Measuring a first aid kit in the store Measuring a first aid kit in the store

Reflections on a Curatorial Work Placement

Hello, I am Amy Ollila, a Material Culture and Artefact Studies Masters student (aka liking old stuff) at University of Glasgow. I joined the CultureNL curatorial team at Summerlee Museum for my 8-week work placement.

Before coming to Scotland, I was employed as a commercial archaeologist in Minnesota in which I was working with Native American artefacts. Digging was great, but I wanted to explore a wider range of materials. Working with the industrial and social collections at Summerlee was all about that exploration. And for an American who is new to not just the town but the entire country, oh boy, was this ever about exploration for me.

Stabilising the Franchise Bill banner during a digitisation session

Stabilising the Franchise Bill banner during a digitisation session

While at Summerlee I created captions and recorded descriptions for objects from bottle corks to bloomers, helped with the unwieldy task of photographing the banners, and learned how to make sure the collections are kept in tip-top shape.Visitors who may have seen me taking light readings of exhibits to make sure they’re not in danger of fading could easily have confused this with checking for ghosts!

Learning how to measure the temperature and relative humidity on a Thermo-Hygrograph

Learning how to measure the temperature and relative humidity on a Thermo-Hygrograph

Using a lux meter to find the light levels on the "Gartsherrie by Night" oil painting in the Exhibition Hall

Using a lux meter to find the light levels on the “Gartsherrie by Night” oil painting in the Exhibition Hall

Part of the digitisation and new website for CultureNL is creating object stories through the connections of objects in the collections. I was encouraged to create an object story based on whatever fits my interest. This was a hard thing to nail down but as I wandered my way around the stores, it was the 1920s sanitary towels that grabbed my attention. I realized that I had never considered what women in history had to do before them. My attention was piqued, and so forward into the history of sanitary pads I delved and created an object story connecting many North Lanarkshire objects from the collections on that one nagging curiosity.

You don’t have to be female to know what they are or to have an interest in finding out about its history, the object story: “Women’s Secret Health: The Hushed History of Women’s Extra Expense” is not only for my peculiar interest but for others who may be too embarrassed to ask on their own.

The feeling of following your interests is a theme that is everywhere at Summerlee. It can be seen through the diverse things to see and do here inside and outside of the museum (I spent much of my outdoor time having my lunch near the Vulcan canal boat watching the ornery swans). Behind the drive in creating these spaces exciting, varied and relatable for visitors is the ravenous inquisitiveness of the curators and I hope I have contributed in my small way to Summerlee by doing the same.

Amy with the curatorial team

Amy with the curatorial team

I would like to thank the curatorial and archival staff – Michael Allan, Sheila Asante, Jim Craig, Wiebke McGee, Jenny Noble, Justin Parkes, and Clare Weir – who gave me space, support and great examples on how to apply those interests.

 

 

About the Author

Amy Ollila graduated from Hamline University in 2010 with a degree in Elementary Education and archaeology. She has been teaching, working in living history museums and was a commercial archaeologist for the state of Minnesota for the past 8 years.