Artistic artifacts: Teen taps into creativity to stay connected with his favourite museum 

Ingenium - Canada's Museums of Science and Innovation
Marcel’s promotional poster, designed to draw visitors to the Steam: A World in Motion exhibition at the Canada Science and Technology Museum.

A junior historian has been drawing and painting his favourite transportation artifacts while he eagerly awaits the reopening of the Canada Science and Technology Museum. 

A teenaged boy wearing a purple shirt smiles and looks down from the camera.

Fourteen-year-old Marcel — who is on the autism spectrum — is missing his usual visits to his favourite museum, which is temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the interim, he is devoting a lot of time to capturing artifacts from the museum’s collection through his original artwork.

“He drew pictures of some of his favourite artifacts, like the model ships, the trains, and the little red Toyota he and his brother used to ‘drive’ many years ago at the museum,” explains his mother, Sue. “This long period of social isolation has shown me how much Marcel enjoys the vehicle exhibits at Ottawa’s museums and how very much he misses them.”

The family has been visiting the museum since Marcel was five or six years old, and the trains have always been his favourite. One of Sue’s cherished photos shows young Marcel’s delighted face as he looks at a locomotive with his father (see inset photo). 

A little boy and his father stand on a raised platform, looking through the window of a locomotive at the museum.

A young Marcel and his father look through the window of a locomotive at the Canada Science and Technology Museum. The trains have always been Marcel’s favourite artifacts. 

In recent months, Marcel began reading about the history of transportation in a DK Eyewitness book series. The books — along with his museum visits before the closures — inspired him to begin drawing the artifacts. 

“We would go to the museum and visit the Into the Great Outdoors exhibition, for example, which includes early cars, tents, and trailers,” explains Sue. “Then back at home, he would put those artifacts into a historical context and use his research to draw the artifacts.”

Connecting with a curator

During the pandemic, Sue began searching online for additional artifact images to feed her son’s passion. During one of her searches, she stumbled across a CTV interview with Ingenium’s curator of transportation, Sharon Babaian. 

The news story showcases the museum’s CP 1201 steam locomotive, which moved into its new home in the Ingenium Centre in summer 2019.

A colourful painting of a large locomotive on a track; mountains and trees are visible in the background.

Marcel’s original artwork, inspired by the national science and technology collection.

“While we can’t visit ‘Marcel’s trains’ right now, we got to join Sharon as she explained the old train’s history to the local news crew,” says Sue. “I’m secretly hoping someone will coax her into doing a few more videos — to bring more of her gems to life.”

After watching the news clip with her son, Sue says Marcel asked if they could send some of his artwork to “the lady who takes care of all the vehicles.” When Sue reached out by phone, Sharon says the call was the highlight of her week.

“I was feeling quite isolated by the ‘digital’ distance imposed by working online all the time, so I was delighted to get a phone call from a visitor for whom the museum meant so much,” she says. “People like Sue and Marcel remind me of how lucky I am to be curator of our incredibly rich land and marine transportation collection.”

After their call, Sue sent Sharon an array of Marcel’s drawings and paintings by email.

“I was delighted and impressed with Marcel’s images…he captured the spirit of the objects so beautifully,” says Sharon. “I was especially taken with the locomotive images. The fine detail was there for sure, but so was a sense of grandeur and style. The locomotives actually seem to be moving and you can imagine yourself on a train behind them, speeding through the countryside. Definitely a cure for cabin-fever!”

A colourful painting of two boats in the water. The words, “Visit our great exhibit – Steam: A World in Motion” are visible at the top.

Marcel’s promotional poster, designed to draw visitors to the Steam: A World in Motion exhibition at the Canada Science and Technology Museum.

Marcel even created some promotional posters, which he says were designed to bring visitors back to the museum when the doors reopen. 

“He’s 14 years old but in a way, because of where he is on the autism spectrum, he has a bit more of a young child’s mind,” explains Sue. “He thought, ‘Well, if we want people to come, I’ll make a poster and they’ll come!’ For him, that’s his way of reaching out and connecting.”

While losing the ability to visit their favourite places has been challenging, Sue says she’s glad Marcel is using artwork as an outlet during the pandemic.

“All of a sudden, everything that Marcel loved to do — swimming, camping, and visiting museums — was suddenly over,” she says. “Reliving his trips to the museum has been such a wonderful help and inspiration. He has learned a lot about the history of transportation, and now he is excited to connect with others and share his drawings with ‘people who love the museum!’”  

Online art contest 

In fact, Marcel isn’t the only one finding artistic inspiration through artifacts in the national science and technology collection. Following the museum closures, the Ingenium membership team launched an online Members-Only Artistic Artifacts Contest. Members were encouraged to browse Ingenium’s Collection Highlights, choose an artifact to draw or paint, and submit their artwork online. 

More than 50 pieces of original artwork were submitted before the contest closed on May 10, 2020, and winners were announced in five categories. You can see the winning artwork — and the artifacts that inspired them — in this article.

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Sonia Mendes

Sonia Mendes is the English Writer/Editor for Ingenium. She loves digging behind the scenes to tell the quirky, colourful stories of museum life and all things related to science and innovation.