Collections technician Marcia Slater discovers passion for history at young age

Marcia Slater’s love for history began when she was about eight years old, finding a penny as many people often do. But instead of being thrilled to have found the money, she was interested in the history and whom that penny previously belonged to.

Reflecting on her childhood, Slater, now 58, said, “I remember my mom got me a book of stories on early nurses. It was historic, these were histories, and so history fed me somehow from a very young age.”

By the time Slater was about 12, she discovered museology, which is the practice of organizing, arranging, and managing museums. Slater eventually enrolled in courses, pursuing her passion for history.

“I was taking an archeology course that was discussing evolution of museums and it was like somebody opened a door, and I thought okay that’s it! That’s for me!” Slater described.

“I ended up in university and took a very broad range of history,” Slater said. “I got a general studies degree because at U of C, at that time, there was no museums studies or museology. But I took music history, art history, classics and European history, and because I had to, there was a little bit of biology thrown in.”

In 1979, Slater started her journey at the Glenbow Museum filling in for someone who had gone on holidays and couldn’t finish the job.

“It was frightening and intimidating,” Slater said. “But it was still working with old stuff and there was no doubt in my mind, as frightening as it was, that this was what I wanted to do.”

Due to an economic downturn in the same year, Glenbow could no longer provide Slater with a job. She continued with the museum as a volunteer, and eventually landed several paid contracts.

“I was very lucky that way because one of the first volunteer experiences I had was one of the hardest things I ever did, which was a floor to ceiling inventory of this collection here … probably 100,000 artifacts. So my colleague and I literally got our hands on every single artifact in this collection and it was just an incredible experience,” Slater said.Pickle castors, part of the Victorian and Edwardian Eras, are some of the many artifacts collections technician Marcia Slater works with at the Glenbow Museum. Slater enjoys the diversity of artifacts she encounters on a day-to-day basis. Photo by Sabina Seyidova

In 1993 Slater became a collections technician, which meant she managed large numbers of artifacts.

As much as Slater disliked paper work, this position gave her a more complete view to the accessioning process, which is how collections arrive and are processed at the museum.

Though Slater thought she wanted to be a curator, which involved even more administration work, she decided she didn’t want to be taken away from the collection of artifacts she loves being close to.

She is now in charge of dealing with European history and Western settlement collections.

“We have a collection that comes in and we have paperwork that has to be completed,” Slater said. “On a good day those will be relatively uncomplicated, small collections.”

Slater said her job is a work in progress and at times challenging. For example, she sometimes has to work directly with donors and manage tax receipts.

Working with the computer and having a database for the first time was very difficult for Slater as well, as she is not a technical person. “It was scary and intimidating — the whole thing,” she said.

Despite the challenges Slater faces, her job is never dull. The variety of tasks and the variety of artifacts in the Glenbow are extraordinary and she feels very lucky to be working with such a diverse collection.

“Every artifact in the whole of Glenbow is connected to people and there is something magical, I think about being able to hold in your hand something that our pioneers used,” she said. “And I have met some really interesting and amazing people, who lived fascinating lives and I am very lucky to have been able to do that.”

Looking after the museum collections is something special Slater has been searching for since she picked up that penny years ago and decided that was her path.

sseyidova@cjournal.ca

Thumbnail photo by Sabina Seyidova

The editor responsible for this article is Skye Anderson and can be contacted at sanderson@cjournal.ca