He Named Her Amber - The Archeologist's View
Public input to an ongoing excavation
In Spring 2008, Antropological Services Ontario (ASO) was retained to investigate features in The Grange, one of Canada's National Historic Sites. Guided by a crude map, we were indeed able to determine that a series of small, hand-crafted artefacts had been concelaled in the matrix of the hous, presumably by on Mary O'Shea, then a maid to the Boltoun family who resided in The Grange.
Since the Art Gallery of Ontario was undergoing extensive renovations and The Grange was closed to the public, excavation progressed quickly over several months. However it was jointly decided in August 2008 to suspend our operations beginning Novemebr 2008, and allow guided public access to the site, in paralell with the reopening of the AGO after a major restauration. We felt that the small risk of disturbance of the site was more than offset by the opportunity to raise public awareness for the history of the house and the city.
More than sixteen thousand visitors have experienced the site in person between November 14. 2008 and June 26. 2010. This phase of public access to the excavation has now been concluded as scheduled. My gratitude goes to my entire team of tour guides, whose outstanding efforts have made this participatory engagement possible. My gratitude also goes to those uncounted visitors who have contributed detailed insight into Toronto's history, Irish customs and practical aspects of a servants life in the mid-nineteenth century to our project.
Chantal C. Lee, PhD (이찬경),
Site coordinator - The Grange,
for Anthropological Services Ontario
Tour Guides Experiences
2008/01/29 (A. R.)
[...] Although, personally I don't see why people would let it get to the point of screaming obscenities...I feel that we should ensure everyone on the tours knows the truth.
I've now been telling friends about the project (who took the tour) and I find that the whole installation has much more of a lasting effect on people, once they realise that the whole Amber story was fictional...
2008/02/14 (A. A.)
Excellent day! The first tour was a group of kids who had done the tour five or six times and were lovely. They kep asking to be taken to the next x on the map. I did a total of four tours. The queue to see Tut was so long that people kept wandering in!
2008/11/12 (W. N.)
[...] The woman was on one of my tours on Sunday -- and I must confess that SHE made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up...
She was so sure she could feel Amber's energy in the kitchen... She even wondered if Amber might have been murdered by "powers" because of what she could intuit... [Shades of Da Vinci's code indeed!]
That group [about ten people], btw, was so engaged -- and so caught up in the mystery of Amber. One of the women even wrote in the guestbook [and I paraphrase]: "I won't sleep tonight for thinking about what happened to Amber!"[...]
2008/11/26 (W. N.)
[...]The emotional response from visitors during the tours I've given has been amazing -- and many want to stay and talk afterward. [By the time they leave "Amber's workshop" they're totally hooked...!] A number of people have also indicated that they'd like to come back in a few weeks, to see what else has been uncovered. Amber's story has clearly touched people in a very powerful way. Several visitors have even speculated that perhaps Amber buried a stillborn baby on The Grange property, and that's why she stayed with the Boulton family for so many years.
Amber definitely has already cast a spell on people in Toronto [I'm sure some may even attempt to research her on the internet!]. Are there plans for a temporary exhibition -- with her "story" -- once the excavation is over?
At the end of each shift, I feel this strange combination of soaring energy and a little sadness... [...]
2008/11/29 (C. S.)
in my opinion the guides are also part of the artwork just as actors are part of the art of acting. Tell an actor that they are not artists and see how they respond. Art is not just paint and paper. I see the guides as perhaps performance artists. The Amber story is a complex piece of art. Read the comments and you also see that the public have in a way become part of the art work as well. It is brilliant. The Amber project is an artwork that evolves and grows over time. It is taking on dimensions that go beyond where we thought it would.
This work has far exceeded expectations.
When you are visiting an art gallery you should expect the unexpected. Life and the world is not black and white. An artist just is and should never justify their work. As I see it, all of the dialogue is a plus for everyone at the AGO. The Globe article was perfect and I think now the project will be bigger than we expected.
2008/11/29 (M. G.)
I don't need to write a huge red letter L across my forehead for Liar. Unless they ask if it is an installation by Iris, should we tell them?
I felt that we, the tour guides, are part of the installation. -- and so are the viewers. They are more involved in the tour that just viewing -- invited to take the flash light and discover, tell me what they see, invited to send Dr. Lee their theories about Amber.
I enjoy their connections to Amber's story with their experiences of immigration, customs and beliefs about death, witchcraft. Other will tell me that their ancestors came from Ireland and they talk about genocide. Some people have just asked if it was art. I ask them whether their scrapbooking, photographic recording of events in their lives or internet blogging is art -- for an audience or just private pleasure.
2008/11/29 (W. N.)
[...]One further comment... When we, as fledgling narrative guides, took our first tour of the excavation, we all believed in Amber. And we still do -- particularly when we're telling her story to each new group of visitors.
You've created a powerful world within the walls of The Grange -- and you've brought a moving story to life. I felt that first Saturday morning with you in The Grange the way I felt when I watched the first instalment of The Lord of the Rings at the Varsity cinema. I "suspended disbelief" and allowed myself to enter the world of the story.... And when it was over, Amber's world -- and Frodo's -- felt "more real" than the world to which I was reluctantly returning. [...]
2008/12/03 (A. A.)
Hi everyone! I’m a little behind on the debate after a week away from the computer screen (migraine – don’t ask!) and I’m looking forward to getting back up to speed with the decisions about group numbers, times and decisions (I think that means you, Diane!). I would like to add on to the many wonderful responses to the Globe & Mail article and the public reaction.
Ms. Milroy’s article was extraordinarily well done, considering that she was the one member of the press charged with the task of covering Amber in the media and knowing her and our secrets without blowing our cover, and with the exception of You need to know that this story is designed to confound you, which made me gasp and grin, I think that she did just that. The increased numbers are I think a clear indicator of just how effective that article was. I’m glad that there was someone in the press to plant that seed on our behalf and get the public excited about what Iris has entrusted us to do, which I think is bringing the Grange to life like never before. The whole Amber installation is just about the most original means of breathing new life into the Grange estate and ensuring that this little corner of the transformed AGO is getting the attention that it deserves. It’s no small feat considering the number of Google alerts I’ve read in the last month that mention the AGO, Frank Gehry and the transformation, but nothing of the Grange and Amber. The only alternative to this massive undertaking that could have been considered to get the Grange this deserved attention might have been to engineer new ghost sightings, although Amber in its own way is a bit like setting a ghost free in the house anyway! I have to say that this is lending the Grange a touch of the gothic that I don’t think it has ever enjoyed – and what is an old mansion without a bit of gothic?! As part of my preparation I’ve troubleshooted and speculated some of the questions and comments I might have to tackle and answer eloquently in my tours. I hope that I’m ready for everything from the ambivalent visitor who might smell an installation in all of this to the hostile response of "how could you do this to the Grange” which I’ve heard twice now. I always keep those AGO comment cards at the ready with the escape clause of "tell Matthew Teitelbaum” before making a run with the rest of my tour. But I think that I’m quite ready for questions from every end of that spectrum. I always worry that someone who speaks up with information or speculation that will break the narrative, blow our cover as performance artists and this as installation art, will taint the rest of the group and thoroughly ruin the experience for everyone else in it. Can I suggest that whoever is not leading the tour be ready to field questions from visitors who are not cooperating by staying quiet? All this would mean that whoever is left behind in the foyer of the Grange needs to be prepared for someone’s questions or comments while their partner remains in character and true to the narrative while in the library.
Now to how it might be handled. I’ve twice given the comment cards and pens and retreated, but assuming that we get asked questions about the project that we have to answer that are true to the narrative, I realise that there might have to be some difference between what I think, how I feel and what I say. What I always remember is that Amber is Art with a capital A. Amber’s pieces of Art Brut are as vital a part of bringing the Grange to life as the many pieces of furniture, fabric, carpeting and fixtures that were installed in the Grange in the last hundred years to retrofit the space to seem true to the period. I find it very comforting to keep in mind that there are only seven artifacts that are of the Grange, true to the Grange and from the house’s Boulton years. Amber’s pieces are no less important than that staircase that some assume is authentic or the ballroom furniture that we have been criticised for stowing.
Iris please forgive the following analogy…a friend of mine was once an actor hired at Walt Disney World in Florida to play the part of Cinderella’s Prince Charming for several hours per day. I was fascinated by the stories he told of other actors dressed up as either real life counterparts, or those hidden inside rubberized costumes as Disney cartoon characters. Decades of research had told them that it was important to never step out of character, without exception. Cinderella couldn’t stub her toe and swear and her Prince couldn’t be seen behind buildings smoking – both of which could get you fired. Disney policy was that as soon as an employee donned their costume, gear and left the dressing rooms, they were expected to be in character, speak in character and be addressed as "Your Highness” or "Goofy” even before leaving the employees area. I think there might be something to learn here for us – we are a pretty important part of bringing Amber to life and I hate to think that stepping out of character to appease one visitor incapable of learning something by suspending disbelief is going to break the spell, but won’t it? Can we ask them to wait behind? Send them to the foyer to wait for a form and pen, or at least to save their questions for the end or a private conversation?
2008/12/03 (A. R.)
About the point Antonio raised in dealing with people who may suspect the project to be an installation...I think its pretty simple. All we have to do is remember our role...the NARRATIVE GUIDE. I haven't encountered a doubting thomas in one of my tours yet, but I feel all that needs to be said in such a situation is this: "Well, this is the story I was told, when I was given the tour. Its up to you to believe what you will". I don't thing the potential doubter will press on with their questions after this, since we've just told them, that we don't know for sure whether the story is true or not. This puts the ball in the doubters court...and lets us move on with the narrative.
And yes, for details about Amber or other parts of the story...I encourage folks to contact Chantel and/or leave their email addy in the guest book.
2008/12/03 (G. Y.)
[...] I've had quite a few history buffs who know the period and are interested in how it relates to other research. One individual is planning to contact Dr. Lee to see if Dr. Lee might want to hire her onto the project as a researcher, since she has just completed work on the Toronto Historical Project. In fact, she plans to encourage Nancy Lang and David Crombie who lead that project to take the Grange tour. I think that may be a "heads up".
I have not had any skeptics or at least none that vocalized it. But people have asked if the articles in the hidden chamber are items that were found as is or whether they are artifacts. I have said that I think that it is the way it was found, but I would ask Dr. Lee and would encourage them to contact her. A number of people have taken business cards. I may begin to adopt my partner Sophia's approach and introduce this as "the story of Amber". Sophie showed me the hidden safe across from the Library. I try to make sure that the container in the Larder is kept on the box, to protect the artifact. Today I forgot to put the top back on and was reminded by one of the tour participants. There was a lot of discussion today about similarities to the story of Susannah Moodie, who is the subject of Margaret Atwood's novel "Alias Grace". [...]
2008/12/04 (M. G.)
[...] In the library most people quite understand that I told them "No touching." I asked the last person down the stairs to shut "the trick door" behind them if I don't do it myself. I can tell them to go down the stairs and stay in the corridor on the left until I get down. The problem is when we are in the kitchens. Some people tend to try and wander around into other rooms while I am talking. This happens with larger groups. I just don't want anyone getting hurt or damaging equipment, artifacts; stealing small items etc. I have had to hurry a few people out of Chantal's office are well. In the pantry, one man (a wanderer type) took the light off the wall (which could be hot) and stuck almost his entire upper torso through the hole before I could say boo. I do offer the flashlight for people to look around in the hole.
Should I make it a point to tell the group to stay together? I have tried to make it understood that it is an agreement between the AGO and ASO to let people tour when they are not working there and we can't abuse that priveledge. Plus Chantal's office -- well it is someone's office. "I don't think Chantal will mind but then Chantal might come back soon." Of course people have mentioned that there is no washroom in the building -- where does Chantal shower? I don't feel in control when they are touching her books, items on her desk and want to sit on her bed. If Iris and Jenny don't mind, I would feel better. There are limits, that people are not respecting the installation and their own safety and that of others.
2008/12/05 (C. S.)
Guess it is the time for stories.
A past Granger who is still active in the AGO told me about a time when she was working in the 1817 Kitchen. A visitor came in and said she was psychic and could sense the spirit of a girl named Mary down there. She told the volunteer she felt her most where there secret room now is.
2008/12/06 (A. A.)
Maybe she's the model in period costume doing the striptease for the camera :-)
On a similar note, I gave a Korean colleague the tour tonight and she is dying to meet Chantal, based on her penmanship and grammar in Korean. Apparently she could tell that Chantal was very well educated in Korea!
2008/12/09 (C. S.)
On Sunday when I was doing some of the tours the consensus was either Amber / Mary was into a Celtic religion / superstition or she was looney toones.
We forget that it was common to collect hair and save it .
How many of us had our baby shoes bronzed? Actually, mine were not. I am the third child so by then there was a new hobby! When I lived in Germany the hunters collected Boars' teeth as trophies. I have a pendant carved out of a jaw bone. In the future how many of our art works, hobbies etc will people question.
Imagine if she had lived 150-160 years later? Amber/ Mary might have been considered another Iris Haeussler!
2008/12/15 (A. R.)
[...] It was also great talking about writing and storytelling. Yes Mr. Egoyan did show up on my tour...but I didn't make a big deal or anything. Quite the privilege! It was a fun tour with a good group of people, and my friend too.[...]
2008/12/30 (C. S.)
[...] When Rebecca Belmore "slept" in the bed in the Best Bedroom it was "Performance Art". Even tho' she didn't actually live at The Grange you could also argue she was "deceiving" the public by having them think she did.
When we wore costumes were we not "deceiving" the public by "pretending" to be housemaids?
I guess it just depends on your point of view and what you define as "ART".
Having done both (Historical Interpreting and the Tours for this), "Amber" is much nicer and easier. The interaction with public is much greater and more interesting. . The Interpreters were becoming bored (especially just before we closed). [...]
2009/01/06 (A. S.)
Last week Carol and Kim asked me to send out my notes from my "Victorian Material Culture" class that I often refer to during my tours. Below I have pasted the lecture that I find is the most pertinent to the Grange tour, in terms of background information. Please keep in mind however, this is dealing with England during the Victorian period, not the colonies. As such some of these topics are more applicable to the Canadian situation than others. Although the upper classes of the British colonies would try to keep up with the trends that are mentioned within my notes, there are differences in terms of environment, class relations, and the degree to which certain Victorian trends prevailed in the colonies.
I also apologize in advance for the state of the notes, they were written as the lecture went on so the grammar is probably terrible and there are probably abbreviations or slang(I don't really remember because I haven't read them since December.)
If anyone wishes me to post some of my other lectures here are the various topics, some are not really useful at all in terms of Canadian history, but if someone has a deep passion for one of these topics and just wants to read them just send an email:
- The Great Exhibition
- Domestic Technology
- Baths and Bathing
- Department Stores
- The Parlor
- Patent Medicines
- Drink and Alcohol
- Soap and Water
Now, on to the lecture. Please enjoy, Prof. Ferris is one of the best lecturers I have ever had the pleasure of hearing.
Country Houses Oct. 21, 2008. Given by Prof. Ferris at the University of Toronto
Victorian Material Culture; Oct. 21, 2008.
The country house
-the particularly well off
Thursday is parlors and slums the less well off.
Def: Country house//: the home of the wealthy in Britain, located in rural Britain, home of the wealthiest in British society. There are different kinds of country houses as was the best of society social stratification ever presence. Not in terms just of size and level of ornamentation but difference between country house and a house in the country. Country house was the centre piece of a large landed estate, vast tracts of land and farmland rented out to tenants by land owners. Pinnacle of society is those able to live simply of the rent of tenants. In contrast a house in the country might be just as grand and opulent didn’t have the same size of landed estates, some hobby farm maybe gardens and parks, but not enough land for rent to maintain. Other incomes necessary. Other sources would be various investments commercial and industrial. Both kinds of houses we discuss today but keep this distinction in mind.
Who lived in these houses?
The rural elite, the pinnacle of rural society. The traditional rural elite was landed aristocracy and gentry owned the largest landed estates, the country houses was where they lived and the centre of their social and political power. Could have been in the family for centuries, till William the conqueror. Backbone at a national and local level. Continues into the nineteenth c. the IR served to increase the wealth of these aristocrats. Some estates developed into coal mines. Railways, industry, IR had also resulted n the rise of a new wealthy class the upper middle class. Urban men invested in factories and commercial and profited immensely. Many of these new rich sought to turn their wealth to acquire social prestige and standing that traditional aristocrats had. So by a house in the country by land ,try to turn themselves into traditional aristocrats. Tended to by houses in the country big houses smaller estates they didn’t need rent from farms for maintenance already making money from investments.
19th c movement of some members of the upper-class into the country to where the traditional home of the landed aristocracy.
1 the upper middle class, new wealthy didn’t want to overthrow the aristocracy, they wanted to emulate them.
2 showed the extent to which middle class values were permeating the social hierarchy and everything, they were everywhere.
Triumph of Domesticity among landed aristocracy
18th c into early 19th c, focused on conspicuous consumption. Show off wealth with ornate stuff and parties. Showing good taste their wealth social standing.
19th c focus shifted on domesticity; modesty, chastity, seriousness, divide between men and women, settled. Increasing influence of religion particularly evangelicalism among the landed aristocracy.
Other influence they were self consciously adopting domesticity the central value system of the modern middle class. Prior to the 19th c many aristocrats had been criticised by middle class for lavish tastes and expenditures. Questioning the need for aristocracy. In order to stave off criticism the aristocracy adopted the ideals of the middle class to demonstrate their usefulness? Defensive move.
With the aristocracy emphasizing domesticity, home life became paramount. Wanted settled secure home life. Needed to have their privacy to enjoy comfort of home life. The privacy needed by family governed relationship with servants, servants only to be seen when needed otherwise kept out of sight. Movements within house itself as unseen as possible diff passageways.
-sometimes ridiculous lengths. Duke of Portland, would fire any servant he actually saw.
-guest house in Suffolk had to turn and face the wall if anyone walked in.
These cases were extreme but reflected more common sentiment, of the two spheres of communities. That only interact as rarely as possible.
Related to the value of privacy, hierarchy. Aristocrats at the top, wanted to reinforce this even if subtly. One aspect was the elaborate code of behaviour for the aristocracy; what to wear on occasions, how to address others, rituals of morning calls of 15 min visits to other country houses and leaving cards. Defensive rite of passage only people who were true members of the landed aristocracy felt they could really understand this code of behaviour, violating any part made clear that that person did not belong as part of the landed aristocracy.
The aristocracy adopted most values of domesticity still valued their leisure time. Not because they liked leisure activities. But it was a way to mark themselves as superior to other aspects of society. Because they could live off the rent of landed estates they didn’t have to do work didn’t have to watch investments nothing. Could do leisure activities. Differentiating themselves from others.
Construction, design, operation.
Thought the Victorian period there was a steady rate of construction of new houses, slight dip in rate in the 1880’s because of agricultural depression but recovered by the end.
Approx 600 new country houses built over the course of the 19th c. Percentage of those built by the new rich increases. In addition to new houses built from scratch, there was a lot of significant remodelling of those existing. Allowing them to keep up with modern conveniences like indoor plumbing. More generally taken by the landed aristocracy to demonstrate they could keep up with modern trends, in architecture.
Stating that the family was coming into increased wealth. Duke of Westminster, the richest man in Britain, owned large tracts of land in London, land developed, enormous rents for this land, plimico play fair other places in London. Completely reconstructed Eaton hall, 600 000 pounds. Vast sum of money. One reason he under took this is to change the style of the house. The house had been remodelled in the beginning of the 19th c in lavish style. Wanted a more suitable styled house for late 19th c. Remodelling now being undertaken by professional architects. Prior to the 19th c many aristocrats involved in the design. But now people who were trained were designing them.
The design of the Victorian country house
Classical style, porticoes, shams etc became very unpopular; arrogant and extravagant. The Gothic style became increasingly popular; Tudor or Elizabethan, more traditional rustic in line with traditional country gentlemen. More modest more understated in their wealth. Also became associated with Christianity seen as more pious. Allowed owners to emphasise their piousness to others.
Few elements to emphasise statue; single large tower not with fortifications, but subtle reminder that the owners were at the top of the social hierarchy.
Interiors; comparable to intricate machines. Complicated because there was a lot that had to be done in these houses. Dozens and dozens of servants. Different works for work, for school, nursery, husband, wife, chapel. Etc. designed to operate at max efficiency.
Allow the house to function reasonably well so the floor plan divided into discreet divisions the most general were parts for family those for guests most for servants. Specific areas for young children, divisions between diff types of servants upper and lower. These divisions reflected general belief that it would disrupt the private life of family if these groups were in contact. Only interacted at designated times. Guests as well as children. Deemed vital that in every country house there be private domains for people to retire to as exclusive domain.
Main meals served in at least five diff locations; dining room, schoolroom, nursery, servants hall…
High tea separate room, Separate breakfast room.
-is a critical aspect. Areas just for men and just for women
The mistress would have her boudoir to work in
Man would have study
Drawing room for guests for women
Library for men
In some cases entire wings for entire genders.
This gender division also enforced on guests. Bachelor guests sleep away from unmarried women to avoid intermingling of genders.
All of the rooms for servants to work live and eat is in separate wing of the house. Their own wing. Servants only need to enter the rest of the house when they needed to I they were summoned, serving meals. Otherwise out of sight. Reflected divisions in rest of house.
Servants wing four zones; the butlers, cooks, housekeepers, maids.
Butler entirely male others entirely female. Except maybe a head chef male.
Different staircases for female workers and male.
7run of the mill servants eat in the servants hall, and upper servants in a different place.
Gender and hierarchical divisions reflected among servants even though they were there all to serve the family itself.
Role of technology in new country houses
-ambivalent attitude to new tech in the 19th c
-some embraced, eager to show as innovative
-general unease amongst the aristocracy towards it, part because tech and new devices was a destabilizing device in society, allowed for new jobs and relationships and so forth
-aristocracy was supposed to maintain as it was
-comforts allowed by new tech was seen as to be avoided, didn’t want to seem to eager for these new creature comforts; modesty. Don’t want to seem to flamboyant.
-to be described as luxurious was bad. don’t want to seem like that.
-excessive comfort and new tech that allowed for them was vulgar. American trait not something for the more laid back reserved British upper class.
-this particularly important for the upper middle class, buying and renovating new country houses. Those upper middle class that deck their houses out with new stuff, just signal to others that they didn’t fit in they didn’t know how to use their money.
Overall most country houses quick to adopt indoor plumbing.
-another country house Whitehurst had a bathroom for each suite
-most had boiler central, but some places each suite would have it’s own boiler
-these are out in rural society no municipal plumbing to hook up to, make their own self contained plumbing system, large water tank, source of water, keeping water tank elevated to create water pressure for the country house. Water tank often incorporated into the tower. Makes pressure. For lighting many country houses continued to prefer candles over gas. To reinforce social status. More prosaic economic argument.
They couldn’t connect themselves to a municipal gas system. So if you wanted gas lighting you’d have to make your own gas system. Substantial additional expense some willing to do this others decided to forgo it candles worked well enough damn it.
Electricity came to the country house in the 1880’s
Sir William Armstrong’s house was the first. Swan electric lamps in 1880. He was first.
1 was hat fields home of lord Salisbury, future prime min of Britain.
Roasting and other types of cooking done over open fires. Smells generated were a concern for Victorians. In line with divisions and privacy. Wanted such smells separate from family
Kitchen kept far away from every where else, far from dining. Own ventilation. Corridors connecting dining and so on several bends to keep smells in check.
Reasonable concern food would get cold so install hotplates just outside dining room to reheat food. Kitchens full of equipment needed to make food items. Stoves, hotplates, spits, etc. Proud of kitchens. New tech WAS useful. Not a coincidence that the one room in the servants wing that we most often have photos of by the owners was the kitchen.
Servants bells in country houses
For centuries customary to ring a small bell to summon a servant the draw back was that the servants had to be within earshot to hear the bell. This began to change by the end of the 18th c, bells soon hooked up to ropes so bell in the next room would ring. Became ever more complex. Wires and cranks flowing through whole house. Elaborate bell system with central bell board. Central area in servants wing. Anywhere in the house a bell associated with that room would ring. Allowed them to summon a servant whenever they wanted. But it also meant servants didn’t have to remain within earshot. Widened gap between servants and families to ensure privacy.
Leisure activities; smoking room and hunting
Early 19th c smoking seen as undesirable dirty not in polite company. One owner made any guest who wished to smoke do it in the kitchen.
Increased in popularity due much to royal figures prince Albert and the future king Edward the something being avid smokers. So particular rooms were designated for smoking.
Only men would be going to smoke, no dignified self respecting woman of the landed aristocracy would be caught dead smoking. So completely male domain.
Had smoking jackets, have a drink. Could discuss things too delicate for women politics etc.
Area for bachelors revel in friendship comradeship for me.
Reflected the extreme gender divisions in the society.
Associated with aristocracy for centuries.
Grievances that peasants couldn’t hunt for food so that aristocracy could hunt for sport
Remained popular in Britain
Became increasingly elaborate ritual; whole groups going out, for several days, particular areas kept wild to act as habitats. Most common animals hunted would be birds; grouse, pheasants, etc.
Hunting lodges, where the parties could stay for several days. Such hunts could be massive undertakings.
Eaton hall, 1880’s 4000 pheasants or so killed. Massive undertakings lead to massive kills. Such hunts were central social activates for landed elite. Associate show off hunting skills. Also their friendships.
Precedence over political function
-vote on a key built had to be scheduled to work around hunting.
Reaffirming their place in the top of the social hierarchy like for centuries before.
Ability to hold a successful hunt is a marker of social status. Need thousands of acres for a successful hunt. Only the old rich had the sort of land that would allow for these hunts. The estates purchased by new rich didn’t have the same amount of land attached. To hold a hunt if you’re new rich you’d have to borrow a neighbouring aristocrat’s land.
Observations on the decline of the Victorian country house
End of the 19th into 20th c the country house and it’s culture entered into a gradual but terminal decline
1 1870’s -80’s agricultural depression, rents declined up to a third. Financial situation became constrained. Didn’t have the same wealthy.
2 more and more middle class men getting into politics, and rising. Herbert Asmith 1908 first PM not o own a country house.
3 WWI devastated . Many heirs were sent over seas and slaughtered. So some families died out. Many of the best and brightest lost.
4 as govt increased social spending one of the most common ways of doing this was death duties. When someone died you evaluate stuff and pay tax. Number of cases where someone would die and heirs sell off everything to pay off taxes. 80% death duty in one case.
Chastworth house opened to the public in perpetuity to keep it.
After the war many of these landed estates got broken up and sold sometimes demolished closed entirely, transferred to govt as heritage estates. even though some aristocrats retain their traditional title the way of life had disappeared. Time of the country house had disappeared.
2009/01/11 (W. N.)
Hi, Everyone. At the end of my last tour of the day on Thursday [Jan 8], an older woman from the group came up to me and mentioned that she recognized one of the items in the laundry room -- the pink hot water bottle that's on the table to the right of the cutout "window." She remembered an aunt in England who used a similar one many years ago.
The woman suggested that if Chantal could date the water bottle, she might be able to zero in on how long after 1857 [and Henry's departure] Mary O'Shea stayed at The Grange.
I, of course, encouraged her to email Chantal. I also did a quick Google search, with limited success. Most ceramic hot water bottles date to the early 1900s....
2009/01/15 (J. L.)
[...] One man observed that on the circular stairway that the railings were not all wood and wondered why. One lady thought that a book should be written and maybe Margaret Atwood should be approached. [...]
2009/01/15 (K. O.)
Well, Molly and I had a really fun night last night. Our final tour had a middle aged couple and a student from U of T on it. We could tell that the woman was getting upset by the display, and kept asking more and more strongly if Chantal was licensed. She was very sceptical throuout the tour but didn't say anything directly. At the end of the tour, the man said to us, "well, that was a really good story, but I don't believe a word of it", his wife agreed. We probed a bit, and as it turned out, he is a licensed archaeologist in Toronto, and his wife is a practicing Anthropologist! The U of T student is doing his MA in art, and then said "Yes, it reminds me of the work of Iris Haeussler". Well...at that point, we had to tell them. As the press conference is tomorrow, we swore them to secrecy, but we had a wonderful 30 minute chat about the project, archaeology and the history of Toronto.
It was definitely the best tour yet! ...looking forward to how things will go in the near future...!
2009/01/16 (C. S.)
Bravo, obviously this has to be one of the most interesting things that The Grange and the AGO have seen in a long time (Transformation aside). It seems as if this exhibit has brought Art, Science and History into one. It will be interesting to see what the media will do with the new information about the House
2009/01/16 (K. O.)
Well, the experts both thought the story was believeable, and were amazed at the depth and detail of the whole installation. Everyone also agreed that it was a wonderful learning experience, especially in terms of getting a view of the world of the "downstairs" employees, the difficulty of life for new immigrants, and the overall hardships someone like Mary would have experienced.
All in all, they were quite impressed.
2009/01/18 (W. N.)
Busy afternoon at The Grange today. I arrived about 11:45 and, luckily, the snowstorm had slowed everyone down [no sign-ups for the first tour of the day - whew!]. I gave two tours back to back, then cancelled the 2:30 to get a break. Also had to turn guests away. Did the last two tours back to back [but 4:30 was small, with only 4 on the tour].
Lots of interest, and lots of interesting guests - including writer Wayson Choy [who was so captivated by Amber's story that he brought back some friends for a later tour]. Also a doc filmmaker, who took lots of notes and said he'd contact ASO.
Chantal, looks like you'll be getting some emails!
2009/01/26 (W. N.)
Hello, Everyone. I saw The Toronto Star "reveal" article last Thursday [Jan 22], just before going on shift with [K. A.]. It was a quiet day overall [save for the large ESL group Kim handled, with considerable grace!] - but everyone who took the tours remained enthralled.
One of the Members Lounge staff mentioned that The Post had also done an article that day. I couldn't find anything on line. Did anyone else?
I also received an email yesterday from Gil Adamson, a writer who did the tour several weeks ago with a Boulton descendent. Sounds like she received the email from you, Iris, because she wrote:
It's an art hoax. Too bad. Did they swear you to secrecy?
I'd be very interested to hear how tours this past weekend unfolded.... and what the numbers were like. [...]
2009/01/29 (M. U.)
Hello dear (G)Rangers,
I have not, during our current shifts on Wednesday, encountered anyone who "knows". So I did our thing as we were trained ... I do not see a reason to change a thing. Must say that I am looking forward to a "confrontation" as a challenge to our skills as presenters and as a new experience as part of the piece.
I am sorry for the tension and nerves that the situation has created in Sophie's case ... but you cannot control people's opinions, attitude and emotions ... I also consider that every reaction (no matter its nature and configuration) is part of the piece ... remember Iris said "tri-dimensional installation" and I am certain that she did not only mean geometrical notation X,Y,Z ... she meant emotional, spacial, temporal.
Of course we all enjoy the shine in ther eyes when they say at the end of the tour things like "Poor Amber! Lovely talented girl" or "My great-great aunt came over from county Donnegal during the famine" or "Did Chantal ever consider contacting .... who does ... where is her card, I'll email her?" but it also comes (Now) with "You are a bunch of effing crooks!" and "Can you imagine what my friends think of me now, after I sent them to see this fake?" I welcome this! It is part and parcel! What do I actually say here?
I say that this is GOOD ... the piece is causing a reaction (it is supposed to ... it is ART). If it is, occasionally, uncomfortable, ... Yes some emotions/ideas/expressions are ... we will deal with the situations, our own experience will be enhanced, we will come out on the other side richer and better.
This expresses only my opinion and I am twrowing it out to be kicked around ... If there are adjustments to be made to the delivery, I am sure Iris and Jenny will let us know in precise terms as to their nature.
Sorry for the rant ... but I truly feel strongly about this,
2009/01/29 (W. N.)
[...]He Named Her Amber has unleashed many emotions in visitors. And as both Miki and Mary Sue point out, that's a TRIUMPH for any work of art - whether those emotions are negative or positive.
As for an immediate post-tour reveal... I don't agree. Susan's idea [made after the staff meeting] is a brilliant one - that we invite visitors at the end of the tour to visit the ASO site for one last "discovery" about Mary O'Shea. And that's when they learn about yet another dimension of this bold and brilliant artwork.
We can guide people through the Grange Excavation.... But we can't hold their hands as they react.
2009/01/30 (K. O.)
That was such a satisfying response! After reading the letters in the lounge, I was begining to lose hope in people. There are so many Negative Nellies out there. Particularly bothersome to me were the comments which claimed, essentially, that the members of the snobby intellectual art world were trying to pull one over on the "plebians", and "average people". That they feel we are behind the scenes laughing at their excitement is particularly upsetting. I can only hope that upon further reflection they can begin to appreciate the true nature of the project for what it was, and that even for a moment, they were enchanted.
2009/02/03 (C. S.)
[...]Having just finished an orientation session and having read Unleashing Excellence several times (with a Hi-liter) thebehaviour of the Gallery Guides doesn't fit with what the AGO is doing. Then again you cannot force people to read!!! I did correct a staff member yesterday when she called it a "hoax" Other members who have not toured asked me what it was about so I told them to go to the House and find out for themselves. One thing is for sure.... the old "I never knew this house was here" now know where it is!!! We have created a dialogue about Art and that is always good and productive![...]
2009/02/03 (A. R.)
Its just my personal opinion that docents and staff at the AGO have every right to be annoyed in relation to the situation at the grange. I agree that the "Amber" exhibit is blurring the boundries between art, performance and fiction...but the point is alot of people including staff and docents were intentionally deceived.
I think they're probably annoyed because one usually doesn't expect to be deceived, especially at a large scale and prestigious institution such as the AGO.
Personally, I would have had everyone know the truth immediately after the tour ended, but thats not for us volunteers to decide... Just my $0.02 and I hope the Feb 9th meeting goes well too...
2009/02/03 (M. U.)
I feel I must object to the statement from [A. R.]'s email:
"...but the point is a lot of people including staff and docents were intentionally deceived"
I reject the idea that the point was to intentionally deceive. It sounds wrong, it does not reflect what we did and it is not what Iris asked from us. We have created a great story with more layers than immediately met the eye. People with a true understanding of art, people who put ideas before their own ego, people who are clever and sensitive will enjoy the story immensely than will have the shock of the "reveal" and then will discover and enjoy more of the layers. [...]
2009/02/03 (P. L.)
I am so glad to finally hear someone voice how I am feeling about the whole unveiling process.
I do think the installation is absolutely brilliant and I am thrilled to be able to contribute to it by giving tours of it. However, I am beginning to understand a lot better how the volunteers/staff/docents might have felt when they did find out via the staff meeting or even through the press. I don't believe they are upset about the installation itself but more how they were told it was an installation. How would you like to find out about a major event about your place of employment from the newspaper or an outsider instead of your management?
I love [S. R.]'s suggestion of telling visitors to go to the ASO website for further information. It allows the visitor to decide whether or not he/she wants to know more.
That's my 0.02 cents.
2009/02/03 (W. N.)
Hmmmmmmm... Negative backlash from the docents.... It's not like we convinced them to put money into Bernard Madoff's investment fund. Or is that how they see it? An AGO Ponzi scheme: They believed. They told their friends, who also believed. Emotions were invested. But now they find out it's all "a hoax." And they want their money back!!
Methinks there's definitely more to this than meets the eye [no double entendre intended].... Perhaps some of it might have to do with the culture of the docents and the AGO. Why is it that so many of them can't get past the "hoax" part of He Named Her Amber? Has there been a similar staff backlash?
Iris, [N. N.], you, David Moos... have created for the AGO visitor a brilliant, unforgettable, emotionally alive, multi-layered work of art. The "payoff" is there - many, many times over. Why can't the disgruntled docents see that? [...]
2009/02/03 (G. Y.)
Artists reflect their times. We see beautiful sculptures of heroic and religious figures. Are they true reflections of how those individuals looked and the emotions they felt or the interpretations of the artists? Goya painted war in Spain with the feelings and values of his time. Was it as he painted it? Margaret Atwood, an artist of the written word, described life in Ontario reflective of the research she has done and her interpretation of the times and lives of women. She writes novels but give us a glimpse of the history and probable emotions of those times. Iris, created a piece of performance art within the environment of the AGO which combines historical information about both the Baldwin family who lived in the Grange, the type of world that servants would have inhabited and the artistry of the presentation.
We know from recent scientific work, that people retain information when it is presented in a colourful story. The stronger the emotional component of the story, the better the retention. The visitors who attended the tours were truly engaged in the story about Amber, including information about the times in Ireland and Ontario,the significance of the role the Baldwin family played in Ontario and how servants might have been part of the scenario. Through Iris's artistry in terms of visual and "story" art, the Grange came alive for people beyond the historical story.
But previous docents in the Grange have a strong feeling of "ownership" for the story they told visitors, for the art in the AGO as it was...for the entire AGO experience...and it has been changed. Their feelings need to be acknowleded as well as the excitement and interest in the AGO that the Amber story has generated. If the story had been revealed too soon, the impact of the exhibit, the mystery of it and the opportunity for visitors to engage might have been compromised.
Perhaps we need to recount, as Sophie tells visitors, that this is the story of a servant named Mary O'Shea. Her story is as much part of the AGO as the stories told in the works of other artists at the AGO.
Anyway...those are my thoughts.
2009/02/04 (A. A.)
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me about Amber on Friday evening. It's a brilliant piece of work and I share your concern that
1. The public is not swarming to it
2. The press is not covering as much as we'd like
3. The rest of the AGO don't share our enthusiasm
4. There isn't much talk about it on the net (my biggest concern)
I think that the whole thing could do with a touch of what we call "viral marketing" – I do it from time to time. There's a wonderful book by AL Reiss called "The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR" – it's my bible and I wish I could find it to quote right now.
My first suggestion is that you let me "play Chantal" on the net for a few days to see the response, while you monitor. The first thing I would do would be to sign up for the usual social netoworks such as facebook, linkedin, ASW…and we don't even need to start with Chantal's portrait. I could post a few of Amber's creations to see how much interest there is. And I can tell that there is as my net traffic is double what it usually was for this time of year and I'm not currently involved in any scandal or controversy. It must be Amber. Unfortunately, the dialogue has not begun.
Think it over. The other options are of course to either out her as a lesbian or find her rotting corpse and an apron filled with wax under a tree in the Grange's back yard. Lets start with the former, shall we?
Let me know your thoughts!
2009/02/04 (A. R.)
[...] My point was that a good many people: members, visitors(who didn't leave contact info), staff and docents probably DIDN"T /STILL DON'T KNOW about "Amber" being fiction. Honestly, how many people do you believe actually visited the ASO site, before we insisted on it? (On a side note Sue's idea about asking visitors to promise to visit the ASO site is FANTASTIC. This way we have put the ball in the visitor's court and they can't say, "well no one told us")
Miki, I also don't understand how one's perception of the "Amber" piece translates to having good tastes and a thorough understanding of art. I think its a bit presumptuous to accuse people of being egotistical and having bad tastes and being foolish if they don't like the fact that the Grange staff/volunteers didn't actively do more to tell them the truth. You have to realize that "good" and "bad" when it comes to art are subjective perceptions... I have to say, I'd be pretty peeved if I found out the truth, accidentally... esp. if I was a staff/docent at the AGO.
I totally understand that Iris' intentions were good and personally think that its a brilliant and unique form of art. I guess using the word "deception" is a bit harsh, but I feel its the only way to describe the reveal process, or rather the lack thereof....
2009/02/04 (L. B.)
I think that bit about Michelangelo is getting to another level of our work in comparison to some of our critics. I told you this already Iris: We are 3–dimensional story tellers touring a book on tape. I think "how you look at it" here is what can delineate between deception or performance.
... back to the Michelangelo bit... (I apologize ahead of time if this offends anyone): We don't know any truths about the story of Jesus except for that of which has been told to us. None of us have experienced it first hand, yet millions of priests/painters go through the same process on a daily basis. Many of the painters (and perhaps priests) added people or objects to the scenes, changed the probable skin color of Jesus, or tweaked other aspects of the painting to fit their idea. Iris did the same. Based on many facts, she added characters, objects, and adjusted the story to fit into the Grange. My fellow Grangers ... we are the priests of Iris Haeussler! (this email took a wrong turn). Perhaps a stretch - Good to be back.
"Art is not a hand made creation. It is an intellectual or philosophical decision."
2009/02/04 (M. B.)
I don't feel the word "deception" is too harsh. On the contrary, it is accurate. If I take someone on a tour of a historic house and tell them a story, replete with plausible dates and details, and do so without indicating it is fictitious, and watch them leave convinced of the truth of what they've heard, and I do nothing to correct their impression, then I've knowingly and intentionally deceived them - there's no two ways around it. This extraordinarily rich and challenging work of art includes an abuse of trust at the core of it, and how that broken trust is handled is part of the piece; and those who can get past the entirely understandable feelings of discomfort they experience upon discovering they've been mislead, will encounter a new story emerging from the earlier story and will likely embrace all that the work has to say about the unstable nature of truth and the constructing of history, and they'll learn about themselves as well. Some will get stuck in the emotion of disappointment, others won't. And from what I've observed among my own friends' reactions, the ability to accept having been deceived, or not has nothing to do with how insightful a grasp they have of art and the functioning of art. Some don't even feel they've been deceived, others feel disgusted and lose all interest. They are all entitled to bring who they are to the piece; just as we are entitled, I feel, to deceive them. If I didn't feel the deception was worthwhile, I wouldn't have agreed to be a guide. But I am responsible for knowingly misleading every group I've taken through.
2009/02/10 (W. N.)
[....]As for the new strategy about the reveal... If there are no objections, I'd prefer to continue directing visitors to the website for "one last discovery," rather than handing out an explanatory note at the end of the tour [even if the note is not read immediately]. As we know from everyone who has experienced the "enchantment" of Mary O'Shea, it's wonderful to be able to hold on to that mystery, and to ponder it, even for a day or two. Perhaps we could try it both ways for a bit and see which works better?[...]
2009/03/03 (M. S.)
Yesterday two of your friends came on my 4:30 tour, we spoke after wards. Also on that tour were a mother and daughter, this was quite touching, they were both Sheas, they were so appreciative of my telling, they felt close to Mary O'Shea, they expressed much gladness in having met me. I was a bit embarassed at this expression of gratitude and wondered what they would feel after they read the letter. [...]
2009/03/07 (W. N.)
I'm readin' this and thinkin', who's this guy kidding?? Gotta be a fake, a fraud, a hoax.... And then I get to the signature - and the postscript.
Brilliant! Brilliant! BRILLIANT!!
Seriously, though... How wonderful that a visitor was so WOWed - and so inspired - that he devised such a clever way of conveying to you his pleasure. And his delight! [...]
2009/03/09 (M. S.)
wonder if Jacob's research work could be connected with the vibrations I seem to feel when I take a group into Chantel's office: especially when I get close to Henry's map!
I wish someone would look into the tintinabulation which so musically swells from the bells in the modern kitchen. I think there is a link in the sound of the bells and the opening of the door to Chantel's office. On the ground floor of the AGO there is an interesting experiment in robotised drumming. I discovered this amazing sculpture yesterday and felt there was some connection related to energy. Perhaps Neil Hollands would be able to explain this in mathematical terms.
2009/03/13 (S. R.)
The little girl of whom [A. S.] speaks of, came in to The Grange with her mother Susan (how could I forget her name!) and 2 of her little friends about 2 months ago to explore the new Member's Lounge. Susan was a brand new member and delighted with the Member's Lounge and it's lovely location in The Grange. I mentioned the tour and although they were interested, Susan told me that she didn't have enough time on the parking meter and with the next tour starting in 10 minutes, she wouldn't have enough time to run outside with the 3 girls in tow (putting coats on, etc). It was a very, very quiet Friday afternoon and myself and Edith from Membership offered to "entertain" the girls in the Member's Lounge while mom ran out to feed the meter. We sat the girls down beside the window in the dining room and I brought out a teapot with green tea and 3 small espresso cups. The girls enjoyed a tea party under our supervision and Susan made it back in just in time to make the tour. She has returned several times with a variety of her daughter's young friends and tremendous enthusiasm for the tour and the AGO. It makes my day every time I see them.
2009/03/19 (M. U.)
[..]Yesterday both Paula and I did large tours with lots of kids ... One Chinese girl told the entire audience the story of Pandora (I gave her an XS T-Shirt from our stash as a reward). It was a lot of fun and all tours got the Ahhhs and Ohhhs we always get ...[...]
2009/03/20 (M. B.)
[...]Sometimes when I tell a native tale to school children, and they have felt deeply engaged, yet find themselves questioning the story's veracity once it is over because the story does not fit with their previous vision of the world and what is real, they ask: "Is that a true story," and their tone expresses an eagerness to be told it is true, mixed with doubt, I am torn as to how I should answer. They want to be given a definite answer, an authoritative one, a certainty which they can then accept or further question. In the case of Amber, yes they must know it is a "story you walk through," and then they can decide and discuss with their caregiver if that means it is true or truthful and what might be the difference.
2009/03/24 (V. K.)
I hope you are well. In response to your email, please know I always make sure every single visitor walks away with a disclosure letter. Of course, I can't promise you that they read the letter, or read the letter all the way through! I've also had a couple people say that they didn't quite understand that the letter was revealing the fact that the project was installation. They felt the letter was vague, and that the historic quotes and related discussion confused them regarding what the letter was trying to do (in such cases, I always make sure they have chantal's email, so they can pass their questions along, but again, I can't be responsible for making sure they do!). Other people I know, especially those in my Museum Studies Program (though not the same ones from the curating science class) find the curator's statement and the information on the website extremely helpful, so I thought I would let you know that too.
2009/05/01 (W. N.)
FOR IMMEDIATE ATTENTION!
I'd like to alert you to an unexpected discovery that was made late yesterday afternoon in the main reception area, near the entrance to the Members' Lounge.
A large waxen globule, most likely fashioned by Mary O'Shea, was found tucked behind the podium on which the tour sign-up binder resides. Protruding from the crudely formed wax ball was a yellowed note. Jenny Rieger was immediately called to the scene. After putting on conservator's gloves and examining the artifact carefully, Jenny observed that the wax around the yellowed paper had cracked. With a few careful tugs, she removed the paper from the globule. It was a note, penned in Mary O'Shea's recognizable script, and it read as follows:
"Sadness fills the heart of a young Polish lass as she bids farewell, on a lovely May day, to the stately Grange and to all its artful occupants. Her path leads not far, just past Walker Court. You're sure to see her from time to time, blue lanyard gracing a demure spring frock. But, ay, don't fret. She told me she will always and most surely remember her wonderful time at The Grange."
The note and the waxen globule are now in the hands of the ASO excavation crew. At the time of writing, former Grange Narrative Guide [W. N.] was editing the AGO announcement regarding this latest discovery.
Warmly, as always!
2009/06/21 (A. S.)
I remember this woman, or at least a woman who's story is uncannily similar, It would have been on Thursday though, the young woman and her grandmother who were also present was my friend Sara and her grandma. The woman actually figured it out as we were going through the tour, which is unusual. That's never happened to me before that I know of. Usually people will give me strange looks if they start to suspect, but that's as far as anyone has got that does not already know. She started laughing when she saw the stills of the woman getting undressed in Chantal's office, and then in secret room. To be honest having someone figure it out kind of threw me off a little bit, but it was so interesting to watch her put the pieces of the strangeness together and seeing the proverbial light-bulbs go on in her head. After the tour she came up to me laughing and asked if it was an art piece. She was very nice about it. My friend's Grandma was really amused too when I answered the woman's question affirmatively, according to my friend, Sara, she is raving to all her friends and the rest of their family about it-- trying to get them to go on the 'mystery tour'.
2009/07/02 (A. S.)
Sorry to bother you, but I heard something the other day that might interest you. I had a lady on my tour, who'd been on it five times before going on it with me. After the tour she mentioned that it was one of the only times that she'd been taken to see the final 'secret' room. So I suppose some guides are leaving the final room out of their tour for whatever reason. I wasn't sure if you knew about this. I didn't think we were allowed to take the final room out of the tour. In any case I just wanted to let you know, because it is sort of a big part of the piece so I was slightly concerned. Maybe whichever guides are ommiting it are just afraid people will 'guess' and don't want to deal with it?
2009/08/06 (J. L.)
As it was already running late I let the Ministry of Culture select which 7 out of 15 would go. All together with 7 other people from the general public already signed up the group was a large 14.
I think since the Ministry called in advance it would be most helpful if we were given a heads up and we could have done the problem solving in advance. They were perfectly lovely people. I did not detect any anger. I think the ball was dropped on our end. They spoke to someone by the name ??Bob Gibson?? if I got that right. I imagine he is not aware we are limited in how many people we can accommodate at one time.
2009/08/18 (L. W.)
Three of those who came through word of mouth were from San Diego, CA. When I asked them why they came, they told me that two of their San Diego family had taken the Grange underground tour previously and that they highly recommended it to the three visitors I had the pleasure to squire. In fact, the latter three were so taken by this visit that I was given their business card with an invitation to visit same in San Diego! Now you know where to find me (wishful thinking).
2009/09/11 (L. W.)
[...]2. Over 10 years.
3. Current role > Tour Guide at the Grange: "He Named Her Amber” + Membership duties and...
4. Before "Amber”, I was Meeter/Greeter, Meeter/Greeter Coordinator, Special Research Projects (H.R.), writing for the quarterly news magazine issued by volunteers. So this is my first "Tour Guide” project at the AGO, but have done some others in other institutions.
5. Trained by Jennifer Rieger, plus observing and joining other "Amber” Tour Guides.
6. Mainly positive, some are in awe, some believe "Mary” was a witch, very, very few express distrust of the story.
7. On my tour, I expressly indicate that the tour is not about the house or the family, but about "Amber/Mary”. I’m also careful to tell the minimum necessary about the house and the family so that the story is understandable, and at the end of the tour I indicate the history of the house is available on the walls of the ante-room, and also in a couple of books available at the AGO Bookstore and/or the Toronto Public Library.
8. There has been. Number of visitors refer the tour to their family/friends as a worthwhile tour, some return themselves for a second or third edition. Some of the latter two ask questions about the previous tour guides pronouncements on certain facts or details, and one must think on one’s feet to give an appropriate, non-damaging answer. Also, there are less showings of disbelief.
9. From my point of view, the Tour has not changed. Obviously, each Tour Guide has his/hers own way of telling the story, and the delivery changes also with the makeup of the tour audience and, perhaps, the time of the day (the 4:30 pm tour is mindful of the Gallery closing at 5:30 pm, except on the open evening.)
10. Questions asked are mainly about clarifying certain facts glossed over by the Guide, or as to why the dig is taking place (Henry White’s grandson mailing of the Diary), or will the dig continue (if there are sufficient $ available), or why is the upstairs not available for visiting (new fire regulations).
11. I approach each tour on my shift(s) individually, as a totally new venture. This also allows me to "believe” in what I am saying and sound convincing. As well, starting from the principle that no question is silly, I acknowledge the content and try to deflect it if possible by indicating that Dr. Lee is really in the middles of her research at the Grange (objects found to date are exhibited, but search may continue after the end of the tours) and therefore there are many more findings to be made, etc. My strategy is really to be believable and appreciate the participants’ intelligence, and not make the tour a display of my knowledge (or lack thereof?).
12. An answer to some of the questions posed by the visitors as to why Dr. Lee does or did not search local or provincial Catholic Churches for more information about Mary, is to say it may take place later on given enough research funds. So one of the younger visitors, with her eyes wide open and a big smile, said she is employed by the Catholic Archdiocese and will get in touch with Dr. Lee to help with identifying possible records the Archdiocese may have on Mary!
Jennifer, these are some of the off-the-cuff answers coming to mind. Please feel free to email me back and ask for clarifications or additional information. And good luck with your studies!
2009/09/22 (M. G.)
If people ask "Is this the installation by Iris Haeussler?", what do we say?
I hope people will be open to sharing their experiences about people coming to see the tour when they know that it is an installation. - or come back when they find out that it is not "real". I don't think that anyone should accept any verbal abuse because the tour guide is really part of the installation.
2009/10/25 (M. U.)
[...] It is great, as I see it, that even a year into the Amber Story we did not fall into platitudes and clichees, still have an impact and the power to haunt (Hurrah! Wir können immer noch spuken!). It is most certainly not us the (G)Rangers who that produce the magic ... it is you who gave us the material and the training and the discipline ... (wir sind ja nur die kleine, niedliche aber sehr talentierte Zauberlehrlinge).
2009/11/02 (L. B.)
Draft for Art Matters;
When is art?
My favorite part of being an AGO guide on the excavation in the Grange House is the moment, down in the larder, flash light in hand, delivering the line "Of all the artifacts found, this piece may be the most revealing discovery of who Amber really is...” Then I turn the flashlight on the large glob of wax, in which a women’s face has been pressed. Every visitor’s imagination is caught, breath abated, the story of Amber is fixed as the they scrutinize the shadows. Some call it a mask or a profile, some gasp and turn away. They ask questions and chatter amongst themselves in amazement. And as I lead them back up the stairs into the light of the foyer I marvel at all of the details in the story that have lead us successfully to that climactic moment.
The tour is a story, if there is still confusion. Maybe you didn’t know yet. The wax artifacts are planted, the laboratory in the library is staged, the office, the excavation, the secret room, all a theatre to tell the story of "He named her Amber”. The author of this experience is Iris Haeussler. Why would anyone go to such length to tell a story?
Haeussler’s motif is to construct an event for visitors, which they experience as real. "When I first walked into this house it was boarded up, dark, dead. I wanted to bring it to life.” In the foyer when I hand out the reveal, my group is under a spell of wonder. If they had known it was a story would they have unbuttoned the corset of everyday possibility and submitted to the incredible story? No.
Often visitors return, three, four, eight times. Some of them haven’t figured it out, some are bringing their children, friends or parents. I can pick out who knows by their disposition, perhaps they’re disenchanted, or playing along. Once you’ve broken the spell you can never go back.
As the docent of this installation it makes me think of the meaning and awe we experience in a work of art simply because of its story? ‘How much of that story is true? Would I have liked the portrait, sculpture, installation if I had known nothing about it? When do I experience art? -when I read the placard? -walk into the gallery? Or perhaps when I join a tour.
2009/11/06 (C. C.)
[...] The flashlight in the secret room works and fades out and then works again - not sure why, but the little ones on the key seem to be the best and I assume cheaper too.
The second part of your group was very enthusiastic, although I doubt they would really understand the Notes. They spoke in their language all the time - but in a very animated fashion and wrote in the visitor book afterward.
The key has been missing for three weeks, and I asked everyone where it was but there was no response, so I assume the volunteers don't have it. It is a mystery but certainly hampers the volunteers as they must remember to give the key to their partner after each tour.
2009/11/07 (A. Z.)
[...]I am just going over your narrative background and have a question about the 'last category of objects' uncovered when discussing Amber while in the library...
You write that this object, the 3.3 L wax cone that was cast in the ground and found in 2005 by a construction worker was 'visually' connected and 'authorship' made in August 2008 with Object 17. Does that make 2 objects supposedly discovered in the last category of objects? Did 'the 2005' transformation of the AGO destroy this first discovery? Meaning, in our narrative is it that we now know of two large conical wax 'globules' that she cast in the ground? One is Object #17, the other is now destroyed.[...]
2009/11/29 (A. Z.)
Hi there, you may find the article "Thalia Meets Melpomene: The higher meaning of the Voice of Fire and Flesh Dress Controversies" in Voices of FIre: Art, Rage, Power and the State" an interesting read...
It is about the role of media in shaping public opinion about art - and uses the Barnett Newman purchase of Voice of Fire by the National Gallery as an example...
I only mention this because it discusses how some press tried to remain 'objective' in their editorials but were not...
"The objective gloss which many of the authors attempted to sustain was often undermined severely by the ironic headlines accompanying their reports, possibly the result of an intervention from those with editorial power from within the newsroom hierarchy."
2009/11/29 (M. S.)
[...] Each person who conducts the tours will be nervous for a time until the tour becomes a performance. When I started the AGO was open on Thursday nights and I was quite content to go along with another guide doing the tour in tandem, if you are on today and would like to "team tour " that would be OK with me. I do the 12:30 tour as my first tour. I see the aim of this exhibit as bringing to the fore the story of the poor Irish pioneer immigrants whose stories have not yet been told. Iris, when I was in High School in Glasgow (which was in the Dark Ages), a Van Gough exhibit came to the Glasgow Art Gallery. We were all taken during class time to view this exhibit. I distinctly remember our Art Teacher explaining to us how to half close our eyes and how far away from the picture to stand and to try and get into the mind of the artist through the picture that was created, what was the artist's aim.
2010/01/05 (C. C.)
Just want to report that as of 5:10 p.m. Last Friday when I closed up, the container with the waxen mask was in the room where it usually is, and nothing seemed out of place at all. If those timelines are of any help, I thought I would pass it on.
2010/01/06 (L. B.)
I found the mask in Dr Lee's office. I think someone on Tuesday may be using the light in the office to show its features. Maybe they don't know about the light on the key chain?
Otherwise it is a ghost.
2010/01/27 (M. S.)
I love being part of The Grange, "He Called Her Amber" is the most enjoyable storytelling experience I have ever had in my whole life. I am looking forward with joy to continuing to tell in the Spring, Summer and Fall. Yes, I am interested in continuing to volunteer at The Grange forever and ever!
2010/01/29 (M. G.)
Many people come by the Grange and tell me that they really loved it the way it was before -- and I fondly tell them of my best memories. Then I can point out some good things about the changes -- the lovely view of the park people can enjoy from the member's lounge, opportunities for future programming in the space etc.-- Some people are just angry about the changes in the Grange or they hate Teitelbaum or whoever. Yes, and families and individuals did donate objects, money, time etc -- but that goes for most of the collection and the whole gallery, not just the Grange. Harriet and Goldwin haven't come back to haunt us, so the AGO must be doing something right.
If people are ONLY upset that we didn't offer the disclaimer during the tour: "some characters in this documentary are purely fictional and bear no resemblance to persons living or dead", they are pointing out that they have lying on their personal set of virtues. Personally, I find some of the art collection vulgar and wouldn't hang a copy of it in my home. Some art does not represent my value system but I don't believe it should be banned. (sexual images used to be shocking to the public, didn't you know? Now a little deception makes them scream with rage while all the politicians are having sex and lying - and who knows what goes on behind closed doors? ) Sure I told one of the curator at the ROM that one of the dinosaur fossils should be reexamined because they claimed it was of animal origin while I certain it was from a plant -- I haven't seen it back on display since. But the ROM is a museum and the AGO is an art gallery.
You just have to go further and ask them this: "What do you think was the artist's intention for doing that?" I could even mull over that with a good drink and some close friends for at least half an hour or more. Or "What effect would the installation have had on your emotions if you had known more before viewing it?" "If the objects were just put in a display case with labels, would you have been so interested, involved, or enjoyed it more?" Maybe you have some more questions you could add to the list.
2010/01/31 (M. G.)
[...] I just thought I would like to express myself somewhat and ask some questions.
About the disclosure – Is deception a necessary artistic device for the installation? (like painting dots like the pointellists)
Someone told me that they thought the revealed installation was a mirror within a mirror. The idea that art is a reflection of the world the artist experiences; so is Amber’s world one mirror of her world within the larger mirror of the installation that is of our world today. So is there a need to keep the deception and keep lying or not?
I rather enjoy the lying sometimes. I am only afraid someone might want to falsely label me a psychopath for toying with their emotions. I don’t want to deal with people’s negative emotions after they find out and would rather the reveal was done by website or rumour. I think the pondering time is necessary and an immediate disclosure after viewing the installation somehow takes away from the experience.
Upon looking up the definition of psychopath on the internet I was amazed to find that there exists no charity for the cause of the cure and treatment of psychopathy. I wonder if people would attend gala dinners and walk-a-thon fund raisers for research that would develop a prenatal genetic test for psychopaths. The elimination of psychopaths would surely make for a better world. What a more worthy cause than trying to eliminate people with autism or other genetic conditions. (When I did the training tour, I was sure than Amber had autism until I found out she was fiction)
At times I have been angry with some visitors responses to the installation – when they ask me "Was Amber crazy?” and more so when a man told me that he would have fired Amber because she was odd --- or maybe just too "Irish”. I replied that she "did her job and what did it matter what her hobby was? Her wax creations could be a method for her to encase her experiences and memories as similar to computer blogging or scrapbooking." He didn’t comment as those were probably his wife’s hobbies.
For me, genocide seems to be a strong theme in my holodeck adventure of tour guide (I was forced to watch Star Trek series for years). The secret chamber represents to me the final and eighth stage of genocide: DENIAL in which evidence is hidden, bodies are reburied and there is a coverup.
How opportune it is to have installed mirrors above the fireplaces in the Member’s Lounge. After the tour, people could go there and look at their reflection and view the scarlet letter on their forehead: perhaps "L” for Liar, "H” for hypocrite, or "V” for victim.
Of course whatever you decide you feel you need to do for your work -- it is fine with me. I have never heard of someone doing the type of work you do and I find it very interesting.
2010/02/01 (M. S.)
Some weeks ago I found the word "HOAX" written on a piece of stiff paper and left in the Comment Book. This upset me as it was a remark made by someone too cowardly to sign it. If I happen to meet the person who has written the word "HOAX" I shall endeavour to educate him on the aim of this installation / story. I also will treat him as a four year old and attempt to bring laughter to overcome my annoyance. I will hope that my sarcasm will remain unspoken. Laughter must prevail! How dare he demean a work of Contemporary Art!
2010/02/04 (M. G.)
[...] Since you all were discussing about the reveal and angry people -- actually I have encountered more people who were angry about the gallery map showing washrooms in the Grange and me telling people that there were none available there. So if the gallery staff/volunteers are so concerned about DECEPTION, and this is when people are in need, then they need to change the map. Maybe they can get busy sticking corrections over the maps they have. [...]
2010/02/06 (A. S.)
It's true Chantal, your night owl habits are really causing us a lot of problems. I hate to chastise you, but really you have a responsibility to us! There I said it- and I'm not going to apologize for my rudeness either!
2010/02/17 (M. G.)
The Pascal candle was lit for almost all masses until Pentecost. After that Easter season the candle was kept for baptisms and use in funeral masses. True it is replaced yearly but you might want to check with a priest about how it is to be desposed of if there was any stub left. Only 100% beeswax candles were allowed at that time for liturgy candles. Now they are allowed to be less pure beeswax but these candles still are very very expensive.
Any suggestion that Mary took or received candles from a church -- I would just won't touch that one. The Pascal candle represents the Risen Christ. Personally I would be offended if someone suggested that someone was mistreating such a blessed object. Perhaps that would fit into the "closed over wall" theory that the wax or candles could have been blessed and they just didn't know what to do with them.
A good question might be "what is the proper method of disposal for blessed objects such as candles that are no longer useful?" or "Are Pascal candles recycled?" Please let me know what you find out.
Speaking of candles, Candlemass, Feb 2 or the date around Groundhog day was when candles were blessed and there was a procession in celebration of Jesus being the light of the world. It was also the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox which would have been important to a practitioner of Wiccan.
2010/03/04 (M. G.)
Wow, I learned something today. I googled haptic conceptual art and got zero. I googled conceptual art and got the wikipedia entry.
I knew more about it than I thought I did. Actually Iris is on the list of artists there.
Someone had mentioned Tracy Emin's My Bed installation yesterday at a post-tour discussion. I found out that she is not popular with the Stuckist group.
The Stuckist are a group of artists who think that painting is the be all and end all of art. They hate conceptual art. So now when someone tells you that "if it is not a painting, it is oatmeal" -- just ask them if they are a Stuckist while silenting taunting them "your paintings are stuck, you are stuck, stuck! stuck! stuck!".
Come to think of it, I am hearing the old echoes of when I used to sit around the Grange wearing a bonnet and apron, tending the fire. I had people come in and ask me "What does this old house have to do with art?", "what is this museum doing in an art gallery?", "your shoes are not authentic", "is this food one hundred years old?". The same old, same old.
Stuck in a bonnet, the sounds of change muffled in my ears
I thought I might stay at the Grange for five thousand years
I was waiting for that prince in shining armour
but no one ever came except for someone to take out the trash
I hide behind my apron and under my teacosy skirt
I tried to make paper art to light candles with
I had a long nap and then I woke
I met Iris and now I am a HOAX!
(My really bad attempt at poetry.)
2010/03/05 (M. G.)
This is the first on-line marriage proposal I have had. Thank you. I thought one spouse was enough but there might be an opening for Tuesdays and Thursdays and alternate weekends. No. You made me snort my morning tea.
If you really feel you need a romance, I heard that Chantal Lee is unattached. I did notice she didn't get anything for Valentine's Day. She does seem rather engrossed in her work at times and she travels out of town often. You might try candy or flowers or wax.
I do remember that some man sat on Chantal's bed during the first week of tours. Ironic, but some artists jumped on "My Bed" as well.
2010/04/16 (K. O.)
I had a Korean guy come through last night, and I asked him about the newspapers in Chantal's office (the one that looked suspiciously like personal ads). Anyway, he told me they are advertisements for Pastor's and religious services. Apparently, in job applications and advertisements, it is standard to include a photo of yourself!
2010/06/03 (M. U.)
Yo (G)Rangers past and present,
It was a slow and rainy Wednesday, my friends, but all Wednesdays are good (up to and including the fateful June 27) ... anyway two things happened:
(1) while my rounds through the Index on a recruiting drive for our 6:15 ... who do you think I saw gracing the floor? Why ... it was the formidable duo of Teitelbaum and McGuinty, accompanied by two alert eyed, muscular built guys that identified them instantly as typical art lovers in civilian clothes. No sooner could I shout out: "You guys wanna take the tour?" that Dalton disappeared into the elevator with his two art lovers and Matthew Teitelbaum came back to the Grange and told Paul, Kelly and I that he took the Premier on the tour in December and the premier found it "very interesting". Nice of them both ... the premier to say "Interesting" and Matthew to take the trouble to come to the Grange and tell us about it
(2) 'twas 7:30-ish when Kelly and I were warned that the "funny guy" who is haunting the free Wednesday evenings is approaching the Grange (you may have seen him or heard of him ... 5' 3'', 100 lbs, Asian, speaks with an British accent, wears a large hat with shiny pins, flashy Tshirts, complains that the police beat him to a pulp and told Kelly he makes movies, having directed, among others, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie) ... overall a pleasant, inoffensive bloke, but Kelly and I decided on emergency measures: we planned a tag-team approach for the tour ... first we got two pretty girls to take the tour with the funny guy and cast them in the roles of innocent bystanders, we did the tour together, taking turns speaking (Kelly went first and was superb) ... we knew from the beginning that under no circumstances "funny guy go to cellar" ... so it was a very pleasant library centric tour in which we challenged them to tell us why Amber made these things and gave them Chantal's business cards and the write-up and sent them home at eight. The pretty girls left, I sent Kelly to "do the stuff you have to do downstairs" and gently, but firmly started pushing funny guy out the door ... first he asked for an additional Chantal business card and made us autograph the portraits he drew of us during the tour in his sketch book.
Now I ask you: "How can any Wednesday after June 27 stack up to this?" ... wait. I got it: maybe, given our recent interaction, we could tell Matthew to ask his buddy Dalton to decree that henceforth and herewith the province of Ontario will function with a non-Wednesday week (the day after Tuesday and before Thursday ... we will simply skip!). Ich glaube er kann das irgendwie schon schaffen!
Sorry I went on for so long ... it is just being sad, is all, with an evergrowing sense of loss
2010/06/12 (M. U.)
Chantal Lee is ecstatic ... Korea is up 2 - 0 over Greece in its debut game in South Africa ... she is hollering and shouting her head off encouraging her team ... 30 minutes to go ... this will be a great victory ... KTF! KTF! KTF! (if you do not live close to Bloor and Christie: Korea Team Fighting)
2010/06/19 (C. C.)
[...] I had two tours, the last being a huge one. I hope they went well. Very satisfied customers, at least. I want to thank you for the wonderful opportunity to get to know Mary O’Shea so well, to participate in a truly inspiring installation, to discover that I really enjoy the art of performance, to appreciate the experience of making a real contribution to the enjoyment of others, and especially, meeting and getting to know someone like you. You inspire me.
It has been such a pleasure. I will miss Amber, the kitchen, the wax, the experience, and you. All the best in your next exciting endeavour. I think it will be a long time, before I find something as rewarding as this to do with my time.
2010/06/07 (R. M.)
[...]I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed the "Amber" project. I learnt so much about so many different things: art, Canadian history, human interaction, psychology... I learnt not only from yourself and Jenny but also from the visitors to the exhibit, many told me anecdotes that increased my knowledge of the history of the Grange, others looked at the story of Amber from totally different perspectives that I would never have thought of. The other guides also provided new insights and ideas about the project. They were also great fun to work with. [...]
2010/06/24 (M. U.)
We, the Wednesday team, have it now all behind us; You guessed: it's more of my pathetic whining ... but humour me; Please!
The last tour was, luckily, full (way over a dozen) and interactive and enthusiastic and at the end about half of them stayed behind saying: "we know! we knew!" So we had an excellent discussion with questions like:" How much of this is real and how much of it Iris made up?" ... and they even understood when we answered that the proportion is a mix of about 100% and 100% of each. And "How come when we asked AGO volunteers where the Iris Haeussler installation is, they didn't know about it?" and they said many congratulatory things about the piece and what a great time they had and all that ... we felt really good and then they left ... and we were a little sad, the three of us, and had pictures taken of ourselves and then we went and had pints at the Sin and Redemption on McCaul and then we had a group hug at Dundas and McCaul (South-West corner) ... and then we left ... and I felt like a (small) piece of me died ... and I had the same feeling when I retired from competitive sports ... good that my current incarnation is a cat and I still have six lives (also counting the one I lost in Fatehpur Sikri) ... and we knew then that we will likely never do anything as exciting and imaginative and satisfying and strange as the Grange and then, in the subway "among the garbage and the flowers" and the G28 (which took Kristen) and the evening falling ... I figured the leaving and the dying ... as Sophie and Laurent and Kristen (now with the G28) would say ... "Partir c'est mourir un peu" ... and the most important word is and
2010/06/30 (K. A.)
I am sorry as well that He Named Her Amber will be closing down this month. I have been home recovering from surgery and then away for a few weeks following 3 months of rehab. All along I had hoped to return and rejoin the group.
Thank you for an incredible experience. It was a great time and a great group as well. Thank you Iris and Jenny and Stephanie
I don't think I can top Miki's story but I am going to try-
Last summer on an especially hot day there was a man in drag who wanted to do the tour. I will call him Tutu Man as he was in a genuine ballet costume. Very stiff skirt, (a sticky outy skirt) white stockings and ballet flats. He was in full makeup and had a pretty blouse topped with a short black bolero jacket if I remember correctly. He is a large man and was wearing a sweet small black hat with veil. I was sort of nervous about Tutu Man especially since he was the only one on the tour. And the heat was causing his makeup to melt. Anyway I presented Amber in all the detail I usually do. We went downstairs as well and he followed me from room to room. At the of this tour it was time for my colleague to take over so I packed up and began walking east on Dundas. Tutu Man was right behind me. I decided to go into Basking Robbins on the corner to find some a/c and check if he was following me. He also stopped for an ice cream cone. Then I decided to enjoy my ice cream sitting on the bench in front of the Police Station. This time he kept walking on his way.
I imagine each of us has a story or 2 saved up....
2010/07/03 (A. S.)
[...] I have had so much fun being part of 'He Named Her Amber.' Probably more importantly I have learned so much as well. Before I was introduced to your work I never really understood site specific installations, when I was in studio at Western they gave us a lecture on it and told us to go and make one. I really had no idea what I was doing though, it came out terribly, and I never understood what it really meant. To be honest before your work I never really loved any contemporary piece of art, I have been able to appreciate the idea behind various pieces but I had never felt any real emotion in regards to a piece. I'm glad that with your work I was able to find art of my own era to feel something for. It gets a bit depressing when every piece you really truly love, that can move you, was painted or sculpted by a person long since dead. Most of all I've probably learned quite a bit about people.
"He Named her Amber" has always reminded me of a passage in a book I once read, perhaps it's a bit of an extreme comparison but It made me think of Amber and the tour none the less:
- "I don't understand," said the boy, "I thought aesthetic decisions could be completely immoral. What about the cliche of the artist who leaves his wife and children so he can paint? Or Nero playing the harp while Rome burned?" "Both were moral decisions. Both served a higher good, in the mind of the artist. The conflict lies between the morals of the artist and the morals of society, not between aesthetics and morality. But often this isn't understood; and here comes the waste, the tragedy."
(Anne Rice Interview With The Vampire)
I've always felt that "He Named her Amber" followed it's own code of morality, one that certainly served a higher good even if not everyone always saw it. [...]
2010/07/03 (K. A.)
[...] The Amber project was a wonderful experience for me. I enjoyed doing the tours and especially engaging with the people on the tours. We had such a mix of visitors and it was different every day. It was fun to do a tour with kids. But I really loved speaking with the people who have a long history with the Grange. Met a woman who had taught art in the Parlour maybe in in the 40's and there were many more too. I felt a real kinship to Darcy Boulton Jr. as he opened his dry goods store on the SW corner of King and Frederick Streets which is exactly where I live right now. We had a special group of guides and we became friends along the way. Please keep me on your mailing list-so I will be able to attend future shows [...]
2010/07/07 (A. Z.)
[...] It was a fantastic experience, every single person that participated in the tours I guided equally enjoyed their experience.
It was my first volunteer experience at the AGO, and for the AGO, and it will be hard to beat. Mary O'Shea's treasures left at the Grange I will never forget.[...]