Conserving Ceramic Treasures

It is very rare for ceramic containers such as those in this exhibit, to be recovered whole and intact. On occasion many of the pieces of a broken pot will be found together in a pit or some other kind of archaeological feature. More often, however, it is only with a lot of hard work and the skills of a 3D puzzle maker that portions of ancient vessels can stand once again to be admired.

In selecting artifacts to showcase the skills of Native potters from across Canada, the curator drew from the impressive group of whole or near-complete pots in the collections of the Canadian Museum of Civilization as well as from other institutions as well (the Manitoba Museum of Man, the Kenora Office of the Ministry of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation, and Lakehead University).

Many of the CMC pots had been acquired or excavated decades ago. In most cases they had received no treatment from professional conservators. In some instances, efforts had been made to reconstruct or rebuild the pots, using a variety of materials and techniques. The results, however, were highly variable.

In order to bring some of the specimens up to display standards, various treatments were required. For most pots, this only meant minimal conservation work; cleaning, relocating catalogue numbers to less obvious places on the artifacts, minor surface touch-ups, etc.

In other cases, however, the original reconstructions had not been properly done and the only reasonable conservation strategy--one that took into account the long term stability of the artifacts as well as the more immediate display needs--was to completely dismantle the pots and restore them from scratch.

We have prepared three examples of the kinds of conservation strategies which were employed in preparing some of the pots for this exhibit. The three examples of treatments differ from one another as much as the pots themselves. This reflects individuality of the specimens, their histories and the need for a skilled and highly-trained professional to undertake their conservation so that we may once again appreciate the potters' skills.

Select from the pots below to find out to discover their conservation history.

Start All Over Again
(The Wolf Phase of the Western Basin Tradition Pot)
Fixing a Few Cracks
(The Baptiste Lake Pot)
Starting from Scratch
(The Savage Island Pot)