Where are you from?
I grew up in Halifax. At the time, Halifax was a smaller city. I remember wanting to get away and now I wish I could go back. My mom was a museum curator and an artist, my aunt was a high-school art teacher and my sister is a museum curator, so I was just following along. I studied painting and art history at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. I loved it and I met my husband James (new media) there. Both his parents were very involved with the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and now our kid is studying art and art history and museum studies. We’re a non-stop flow of art history.
I didn’t really have a goal in mind until I worked at a frame store in Victoria. Every now and again people would bring in artworks with little problems. We knew three conservators we could call on and they would look over the artwork and maybe take it away and fix it. I particularly remember the painting conservator because he would come with this little suitcase and it would be full of these little vials with all the things he would test the work with. I thought that was so cool and that’s when I discovered I had a goal, which was to be a conservator. I did a two-year diploma at Fleming College in Peterborough, Ont. I learned about ceramics, glass, furniture and paper but I knew I wanted to study paper.
I did my internship with Parks Canada in Ottawa. They had a central conservation unit in Ottawa. It was such a formative experience. I had a great supervisor. He came up with a challenging project for me that was something new and different. Because I had such a fabulous internship and I learned so much, when I work with interns here I like to make sure that we try and take time to help them pursue whatever they’re interested in.
After that, I got contracts in Ottawa and got to do some really neat projects. The Parliament buildings were being renovated and I worked on a project flattening the original blueprints. Then I worked with the Library of Parliament, which had to move out for the renovation. That was a huge learning curve. They have law books that are as old as Canada. Then I worked at the National Archives and then at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Ottawa cleaning sculptures.
When did you come to the U of L and what do you do here?
All told, I had my own business as a paper conservator for about 10 years before I started working here on a contract about 11 years ago. We came to Lethbridge because James got his job here. I started as a paper conservator on a contract. When the registrar retired, I applied for her job and here I am today.
I’m like a librarian but for the art collection. Just like every book has a call number, every artwork has a number on it, every shelf, every box, everything has a number and that’s how we keep track of the objects in the art collection. When they go out on exhibition here or we loan them, I have to keep track of them and take care of them. Our collection has more than 15,000 works at the moment.
What’s the best part of your job?
I work with great people and I love the opportunity to be up close to artwork and I love working with the students who come through. My internship meant a lot to me and the time my supervisor took with me was amazing. I love seeing students come in and they don’t really know yet what they’re doing. Their theoretical knowledge is very strong and we throw a lot of practical problems at them to solve and I see often that students find out they love the work.
What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
Until recently I was quite afraid of dogs and now I work with dogs at the Humane Society. I’m not as afraid anymore and we have a pet dog, Mia. My younger daughter, when she was 15, every day she would say ‘We should get a dog, mom.’ I didn’t want to get a dog so I suggested we walk dogs instead. At first, I couldn’t tell the difference between an I’m-excited dog and an I-want-to-kill-you dog. Now I know.