What’s in a Collection?
The recent discovery of Beatrix Potter’s Kitty in Boots in the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Beatrix Potter archive highlights the tremendous challenge museums can face in managing their collection and the information about them. With often thousands of objects and documents held in trust within museum collections the task of knowing not only what’s in the boxes but where in the museum things are located often falls to a select few people.
Museums hold their collections in trust for the public, and that responsibility includes not only caring for the collection but making the information and knowledge about it accessible. Having worked with and for museums for over 15 years, I’ve seen examples of extraordinary collections management processes as well as “We don’t know what we’ll do if (fill in name) retires. They’re the only person who knows where everything is.”
Every object conveys a significant message or meaning, therefore the record of an object is just as important as the object itself. Object records provide accountability for the collection and allows us to better preserve the tangible and intangible knowledge the collection provides for both current and future generations. – Nicole Aszalos, MOA’s Curator
MOA’s collection began with a group of artifacts obtained by Wilfrid Jury (1890-1981) and his father, Amos Jury (1861-1964). This became the Museum’s core when it was established in 1933. Since then, the Museum’s collection grew through field excavations conducted by museum staff and generous donations from the community.
From 1933 to 1944, Wilfrid conducted small scale investigations at a number of sites in Southwestern Ontario and then shifted his area of research to Huronia after WWII. During the 1970s, the museum established regional research programs in the Crawford Lake area and in the City of London. Large-scale projects were also undertaken at the Toronto International Airport (Draper and White sites), the Keffer site near Toronto, and on the Christian Island Indian Reserve in Georgian Bay. Since 1977 the museum has completed more than 400 Cultural Resource Management projects, resulting in the discovery or investigation of 830 sites, 103 of which the museum has partially or totally excavated.
MOA’s collection includes artifacts spanning the entire archaeological record. One site in the Matthews Woods area in Southeast London yielded artifacts from components spanning the Paleo-Indian to the Iroquoian culture of the terminal Woodland Period. Additionally, the Museum holds artifacts from a number of pioneer log cabins and homesteads from the London, Mississauga, and Kitchener-Waterloo areas. The museum’s collection also includes ethnographic and historical objects, library and archival materials, and contemporary art.
Needless to say, MOA has a massive collection acquired through over 83 years of donations and archaeological excavations. We estimate that the museum has almost 2 million archaeological artefacts as well as ethnographic material, archives, maps and artwork. Managing the information about our collection is extremely important and is a major area of focus for our Curatorial Team. Since 2012, we’ve been transferring our collection records from paper files into Past Perfect, an electronic collection management system. Creating digital records for our collection will enable the museum to quickly access important information about all the objects we hold in trust for the people of Ontario and for those interested in learning more about Ontario’s past. Even more exciting, it allows us to make our collection database available online for anyone interested in accessing this information.
How can you help with our Collection?
As you can imagine, digitizing all our records is a massive undertaking, and we are grateful for all the volunteers and students who are working with us to make this happen. It’s through the tireless efforts of the our Curatorial team and those wonderful volunteers that we’ve made great strides over the past few years. But, as you can imagine, there is still much to do and we could use your help! If you’re interested in getting involved, check out our Volunteer page to find out how.
MOA has also instituted an “Adopt an Artifact” program for those that are looking to make a financial contribution to this important work. You can learn more about how you can get involved to help preserve our vast assemblage of artifacts by following the link above to our blog post about the program, or go directly to our page, to make a contribution.