The ATA archives is home to several unique items, including this tapestry entitled Rogues’ Gallery that was used for decades to record the executive members of the Association’s Fine Arts Council.
Quirky tapestry a cherished archival record
|Leading up to its official 100th anniversary in June 2018, the Alberta Teachers’ Association is celebrating its history through a number of initiatives, one of which is this column. Curated by archivist Maggie Shane and appearing in each issue of the ATA News this year, this column will feature significant moments and individuals in the Association’s history as well as interesting artifacts or documents from the Association’s archives.
Archivists and records managers will tell you that the content of a record is paramount to its format. Put differently, it matters not whether the text appears on paper, papyrus, bubble-gum wrapper or coconut shell, it’s the text that matters. Novel approaches to record keeping can pose interesting and often delightful challenges for archivists.
So goes the matter with the Alberta Teachers’ Association’s Fine Arts Council, which for decades (from 1963 to 1992) recorded the names of its executives upon a tapestry entitled Rogues’ Gallery. Although the term sounds deliciously Shakespearean, the cheeky humour associated with this wonderful tapestry trends a bit darker. In 1885, Allan Pinkerton, famous founder of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, collected criminals’ photographs in a single location for display to the public so that shady characters could be easily spotted and reported to police. The display came to be known as the rogues’ gallery.
Later, in the 1960s, comic book writers borrowed the term to describe a dread fraternity of recurring villains who regularly menaced humanity and challenged an ever-expanding universe of superheroes to thwart their dastardly plans. You will have to decide, gentle reader, which definition applies to the talented and dedicated fine arts teachers listed upon this artifact.
For archivists, maintaining textiles, especially those which preserve textual information, is a tricky business. It requires correct levels of low humidity, protection from the sun and other sources of UV light, and safeguarding against invasive insects that would feast upon the fibres. Cleaning, in the conventional sense, is usually out of the question, and display decisions have to be made with an eye to ensuring the artifact has the best chance of enduring as long as possible. The ATA archives cherishes Rogues’ Gallery and is grateful to the Fine Arts Council for depositing it into our care. ❚