DARRIN MARTENS arrived in the Nass Valley June 30 to start his new position as curator of the Nisga’a museum in Greenville.
He has an MA in Art History from UBC and experience as curator at the Burnaby Art Gallery and West Vancouver Museum.
What are your first impressions?
The collection itself is outstanding and I’m looking forward to learning more about it and ways in which to provide deeper engagement with these works not only for myself but for visitors and members of the Nisga’a nation.
Are you planning any events/activities for this summer?
One thing I can tell you is that we will be having an ongoing education program throughout the summer related to one of the works in the collection – a button blanket. Fran Johnson will be creating a replica of this important blanket (that dates back to the early 20th Century) to be used in our developing education collection. The original blanket is currently at the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) and will be returning to Nisga’a territory, we hope, later this year.
Any plans to expand or change the exhibit yet?
The spaces on the sides of the long-house definitely need to be developed. The ancestors collection will remain the same at the moment. What we would like to do is enhance the experience with some new text and develop a walking guide through the exhibition.
What are one or two of your favourite pieces?
That is a very difficult question to answer. For me the objects that have a dynamic quality to them interest me at the moment – the masks with mouths and eyes that open/close, the squirrel headdress, the eagle figure and the puppet. Because they could be animated provides me with an interest in how they were utilized and what that would have looked like in ceremonies.
There are many artifacts on display that were repatriated from museums in both Ottawa and Victoria. Are there more artifacts currently being tracked down that will enhance the current collection?
Currently we are helping to tell a very small portion of the Nisga’a story. Over the next weeks and months I will be looking at what Nisga’a objects are in other collections and determining (with the guidance and assistance of the elders) if there are things that we should have back in the community.
What does it mean for the communities here in the Northwest to have had these artifacts returned?
From what I have learned in my brief time here it means a great deal. The Nisga’a see these artifacts as symbolic of the return of elders. I understand and respect that. If we can repatriate other elders home I believe that is a good thing for this community and for the museum community as well.
What about the gift shop and the movie room—when will these be up and running?
We are in the process of hiring a gift shop coordinator and should have someone in place next week. Part of their job will be to re-merchandise what we currently have and develop new product for our visitors. We will also be working with some local artisans and hope to bring in some new work (such as carvings, jewelry, and baskets). The video room is ready to go at any time. We currently have four videos to screen and they can be viewed at any time.
If you were to recommend a perfect trip to the Nass to visit the museum, what would that include?
That is a tough one given my limited experience so far in the Nass Valley…what I’d have to say is that the museum is part of a matrix of wonders that the Nass has. From the lava beds to the memorial park to the artisans that exist within the four communities each is unique and special. The self-guided driving tour provides a great mix of outdoor environmental and cultural experiences. The museum experience that we currently provide (through a personal tour) is one which highlights the Nisga’a people, their culture, and creativity – I believe this is an important component to understanding this amazing place.