This is a story I’ve wanted to share for months. I’m motivated because there are loose threads of it everywhere I look. My mother continues to gift pieces of favorite collections. J.’s dad gave Alex an archival album filled to overflowing with collected clippings from every golf tournament he ever finished to win or place. Yesterday, I read another blog about New Traditional or grandmillenial style…the mix of old and new and inspired curating of collections. And today I began to follow one more interior designer on Instagram. Every day I say I won’t, and every day, lured by their fabulous collections, I do.
Nod to the antique markets I’ve enjoyed, the wise forward to this post about a special collection is simple: what we love can seed a collection of the heart. And what we eschew someone else might dearly love.
Before Thanksgiving I was invited to travel two hours south to see a million-dollar collection and suggest how to brand and use it to educate. I was told very little. That it was a collection belonging to a genius businessman and his artist/sculptor wife, both in their 90s. That they desire to keep the collection intact posthumously for 10 years. That they have no profit motive or financial need to house and share the collection with the public.
We’d just lost a loved one. The holidays were pressing. I did not want to go.
I arrived via Waze at a small, nondescript home and parked in hard dirt next to what I remember as some kind of lean-to. My knock on the door was slowly answered by a kind, shirtless older man in overalls who said he’d never heard of the barn I sought or the couple.
No digital map could accurately read the address so I called the client who had facilitated this meeting. One barbed-wire fence, two fierce guard dogs and only a minute later, I arrived at my destination…a gorgeous modern, architecturally impressive barn set back in tall, cinnamon-colored grass from the road. I could dare you to name a collection—any kind of collection, any category of collection dating back to the 1800s. I likely saw it there. Most interesting was the horse-drawn hearse with the storybook four feathered plumes atop.
Over several hours I saw thousands of artifacts and time not permitting walked by thousands more during the tour that was narrated by this exceedingly bright and passionate couple with immense knowledge and total-collection recall of provenance.
I returned and wrote a report…
The historical and educational significance of this collection should not be understated or ignored.
The collection has the potential to appeal to men and women of diverse ages, interests and backgrounds, as well as to special-interest groups.
…has no digital footprint. It simply can’t be found yet; neither, I believe, is it ready to be found.
The collection is overwhelming. A “whole” tour does not seem plausible.
It does not appear best practices are in place for space design, presentation, protection, target lighting and cleanliness. Professional standards for museum exhibits should be understood and considered.
There is no wayfinding. A collection this immense requires it.
I was paid promptly and received this response from the client liaison: Thank you so much for your time…being old school, they would like your address. They aren’t comfortable at this time running it as a business or museum, just sharing it as their hobby…it will be our future to develop this…I of course have reached out to a museum curator… to help us get started.
I received a thank you note many weeks later; dated just three days after I wrote the report, it had been mailed to an old address, returned to sender and mailed again. Thinking to spare someone the time and trouble of writing it, I hadn’t shared our address.
I will treasure that note like Alex treasures his carefully curated book of clippings. It arrived on top of a collection of beautiful fine-art notecards tied with thick jute twine. Each card front featured a titled painting of wildlife, waterfowl or a winter landscape by the artist brother of the collection’s patriarch.
A handwritten note on a card reproducing an exquisite watercolor painting on top of eight additional museum-quality cards with the finishing detail of rustic twine. Priceless. But it is the heart of the matter that is really my story here…the research, scholarship, time, money and interest outside oneself that constitutes a collection. That’s beautiful.
He wrote, “…this is Barb’s collection. She just sparkles when she works with it and when she shares it with others. We are all given a series of ‘nows’ to live through. It is fun to look back at the ‘nows’ of the past. These people were tough and had to be resourceful. I sometimes wonder what Grandpa would have thought if I had told him he could watch a baseball game in St. Louis in his own home and hear the crack of the bat on the ball even before the people at the game could. We did not ask enough questions of our forbearers…there is a reason we cannot know the future…”