By Jessica Lovell
When Adam Rutherford’s first exhibit opens at the Guelph Civic Museum on Dec. 7, he hopes to have transformed the third-floor exhibit room into something that looks like “a skate-able facility.”
But, he stresses, “it won’t be.” There will be no skateboarding allowed at the kNOw Skateboarding exhibit, but there will be lots of skateboard culture to be discovered.
“The quantity of stuff we’ve got coming in keeps going up, but so does the historical value,” said Rutherford, the city’s youth services co-ordinator and the guest curator for the exhibit.
The exhibit will play up some of the controversy surrounding skateboarding, with the exhibit’s name being a pun on the notices that have been a common signboard in many municipalities over the years.
But the exhibit’s tag line, “60 Years of Skateboarding Culture,” alludes to a history of the sport that goes back further than many people know.
“It has a lot more history than maybe even skateboarders recognize or realize,” Rutherford said.
The exhibit evolved out of Rutherford’s work with youth and his efforts to keep the issue of skateboarding on people’s minds after the closure of Guelph’s only public skate park a couple of years ago.
“The exhibit is part of creating an atmosphere that will embrace skateboarding and skate culture,” he said.
A skateboarder himself in his younger days, Rutherford was involved in the movement that pushed city hall to allow skateboarders to have a place to practise their sport. He’s also been involved in creating of a couple of skate parks, he says.
He worked from his own personal skateboarding background to start creating the exhibit. It grew from there.
“I have lots of skateboarding-related connections, but to be honest, it’s kind of taken on a life of its own,” Rutherford said.
He started with his own skateboarding connections, and that led to other connections and phone calls from strangers who had heard about the exhibit and had all sorts of unique stuff they wanted to offer, he said.
“All these people were just so generous with their collections,” he said. These include Brewce Martin, owner of Skatopia, an Ohio farm dedicated to skateboarding, and skateboard artist Marc McKee.
Martin’s collection of vintage skateboards might be the largest in the world, and some of them are quite valuable in collectors’ circles, said Rutherford.
When it came to putting together the exhibit, Martin’s “been as enthusiastic about it as I have,” said Rutherford.
When Rutherford called McKee wanting art for the show, he wasn’t sure what reaction he would get. However, McKee, too, freely offered up pieces from his collection. There is also a southern Ontario connection to the exhibit – a pro skateboarder from the ’70s who went by the name Wee Willi Winkels.
Willi Winkels – his real name – was a pioneer in skateboard manufacturing, designing his boards using technology from his father’s door-manufacturing business and making them at a Brampton factory.
He currently lives at the foot of Blue Mountain, where he is said to have tested some of the first snowboards back in the ’70s.
“I was really lucky to make a connection with him,” said Rutherford. “He shared all these stories with me, and that led to more ideas.”
Winkels is planning to be at the kNOw Skateboarding exhibit opening on Dec. 7.
People who check out the exhibit will see a lot of skateboards from different eras – from the early days in the 1950s and ’60s up to today. The boards make up the bulk of the exhibit, said Rutherford.
But there will also be sections on some of the culture associated with skateboarding, including music, art and fashion.
Playing up the “no skateboarding” theme, information panels have been created on reclaimed municipal street signs.
Visitors to the exhibit can also expect to see some interesting and unique things in the display cases. “I’ve got a really good collection of skateboard wheels from 1959 to today,” said Rutherford, naming one example.
There will also be motorized skateboards, eight-wheeled skateboards, and various other creative inventions and accessories associated with the sport.
A couple of Guelph connections will also be part of the exhibit, said Rutherford.
A history student from the University of Guelph has been helping out by tracking down some of the earliest reports of skateboarding in Guelph to contribute a local flavour. As well, in February, Newline Skateparks will use the exhibit as a forum to present draft designs for a proposed skate park in Silvercreek Park. The proposed park is the city’s answer to the void felt by local youth when the city dismantled the Deerpath Park facility in response to neighbourhood pressure.
Creating a forum to present the new skate park plans was part of the thinking behind the exhibit, but mostly it was about creating an exhibition aimed at youth, said Rutherford.
“Skateboarding tends to be a youth culture topic,” he explained. “What better way to get young people into the museum?”
As the skateboarding community got on board and the project began to grow, so too did the potential audience, he said.
Rutherford expects the show to appeal to a wide audience, encompassing anyone interested in youth-based arts and culture, the history of the sport, music, and more.
“We’ll get the skateboarders for sure, but the part that I’m really excited about is having the non-skateboarders understand more about skateboarding,” he said.
The exhibit runs from Dec. 8 to June 2 at the Guelph Civic Museum. It opens with a free reception Dec. 7 from 7 to 9 p.m.