After a busy winter at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV), we in the Curatorial Department are gearing up for a busy spring. This week we're cleaning the outdoor village from top to bottom and setting up the items that go back into each building after being stored for the winter. One of our valued volunteers is cleaning the village linens for us so that we can set those out as well. We'll be finished just in time for MHV’s seasonal re-opening on Sunday, May 1.
Most people can easily see that we're pretty busy with the village during the summer, but what does the curatorial staff do during the winter? You might be surprised to learn that we're almost busier in that so-called “off” season than we are during the tourist season in the spring and summer.
One of our biggest tasks in the Curatorial Department is applying for project-based grants. The heritage buildings on our grounds weren't originally meant to last more than a hundred years as most of our buildings have done, so they require steady maintenance. Finding the necessary funding for these projects keeps us pretty busy.
Sometimes our maintenance projects are quite obvious. For example, over the next two summers we're going to be replacing the rotten logs in the Waldheim House, which is the oldest building in our village and the first building to be moved to our grounds. We will also be repairing and re-thatching its roof, which will be an exciting project for us and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the public to see a roof being thatched. Most of the time, however, these maintenance projects aren't as obvious to the public. In the past few years we have received funding to re-paint our heritage buildings, install new eaves troughs, and replace shingles. Last year we received a grant to replace the humidification system in the Village Centre so we can ensure that our artefact collection is maintained in a professional manner and according to museum standards. Of course, writing the grant application is only the first step. Once our application has been approved, we then have to carry out the actual work on the project!
For the last several years, we've installed an annual themed exhibit in our Gerhard Ens Gallery. Creating an exhibit is a lot more work than simply finding cool things in our collection and displaying them. First we have to develop the idea behind the exhibit. The next step is doing lots of research to make sure our exhibit is historically accurate, then condensing that research down to just a few hundred words for our exhibit panels. (This might just be the most difficult part of the process.) Following that, we make choices of which artefacts to display, selecting the ones from our collection that will serve us best in bringing to life the history we are seeking to share. And finally, we take down the past year's exhibit and install the new one for the current season. Believe it or not, this last part is the easiest step in the process!
Last but not least, our Curatorial Department deals with the everyday concerns of a museum throughout the year. We correspond with people who have items they want to donate and make sure those items have good provenance and history behind them. Once we accept a donation, we have to do all of the proper paperwork to make sure the item and its history are preserved in our database system. We make sure our collection is stored and documented properly and also update and create procedures for dealing with our collection to ensure that we are doing everything according to best practices.
These tasks and projects help us to fulfill our mission at MHV to preserve and exhibit the experiences and stories of the Russian Mennonites in Manitoba. They also demonstrate that our Curatorial Department is always busy behind the scenes, in-season and out. As always, we’re looking forward to seeing you in our outdoor village when the new season begins on May 1!
Calendar of Events
- May 1 – Outdoor Village and Livery Barn Restaurant will open for the season.
- May 12 – Manitoba Day – 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM
- May 23 – Victoria Day – 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM
- May 29 – Auxiliary Faspa – 2:30 PM
- June 11 – Tractor Trek fundraising event
- June 12 – Tractor Show – 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM