The art and history of doing the washing

Jaiden Gough, 6, explored the theme of washing clothes for an upcoming exhibit at the Cumberland Museum. Photo by Sharon MacDonnell. -
Jaiden Gough, 6, explored the theme of washing clothes for an upcoming exhibit at the Cumberland Museum. Photo by Sharon MacDonnell.
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OK, here’s your chance to air your dirty laundry. And no, this isn’t a call for Wikileaks entries or related to the song or film called Dirty Laundry.

This laundry project is a month-long community event hosted by the Cumberland Museum. Beginning Feb. 3, free workshops, as well as a historical exhibit and contemporary art show, will explore the role of laundry in the past and in our day-to-day lives.

Have you ever considered what it was like to wash clothes during the industrial era? No electricity and having to heat water on top of a stove would be challenges for sure. But what about trying to dry your clothes on the wet West Coast? Or hanging your whites outside in a coal town like Cumberland? It really makes you wonder about all those old photographs showing men and women wearing crisp, white shirts and blouses.

On Feb. 3, the laundry project washday saga kicks off with the official opening of the Historic Laundry Exhibit at the Cumberland Museum from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 6:30 to 8 p.m. Through artifacts, the exhibit explores the history of local laundry — including family and gender roles, equipment, safety, supplies, equipment designs and methods — in the community.

At the same time, a contemporary perspective will showcase photographs and videos taken by Cumberland photographer Sharon MacDonnell.

“I involved my six-year-old daughter Jaiden in the process,” she says. “We took turns photographing each other posing with the laundry basket. That stimulated some interesting discussions regarding clothes-wearers versus clothes-washers, how to tell when clothes are dirty and where dirty laundry water goes.

“But Jaiden was most interested in the fact that all my photos of her were taken from above,” adds MacDonnell. “‘Is that how you see me?’ she asked.”

MacDonnell encourages families to participate in the three free workshops she’ll be giving, Feb. 3 at 7 p.m., Feb.5 at 2 p.m. and Feb. 8 at 10 a.m.

“These are short sessions geared to inspire people to go out and take photographs or videos of laundry,” she says. “It’s a fun, creative project that’s suitable for the whole family. Anyone can take a picture and giving a child a camera can produce some interesting results and dialogue.”

People can share their creative laundry projects in the Community Exhibit that takes place at the museum Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. to March 3. Submissions can be photographs, stories or short videos, as well as songs or skits to be performed at the opening.

“The Community Exhibit is not about exhibiting something professional, it’s all about being creative and capturing a story,” says MacDonnell. “The theme is laundry but other than that, it’s wide open.”

Other laundry-related events, including films, speakers and after-school programs, will be held at the museum on Feb. 10 and 17.

Cumberland businesses are getting involved, too. You can learn how to make environmentally friendly laundry soap at Seeds Food Market (Feb. 17 from 3 to 5 p.m.) or visit Organic Family, Natural Home in Cumberland for information about safe and effective stain removal.

The Laundry Project is funded by a grant from B.C. Arts Council and was created by Meaghan Cursons, Sharon MacDonnell, Bethanny Scott, Michelle Peters and the Cumberland Museum and Archives.

To find out more about how to air your dirty laundry or become a project sponsor, visit and click on Heritage Events, visit The Laundry Project Facebook page, or call 250-336-2445.

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