Care In Handling: Artefact Rotation at the National Gallery of Canada

The National Gallery of Canada (in foreground, Maman by Louise Bourgeois). Photo: Sam valadi, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa has dedicated one very large display case in their exhibition Canadian and Indigenous Galleries to works from the Bata Shoe Museum collection since the gallery opened in 2017. Curated by Alexandra Kahsenni:io Nahwegahbow, Curator of Historical Indigenous Art at the NGC, this collaboration is an opportunity to showcase items from the collection in Ottawa and share them with visitors.

This pair of kamiks (by Mae Annanack, Ungava Inuit, 1988) was being checked for any changes to their condition during deinstallation. In the background you can see the closed exhibition case. Photo: Lily Durrani

Since 2017, we have changed the moccasins and kamiks on display every 9 months. Doing rotations allow visitors to see a new group of works every 9 months, and it also reduces the light exposure on the footwear which can cause damage. During the pandemic, the NGC has been closed for many months like most museums and galleries in Ontario. This has called for rescheduling of the rotations and has caused issues for the safe fine art transport between Toronto and Ottawa.

Boots by Fanny Woods (1920 - 1998), Tahltan, 1984. They are being checked for condition after being on exhibition. On the right in the background, you can see the large display case in the open position. Photo: Lily Durrani

Now that the pandemic lock-downs seem to be lifting (July 2021), museum staff on both sides have been able to work in the gallery spaces more, allowing for the preparation of the works in terms of condition checking, conservation treatment and mount-making. The fine art transport people are working more often as well, and so, we were able to schedule a rotation. The plan needed to be fluid because pandemic restrictions had been changing day by day. We also had less staff physically in the museum and the gallery, so tasks took longer to accomplish.

A pair of Cree or Dene moccasins at the deinstall being checked for changes in their condition. In the background, you can see the transport crate ready to be delicately packed with the group of footwear to come back to Toronto. Photo: Lily Durrani

We decided to rethink our usual way of doing the rotation. Usually, we take the existing group off exhibition (we call this the deinstall) and put the new group on display (install) on the same day. This new plan was reinforced by the news that the fine art transportation was delayed in getting to Ottawa; consequently, we decided to do the deinstall on one day and follow with the install the following week.

Kamiks and liners by Oolootie Cormier. Nanisivik, Nunavut; Iglulingmiut, 1987

When the NGC reopens in July 2021, there will be a new group of 11 moccasins and kamiks on view for visitors. Here are photos of a few of the 11 belongings that will be on view.

Moccasins. Haudenosaunee or Anishinaabe, early 19th century
Moccasins. Haudenosaunee or Panawahpskek, 19th century

Suzanne Petersen, Collections Manager

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