Tag Archives: whalebone

I’ve Got A Bone to Pick!

11 Jul
Manice "Faces (Bone on Bone)"

“Faces (Bone on Bone)” by Manasie Akpaliapik (1955- ), Qikiqtaaluk, ossified whalebone, MIA Collection, 2013.4.30.1-2.

As the Young Canada Works Collections Management Officer here at the MIA, I started my summer off with a group of works – mostly stone sculpture – acquired by the museum in 2013.  I have always been interested in different materials used in the production of objects and Inuit art is no exception. So, from day one, I’m sure I sounded like a broken record: “Alysa, what kind of stone is this?”  Until finally, I began to recognize the vibrant greens of the serpentinite of a Toonoo Sharky, RCA and the bold black basalt in Barnabus Arnasungaaq’s work.

Toonoo Sharky "Spirit Fish"

“Spirit Fish” by Toonoo Sharky (1970- ), Kinngait (Cape Dorset), serpentinite stone, ivory, MIA Collection, 2013.4.41.

Barnabus "Man"

“Man” by Barnabus Arnasungaaq (1924 – ), Qamani’tuaq (Baker Lake), basalt stone, MIA Collection, 2013.4.55.











Soon after I familiarized myself with the stone, I was thrown a curve-ball when I was tasked with cataloging and condition reporting Untitled [Faces (Bone on Bone)] by Manasie Akpaliapik.  I found this carving absolutely striking not only in the way the artist has created an eerily lifelike face but because it was a completely new medium to me: ossified whalebone.

amazed cat gif

My face during the entire experience.

Ossified whalebone is bone from whales that has been dried out over time making it a viable medium for carvings (prior to my time, someone very eloquently explained the process of whalebone carving on this very blog so I won’t go into great detail here). I have worked with bone before, both animal and human(!), but never whalebone!  This medium has the same bubbly-spongy look to it as a lot of other bone but only whale-sized!  I was entranced by its texture and managed to find a magnifying glass so I could get an even closer look!  For what felt like a long time I was lost in the microcosm of the whalebone. When I returned to reality, I finished cataloging and condition reporting the piece.  As Collections Management Officer I am required to take detailed photos of each piece and these definitely turned out to be some of my favourites!

Detail of "Faces (Bone on Bone)"

Detail of “Faces (Bone on Bone)”

Take a look and see what you think!

Detail of "Faces (Bone on Bone)"

Detail of “Faces (Bone on Bone)”

Posted by: Lauren Williams, MIA’s Collections Management Officer

Nancy Drew and the Case of New Collections Management

5 Sep
Unknown artist, "Untitled" (Janus Head), whalebone is a recently donated piece into the permanent collection was photographed as part of the accessioning process during the collections audit.

Artist Unknown, “Untitled” (Janus Head), (1974), whalebone is a recently donated piece that is being entered into the permanent collection during the collections audit.

For the past few months visitors to the Harbourfront have had to tackle a lot of construction taking place on Queens Quay as part of the Waterfront revitalization project. Additionally, the museum has been undergoing some pretty major changes of our own. In previous posts we introduced new layouts for our permanent collection, asked for your input for what sorts of information should be included in our next batch of interpretive texts and installed a new exhibition. While we have been a little quiet on the blog side of things, we have been typing up a storm inputting all your feedback into our panels (which are being printed at this very moment!).

Alongside these new panels we are also creating a brand new labeling system for the individual objects you can see in both our special exhibitions and permanent collections. We’re going to dedicate a separate blog to introduce our new designs and how we have been playing with lots of different looks, but you can take a quick peek here for a sense of how your questions inspired our new look.

Design sample of future new MIA museum object labels

Design sample of future new MIA museum object labels.

You might have noticed that in the above design sample, the accession number has been left unfilled. Part of the process of creating new labels has come out of another important project we have initiated: completing a full collections audit.

And what is a collections audit you ask?
Under the SPECTRUM definition, a collections audit is:

The examination of objects or object information, in order to verify their location, authenticity, accuracy and relationships… The organisation must have a policy covering the auditing of the collections and related information. Refer to Policies and Legal Context chapter for general guidance on collections management policies.

The procedure for managing and documenting audits must:

  • Ensure that the organisation maintains, manages and documents a regular review of the objects in its collections and the information relating to them;

  • Ensure that the audit of objects is based on the physical presence of the objects;

  • Ensure that all relevant object-related documentation is updated as required in a timely manner;

  • Ensure that remedial action is taken as required, following discovery of missing objects, wrongly or inadequately documented objects, or undocumented objects;

  • Ensure that, wherever possible, inventory checks are conducted or witnessed by a person not responsible for their custody or record-keeping

As part of best practices, it can refer to a small section of the collection, or if you’re keeners like we are, the ENTIRE collection!

As we went through the permanent collections cases we noticed that there were some inconsistencies, such as files that weren’t in the proper locations or objects that did not have multiple photographs to show the piece at different angles. These types of errors come pretty standard across museums, and despite the fields limited resources you will always be able to find that one passionate detective who pulls a Nancy Drew in search of runaway documentation. This kind of project has been the source of  many a internship and looking at past presentations from networking events like Museums Showoff TO you can learn more about how other institutions solved their mini museum mysteries.

This fall we will also be putting together a team of  collections interns, who will be documenting what types of pieces they will be working with, how they are investigating the collections, and what kinds of documents they are looking for. So stay tuned to meet the team and learn more about some of the behind the scenes moments that make up a part of an objects life inside the museum!

– Posted by: Brittany Holliss, MIA’s Digital Asset Coordinator

Let’s Talk About…Whalebone!

13 Apr

Many visitors coming into the Museum are often drawn in by our two large sculptures which are placed in the lobby. One of our frequently asked questions is what these are made of. Many guests guess that it is a type of wood because of the porous nature of the material.  The answer is that they are made of aged whalebone. Whalebone used in sculpture is old, not new. New whalebone is oily, smells, and will splinter if carved. Therefore, the older the bone, the better it is for carving.

Abraham Anghik Ruben's (1951-) "Memories: An Ancient Past" (2010), whalebone, stone, wood, Private Collection.

MIA's Development Officer, Karolina Tomaszewska with the reverse side of Abraham Anghik Ruben's (1951-) "Memories: An Ancient Past" (2010), whalebone, stone, wood, Private Collection
Note the spot for the spinal cord to fit into!

These bones come from the base of the whale’s skull and the round holes you can see are where the spinal cord fits into the skull. Many people assume that these are vertebrae, but vertebrae look quite different.

Whale skeleton-the highlighted portion is where the bone for the sculptures comes from!

A whale vertebra

Note how the shape of the vertebra is much different from the sculptures featured in our lobby!

Karolina with Manasie Akpaliapik's (1955-) "Spirit World of the Inuit", whalebone, stone, ivory, Private Collection.
Once again, note the space where the spinal cord fits in!

Can you find other pieces made from whalebone in the Museum? Drop by and let us know! We have quite a few!

Posted by: Karolina Tomaszewska, MIA’s Development Officer