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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Collections documentation : The art of Mrs. Gertie Tom Cronin, Allison Elaine


This thesis examines the documentation process of a collection of contemporary objects made by a Northern Tutchone artist, Mrs. Gertie Tom, from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. The beaded moosehide objects were purchased by the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology between 1992 and 1994, and include a vest, a 'shell' belt, gloves, moccasins, mittens, and a hat. The documentation process included Mrs. Tom documenting her objects in her own words. This thesis investigates the steps, cost, and time involved in documenting the six objects. It also explores how object documentation fits within museological debates on access, collections management, and current museology. Museums are facing an increasingly changing environment. Originating people are requesting changes in the relationship between museums and objects. The cost of caring for museum collections is increasing and many objects within these collections are inadequately documented and consequently of little value for research. At the same time, museums continue to collect. In addition, many scholars think the future of museums is in current and controversial ideas rather than objects. The single, often paternalistic, museum message is being challenged, and people are arguing for museums to exhibit a variety of voices and opinions. This thesis answers the questions: What does this project contribute to issues of collections access, especially with reference to First Nations material? What costs are involved in documenting museum collections? Does documentation improve information available on collections? Does it allow people, not just objects, to become an integral part of museums and to bring new ideas and issues to museums? Although the documentation process required a commitment of time and money, my research confirms that having people document their own objects is beneficial in reference to current museological issues. The information provided by Mrs. Tom not only documents her objects but offers insight into other aspects of her life and Northern Tutchone culture in general. The documentation, in addition to providing answers to questions such as provenience, use, and materials, reveals ideas and interpretations of the objects from Mrs. Tom's point of view. Having Mrs. Tom document her objects in her own words means she, rather than the museum, is the authoritative voice. In an effort to bring a balance between objects and ideas, museums should only acquire objects they can afford to document.

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