Living history focus for new curatorial assistant
By Darren Lum
Published Oct. 20, 2016
Behind every item there is a story, said the Minden Hills Cultural Centre’s newest staff member Ruth O’Connell.
The young woman with a large smile speaks glowingly about the heirlooms in her family, whether it is the Second World War military medals earned by her grandfather or her grandmother’s Singer electric portable sewing machine from the 1960s. It was used it to sew costumes for theatrical productions and the stage curtain at the Orillia Opera House where her mother and uncle acted.
O’Connell, who is originally from a large Irish family that mainly resides in Durham Region, wants to reveal the cultural and historical mysteries of the significant artifacts in the collection with her new job as the curatorial assistant to cultural centre curator Laurie Carmount.
O’Connell welcomes the opportunity to contribute and be part of the community, using this job to further what she has learned from her University of Waterloo art history undergraduate degree and museum studies education from Fleming College, and her recent work educating people using living history at the Lang Pioneer Village in Peterborough County.
“Connecting people to the history they have is really important because it shows pride and helps people develop a pride,” O’Connell said.
“That’s why collection management and living history are really important because collection management helps you understand why an object might be associated with yourself and you might have not known why that object would be important to your own history.”
There are things from the past that have a relevance to the present, which are connected like a chain.
O’Connell sees the value of history in how it can teach, whether it’s to not repeat mistakes or to move forward from lessons in history.
With her experience at the village in Lang, she welcomes the opportunity to expand on offering more living history in Minden. It’s a concept that allows visitors an opportunity to learn by touching and doing. A contrast to the conventional museum.
Getting to work at the centre that includes the Minden Hills Museum and Heritage Village, the Agnes Jamieson Gallery and Nature’s Place, gives her an opportunity to tap into her education, skills and experience, but also to grow and learn more.
“That was a real plus for me,” she said. “I like opportunities where I can learn and develop what skills I have, but also learn new skills. That’s why I chose this place.”
Outside of work she loves to paint, crochet, knit and sew, using the same sewing machine as her grandmother, who passed it on to her.
With her aunt and uncle Shirley and David Barker living in West Guilford the last 10 years, O’Connell already has a connection to the area. Until she finds a permanent residence she will be living with them.
O’Connell was hired in a process that began this past summer and included a redrafting of the position previously held by Victoria Bingham, who was the collection manager for the centre.
The new position is rooted in flipping the emphasis from a focus on management to bringing people in touch with the past.