Schick Art Gallery

Mimi Hellman IMAGE A

Pictured: Silver creamer, set of six silver spoons in leather case; Royal Crown Derby porcelain dish for sweets, nuts, or pickles; two porcelain coffee cups and saucers. All early 20th Century.
Owned by Mimi Hellman, Associate Professor of Art History.

My grandmother was Canadian - she emigrated to Saskatchewan in the 1920’s, from Scotland. For a lot of these immigrants, coming to Canada represented a chance at upward mobility. These weren’t people who came from a tradition of privilege; they were people who were actually creating privilege for themselves. And you have to do that in part through consumption - through the ownership and correct use of objects.

I sometimes bring these objects to class, and the students like to have the experience of handling them. I ask them to pick them up, and then to look at their hands…. So how did you grasp the cup, and how are you holding the cup? Is the cup helping you to hold it in a certain way?... It almost makes you sit up straighter, right? It turns you into that civilized, polite, upwardly mobile person that you want to be. So it wasn’t just about having them and displaying them in a china cabinet - it was about the act of using them on certain occasions, and looking like a cultivated person.

I don’t have a Victorian décor, and I don’t live in an ambiance that is in keeping with this kind of esthetic.  I tend to prefer simpler things. And I always tell my students that I got into the business of studying this kind of stuff not because I wanted to live it, or be in that world, or have all that stuff in my world now, but because it fascinates me to think about how objects like these were important to people in a particular place and time, even if they seem frivolous or ostentatious to us now. So it’s really their otherness that interests me, rather than a sense of affinity that I feel for them, or a desire to be a part of the world they represent.
Mimi Hellman, 2012