Things That Were

DORA M. SANDERS March 15 1934

Things That Were

DORA M. SANDERS March 15 1934

Things That Were


TOWARD the end of the thirteenth century, a celebrated artist painted a mural on the plaster walls of a Buddhist temple in China. Today his painting, now on canvas, hangs in one of the new galleries of the

Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

It is of colossal size, executed in a tempera-like medium of clear mineral colors, and was one of two that decorated the end walls of the ancient temple. For 500 years the temple priests used them to illustrate the teachings of their faith to succeeding bands of worshippers.

Then one day, during the recent civil wars, word was brought that an army of looters was marching on the district, planning to hack out the heads of the famous paintings and sell them for a few cash.

Horrified, the priests set about to devise some means of preventing the sacrilege. The temple walls had been plastered with an extraordinarily well-made mixture of clay and straw, so thoroughly kneaded that, after all the centuries, not a crack had appeared on the surface. On this the pictures had been painted. Concentrating on one wall, the priests cut it into squares and carefully removed it from the background masonry. They packed the squares in eighty boxes and buried them.

Before they could turn to the other wall the brigands arrived, and in a few minutes the temple and painting that had survived so many centuries were utterly destroyed. The eighty boxes, however, were never discovered, and in a comparatively quiet period were unearthed. The picture was saved—but there was no place to put it !

An . amateur’s photograph of the pieces roughly held together found its way to the office of the Royal Ontario Museum and impressed its director, Dr. Currelly, with the necessity for buying them. In due course the eighty boxes arrived in Toronto. At that time there was no accommodation in the museum building for a life-size mural big enough to cover a Chinese temple wall, and the picture perforce remained in the storeroom.

With the announcement of the new building, the problem of reconstructing and mounting this romantic jig-saw puzzle had to be solved. Under the direction of Professor Stout, of

Harvard University, the plaster squares were carefully unpacked, overlaid with chemicals and tough Chinese paper, and turned upside down on the floor.

The plaster was chipped away, at first in fairly large pieces, then grain by grain and speck by speck, until only the paint remained, face down on the paper.

On this paint, specially prepared canvas was placed and forced to adhesion under terrific pressure. The Chinese paper was dissolved away, the squares artfully fitted together — and there lay the ancient temple painting, transferred in toto to a modem canvas !

The picture is about thirty-seven feet by nine-

teen feet, and covers the gallery wall from floor to ceiling. A lucky coincidence is the fact that a beam in the new gallery ceiling just fits the space left in the painting by a beam in the Chinese temple roof.

The Chinese exhibit in the Royal Ontario Museum is recognized as the finest on this continent and one of the best in the world. A few years ago it was limited to one small idol. A postcard picture of this was bought by a visitor and lost in a downtown hotel. Later it was found by a man who was on his way to China, and through his interest and help many of the first exhibits were obtained. Owing to the cramped quarters in the old wing, the exhibit grew chiefly behind the scenes, and has only been made available to the public by the opening of the new building. It contains also the Chinese Imperial robes, smuggled by night from the Imperial Palace at Pekin during the revolution.

Five Museums in One

TO THE uninitiated, the five museums which make up the Royal Ontario Museum sound dry enough. They are the museums of Geology, Palaeontology, Archaeology, Zoology, and Mineralogy. All five of them are crowded with romantic interest.

The Chinese exhibit is part of the Museum of Archaeology, which aims to show the development of the industrial arts of man from the most primitive beginnings to the finest crafts of the present day. One of the galleries most fascinating to the Canadian is that given over to the aborigines of North America, which includes the

two enormous totem poles around which the new building was designed. The discovery of the purpose and meaning of the various native implements and symbols has involved years of research and many adventures. Professor Mcllwraith, in charge of this museum has spent years among the Indians, and is a fully initiated member of the Bella Coola tribe of British Columbia.

In these galleries, too. are the portraits and paintings made by Paul Kane, the young Toronto artist, who travelled to the Pacific

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Things That Were

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Coast in 1848, when the plains were covered with buffalo and Fort Edmonton was “a fairly large establishment of about 130 [people, all living within the pickets of the fort.” He was equipjxd only with points and drawúng poj)er, and traversed the continent by canoe, on horseback, and on snowshoes. The “mighty medicine” by which he “made Indians on pajxr” gained him the friendship of hostile tribes, and sometimes the enmity of friendly ones if any of his models chanced to fall ill. His sketches, some of which he later worked into full-size canvases, make a vivid record of the Red Men who were so very much at home in Canada less than a hundred years ago.

Two floors up is another collection which has made the Royal Museum known around the world. It contains the prehistoric dinosaurs gathered for the Museum of Palaeontology under Professor Parks.

If, like the writer, you had a hazy notion that a dinosaur was a large but clumsy creature who stuck a lizard-like head into the caves of the stone-age jjeople, you’ll have a lot to learn from the palaeontological galleries. The word “dinosaur” means “terrible reptile,” and they were a sjx;cies that ruled the eartli fifty million years ago, or. as some scientists claim, roughly 49, 950,000 years before the appiearance of man.

There were big dinosaurs and little dinosaurs, some hairy and some armored, some rearing themselves on two legs and some crawling on four. There were giant dinosaurs, fifty feet or more in length that subsisted on green stuffs and were no more dread-inspiring than the modern cow; and there were carnivorous dinosaurs, smaller than their vegetarian cousins but still enormous, which ranked as the most terrible animals except man that have ever walked the eartli.

The geologists, who delve back much farther than 50,000,000 years and to whom the dinosaurs are almost modem, established that in the age of reptiles a great inland sea covered the earth’s surface where now Canadians grow their wheat. In its marshy borders big and little dinosaurs died; and there, ten or twelve years ago. Professor Parks and his assistants uncovered their bones.

Some of the specimens discovered in the

Red River and Deer River districts of Alberta are unique. Consequently they are named for their discoverers, although it is questionable whether “Struthiomimus Currelli Parks” would be admitted as a true Canadian by the immigration authorities. Many of the skeletons have been duplicated in whole or in jiart in other bone beds of the world, and by careful analysis and comparison can be accurately reconstructed. In the shifting of the earth’s surface, the falling of rocks, the coming and going of ice and floods, some of the bones have been shattered and some lost. They have been replaced with clay models copied from others in other museums.

It is not only the prehistoric creatures, however, which are difficult to settle in their museum quarters. The countless forms of vertebrate and invertebrate life in the Museum of Zoology are classified by as careful research and study.

From Pigeons to Egypt’s Gods

Z^\NE OF THE tragedies of contemporary

bird life is the extinction of the passenger pigeons which flocked in this country by millions only fifty or sixty years ago. Carloads of these birds were shot and sent to the cities, and their numbers so depleted that the natural ravages of disease and accident were too strong for them. The last passenger pigeon known to be in existence was "Martha,” and she died in the Cincinnati museum a year or two ago.

Several stuffed specimens, however, have come to the Ontario museum at various times, and about a year ago it was decided to stage them in a lifelike habitat group.

Since the passenger pigeon is so closely bound up with the pioneer period of Canadian history, the scene is laid on the edge of a settler’s clearing in a birch and maple bush about April 5, 1865. Last spring the “stage managers,” including the artist, sought such a bush that would have been typical of almost any port of Canada in pioneer days. They found it in the Caledon Hills, about forty miles north of Toronto, and there in the early port of April they camp>ed for a week or more, while the artist made his sketches of hills and sky and trees, and the others collected notes that would make the forepart of the scene absolutely accurate

in depicting a birch and maple bush in early April.

When finished, this group will show the spring flight of the passenger pigeon, “coming like smoke across the sky” and sweeping overhead, with one or two settling on the comer of the rail fence, or perching on the old-type sap pails to drink.

Museum zoological specimens are never stuffed, and any stuffed exhibits that come in are always promptly remounted. The taxidermist, who is also a sculptor, makes an anatomical model of the animal or bird, even putting in the muscle cords. From this a papier maché or other light frame is made, and the tanned skin is stretched and stitched over it. In this way are achieved the uncannily lifelike positions, with folds of skin and muscle ripples under the pelt.

The Royal Ontario Museum was founded in 1912, chiefly owing to a Ushebti god, about ten inches high, which now occupies an honored case in the Egyptian galleries.

Before that year, certain collections had been housed in the various buildings of the University of Toronto for the benefit of the students in the science courses. Then the little Ushebti figure came into the hands of Dr. Currelly. A search for some information about it led through the British Museum to Egypt, where more Egyptian specimens of important historical significance were obtained for Toronto. It was then decided to gather all the exhibits together in one central building, where they would be available to the general public as well as to university students. Half the cost was borne by the province and half by the university, and the first wing of the Royal Ontario Museum was formally opened in 1914. Most of the labor of ticketing and arranging the exhibits was provided free through the kindness of the University staff.

The collections grew rapidly, chiefly through the support and interest of many

Canadians. The first quarters soon became too small, and the museum authorities found themselves in possession of information sought not only by Canadians in all parts of the Dominion, but by scientists and industrialists of other countries. The sorting and filing of all these facts to make them instantly available for reference and at the same time dramat ical 1 y interesting have been, and are, a tremendous piece of work. The museum is not only an exhibition; it is a vast economic and scientific encyclopedia, ordered as meticulously as the most up-to-date filing cabinet.

“I like to think of the museum as a great magnet.” said one of the directors, “which draws into it the sort of information that anybody might need now or fifty years or a hundred years hence. We are not a museum of facts only, but a museum of friendships. People are building up here funds of material which, some time or other, will be of inestimable value to someone else.”

The growth of the museum is a phenomenal monument to such friendships. Gifts are constantly pouring in, not only of exhibits and money but of books for the museum library. Some of the gifts are of small value to their donors perhaps, but precious to the museum. There was, for instance, a certain compilation of bird species, now out of print, which contained facts and plates of great interest to bird specialists. With the help of a wealthy Toronto man, whose bird collection and library are internationally famous, the museum sought a copy of this book for years.

Then, one day, an elderly man walked into the office of the Zoological Museum with two shabby books under his arm. He had been going to thro\V them away, he said, but wondered if they would be of any use to the museum. One of them was the much-sought bird book. Not only that; it was a first edition copy !