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20th Exhibit of Art in The Workplace.

“Arch. in the Workplace”: Collections & Community

Access and engagement are pivotal values for Sustainable Archaeology, and we routinely take part in events that provide the opportunity for community engagement, such as Doors Open and Day of Archaeology 2015.

Mar 22, 2016

This month, we were asked to put together two displays for the 20th exhibit of Art in the Workplace (AWP). This programme has transformed McMaster Innovation Park into a community art and event space, stimulating local gathering, support for the arts, and dialogues about growth, development and creativity in Hamilton.

Inspired by the relationship between art and archaeology, two concepts quickly came together for Sustainable Archaeology’s displays, centred on decorative arts and photography.

The Art of Victorian Mourning

Sustainable Archaeology houses a collection of ornate Victorian coffin hardware, which was recovered from St. Thomas’ Anglican Church in Belleville, Ontario during excavations conducted at the request of the church. The elaborate decoration of handles, nameplates and other accoutrements reflects the Victorian investment in the funerary arts, while also conveying the emotion and symbolism connected to death, mourning and memory during this period.

Display of Victorian coffin hardware.

Display of Victorian coffin hardware.

From an intricate lion’s head (symbolising strength) to the iconic hands pointing upwards (to heaven), the coffin hardware represents just one element of some of the most ornate events in modern history.

This exhibit of Victorian funerary art connects practical technology (hardware) to complex webs of culture, emotion, religion, and symbolism in the past. It also captures the connection between Victorian artistic styles, including Baroque, Gothic, Greek, Roman and Egyptian revivals, and the material culture of everyday life and death.

Snapshots from Ontario Archaeology’s Heritage, 1969-1971

The second display for AWP was inspired by slides that we have been scanning documenting local excavations in the 1960s and 1970s. Thanks to recent donations of field notes and photographs, we are reconnecting these archaeological collections with the context of their collection. This allows us to associate the valuable archaeological record with the individuals who discovered them and their experiences.

Snapshots of Ontario excavations and sites from the 1960s and 1970s provide a dynamic display with associated artifacts.

Snapshots of Ontario excavations and sites from the 1960s and 1970s provide a dynamic display with associated artifacts.

So often, both in exhibits and research settings, we view objects detached from the sites that they represent, and the processes led to their inclusion in our collections. This exhibit aimed to add contextual layers to our understanding of these collections whilst providing the opportunity to reflect on our heritage as archaeologists in Ontario, and the future directions we are taking to ensure sustainability, access, and respect for communities, past and present.

Photographs and artifacts from three sites are on display – Porteous (AgHb-1), Slack-Caswell (AfHa-1), and Nedelco-Orct (AhHa-20). Each of these are accompanied by short narrations that connect the objects and photos to the research process in archaeology and the distinctive history of each site.

Mini Museums, Tiny Narratives

It is hoped that these small exhibits embody the work that we do at Sustainable Archaeology and the incredible potential for our local collections to contribute to community knowledge and archaeological research.

The Sustainable Archaeology displays for Art in the Workplace.

The Sustainable Archaeology displays for Art in the Workplace.

Sustainable Archaeology is very excited to be participating in AWC again and contributing to our workplace here at McMaster Innovation Park. To see the displays, visit MIP between 9am and 6pm, Monday to Friday and head to the second floor of the Atrium. There is a special Opening Night celebration on April 5th starting at 7pm.


Article by Katherine Cook, Operations Manager