Adventures in Time Travel: Summer Art Camps at the WAG

Authored by: Gabriel Hurley on July 23, 2013

Campers constructing their time machine.

The Winnipeg Art Gallery runs art camps throughout the summer. Our themes for this year are Around the World in Four Days, Cabinet of Curiosities, Myths and Legends, and Off the Wall. Our Around the World camp naturally focused on world travel, but – if Einstein is to be believed – travel through space also requires travel through time. So it was only natural that the campers construct a time machine so that we could examine the art of the past.

On the first day of camp, I announced to the campers that our Chief Curator, Helen Delacretaz had sent us an important task: we were to travel back in time to find (i.e. steal) ancient art for our gallery. Without hesitation, the campers took enthusiastically to their mission. As they scavenged for materials, assembled the advanced electronics, programmed the time dials, painted the exteriors, and stocked the fridge (after all, time travel can lead to extreme hunger), they talked excitedly about what sort of art they might recover from the past. We set the dial to 500 years ago, and turned the machine on.

However, once we actually used the machine, it transpired that we had accidentally gone back 500,000 years! As a result, the land was quite barren and the children were worried about getting eaten by sabre-tooth cats. Fearing for our lives, we jumped back into the machines and returned to the Present. Upon our return, we were still faced with a problem: How would we complete our art-finding mission? One camper suggested that we forge the art.

I thought this was an excellent idea, so I introduced them to the history of the Voynich Manuscript, a mysterious book brought to the United States in 1913 by Wilfrid Voynich. The manuscript appears to be from the 1500s, although it is written in a language that does not exist, includes images of plants that do not exist, shows constellations that do not exist, and depicts scenes of women bathing in pools of green liquid. Many people have suggested that it is a forgery, but this does not solve the mystery because does not explain who forged it. Did Wilfrid Voynich forge it? Possibly, after all he had a shady past and Voynich was not even his real name. Did Edward Kelly, the 16th Century ‘alchemist’ who travelled around Europe tricking nobles into believing he could perform magic, forge it? Perhaps. The mystery of its provenance is still unsolved, which, I guess is the evidence of a good forgery.

The Voynich Manuscript

So the children took their pieces of parchment (artificially aged in the oven at 450F) and set to work inventing their own language and mysterious images. One camper made a page that appears to explain how to cast a spell that will give you extra arms. Another depicted a ferocious monster with three heads. All of them were written in some inscrutable language. At the end of the week, the Chief Curator came in to examine our forgeries. From the look on her face, I think we fooled her. And our hoax will be a success as long as she doesn’t read this blog post!


Gabriel Hurley has been the WAG art camps director for 2 years and has recently graduated from the University of Winnipeg with a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Education.

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