Monday, May 24, 2010

Down on the Farm

Well, if you had ever wondered what museum workers do on their time off I can give you a fairly simple answer. Many museum workers spend their long weekends and precious days off visiting other museums. I know, we are an odd set. Over the years, I have met very few museum workers who were not first museum fans. Most of my brethren have a moment in their past where they realized that they enjoyed spending time in the museum environment. Whether it was an enlightening children's program, a fascinating artifact or an interpreter who told wonderful stories, there is something which has drawn these people to museum work in addition to a paycheck. Because of this, museum workers tend to spend at least a portion of their time away from work visiting museums.

With this as the backdrop, yesterday my family made a trip to Ross Farm Museum's Woolly Weekend. Located in New Ross, Nova Scotia, this site features a working farm complete with heritage livestock and plants. Additional buildings include a working blacksmith's shop and cooperage. The special attraction for this weekend was the annual shearing of the sheep. As with any good living history museum, the sheep were shorn of their winter coats using a set of hand clippers. When we first walked into the building where the work was taking place a sheep was patiently standing while the partially cut wool from her back lay around her legs like a skirt. After watching the shearing we were able to move on to picking, carding, spinning and dyeing. From experience, I am just as happy that we missed the washing phase of the wool preparation. The smell of boiled lanolin and sheep manure is not one of my favorites. For the kids, it was a wonderful opportunity to see that products like their hats and mittens took a considerable amount of effort.

For the record, my first employment in the heritage world was at a large living history site in Ontario. While I was a student, I spent five seasons as a costumed interpreter. I had the opportunity to try my hand at activities from blacksmithing to making bread by hand. With one of my summers being on the farm, I even had the opportunity to shear sheep. Because of this, I have a great appreciation for the power of this sort of interpretation. If for no other reason, it is important for children to have the chance to interact with animals. While it may seem hyperbolic, I can clearly remember many groups of 10 year olds who were confused between cows and horses. I would like to thank our friends at Ross Farm Museum for the work that they do and for providing me with the opportunity to do a bit of reminiscing.

All for now,

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