Archival Photo Finds: Quilted Emotions

After a very intensive week in the Dawson City Museum archives, I am sorting, reading, and analyzing what I found. In order to help with analysis, I discussed archival documents as part of the Archival Research series. The Archival Photo Finds series similarly considers the stories archival photos can tell.  

Within this post, I look at photos taken as part of the Quilted Emotions temporary exhibition in the 1980s.


Why do I find these pictures so exciting?

These pictures show Dawsonites creating quilts in the 1983.

In the mid 1980s, the Dawson City Museum underwent a 2.9-million-dollar renovation. They asked for a room that could be used as an exhibition space and got “the Big Black Box” – that is, a room without windows and painted black.  The first exhibition in the space was an exhibition of quilts created by the locals in the photos. 


Before finding the pictures, the story was interesting because it is an example of the community’s influence on the Museum. The Museum’s temporary exhibitions were, historically, created in collaboration with the local community and/or for this community. The local community has thus shaped the stories that are told in the Museum. 

The pictures make the exhibition story more interesting to me because they show that the museum workers were also members of the local community. Several people who were involved with the Museum also participated in quilt creation. They were able to partner with the community to create an exhibition in part because they were that community.

Government Policy

Considering Yukon community museums more broadly, the Quilt exhibition is particularly notable because it enabled the Dawson City Museum to create Yukon’s first exhibition catalogue. The publication relied on funding from the Yukon Government, Yukon Lotteries Commission, and Canada Council. In other words, project funding enabled the catalogue’s creation.

The Quilt exhibition also provided the Museum with the time to develop permanent exhibitions for the newly renovated gallery, using project grants and employment programs.

What can we learn from the pictures?

The pictures challenge me to stop thinking of the Museum and the local community as two distinct groups. At times, the Museum, represented through staff and volunteers, has been an integral component of the community. 

The pictures also help illustrate that temporary exhibitions can provide chances to engage with communities. While permanent exhibitions rarely change and involve multi-year long processes to change, the Dawson City Museum’s temporary exhibitions can change regularly.


Do you have any great examples of temporary exhibitions providing the impetus for community engagement? How can we ensure that this engagement is not momentary / isolated to that exhibition?

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