Pioneers and Pottery and Peace Pipes, Oh My!
Written by Teresa Divilio, Museum Co-op Student
Whenever someone asks me why I want to be a museum curator, I tell them the answer is simple. Ever since I was little, I loved going to the ROM. Every P.A. day was spent roaming the halls of the exhibits. I remember walking with dinosaurs, exploring Egyptian tombs, and seeing the light dance on the gorgeous crystals and gems. The memory that comes to mind most often, though, was the overwhelming compulsion to touch everything. I dreamt of feeling the weight of the fossils in my hands, grazing the harsh texture of the sand-worn frescos that adorn Egyptian temples, and the cold, smooth, gleaming surfaces of the gems underneath my fingertips. The best thing about museum studies is that, as a curator, you can break the one rule that every museum visitor must abide by- you get to touch things. As a co-op student at the Pickering Museum Village, I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity to experience the alluring (and not so alluring) aspects of curatorship firsthand. Over the weeks that I’ve been here, I’ve learned that curatorship is not as simple as I expected. I used to think of a curator as someone who would travel the world buying artifacts and rubbing elbows with Indiana Jones, when, in reality, curatorship is much more than that. The majority of my time here has been spent creating an exhibit on Brougham. Mainly, I’ve been doing research and paperwork, which, surprisingly enough, can actually be fun. Whenever you research an artifact, it’s almost like solving a mini mystery. There are so many little decisions to be made when it comes to creating an exhibit. Everything from writing the information to choosing the artifacts to deciding what goes where takes a huge amount of planning. In addition to the exhibit, I’m also working with a collection of native artifacts here at the museum. It’s my job to catalogue and photograph a donation of 55 Iroquoian artifacts. Among the 55 are pieces of broken pottery, projectile points, and primitive knives and tools. The majority of the collection, however, is pieces of what are called Effigy or Peace Pipes. These pipes are a very personal and spiritual object to the Iroquoian people. Pipes were used in ceremonies as a way to connect to the gods of nature. The pipes were used to smoke “medicine”, most often tobacco. To be a true effigy pipe, the bowl of the pipe would be decorated with a deity or symbols. This collection is quite rare, as one of the pipe bowls in it is the oldest known example of an effigy pipe found in southern Ontario. The chance to work with such rare artifacts is phenomenal. The opportunities that the staff here at the Pickering Museum Village has given me have allowed me to fully explore a career as a curator. I’m quickly falling in love with museum life, and wouldn’t have it any other way.