Wednesday, March 2, 2011

NEW EXHIBITS: Cabinets of Curiosity

The museum is changing it up a bit this year and offering our visitors a new experience. You get to explore the collections yourself instead of us choosing what you see in an exhibit.
Coinciding with a collections inventory, we are creating Cabinets of Curiosities. Each of these cabinets will feature a different type of artifact from our collection. Right now for example, you can see fossils, rocks, lanterns and lamps, sports equipment, shoes and cameras!

This is a new concept for our museum, but in the context of museums in general, this is the oldest idea in the book. Museums actually stemmed from and were made up by Cabinets of Curiosities. In the 16th century, it became a badge of honour and importance for the rich, the powerful, and the noble to travel and collect items that were weird and wonderful for their own cabinets of curiosity. Collecting was popular long before cabinets of curiosities were created, but it was in the 16th century that it became popular to exhibit those collections.

Unlike the museums of today, not just anyone could visit these cabinets. The owners made the decision on who to let in and oftentimes it was limited to their friends and others of power and nobility.

There was no order to these cabinets; instead, all of the curiosities were placed together, on shelves, on top of each other, hung on the wall or from the ceiling. There was also little discrimination on which objects were placed in the cabinets, though the weirder the better seemed to have been the rule. They included collections of natural history, ethnography, geology, historic and religious relics, art and antiquities objects. Some of these objects were authentic, while others were forgeries. One could find books, paintings and sculptures amongst the pressed leaves, shells, stuffed aligators and unicorn tusks (actually it was the tusk of a narwhal, but that was not known at the time).

In the 18th century, and even moreso in the 19th century, trends began to change. These collections of weird and wonderful objects began to be gifted to public institutions, which gave rise to the modern concept of a museum. It was these cabinets that served as the first collections of some of the world’s earliest museums. The new trend, then was to invite everyone in, even lower class people, to learn about history and nature but also for fun.

We all collect something, though you may not have set out to start your collection, it still exists. Is it cook books, serving platters, coins, stamps, rocks or shoes? Come and tell us what it is that you collect and see our modern day version of a Cabinet of Curiosity, then give us your opinions on your favourite objects and what sorts of exhibits you would like to see in the future.

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