Heritage with a hook
Museum aficionado passing his knowledge to studtents
Two summer employees at a museum in Spaniard’s Bay are getting lessons from an expert on just how fascinating it can be to work with history.
Spaniard’s Bay native Walter Peddle is spending time on Monday mornings teaching the summer students - Michael Mercer and Colleen Mercer - about museum exhibitions and about the relevance of historic sites.
It’s all taking place at the Wesley Gosse Memorial United Church Heritage Building, which is the former United Church. The facility is both an historic site and home to the Spaniard’s Bay Museum.
From a hearse to a birch broom; from a powder horn to a knife sharpening box, hundreds of artifacts have been donated to the Spaniard’s Bay Heritage Society and are now on display at the museum.
Peddle brings a wealth of experience. He worked at the provincial museum in St. John’s for two decades and taught at Memorial University for about 10 years, at both the university’s St. John’s and Harlow, England campuses.
His goal working with the students is to show them that museum work can be fascinating and fun.
“ This is an opportunity for them to learn museum skills that some people who have been working in museums all their life may not have acquired,” he said.
Once you know how to read objects, Peddle added, you can make them “come alive” by making them relevant to today’s society.
An old hooked mat laid out on a table, for example, an attention-grabber. There are different ways a museum worker can acquaint their audience with a particular artifact, Peddle said, running his hand over the mat.
You can give a lot more information than what the object is and the date it was made to draw people in, he explained.
Peddle suggested that workers focus on the mat-making process and have illustrations on hand, as well as tools used to hook mats.
The museum worker can also talk about how, in days gone by, people held “ hooking bees” as a form of entertainment, he noted.
“ You can really make it come alive to tourists by setting up mat frames to get people involved in the process of hooking,” Peddle said.
It’s interesting as well, he stated, to talk about what happens to the mats once they are completed.
While considered works of art today, mats were used for practical purposes years ago - mainly to keep the cold out from seeping in under door-frames and walls.
Mats with floral designs were often placed on the floor in the parlour, while those with geometric images found a home on the kitchen floor. Sometimes the mat hookers got patterns from local merchants. Oftentimes, they made up their own designs, Peddle said.
Talking about the design and size is a great way to engage people in the mat hooking process. The type of material used can help determine when the mat was made, he said.
Peddle references a book on Newfoundland hooked mats organized by Memorial University’s Art Gallery. Turning to a particular page in the book, Peddle reads how one women from Boat Harbour loved hooking her mats so much that she would put her clock back half-an-hour so her husband, asleep on the daybed, wouldn’t realize it was so late.
The two students say they are benefiting from the experience.
“And a lot of people want to see the picture we have here of Spaniard’s Bay. It was taken in 1938,” 20-year-old Colleen Mercer said of the large framed photo.
“Other people who come in here know what they want to see and they don’t ask a lot of questions,” 18-yearold Michael Mercer added.
Meanwhile, it’s been less than four years since the heritage society took over the building. Society chair Calvin Crane said there is no shortage of artifacts for the students to work with.
“ We’re at the point now that we have to be a bit choosy in what we can accept,” he said.
Crane is delighted that Peddle has come onboard to help the students learn more about museum work and historic sites. He encouraged individuals or groups interested in getting in on the teaching sessions to show up at the museum on Monday mornings from 10 to 11 a.m. The sessions are free-of-charge.
The museum is open to the public until during the summer months from Tuesday to Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Spaniard’s Bay native Walter Peddle is spending time on Monday mornings teaching the summer students about museum exhibitions and about the relevance of historic sites.