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Many ‘curiosities’ collected by Red Deerians are displayed at the Red Deer museum

This 50th anniversary display is on until Nov. 30
A gun rack made with deer hooves, at the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/ Advocate staff).

A gun rack made with rows of deer-hoove hooks.

A taxidermied seal with claws and embroidered eyes.

An octopus-like hair-perming machine with electric cables running to people’s heads.

The Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery has opened its Cabinet of Curiosities for its 50th anniversary — and some of the items on display have a distinctly Halloween-ish appeal.

Author L.P. Hartley’s observation that “the past is a foreign country” is exemplified by many of the little-before-seen artifacts in this show.

These include a row of hollow-eyed plaster mannequin heads, presumably once used for 1950s hat displays.

This museum show is titled At First Glance: Collecting Over the Years, and it runs until Nov. 30. A second 50th anniversary installment, Upon Further Reflection will open on Dec. 15.

The museum’s marketing co-ordinator Karli Kendall said the idea was to bring some items out of the museum’s collection of 80,000 that haven’t had much exposure, and that show how the city has grown and changed over the years.

Many artifacts in this first show came out of personal collections — including salt and pepper shakers, arrowheads, art, and even special garments. “People like to collect things. Humans are collectors,” said Kendall.

The museum has one of the largest textile collections in Western Canada, with 15,000 artifacts. “We wanted to show everyday work wear, as well as fashionable clothes,” she added.

A red velvet gown from 1910 and men’s top hat and frock coat from 1922 — both looking rather Edgar Allan Poe-ish — are in this museum display. They stand next to an Iranian wedding gown from 1969, an Austrian dirndl skirt, an ABBA-inspired satin/crushed velvet ensemble worn by local singers the Waska-Sues (likely in the 1970s), and fairly modern yoga wear.

Across the aisle is an Indigenous dress decorated with rows of elk’s teeth.

On the back wall is a wooden gun rack features hooks made of deer hooves. Today’s observers might cringe at this use of animal parts, but Kendall said the gun rack, as well as a nearby wooden model of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, are examples of men’s hobby in the 20th century — perhaps made during long central Alberta winters.

These are displayed as pieces of folk art and craft — as is a taxidermied seal with embroidered eyes.

Kendall noted the museum has a large Inuit art collection that was partly donated by residents who went up north to work and brought these items back with them.

Turning 50 is a very exciting time for Red Deer museum, which was founded in 1972, said Kendall. This anniversary exhibit — which also includes a stuffed great-horned owl and other birds originally held by an earlier museum in downtown Red Deer — is meant to provide tangible snapshots of the past.

The show’s second phase, which starts in December, will focus more on who donated various artifacts to the museum, said Kendall. “It will show how we’ve collected, focus on the stories and activism, and highlight donors.”

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Mannequin heads from the 1950s, at the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/ Advocate staff).
A stuffed seal, with embroidered eyes, at the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/ Advocate staff).