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Canadian Ceramics: a collector's passion [Lakeville Corner / Saint John NB: an NBM & ABcp project for 2007] ISBN 9781895466195

2015: updates on a great collection and its curators.
[letter to the editor, The Telegraph Journal, Saint John, New Brunswick, 03 March, 2015]

The New Brunswick Museum:
Thoughts on NBM's projected Douglas Avenue restoration plans.

They see themselves as curators. From the Latin for taking care of a thing. But are they? Do they?

They are proud of their history. And they have one. It is even a little older than the trees they are proposing to sacrifice for their projected Douglas Avenue restorations. Indeed, NBM intends to mark its 175th year in 2017, the year of Canada's 150th.

Is it proper, and curatorial, to mark such a birthday with murder? Surely, no proper Museum, no historically responsible Curator, would wish to make such a sacrifice, even of one single tree that has grown for over a hundred years, let alone of several.

The trees have grown in Riverview Memorial Park, under the protection of the City of Saint John, and is in itself an historic landmark. Yet, NBM states blithely that "less than 10%" of the Park's 279,000 square feet would be "impacted". Even more blithely, NBM asks its public to share their vision of a great future: a future where such trees will be "relocated" (though, of course, "several would need to be removed" (R.I.P.); a future of the "planting of new trees", a future of "reusing the wood of original trees". A sound and encouraging vision, for those of us, at least, who have another hundred years at their disposal, to wait for new trees to grow while we mourn the beauty and life history of the old ones. The King is dead, long live the King is not, I submit, a sound curatorial principle. Unfortunately, NBM's curators, NBM's ostensible guardians of organically grown things, of history in short, would not agree.

If they must go ahead with a project that affects such mighty monarchs, and not just themselves, let them take a leaf out of Paxton's design for the Great Exhibition in 1851. The Crystal Palace enveloped reverend trees, and made them part of the design, without damaging them. But, then, perhaps, the curators of NBM have not studied Paxton's designs. They were made, after all, so far away, and so long ago. Even longer ago than the planting of the trees they mean to sacrifice.

They are a self-enhancing, self-centred lot at NBM. I speak from experience. Almost 20 years ago, one of NBM's curators came to collect my Canadian Ceramics Collection at French Lake near Fredericton. The collection is the result of 30 years of collecting in Atlantic Canada, and across the country. The collection was supposed to have travelled and exhibited across the country, and a coffee table catalogue-book was supposed to have accompanied it. The collection was to have put NBM in the field of ceramics, and Atlantic Canadian potters, on the map. Until this day, the Dr Astrid Brunner Collection of Canadian Ceramics is languishing in the NBM Douglas Avenue dungeons. Its curators have stopped communication with the collector, and presumably the curating of the collection also. It is hardly surprising that a Museum, and curators who wish to do away with historic trees for their own immediate non-historic ends, could not keep their word with regard to one of Canada's signal collections in their keeping.

The moral of this cautionary tale: don't believe them till you have made absolutely sure, in every legal and moral way possible, that they are actually the curators they say they are.

Dr Astrid Brunner
Publisher, AB collector publishing
Collector of Canadian Ceramics
5835 Grant Street
Halifax NS Canada B3H 1C9
T (902-429-5768)
M (902-476-2007)
email: darklady@nbnet.nb.ca
www.abcollectorpublishing.ca (archival site)

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David Taylor: facetted earthenware vase with crackle glaze and Japanese-type brush work Harlan House: turquoise porcelain vase
         all photographs by Norval Balch