On Collecting

Almost one year ago to the day I bought a house and since that day I have been remodeling, repairing and reclaiming the space to make it my own. After living a year with out anything on the walls or shelves, because of renovations, I’m finally ready to decorate. Not as simple a process as one might expect. After more than a decade spent collecting everything from old cameras to bottle openers, I have more than I can display. This has led me to ask myself, ‘Why do I collect these? Do they still have great value to me? Is it something that is aesthetically appealing? What is it’s story?’ To help me through it all is not a tv program called Hoarders, but one of the very collections that is in question. That would be my collection of books about collecting. Re-visiting them is helping me to shed light on my habits, their importance, and how to organize, prioritize and let go of my artifacts. Below is a selection of these books that I particularly enjoy. I would love to hear any other book suggestions you might have, or tell me about your collections! You can email me at kati@contemporarycraft.org

Taking Things Seriously: 75 Objects with Unexpected Significance by Joshua Glenn.
Cover of Book
As a collector of stories and tchotchkes, I was drawn to this very beautifully designed book that highlights 75 things and the narratives those objects carry. It is often difficult for a non-collector to understand or appreciate the draw certain objects have, or the way in which a story or some abstract idea can imbue a worthless item with enough worth to make it priceless – or at least worth more than nothing.

“I gathered the red earth just outside the teepee at sunrise, still vibrating from all that had happened the night before. I took it to remind me what I’m made of.”
-Marilyn Berlin Snell, Taking Things Seriously

After all, isn’t that why we collect the strange things that we do? To have a memento of a memory or of a moment, like a ticket stub, or a wine bottle label, or even a petrified piece of cake.
In Flagrante Collecto: Caught in the Act of Collecting by Marilynn Gelfman Karp is another? book that captures the joy of collecting. Here is an excerpt:

“The Act of Collecting takes a broad look at objects and prototypical collectors, who fall into three precise categories. Silas Marner exemplifies those who collect goods of intrinsic value (ex: gold, gems), universally coveted substances that have been desirable through the ages. Lorenzo De?Medici represents those who collect commodities of extrinsic value (ex: art, stamps, baseball cards, comic books) with a competing collectorship and limited availability. Tom Sawyer typifies those who collect items without intrinsic or extrinsic value (ex: a thread spool, a blue glass shard, an orphaned key), which convey satisfaction and confer serenity upon the collectors who accumulate them. These objects and their ilk (ex: cigar rings, do not disturb signs and air sickness bags) are devalued, undervalued or simply not valued beyond their limited functionality by most people. Collections of the discarded, the unloved, inspire and fulfill those who have dominion over them.”

I won’t go into great detail about the rest of these books, you can find them all on amazon with reviews. Some of them are philosophical, some try to be, some are just fun, but they’re all interesting, maybe even fascinating.

Evocative Objects: Things We Think With by Sherry Turkle

Collections of Nothing by William Davies King

On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection by Susan Stewart

Dry Storeroom No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum by Richard Forty?

Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet Of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology by Lawrence Weschler

To Have and To Hold: An Intimate History of Collectors and Collecting by Phillip Blom