I grew up listening to stories about my parents’ and their parents’ life here in WA. My residency at the Historical Society allowed me to learn how those stories fitted into the broader community and state history. I found objects in the Society’s collection that connected to my own family stories.
Preparing for this exhibition, I looked for those same connections within the State Library’s heritage collection. I worked with the Library’s family historians to select appropriate themes to explore then spent 5 glorious months researching those themes.
I was familiar with the Historical Society collection but also sought suggestions from those who knew it much better than I did. I was excited by the prospect of gaining special access to the State Library’s heritage collection. So it was a revelation to discover that I didn’t need special access. This had ALWAYS been available to me or to anyone who applies for a researcher’s ticket.
I browsed the State Library catalogue online at home, ordered items via my computer then went into the reading room to view them. The Family History staff also helped with suggestions. This process was an incredible privilege. I shared finds from the State Library collection with family, who in turn shared more family memorabilia and stories with me, so it was a wonderful circular process.
I also dug into every nook and cranny at my mother’s home, and found all sorts of wonderful memorabilia she had forgotten existed, much of which led to hearing stories I’d not heard before. I love the research, so stopping was the hard part! In the end I could have just about built an exhibition around any one of the themes so the exhibition shows just the tip of the iceberg of treasures I found.
Building the relationship between words, photographs, artefacts, and artworks was important. They are all essential to telling the stories, but in different ways. Artworks and artefacts in particular do more than share information. They connect on a more personal level. The artworks included in the exhibition also enabled me to acknowledge that it was not just those who came to WA, but also those who lived here already, that were forced to adjust to strange and difficult new circumstances.
Read about Wendy’s artistic engagement with history.
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