What are we preserving?

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As our time with my dad’s shop comes to a close (tomorrow is the last day), we’ll (I’ll) have to move from “quick—grab that while we(I) can!”-mode to “ok what do we(I) do with this now?”-mode. That second phase is a lot longer and one filled with more and more difficult decisions. Thankfully, today for Doors Open YYC we went to the City of Calgary art archive, and the conservation specialist spoke a bit about how they maintain outdoor steel statues. While acknowledging that it probably wouldn’t hurt to do a bit of research to confirm the particulars of our pieces in question etc, it sounds like my dad’s outdoor statues are going to basically be fine where and as they are, and that aside from a very occasional rinse with water and maybe a gentle soap they shouldn’t need much active care to keep them in good shape. This is a huge relief, as I watch the snow pile up on them, wondering if they’re ok if we just let them be, just as they’ve always been, since they were made. I was never afraid of their durability when my dad was alive, but he also would have known how to care for and fix them if need be, or as their creator, he could neglect them if he thought they were just fine as-is, but my/our relationship to them is different.

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Seeing how the city stores and cares for its collection was quite wonderful. The very small team of specialists discussed some items in the collection that the artists intended for use, and how that intention is balanced with conservation goals so that, as they put it, we don’t use up the whole of the work’s existence greedily, letting it be enjoyed by future generations as well.

As we prepare to say goodbye to the shop, where he worked for over thirty years, and which was the site of so many formative moments for me, at least I know there’s something of that place embedded in the sculptures he made there. I know that, other than my family members and a few of my dad’s friends and colleagues who were at the shop and saw some of those sculptures there, no one will look at these objects and see that place in them, like a viewfinder or crystal ball. But it’s there, in the steel, in the welds, in the motions used to twist the works into shape. Aside from the litany of photos we’ve taken of the shop, there’s this evidence of that time, place, and my dad still. The shop will be gone soon, or at least it won’t be ours anymore, but these things remain, and these things we can preserve, and in preserving them, share them in the future too.

Its comforting to know too that using the sculptures, that is, not wrapping them in plastic and hiding them in a basement or something, is ok. People can still see them, we can still see them, and I think that’s what my dad would’ve liked. In any case, it’s what I like—I’d much rather watch the dancers in his sculptures get their annual cap of snow that see them hidden away. This way the art, and the memories they represent for me, feel free and beautiful and alive. I’m glad there’s no need to choose between that and keeping the art safe.