So what is a Curator Anyway?
First and certainly important for me is that it is one of the best jobs in the world. Now having said that there are some challenges the first being that you must have a deep knowledge, in my case of maritime history. You can use the Lawrence Olivier technique, start with the exterior details, world history and then work into the interior, the regional maritime narratives. Or, the other way around but whatever technique is used, you cannot get by with just local or international alone, the two histories are inter-related. Mariners were among the first global traders and they carried their ideas to other countries and back to their own ports of call.
A good example is the “Mowat” boat, a beautiful clean lined twenty-five footer in the marine museum collection built near the west end of Prince Edward county around 1909. These wood boats were built in the hundreds but now only a few survive. They ‘fished’ out of eastern Lake Ontario and in larger numbers, Collingwood on Georgian Bay. But, it was Mr. Watts, a man in his late 20s who brought his boatbuilding skills and the designs he knew to our Lakes from Sligo, Ireland in the mid 19th century.
A curator will take the historical narrative about the lives and activities of those who lived in coastal communities and then match it to what is known about the boat; its construction, how it was used and then try to answer one of many questions; why this particular object provided a successful living for hundreds who populated our ports along the Lakes. The design was later shipped to a fishing community on Lake Winnipeg.
Curatorship in a maritime museum, in many museums is a mix of written history from many sources and a technological and often a scientific knowledge of objects – the historical narrative and the material culture. Out of this, exciting exhibits are mounted, public programming is developed and a few boats saved.
Maurice D Smith