Editorial / Éditorial

Gendered Objects: Tangible and Intangible Connections

Richard MacKinnon
Editor in Chief

1 These essays, from a variety of disciplinary points of view, demonstrate the polysemic nature of gendered objects and highlight how intangible culture and tangible heritage are inextricably linked. A thorough knowledge of the artifact and the concomitant intangible cultural heritage surrounding the artifact—whether a palatial house, a nationally significant cultural heritage area, a knitted object, or objects in a museum exhibit—allows for a deeper and more meaningful interpretation of material culture and its users.

2 The essay by Adams, Minnett, Poutanen and Theodore demonstrates how the public and private lives of individuals are negotiated through architecture. By analyzing the 1901 sudden and unexplained death of two members of one of Canada’s wealthiest families, the authors explore the connections between material culture, notions of privacy and how social class reinforced behaviours associated with early-20th-century bourgeois respectability. Their analysis focused on the behaviour of the surviving female member of the family who manipulated material culture, private domestic architecture and monumental architecture after the death of her mother and brother. As the authors say: "The mansion of the industrialist, rather than a private domestic realm, is in this instance simultaneously the site of public life—especially for women and for the ill who do not participate in civic or business affairs—of public performances, of familial and class identity." (13)

3 In their essay Shipley, Kovacs and Fitzpatrick call for a new approach for the management of Canada’s national and provincial park system. After exploring Canadian and international models of management—many based on public ownership of wilderness or natural lands—they conclude, among other things, that a model that incorporates public and private ownership could be a more appropriate approach to managing Canada’s significant cultural heritage. Applying their analysis to the Mennonite countryside of Waterloo, Ontario, the authors suggest a new kind of national park that could be called a "Nationally Significant Cultural Heritage Area." Their model asks that intangible cultural heritage be an important part of this all-encompassing plan. They conclude with a plea for a legislative framework that would increase the level of change management of Canada’s significant cultural landscapes and they include a list of initiatives that would facilitate that process. As they say, "What we are recommending here in terms of a new kind of national park would have to be undertaken in cooperation with provinces and territories but would benefit greatly from national coordination and national financial commitment as has the Historic Places Initiative" (36).

4 Minahan and Wolfram Cox explore the world of knitting and its significance. They examine how identity is developed and explored "as the knitter casts on and off her creations and both draws on and distances herself from traditions of femininity" (38). They argue that knitting groups are sites for gendered identity construction. Through interviews with grandmothers and granddaughters, their findings call for further empirical investigation of the construction of identity through craft. Highlighting again the connection between tangible and intangible culture, they further argue that it is the gendered interplay of stories and images of grandmothers and mothers that helps to interpret contemporary young women’s craft. They have based their analysis not only on what was figural and material but also on what was absent or ethereal. They advise that further research into the separation or boundary between presence and absence, between what is discussed and what is deferred, will assist in the further development of the ideas raised in their work. As they point out, "this study points to the importance of exploring both ethereality and materiality in nostalgic references, for identity has much to do with distinguishing who we are (and with whom we see ourselves) as who we are not" (48).

5 Loren Lerner’s exhibition review essay provides an analysis of two museum exhibits that reflect on the life of Canadian-born Dr. Norman Bethune who was designated in 1972 by the National Sites and Monuments Board of Canada as a person of "national historic significance." Lerner closely analyses the Ding Ho/Group of 7 exhibition held at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario, in 2000, and Norman Bethune – Trail of Solidarity at the McCord Museum of Canadian History in Montreal in 2009. As a result of the time he spent caring for those wounded in war in Spain (1936) and China (1936 to 1939), Bethune became a person of historical significance in both of these countries as illustrated by the objects that comprise the exhibitions. Lerner points out that objects acquire new and different meanings over time if situated within a different context, resulting in what she calls object biography. With these two exhibitions, the biographical objects also generate narratives; they tell stories about Bethune’s life as well as their own stories. Lerner shows that through further study of biographical objects we can learn how things are given biographical significance and operate as vehicles for identity, knowledge and action.

6 Julia Lum’s review of Playing With Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage that showed at the Art Institute of Chicago in late 2009 and subsequently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Art Gallery of Ontario explores the previously unexamined and gendered craft tradition of photo-collage, which was of great significance to Victorian women. She advises that Playing With Pictures brings to public attention these meticulously crafted photocollage albums by women of High Society. There is much humour and playfulness, puns, puzzles and bizarre combinations in the collages. These items of cultural significance have been largely overlooked and the exhibition marks the first time many of them have ever been on display. Noting that album makers often make reference to the material and products of their pastime, Lum says they create "self-reflexive meta-statements about their art" (64). These gendered objects reveal much about women’s visual production and may facilitate new dialogues within the museum community.

7 From a variety of disciplinary perspectives, the essays in this collection show how collaborative work can present fresh perspectives, reveal new insights and offer changing interpretations. This issue of Material Culture Review, likewise marks a change with both a sad ending and a much-anticipated new beginning. Readers, colleagues and the many contributors he worked with during his years as English Review Editor with Material Culture Review will be saddened to read the obituary of Garth Wilson who championed the production of this journal for many years as part of his role with the Canada Science and Technology Museum. Given Garth’s commitment to Material Culture Review and his interest in technology, he would be pleased to know we have taken a step forward in that, with this issue, Material Culture Review is now available electronically using the Open Journal Systems (OJS). We believe this change will be embraced by our subscribers and material culture enthusiasts such as Garth.