techniques. 

I have to say, my romanticized notion of curation has dissipated a little. It is incredibly tedious work, and you can't be afraid to get your hands dirty.

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to curate my first exhibit on a topic that is so personal to me. My maternal grandfather's family is originally from Outer Cove, and my great uncle was actually one of the men who recovered the pilot's body from the ocean after the crash.

My advice for first time curators: have a plan. Find a place for everything before you start. Leave plenty of time to remedy errors (because I guarantee there will be many). Always have a back-up plan. Research, research, research. Measure twice, cut once. Also, tools are required.

-Katie Harvey

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