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Whyte Home – Cataloguing During COVID-19

By Thea Sleight

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Above: Thea Sleight

As part of my final year in Art History and Museum Studies at the University of

Lethbridge I interned in the curatorial department at the Whyte Museum from September to

December 2020. I’d often begin my mornings at the Whyte Museum with a symptom checklist

and an infrared thermometer to the forehead, before heading to the Whyte Home for the rest of

the day. There, I had my isolated makeshift office set up in the couple’s old studio, where I

catalogued everything from vintage Kodak photography equipment and cute miniature Japanese

figurines, to girdles, and glass cork-top medicine bottles.

Left: Just one layer of miniatures, all catalogued, and wrapped in acid-free tissue for preservation. Right: Miniature ornate dishware. Pen for scale.

Because this was my second collections internship, I was already pretty familiar with the

general cataloguing process, which involves measuring the object, a physical description,

condition reporting, photographing, labelling, housing (giving the artifact a permanent place to

live), and filing of the physical catalogue. Of course I had to learn some new things, like how to

use the Whyte Museum’s cataloguing software, but other than that, it was a similar rhythm I

could fall into.

Above: The upstairs bathroom was left just as it had been when the museum’s founder, Catharine Robb Whyte, lived there. The medicine cabinets were fully stocked with medications, toiletries, and, as seen above, first aid supplies that are very familiar today.

My favourite part, besides the catalogue writing, was working with the artifacts

themselves. Since the house was donated as is, it was like working inside a time capsule! There

were objects I encountered that were familiar, foreign, and some of which I couldn’t even

identify. I saw brand names that still exist today, and others that have since disappeared. It really

made me consider cultural shifts through time, how much we’ve changed, and how much we

really haven’t. I felt like I got to know Peter Whyte and Catharine Robb Whyte through their

possessions, and it made me think about what kinds of conclusions people would draw about me

from my own objects.

Even though I didn’t get to the experience the Whyte Museum in its true unrestricted

form, I’m still incredibly grateful to have been there. Not only was I was able to see and work

with incredible artifacts and gain practical experience, but I was able to do so safely during these

times. It was a blast!

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