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Student Blog: University of British Columbia

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A student, wearing a lab coat, sits at a table. On the table is a large, woven textile garment with long fringe.

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​WUDPAC Class of 2023 Fellow Meghan Abercrombie assessing the condition of a ceremonial robe brought to MOA for rehousing advice. (Photo: Shabnam Honarbakhsh)

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A student, wearing a lab coat and protective gloves and mask, examines a water-soaked woven basket.

​Meghan assisting in the preparation an approximately 2,000 year old waterlogged Stó:lō basket for freeze-drying. (Photo: Heidi Swierenga) ​

​A long-time resident of the east coast, this summer I found myself happily transplanted to the west coast of Canada. Between hikes in mountain forests of great cedar trees and paddle boarding with seals in the ocean, I spent a surreal summer interning in the conservation lab at the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia (MOA) in Vancouver, Canada. Well known for their consistent and active collaboration with indigenous communities local to the lower mainland region of British Columbia and beyond, the MOA conservation lab is an ideal place for a second year WUDPAC graduate fellow – such as myself - who is passionate about learning respectful stewardship of indigenous cultural heritage. During my nine-week internship at MOA, I participated in various projects, including the mending of a torn Tlingit spruce root basket and the structural repair of a horn on a Puerto Rican Vejigante papier-mâché mask. Further, I assisted in the freeze-drying of a nearly 2,000 year old waterlogged cedar basket from the Stó:lō​ nation. I assessed the basket's condition after freeze-drying and generated a report with ideas for the basket's internal support and housing. I also took part in on-going scientific research to determine feasible methods for reducing iron ions embedded in plant fibers of archaeological water-logged basketry. Additionally, I was tasked with rehousing an indigenous ceremonial robe brought to MOA by its caretakers who were seeking minimal interventive treatment and advice on storage methods. After consultation with the caretakers, I created a custom-made washable pillow support and rehoused it in a coroplast box to reduce the risk of future damage caused by water or dust while maintaining easy accessibility.

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A student, wearing sunglasses, stands outside in front of a museum sign.

Meghan  standing in front of the Museum of Anthropology sign. (Photo: Amanda Hulse)​

​I was also incredibly grateful for the opportunity to exercise my passion for teaching this summer. I assisted MOA conservators Heidi Swierenga and Mauray Toutloff in introducing conservation to this summer's indigenous intern group. I taught lessons on the importance of measuring light levels in galleries and the treatment of basketry, and later joined them on a daytrip to Whistler, British Columbia, to visit the Audain Gallery and the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Center. 

I am deeply appreciative for the opportunity to learn under the mentorship of Heidi and Mauray, who facilitated a memorable internship for me. Immersed in an inclusive lab committed to the care of indigenous art and culture, I learned invaluable skills that will serve me well as I continue my third year at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau in the fall/winter and then the Anchorage Museum in the spring/summer. However, I plan to return to Vancouver for a salvage training workshop in October, and will continue to explore the diverse offerings of metro Vancouver and the beauty of the surrounding landscape. 

— Meghan Abercrombie​, WUDPAC Class of 2023

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Details of a part of molded paper mask, showing a tear before and after repair.

​Before (left) and after (right) photos of break mended on proper left horn of the Puerto Rican Vejigante mask. (Photos: Meghan Abercrombie)

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Close-up image of support material inserted into a molded paper horn, and the horn in place on the mask after treatment.

​Left: An internal support made of foam, metal, and heat shrink tubing, created to support the join of the broken horn of the Puerto Rican Vejigante mask​.​ Right: The mask after treatment. (Photos: Meghan Abercrombie​)

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A delicate, woven basket sitting next to a digital color card used to assist with proper photography.

After-treatment image of the Tlingit spruce root basket with false embroidery design. Tears in the basket wall were mended with twisted strips of toned mulberry tissue applied with adhesive. (Photo: Meghan Abercrombie​)

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A group of people sitting in the grass along a river. There are boats on the river and a city and mountains in the distance.

View of metro Vancouver from Kitsilano Beach. (Photo: Meghan Abercrombie)​

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WUDPAC Class of 2023 Fellow Meghan Abercrombie spent her summer at the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology, known for collaboration with indigenous communities. Her projects included work on a Tlingit basket and a Puerto Rican mask.
9/7/2022
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