Centennial celebrations and Hitchcock references
By Nicholas Vogelpoel, on 14 January 2013
Blog entry by Touching Heritage volunteer – Molly Johansson
Doing something for the first time is always a little bit special. The first time I volunteered in the Touching Heritage project, I was a little nervous but at the same time happy and excited. It turned out that it was not only my first time, but also the first time for participants. To make matters even more special we had walked straight into a centennial birthday party. Snacks, cake and midday sherry amidst music blasting. And there we were, standing in the doorway with our museum objects, like some strange form of party entertainment.
I can’t remember what we showed, but I do remember it being hard work and long stretches of awkward. We were all trying to figure each other out, to understand what the other person wanted.
But, how do you compete with a birthday party? You have to embrace the awkwardness that follows. It is you versus the cake, and the cake will win. People will get up and dance, and you just have to enjoy the moment. I cherish that visit because it was nothing like I imagined it to be. It also shows that our visits are not about us or the objects we bring, but about the people we meet. It is about their day. Sometimes the meeting will be awkward and you will feel out of place, but you will eventually enjoy it. I mean, how many centennial birthday parties do you think I will go to in my lifetime?
In another session I met a man who no longer speaks or hears. Before starting the session my mind was whirling with thoughts and possible problems. Because that is what we focus on when we encounter something new, isn’t it? I gave him the information card to read and then took out the first objects and still I had no idea how to communicate with this man. He only had the use of one hand and used it to twirl the object in his hand. Slowly he investigated the object.
I scrambled for some paper and a pen to write a question for him. My mind went blank and I only thought of asking him how it felt in his hand. He read the question and started to write an answer. He had to write it with his left hand and I could see that this was not his usual writing hand. But, he took his time. I didn’t get a single word response but, he arduously wrote me a full sentence. This act encouraged me to continue writing to him, asking him more complicated questions. Taking the time and putting in the work to answer a question he could have answered in a word told me he wanted to communicate, that he wasn’t writing to me just to respond, but to correspond. We each took our turn to scribble on the paper as we looked at new objects.
We eventually got to an ancient stone knife. The discussion spilled out from the paper and turned into a physical exchange. Taking the knife in his hand he made stabbing motions in my direction, and it looked like we were acting out a scene from ‘Psycho’. We had a good laugh about it and I can confidently say that that knife became a favourite for both of us.
Bringing these objects to people we learn to communicate in so many ways and I definitely found this session to be one of my most rewarding.