From fossils to statues to shoes, P.E.I. Museum going online

The Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation will launch a new e-museum this month, with thousands of artifacts ready for display.

‘A chance for the public to get to know their collection’

These beautiful bottles, being photographed for the e-museum, were made to hold gunpowder. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

The Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation will launch a new e-museum this month, with thousands of artifacts ready for display.

"We won't, of course, have our entire collection online immediately. We're still in the process of photographing everything," said executive director Matthew McRae.

Staff have been working on the project for two years, and have 2,000 objects ready to go, but that's just a tiny portion of the museum's 100,000-object collection.

Because the museum is having to start so small, it polled Islanders about what in particular they wanted to see, and the number one response, said McRae, was personal items. Running with that, the museum decided to put a large proportion of its shoe collection online. They will be up there with postcards, religious statues and many other objects.

Matthew McRae wants to show off the museum's collection anyway he can. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

The museum collection will be searchable.

Photographic challenges

The museum set up a photography studio at its collections facility for the online project.

The collections facility contains an enormous variety of objects. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

McRae said some of the items were fairly easy to gather, move into the studio and photograph, and return to storage, while others presented problems.

"A lot of our objects are extremely fragile, some are more robust. Some are hidden deep in storage, some are not," he said.

Some items are easily moved into the photography studio, while others take more time and care. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

That meant some of the pictures were started and finished in just a few minutes, while others took considerably longer. Adding descriptions was also occasionally challenging, as staff was working with decades of records prepared by different curators using different systems.

'This collection belongs to all Islanders'

McRae expects the result of all that work to be a useful resource.

"Our goal, really, is for this to be an educational tool as well as a chance for the public to get to know their collection," he said.

Collections management assistant Meg Preston in the photography studio. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

"This collection belongs to all Islanders, which is one of the reasons why we want to improve access to it.… It's hard to invite everyone into our collections facility to dig around, we can invite everyone online to dig around."

Museums all around the world are creating virtual museums, said McRae, but it is still important to have the opportunity to display them in real space. Currently P.E.I. has no central museum, but instead a network of small, themed museums that can display only a fraction of the collection with their limited temporary exhibition space.

There is a distinctive steam punk air in some corners of the collections facility. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

"There's nothing that really replaces seeing history for yourself in person," he said.

"We are still dedicated to having a physical space."

Still, while hoping for the physical space of a central museum, work will continue on the virtual project, which will take years to complete.

The first group of 2,000 objects will go live Jan. 21.

The collections facility holds some unusual technology. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Island Morning and Nancy Russell


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