Both on & off display, the Huron County Museum houses an incredible collection of objects donated by our community. Staff collect and research as much information as possible about artefacts and their significance to Huron County history when they arrive at our doors, but there’s always more to be added to these objects’ stories, and their significance to the people who made, owned, used or donated them. As wonderfully demonstrated by our recent Community Curators exhibit, fresh perspectives on interpreting artefacts enhance their context and value. Sometimes only after having an artefact in our collection for years does special knowledge from the public allow staff to identify the people in a black & white photograph, or translate German postcards sent to a Dashwood family. A growing and changing understanding of these objects ensures that they remain dynamic and connected to the community, rather than accumulating dust.
A recent revelation about artefacts came this fall when staff were planning Celebrations, the Temporary Gallery’s winter exhibit dedicated to favourite holidays from October to March: Diwali to St. Patrick’s Day. The displays are a combination of artefacts from the museum’s collection and objects on-loan from individuals and families who celebrate each holiday. Lynn Zhu of Toronto, whose husband is from Clinton, shared her memories of celebrating Lunar New Year both in China during her early childhood, and afterwards when she and her parents moved to Canada. Lynn also lent the exhibit a selection of decorations and “red pocket” cash envelopes from past Lunar New Year occasions, providing translations for the Mandarin words.
While Lynn was translating the decorations, I asked her take a look at a couple of red silk hangings in the museum’s collection, guessing their lettering might also be Mandarin. The banners are part of a collection of objects from China donated by the E. Townsend family in 1970. Elisha Townsend, born near Londesborough, was a Methodist missionary to China in the first half of the twentieth century.
Very generously, Lynn agreed to view photos of the banners, and provide translations. She explained,
The hanging banners you found are in Chinese, and are an example of a duìlían 对联. They should be hung on either side of a door…They usually describe some well wish in a rhyming matching-syllables way. The particular ones you have are so interesting because they are about God…There are many churches and Christians in China, but they’re not as obvious as here. So religious duìlían are not common at all…[T]hey likely were used inside the home or a church. Also, likely they were displayed all year round. (People often leave the duìlían up all year, so they get shabby looking, and get new ones before the New Year celebrations.[The first banner] says: “God is my herder.” [The second banner] (使我不至窮乏) says: “Let me not be poor and needy.” After some googling, it’s actually the translation of Psalm 23:1. “God is my shepherd, I shall not want/I lack nothing.”
Thanks to Lynn’s translation more than forty-five years after the Townsend family’s original donation, museum staff can now understand the banners and better appreciate their significance to Elisha Townsend’s missionary work
Lunar New Year begins today, Monday February 8th! You can see the decorations loaned for #HCMCelebrations now through March Break in the Temporary Gallery. Admission next Monday, February 15th, 2016 is FREE for Family Day.
Can you help with the museum’s current historical mysteries? We’re looking for any extant image of Goderich Township pioneer Agnes (Johnston) McIlwain for our upcoming Migration Stories exhibit in April.