By Joanne B Kaar
In 2012 I was delighted to be one of 4 artists in Scotland to receive Museums Galleries Scotland and Creative Scotland’s Iconic Artists In Iconic Places award.
Working in collaboration with Joanne Howdle, the now ex-curator of Caithness Horizons Museum, this award enabled me to develop my ideas for a ‘portable museum’ inspired by the pressed herbarium collection of Robert Dick, baker and botanist of Thurso 1811-1866.
Since then I have gone on to work with Strathnaver Museum and Whitehaven Archive in Cumbria to research, design and make portable museum boxes for them, each one unique. It also inspired me to gather 5 years of personal research about the Caithness mystery of the Magellan Daisy and Whalers, and make a portable museum box about it. All of these boxes have travelled extensively in schools, galleries, community groups and museums, including the John Hope Gateway Gallery at the Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh, the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther, Global Yell Textiles on the island of Yell in Shetland and Mull Museum.
In 2016 I was selected at artist in residence in Newfoundland for the Crafts Council of Newfoundland and Labrador, and invited as keynote speaker for their conference ‘Using Crafts to tell a story’. Held in St. Johns, this was a collaboration with the Intangible Cultural Heritage department of the Memorial University Newfoundland. I presented an overview of my art and craft practice, with a focus on my portable museum boxes.
It’s thanks to Cyndy Stead, the Cultural Co-ordinator for the Bonavista Peninsula, who attended the conference, and the perseverance of Jim Miller, Project Coordinator Trinity Historical Society, that I have just returned home from Newfoundland again, this time as consultant on their portable museum project.
Trinity is on the Bonavista Peninsula, a three hour drive from St.John’s. A stunning location, the surrounding area and Trinity its-self, have been used a locations for a number of films including ‘The Shipping News’, and ‘Maudie’. A small village, the population of Trinity dwindles to 40 in the winter months. It’s a historical village or ‘outport’ and as you walk around, you pass houses that are lived in, holiday lets and a series of buildings owned by the Trinity Historical Society that are open to the public in the summer months (their tourist season is shorter than ours).
I worked with, Linda Ballett, Daphne Clarke and Jim Miller, who proved to be a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic team, to help them realise their ideas for a portable museum box that would give a taster of all Trinity Historical Society has to offer. These portable museums take time to design, and get right, editing, editing and editing again and again, trying out different images and layouts, before, the even longer process of making the final metal components and fitting out can take place. They are designed as self-display boxes, that open out, with drawers to pull and flaps to lift as each reveals a nugget of information, they encourage the viewer to touch and explore.
After looking at a few different options, we decided to base the shape of their box when closed, on a traditional ‘saltbox’ house. It’s still very much a work-in-progress, but while I was there we did manage to decide on a ‘first draft’ layout for the inside with a painting of Trinity bay from 1779 taking centre stage.
They are now open to the public for the summer season, which means the village will swell in size and all are busy, so the portable museum construction is on hold until September when their onsite blacksmiths, Wade Ivany and Devin Hookey at The Green Family Forge, will start to make it their own giving it a personal touch and design in collaboration with Linda, Daphne and Jim.
“…..The Green Family practiced as blacksmiths in Trinity since before 1750. The death of John Green is recorded in the Church records for 1764.
The present smithy was built between 1895 and 1900 and was last in use in 1955. This building is unusual for that era as it is 30 feet wide, 50 feet deep and 25 feet high with a second storey only along the front of the structure. …. In 1991 the forge was restored and opened as a museum and has received three awards for its restoration work. On June 3, 1991, the Forge was registered as a Heritage Structure by the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador and in 1998 the Society was awarded the Southcott Award for the restoration of the Forge by the Newfoundland Historic Trust. In 2004 the Society received the prestigious Manning Award from the Historic Sites Association of Newfoundland and Labrador for its restoration of the forge.
1999 marked the year that the forge became fully operational again, this was the first time in over forty years that a fire had been lit in the forge. A blacksmith was hired and demonstrations in the manufacturing of items were conducted. The forge has become one of the must see historic sites in the town and has begun production of a variety of items ….”
We’ll be keeping in close contact, by email and skype, as I’m delighted my portable museum boxes are continuing to develop in new directions with new ideas.
I’m currently one of 6 invited artists taking part in a year long residency at Inverewe Gardens, A National Trust for Scotland property. I will be visiting the gardens to collaborate with the other artists throughout the year, with my next visit in June.
On my return, it’s straight into another project as I’ve been invited by Strathnaver Museum to lead a series of 1 day art workshops in six north west Sutherland primary schools for their Alan Joyce Young Environmentalist Competition.
“…The Alan Joyce Young Environmentalist Competition encourages young people from P4 to P7 to demonstrate their awareness of the natural world around them. A
combination of imagination, observation and artistic flair can win prizes for pupils and their schools….”
I will be helping pupils make individual portable exhibitions – each one housed inside a small postal style box which will hopefully inspire creativity and surprise the judges! This project is funded by the Royal Society.
My portable museums continue to inspire, as Ian Leith, Chairman of The Wick Society was in touch recently to discuss a commission, inviting me to research, design and make a series of heritage boxes for Wick Heritage Museum:
“….The basic idea of the boxes is that we would create Heritage Boxes containing a number of representative objects/information/photos etc. on either a number of local heritage topics or probably on a series of sub topics around fishing heritage. The boxes could be loaned to schools by way of a taster for what is available in the Museum which would then hopefully lead to a visit to the Museum. This project is made possible with funding from Your Cash Your Caithness fund….”
Who knew that my original ideas for a portable museum box would continue to inspire others, create such interesting commissions and research projects, locally, nationally and overseas!!? Where will the next one be for??