How will future generations remember this time?
That’s a question curators at The Rooms have been thinking about since the pandemic took hold in the province.
Beginning this week, they are seeking objects, stories, songs, art, diaries, and anything else that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians think is reflective of their experience.
“It doesn’t have to be something precious,” said Kate Wolforth, acting director of museums and galleries at The Rooms.
“We’re interested in homemade, we’re interested in individual responses. Those are what’s going to be meaningful to remember this crisis because so much of it is people at home working away on their own.
“Trying to explain this time to our children and grandchildren who are not born yet, we’re going to need those objects to help them think about what this meant, what this was like, what this experience was all about.”
Important to collect items during events
Wolforth said The Rooms is already seeking some specific items, such as homemade face masks, the Newfoundland Distillery’s Fighting Spirit hand sanitizer bottles, and Jaimie Feener’s cross-stitches inspired by the daily provincial updates.
Wolforth said whenever The Rooms opens again, staff will create an exhibition about the pandemic, and how people in Newfoundland and Labrador responded.
Maureen Peters, curator of history at The Rooms, said she notices elements of our collective character in some of what’s already been created.
“In all the darkness, what we have is the humour - we have the Newfoundland resilience and humour in dealing with these situations. I think that a lot of that is coming out in the material culture that is being produced,” said Peters.
She said she spent about four years of her career at The Rooms working on the First World War exhibit, and at that time realized the collections didn’t support the grassroots kind of exhibit they wanted to create.
“Which sent us on this big collection journey across Newfoundland and Labrador, and that was kind of at the time, like, yeah, we’ve really got to get on top of this - we’ve got to start collecting during events as opposed to after events.”
To that end, Wolforth has already contacted Feener about collecting some of her embroidery pieces.
Cross-stitcher ‘choked up’ by Rooms request
“When I got the email from The Rooms inquiring about it, I got choked up,” Feener said.
She said she’s overwhelmed by the response to her work, and her sales have skyrocketed.
“I’m really happy people are enjoying them, and that it’s creating something light in their day during a really heavy time.”
For Feener and her family, the cross-stitches are also helping them do the same. She said her sister, nephew and brother-in-law live in New York City where the COVID-19 crisis has really taken hold.
“It’s definitely a very stressful time for our family.”
However, she said her work - and the public’s reaction to it - has been a welcome distraction, “and a way of connecting with people during this time.”
The 31-year-old St. John’s resident said she’s been embroidering for about four years, and is self-taught.
Her first COVID-19 creation came to her while she was on the phone with her mother, and they were both listening to the teleconference together.
“Dr. (John) Haggie had mentioned about bursting people’s bubbles, and then me and my Mom started laughing about the shopping cart quote he said the day before. And I said, ‘Mom, that makes an amazing - I gotta go.’
“She’s like, ‘What? What are you doing?’
“I was like, ‘I gotta embroider it - I’ll send you a picture.’
“So, I sat down and just mocked it up. And at first Mom was like, ‘Maybe ask a friend first, you know, you don’t want to upset Dr. Haggie.’”
As it turned out, Haggie himself showed an appreciation for Feener’s work - even sharing on social media a photo of himself holding one of her creations that featured his quote, "Please don't let them lick the handle of the shopping cart."
While this is one of the more public stories to come out of the pandemic in the province, The Rooms curators are especially keen on stories of how people are handling this crisis in their own homes.
“Don’t feel like you shouldn’t contact us because you don’t feel like your story is interesting enough, or important enough, because they’re all interesting, and they’re all important stories,” said Peters.
“Well if you see the way they are delivered to my house it’s certainly a true no contact delivery, they are launched in the air & land on the step”@Johnrockdoc— Jaimie Feener (@Jaimiefeener) April 6, 2020
My 1st job I was a paper girl with over 300 papers & 12 streets. There were definitely days I did the roll & launch 😂 pic.twitter.com/DMZKVRnEpx