Monday, March 24, 2008

Wunderkammer


by Brenda Roger

Have you ever tried to trace one of your ideas or personality traits back to its origin? While listening to the curator of the 2008 Carnegie International talk about specific artists, I heard mention of a Cabinet of Curiosities, and realized that this early form of a museum was present in the earliest memories of my childhood.

The Cabinet of Curiosities originated hundreds of years ago and was originally a cabient of natural history specimens and other curious things. Also, it was frequently a room, not necessarily a cabinet. I've always found the idea of a mish-mash of things that are simply interesting to look at very appealing, but never really thought about why. Some people can't stand the clutter of seemingly unrelated objects.

My maternal grandmother has always had a hutch in her house with small niches in it, each only about four by six inches. It is to this day filled with curiosities; little porcelain dolls, postcards, photos, glass bottles, animal figures of various materials, and frequently little scraps of paper with makeshift labels typed on them. It was positioned, in her tiny country house, next to the kitchen table, and I would stare at it and examine the objects for something to do while the grown-ups were talking. The mish-mash made perfect sense to me. It was a record of my grandmother's life and memories. It is a personal museum.

The idea of keeping a bunch of old stuff for people to come and look at it is sometimes completely foreign to the students that visit the museum. It is an idea they have to get used to before they can surrender to their curiosity. The idea has always made perfect sense to me, so I do what I can to win them over.

So what about your life's work can be traced to an early memory?

7 comments:

Gina said...

I don't know of anything in my life's work, but I think I know the origins of my desire to write fiction. When I was very young, pre-kindergarten, and my younger brother was a baby, my mother would sometimes deal with my complaints that there was nothing to do by telling me to play "quiet believe," a game in which I sat quietly and made up stories in my mind.

Joyce said...

Our sunroom is a bit of a "room of curiosities." We pick up weird things/signs, etc. at flea markets and hang them on the walls and ceiling.

I always say I inherited my "writing gene" from my mother. She used to write poetry and wanted to write a book about the B-25 bomber that went down in the Mon in the 1950s (http://pittsburgh.about.com/od/transportation/a/b25_bomber.htm) but life kind of got in the way.

Joyce said...

That link didn't quite copy right. I'll try again:
http://pittsburgh.about.com/od/transportation/a/b25_bomber.htm

Joyce said...

Never mind. Just google bomber in Monongahela.

nancy said...

Brenda, you made me think of the little drawer in my gradnmother's house--the small drawer in the telephone stand (remember those?) that held notepaper and pens, but also one of those little cylinders that when you turned it upside down it made a moo like a cow. It had romping calves painted on the sides. I haven't thought of that since I was a kid. Amazing how the brain works sometimes!

I like Gina's "quiet believe." Wow.

Annette said...

Here, Joyce. Maybe this will work:
http://tinyurl.com/2gev79

Brenda said...

quiet believe.....I love that. Thanks, Gina!