toms The Artifact HandlerMore p

The Artifact Handler

More peculiar still was that when they pulled up to their destination, they found the house filled with people, all dressed in their Sunday best. As the two museum employees got out of their truck, many of these same people came out to greet them, some even snapping photos of the pair.

Hilborn was there to pick up a motorcycle a 1963 Honda Cub that the recently deceased patriarch of the home owned and which his family was donating to the museum. For the man’s extended family, the passing of the motorcycle was an occasion wort toms hy of a ceremony.

“They explained that they were so appreciative that the museum was taking this Honda Cub that they had a party to celebrate it,” Hilborn recalls.

When the tim toms e came to actually wheel the motorcycle onto the truck, Hilborn was asked if the owner’s eldest son might be allowed that honour. Then, after it was packed for the journey, a number of family members asked if they might be allowed to follow the truck to the museum, to see where the bike will go. “This has never happened before,” says Hilborn. “So what do you say? Of course, you’re more than welcome.

“So several family members get into two cars and fol toms low us. It was kind of like a parade,” he adds. “The family was absolutely thrilled. It was so meaningful.

“That was one of the better times here at the museum.”At last count, a few months ago, the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation, which includes the Science and Tech, Aviation and Space, and Agriculture museums, held 103,568 objects in its collection, with upwards of 200 being added each year. As artifact handler, it’s Hilborn’s job to go out about 50 times a year, he estimates, to the nation’s barns, basements, attics and garages and collect these objects and bring them back to one of the museum’s warehouses, where they’re catalogued and studied, and every now and then put on display.

“It’s always different,” says the Manotick raised Hilborn, “and it’s never boring. You never know what you’re going to find when you get to some houses.

“I met with our brand new CEO (Denise Amyot),” he adds, “and the first thing out of my mouth was ‘I’ve got the best job in the corporation.'”

It’s one that began for him in the late 1990s when, waiti toms ng for a friend in the lobby at Algonquin College, he picked up a pamphlet for the school’s museum studies program and thought it might be interesting. He was enrolled days later, and in the summer following his first of three years there, was hired by the museum.

“I planned to be here five years,” he says.

His first excursion on behalf of the museum was here in Ottawa, when he picked up some paintings of locomotives done by artist Cameron King. Since then he’s been all over the country getting artifacts, and, like the objects themselves, each outing brings with it a story.

“I get to go different places and I get to meet tons of people,” he says. “You go down that dirt road you’d never normally go down.

“I’m pretty lucky.”

There was the time, for example, he was sent to a farm in Vaughan, north of Toronto, to pick up a swather, a large combine like machine used to cut hay. While Hilborn and the woman whose farm it was waited to hear from her son, who knew how to start the swather, she cadged him into getting her temperamental lawn mower going, at which point he felt obliged to also cut her lawn.

“I’m not sure if I was set up or not,” he says. “But it doesn’t matter. I secretly like to cut lawns, and we had nothing else to do.”

Another time he was sent to Niagara Falls to pick up some bee keeping equipment belonging to an eightysomething year old woman whose husband, the actual bee keeper, had died.

“We’re picking up the equipment and under each there are bags of silver coins. At another, tens of thousands of tractor manuals. One house he visited boasted the spoils of an unabashed dumpster diver “the basement looked like a Bugs Bunny show where they load in dynamite and there isn’t room for one more thing,” he recalls while another was crammed from stem to gudgeon with books related solely to aviation.

He’s picked up race cars, radar dishes bearing bullet holes, and bicycles stripped, cleaned, repaired and reassembled by a Montreal man with no sight. He’s visited Yousuf Karsh’s Chteau Laurier apartment; the Grey Nuns convent in Montreal; numerous artists’ studios; and the opulent Westmount homes of railway barons.

Along the way, he’s figured this out about people: Some are eccentric, and some just a little different, but we’re essentially not all that dissimilar.

“Pretty much everyone whose house we go to has a hobby or an interest, and I think that’s what keeps a lot of people sane,” he says.

Donors, he says, generally fall into three groups: people hoping to make some money; those hoping to simply free up some space; and those who feel their heirlooms and artifacts should be preserved in a museum.

One of the most difficult parts of his job is meeting people who aren’t quite ready to part with their valuables.

“I tell them, ‘You don’t have to do this. Here’s your thing; if you want some more time, hold onto it. If there’s someone in the family who wants it, don’t worry about it.’

“A lot of the time it’s a widower or someone who, through a medical condition, is not in the home anymore. And people need to move on, quote unquote, and so they’re offering us stuff and you can tell that it’s hard.

toms The Art Show Rat RaceAll w

The Art Show Rat Race

All week long she toils, only to drive away in her tightly packed mini van early Saturday morning. Like most of the other regulars on the outdoor art show circuit, she allows plenty of time for the trip, then a good two hours or so to set up her booth and get ready for the crowds.

The additional 20 hours or so she’ll work during the weekend cap off a schedule that would exhaust most people. Yet, it’s one Zittrain will repeat more than a half dozen times over the next few weeks.

“This spring I’m doing the Junior Women’s Club Show in Williamsburg, the Mathews Art Group show in Gloucester, and Ghent, Stockley Gardens and May Fair right in a row,” she says.

“Then I skip a week and go to a show in Fredericksburg. The boardwalk show in Virginia Beach is two weeks after that.”

Zittrain is hardly alone in taking on such intimidating labors.

When the Ghent Art Show opens at Norfolk’s Town Point Park Saturday, nearly 200 artists, many of them marking their third or fourth event this season, will be on hand. Another 115 determined talents will set up at the Stockley Gardens Arts Festival, also in Norfolk, during the weekend that follows.

The Newport News artist will exhibit her work at both places, arriving early in the hopes of finding a good place to unload her tent, display screens, hand truck and folding chairs. Then there’s her umbrella, charge machine, tool box, card table and shopping bags.

She’ll need at least six large paintings to make the booth look good, she says, as well as a dozen or so medium and small canvases. Scores of framed and ma toms tted prints will be placed on view with an even larger number of reserves stored in cardboard boxes.

“In my display, I may have 50 or 60 things hanging on the screens. It makes you tired just thinking about it,” she says.”

“You learn to unload and unpack it all by practicing. If things get helter skelter, you’re in trouble.”

Sometimes, Zittrain’s husband, Larry, comes along to help her unpack and put the booth together. Through some unspoken, yet seldom broken rule of outdoor shows, however, the nicer the setting, the more difficult it is to unload.

At Town Point Park, the artists must move everything they need including the weights that hold their tents down from the curb of Waterside Drive to an exhibit site located several hundred feet away. Hand trucks and dollies are the main beasts of burden here, since nothing bigger than a golf cart is allowed to drive inside the gates.

That makes extra muscle essential, says Ghent coordinator Leslie Davis, who usually starts directing her tr toms oop of about 100 volunteers around 6:30 Saturday morning.

“It’s like a really, really bad B rated movie,” she says.

“All you can see is swar toms ms of people moving back and forth carrying tents, chairs and pieces of art.”

Swarming people was the last thing Zittrain expected as a child growing up on the picturesque beaches of remote Catalina Island. But the dramatic shoreline and striking wildlife scenes of the California coast had an impact that still influences her work today.

The former teacher and Army wife took her first art classes more than two decades ago, sparking what would become a lifelong enthusiasm for representational painting. Following the encouragement of her instructors, the painter entered her first outdoor art show only a few years later.

Today, Zittrain exhibits her paintings at nearly 20 events each year, concentrating on the spring, autumn and winter shows. She also moves back and forth between the subjects that captured her imagination as a child.

“I’ve been painting birds and animals all winter, and now I’m switching gears to seascapes and the beach,” she says.

“I think it would be b toms oring to paint the same thing all the time.”

Equally boring is the thought of remaining at home in her studio while the 15 galleries and shops that carry her paintings do all the selling.

Despite the difficulties involved, Zittrain thrives on the chance to leave the solitude of her easel for the crowds that flood the outdoor exhibits. She especially likes to meet the people who buy her work and live with it in their homes.

Ghent show organizers estimate that more than 60,000 visitors will stroll by and look over the artists’ booths.

Many of them nod and smile at her work, Zittrain says, giving her a rush of feedback found in no other situation. A surprising number stop to ask her about what they see in her pictures.

Watching the people as they pass by her work may be one of the most rewarding parts of her profession.

“I can always tell when it’s another artist. They’re the ones who put their faces two inches from the painting and stare at some little corner,” she says.

toms The art of zipping two sleepin

The art of zipping two sleeping bags together

Whoa, now. Whether in summer or winter, lighting a fire under the full moon (and maybe even howling at it) and sharing a little body heat (to ward off hypothermia, of course) is as natural as it gets.

For those unfamiliar with the art of zipping sleeping bags together, we’ll start at the beginning.

When you’re out with someone special, plan a short day. A 10 hour death march through thick coastal brush, in the rain, after losing the trail, does not inspire fireside nestling. Instead, such marathons are a sure recipe for skipping dinner, sleeping in dirty clothes, and snoring with your mouths wide open. One sure sign you’ve been going too long: searching for a campsite in the darkness. Remember, shorter days mean longer nights.

Next, the tent. Your cocoon, your calm in the face of the storm, should strike that perfect balance between too small (if you can’t sit up, or pull on pants without demonstrating your yogic abilities, your tent is too small) and too large (if there’s an echo, or finding your partner requires a diligent search, then your tent is definitely too big).

Most important, if you haven’t set it up recently say within the past two years or if you harbour even the faintest sense of foreboding as poles tumble from the stuff sack like a confusion of pickup sticks, do not, under any circumstance, pour yourself and your friend a stiff drink before setting up this sanctuary. Nothing kills the mood like a ferocious squabble over which part goes where. Even worse is the sound of tearing nylon.

At the same time, take your time finding a flat spot. Sleeping pads are slipperier than cafeteria trays on hard packed snow: The slightest dip or roll, and toms you’ll slide off the crucial cushioning. It is also advisable, at this point, to remo toms ve any rocks and logs from toms under the floor of the tent. You’d think that would go without saying, but apparently not.

By now you’ve both worked up an appetite. Which is good, as nothing puts you in the mood like food. As long as it’s not a can of pork and beans, jammed into the smouldering remains of a fire, burnt on the bottom and tepid on top. This won’t spark even Survivorman’s flame. Skip the tiny soup packages and gas inducing dehydrated beans and bring out the good stuff. Pack appetizers, fresh fruit and veggies, and of course, something to wash it all down. Most critically, don’t forget dessert (hint: good chocolate).

Most important of all? The sleeping bags. Under no circumstance should you grab the musty camouflage sacks your brother took hunting last fall, when he and three buddies spent a storm bound week eating greasy steaks and guzzling tall boys. They may pass the sniff test at home, but once the heat of a human body is applied, overwhelming reminders of previous trips will float out.

How to get comfortable and close? You could spread one open bag beneath you, and toss the other on top, but this will inevitably lead to an alarming gasp when a minor shift in position sends frigid air tearing into warm skin. No, far better are “mating sleeping bags,” two warm cocoons that can be zipped together into a single mothership.

But don’t make the fatal assumption that any two bags will do. “You bring yours, I’ll bring mine it’ll be great!” Not so fast. Sleeping bags come in all shapes and sizes, with a multitude of zipper gauges. Nothing is as disheartening as a two hour zipper wrestling marathon in the dark as the mood evaporates. Test the mate ability before leaving home. (Also, watch you’re not matching two “rights” or two “lefts,” as one of you will spend the night feeling like a Benedictine monk with a heavy hood.)

If your hiking boots are wet, resist any temptation to bring them into the tent! Do not yank out the sodden liners and prop them beside your head to dry moments before planting a goodnight kiss. Nor should you peel your steaming socks off while commenting excitedly about the unexpected wrinkles, the ghost like coloration, or the throbbing blisters on your toes.

Dogs can be problematic. Yes, they love to get outside, and, yes, you probably should take them out more often. But the sound of two mouths meeting in the night is indistinguishable to the canine ear from the sound of food being stealthily consumed. The unexpected addition of a third, slobbering tongue can be unnerving at best. Depending whose mouth said tongue goes in, it may produce a spirited tantrum. Also, a cold nose unexpectedly p toms ressed into the nether regions is always a mood dampener. (Another argument for testing the compatibility of your sleeping bags before you leave home.)

Beware of flashlights. Your tent wall is essentially an enormous screen, projecting every move on the inside to any eager audience still at the campfire. You may be in the great outdoors, but keep the greatest show on Earth to yourselves. (Unless, you know, it’s that type of camping trip.)

With a little forethought and simple planning, there are endless opportunities for intimacy. And seriously, flickering firelight, shooting stars and a blanket of resounding silence it doesn’t get more romantic than that.