Mining the Archives: Include Yourself (Cyanotypes)

How can you use our collection?  There are many different ways! Through the lens of a historian you might research how teaching methods have changed.  As a scientist you could look at how different types of materials are preserved. A statistician might analyse the changing size of schools and classroom attendance.

Martha Griffith, art teacher at Bur Oak Secondary School, used art as a means for her students to engage with the YRDSB Museum & Archives collection in an innovative way.

The Question: "How are you represented in the YRDSB Museum and Archives?" 

The YRDSB Museum & Archives houses a collection of artifacts and images that narrate the history of the school board. Students were asked to reflect on how they are represented in the collection and combine images from the archives with their own photographs to create a series of cyanotype prints. Inspired by artists Ellen Gallagher and Wes Peel, these cyanotype prints consider what is captured in the YRDSB archives, what is missing, and how education shapes our lives.

Mining the Archives: Include Yourself

A Grade 12 Media Arts Project by Students at Bur Oak Secondary School

Cyanotypes on the wall in Bur Oak Secondary School

What is a cyanotype?

Cyanotype printmaking was invented in 1842 by English astronomer Sir John Herschel. The process uses a mixture of ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide to create a blue image, also known as a blueprint. 

In Their Own Words: Each piece below is described by the student creator. Enjoy!

The theme of my artwork is Canadian Geography and the varying landscapes which are present across the country. In the YRDSB Museum and Archives Collection, it presents illustrations representative of different environments present in Canada. I am able to relate to the archives because I can see places of the present such as neighbouring schools, in the past. In the future, I would like to see more photographs depicting local monuments to see the difference between past and present. This experience has helped me learn how much our environment and culture has developed and grown in such a short period. ​

Batul Agha's cyanotype


The theme behind my collage is education. I decided to add a lot of ink and pencils from the archive to show how we evolved from using many different materials to using technology. The overall presentation of my collage shows how we humans have used a variety of materials over time in the classroom. 

Andrew Cong's cyanotype

My artwork revolves around the idea of who I am today and how my education in York Region contributed to my development. I personally relate to the YRDSB Museum and Archives through my education. There are several items in the collection that have some association with my school experiences; from the staircases I’ve walked down to the schools I’ve attended. I am interested to see how the collection will evolve to represent the continually growing population. My education in York Region has allowed me to find myself, my likes and my dislikes through the variety of clubs, councils and courses offered. 

Aysha Addus' cyanotype

The collage I created is a representation of myself in the Archives collection. It is a comparison between the present and past of the ways we use to communicate. In the past, older materials and techniques were utilized to communicate, however, in modern-day new materials are used to communicate our thoughts such as programs like illustrator and writing utensils. I am represented in the collage because I have a learning disability in communication and I chose my theme around my disability.  My educational experience shaped me tremendously because it teaches me the significance of going to school every day and made me value my education more, as some individuals might not have the privilege to go to school in other countries. It made me recognize my interests, strengths, and weaknesses and shapes my career pathways as I go to class every day. 

Andy Huang's cyanotype

The theme of my artwork is based on the education system. I wanted to display how archives and knowledge are being passed down generations. One piece of archive I can relate to is a stereograph titled Gathering Daisies. I see myself presented because I remember doing the same with my classmates in elementary school. 

I think it would be fascinating to see artworks from the past in the archives. The educational experience has shaped me by giving me the opportunity to attain new knowledge. I've had the opportunity to meet teachers and peers who have influenced me to grow into the person I am today.

Bonnie Li's cyanotype

The theme of my artwork is based on my experience living in China and Canada (or my combined Chinese and Canadian identity). I found an old book on the YRDSB's online museum, called HERE AND NOW STORY. In this work, I inserted a picture of myself holding a camera, which represented the recording of this moment. I used dragons to represent Chinese culture and maple leaves to represent Canadian culture. The significance of this work lies in a kind of commemoration of my lucky education in both China and Canada.

Minghao Tian's cyanotype

The Earth, hands, and planes in the middle represent my opinion that In this artwork, I explore  the idea that...the art world benefits the most when ideas are shared from cultures across the globe. I believe that, although everyone has their own personal heritage and traditions (such as my Pakistan and Slovak roots), creativity is more widespread when artists are respectfully drawing inspiration from a (variety of sources) and learn from work from across the world.

Adam Prochazka's cyanotype

The theme of my artwork is the unwillingness to grow up. In the piece, I included a map of Ontario from the archive. I lived in Toronto for almost 7 years after I immigrated with my family in grade 5. The choices to stay or move to places were all made by my parents. Until now, my parents made all the decisions either, whereas now I will become an independent adult and make choices about where I want to stay.

Xinya Liu's cyanotype

Fear can take a variety of forms, such as fear of change, fear of being judged, fear of failure and getting hurt. In the picture I use ravens to represent fear because sometimes  they are associated with death. Next, I included the Twin Tower buildings in my Hometown of Malaysia.  Lastly,  I included a light on the top of the building to represent success when fear is overcome. This artwork shows the idea of facing our fears.

Lucas Lam's cyanotype


My collage embodies the relationship between teachers and students. The relationship between teachers and students is symbiotic and students can sometimes be the teacher. The relationship between teachers and students is important because they can learn from each other. For the dark side of the face, I used graduation photos of teachers and students from the school board to illustrate my theme in an aesthetically-pleasing fashion.

Leo Li's cyanotype

I made my artwork to look like old films because it is about my memory.
Winter is amazing and snow is a beautiful material, but I rarely see them in my hometown; Noodles are my favourite food now, I really like to eat them everyday, but this habit just appeared the last two years.
From the archives, I found a great blue book cover and a small green camera.
I really like the style of that book’s cover, traditional but clear and easy to understand. These are my favorite things and memories about my experience in Canada.

James Xuan's cyanotype

I am an audio and visual learner, and therefore I am drawn to the visual arts. In this image, my eyes show my view of how I learn. This is represented through the archival images of the art books cover (the moon and the stars). I used these images to demonstrate that the mind has a vast capability of learning. I enjoy the freedom of learning.

Aashir Hussain's cyanotype

When I was first introduced to the YRDSB archive, I was fascinated by the many items held within it. They made me look back and realize the importance of Canada’s history and how Canada as a country has changed so much over the decades in order to become such a diverse country. 

In my collage, I wanted to incorporate my family background into my theme of showcasing Canada’s diversity. My family immigrated from China in hopes of finding a better life when they were young. 

To them, Canada was known as “Golden Mountain” since it was a place to start a new and prosperous life, so I decided to put a mountain in the foreground of my collage. The rocket ship at the top represents immigration and travel as it was a key part in defining Canada’s diversity. The image of a horse  represents discovery and adventure. The buildings in the background show urbanization and how technology has evolved over many years. Finally, the Earth in the center of the piece is to represent community and diversity. 

Jaden Tseng's cyanotype


This artwork is a collage that represents me being a Chinese-Canadian. The inkwells that were present in the archives reminded me of when I was in China since I had used inkwells there when learning Chinese calligraphy. I’d like to see more items that represent the different cultures in YRDSB, for example, the foreign students that come to study in Canada. My education experience at YRDSB has helped me to learn about other cultures. 

Akima Lok's cyanotype

My piece explores the continuation of education beyond the classroom. The YRDSB Museum and Archives Collection provides numerous evidence that shows how far we have travelled since time has started. The plant in my piece is from the archives and symbolizes the nature that surrounds us outside the classroom. The endless pathway represents my journey around the world; travelling to different countries allows me to experience a variety of cultures and lifestyles, creating an infinite road to knowledge.

Kristen Chau's cyanotype

This project was funded in part by a grant from Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, District 16.

If you are interested in working with the Museum & Archives on a student researched project please contact

District 16 OSSTF Excellence in Education Grant Application logo