Welcome, fellow collectors of wonders, to the 3rd Cabinet of Curiosities, the blog carnival that puts the "awe" back in "awesome" and encourages contributors to rummage through the unusual things they collect - or come upon in the cyberverse - to produce the equally remarkable stories behind them. Our carnival draws its inspiration from the curiosity cabinets of Europe's Enlightenment: those marvelous rooms of exotic and aesthetically arranged specimens that blurred the boundaries between art and science. The premier exemplar of this form of rational and artistic inquiry was the Dutch pharmacist and zoologist Albertus Seba (1665-1736), whose personal collection was unsurpassed and who produced "the most sumptuous and complete record of any eighteenth century cabinet of natural history." Based in Amsterdam, Seba benefited from the trade networks of the Dutch East Indies company, and from sailors who would bring him rare specimens in exchange for medicine. In 1717, he sold his collection to Czar Peter the Great for 15,000 guilders and set about amassing a new one, housed in his widely visited private museum.
Even more astounding than the curiosities themselves is the multi-volume Thesaurus Seba compiled to catalog his specimens, containing over 400 color engravings he commissioned that are marvels in themselves. Called "one of the most prized natural history books of all time", Seba's Locupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri accurata descriptio — Naaukeurige beschryving van het schatryke kabinet der voornaamste seldzaamheden der natuur is available today in coffee table form as Cabinet of Natural Curiosities. The illustrations mix animals of various species and natural forms and encourage the viewer to freely integrate the natural objects and even fantastic creatures represented into an harmonious whole.
In the spirit of Saba, then, let this edition of Cabinet of Curiosities bend the bounds of art and science. May its oddities edify and its patterns emerge as they may. For as Walter Benjamin reminds us;
"He who seeks to approach his own buried past must conduct himself like a man digging. He must not be afraid to return again and again to the same matter; to scatter it as one scatters earth, to turn it over as one turns over soil. For the matter itself is only a deposit, a stratum, which yields only to the most meticulous examination what constitutes the real treasure hidden within the earth: the images, severed from all earlier associations, that stand -- like precious fragments or torsos in a collector's gallery -- in the prosaic rooms of our later understanding."
Matt Andrade of Jerub Baal-Blog alerts us to the veritable cabinet of curiosities that is the Harvard Museum of Natural History, with pictures of a few of the many specimens from its astonishing collections (example at right).
A few years ago, the New York Public Library featured an exhibit entitled: The Public's Treasures: A Cabinet of Curiosities, and its website contains a trove of topical material: future CofC hosts, take note.
Bibliodyssey provides a gorgeous assemblage of images from 17th and 18th century engravings of Wondertooneel del Nature. The author shares that while many of the great collections of the age were those of the well-to-do, "there are numerous descriptions of collections - often modest in size, of course, by comparison to those of the wealthy - developed by Dutch carpenters, merchants, tradesmen and artisans. The enthusiasm for collecting, in Holland at least, traversed all strata of society, but with the most notable collections owned by burghers and regents, in contrast to the kings, nobles and prelates of other European countries."
The work of visual artist Joseph Cornell (at left) uses the curiosity cabinet as a vehicle for his creations. According to reviewer James McCorcle at Artnet, they "beckon us to examine their strange functions and contents, yet are enclosed and prohibit the engaged play that seems to define those very objects."
The lucky learners at Middle Street Primary School in the UK are making their own cabinets and pods as part of their "out of school hours learning." There is even a Cabinets & Pods blog to showcase "weird and wonderful things" found on the Internet.
And if you happen to be Down Under in the Victoria area, you can help Beechworth's Burke Museum
"on a treasure hunt for weird and wonderful local collections to showcase in the Cabinet of Curiosities, on loan from the National Museum of Australia from January to June next year as part of a national tour. The museum is keen to hear from any individuals or local organisations with a distinctive, bizarre, ornamental, sentimental or just plain ordinary collection of objects small enough to fit into one of the 35 drawers of the Cabinet."
The Curiosity Cabinet of the Collective Unconscious made it to Burning Man in 2005, though I, alas, did not. Still, it sounds like we are on the crest of a popular wave with this carnival and its subject matter.
Still on the subject of the museum as wunderkammer, the contents of the Cabinets of Curiosities at Dommuseum Zu Saltzburg were refilled in 1974 to replicate their baroque specimens originally collected in the 17th century but dispersed after the end of the Prince bishopric.
The authors of Curious Expeditions >> Traveling and Exhuming the Extraordinary Past visited The Museum of Hunting Arms and Trophies in Sibiu, Romania.
"Transylvania," they write. "That magical area of Romania, home to thick dark forests, teeming with wild boars, bears, wolves and lynxes. The Carpathian mountains are home to roughly 40% of Europe’s wolves and 60% of all of Europe’s bears, and ironically, Romania has a fanatical bear-hunting Communist dictator to thank for it."
O Mundo de Claudia is compiling a list of museums or collections which started as Cabinets of Curiosities. Probably these will not include the Icelandic Phallological Museum, though there is certainly sufficient interest in its collections, given that my own little post on it generated the greatest amount of traffic ever in a single day for Walking the Berkshires. Penises of the animal kingdom are popular on the Web, huh? Go figure.
Terry Thornton of Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi shares the story behind a Japanese Wall Hanging that graces his home and connects to his "late father-in-law, James Forrest "Al" Rooker [1916-1997], the Battleship USS ALABAMA, World War II, Tokyo Bay, and two weeks in September 1945 when the occupational forces were getting organized in Japan." It was precisely with an eye toward posts like this that I started this carnival, and its popularity with genealogy bloggers who have risen to the challenge shows that it is fertile ground indeed.
At Destination: Austin Family, Thomas MacEntee tells us; "What started out as a simple Ebay purchase of a bowl that held my fascination, soon turned into not only a collecting obsession, but an education in the subject of women and the arts." Thomas very kindly writes that Cabinet of Curiosities "has become one of my fave carnivals - it takes me off focus from genealogy research and forces me to evaluate some of my favorite possessions and how they fit into the cultural past of my family." He certainly does that with great aplomb in this post, that manages to tie all of those themes together around a beautiful hand-painted Limoges china bowl.
There is an ancient ceder chest with a long pedigree in our family that I have been meaning to blog about. Apple does just that with a large piece of family history at her blog Apple's Tree. Tracing its origins as it made its way down through the generations from the mid-1800s to her own home today, Apple muses;
"So was the bureau a wedding gift to John and Agnes Craig that they brought with them on a ship from Scotland? Or was it a wedding gift to James and Isabella White and the part about the bureau being brought from Scotland a nice embellishment? Is it possible that it was a wedding gift to James and Isabella White's daughter, Isabella?"
Cyborgsuzy's LiveJournal page shares this curiosity cabinet of her own creation (at left). Says she; " It was fun to make and put to use a lot of eclectic nature junk I've been collecting for the past 20 years."
The Cabinet of Wonders has its own recurring Compendium of Curiosities that most recently featured this motorcycle riding frog, and followed up last Saturday with The Worst Waxworks in the World. Rest assured, this site promises to be an endless source of amusement, delight and material for upcoming CofC editions.
In this digital age, the world wide wunderkammer that is YouTube offers this montage, suitably orchestrated, entitled; Dr. Cotti's Cabinet of Curiosities. Set aside the next 3:18 seconds, and enjoy.
The Curiosity Cabinet has many branches in its evolutionary tree, and one of these is the Sideshow. Sideshow World brings us myriad wonders, and this month we are proud to highlight one of these: the rare and celebrated hairy trout of the Canadian wilderness and Coney Island.
In a post entitled Wunderkammer Nr. 1, Arlitrach of the blog You Got it, Dude shares this extraordinary image of military contraptions that look as if they might have been designed by Dr. Seuss - as opposed to Dr. Strangelove. He says they are giant sound reflectors and listening devices used to hear approaching ships out of visual range. The soldiers in the image appear to my untutored eyes to be from an Asian army, perhaps Imperial Japanese, but undoubtedly there are those among you dear readers who can give us the full scoop.
"It is alot like allowing someone to watch while you are cleaning your bedroom closet. As you unload your mess on the floor, the spectator gains clues as to how you live and think. You may do yourself proud or you may embarrass yourself, but you are anonymous so it is all good.
There is something about the blog format that brings out the voyeur in people too. As a reader of this blog you are willingly sitting back and watching what comes out of the closet, good or bad, and you can walk away at any time with no explanations needed. But you are also anonymous so it is all good.
A wunderkammer is a German word meaning 'cabinet of curiosities'. Once you reach a certain age you realize that all along you have been collecting the materials to make yourself a human wunderkammer . These curiosities you have collected become what you are. Having one of these cabinets and not sharing it with the curious is an injustice to your life collection."
"Wonder - an interesting and sadly almost antiquated trait. It is a combination of surprise and appreciation, and of innocence and awe. It is something most of us leave behind in childhood. It is the quality that I am almost envious of in others. It is something, I think, I subconsciously strive for in my work. It is undoubtedly the reason why I collect antique taxidermy and natural history. It is the reason I loathe mass production. It is the soul of a room, only when it is a true reflection of one's own life."
"As a young child, I loved the curved glass that beckoned my curious eyes, welcoming me to the cabinet’s contents. Now it holds objects crafted when my sons were children: dinosaurs made of wood and ceramic pieces, and memorabilia from my father’s father: pipes and pocket watches."
At the British emporium The Cabinet of Curiosities, you can purchase "shrunken heads sculpted by Ian Mitchell in the Somerset studios of Bernard Pearson, formerly of Clarecraft. They each stand 100mm high...80mm wide and are made from Crystacast, a fine-art casting material, hand-painted and finished." This is also the spot to get your very own genie-in-a-bottle or great art in a matchbox. Be sure to keep these in mind for stocking stuffers next December, won't you?
Peter Smith alerts us at The Screengrab that curiosities do indeed abound on YouTube at Something Weird.Com, particularly this bit of quaint and dated moralizing about the perils of cohabitation in cheap motel rooms, and the depravity induced by "cheap whiskey, cheaper perfume, and uninhibited love" - which sounds very much like a good name for a Country and Western song - all exhibited in the "sleazy exploitation drive-in movie" Common Law Wife (1963). Favorite moment:
"Frankly, Ladies and Gentlemen, this is not the kind of motion picture any thinking parent would want his children to see. However, if you are old enough to be married, you must see this picture. If you are not old enough to be married, you cannot! Remember, you do not have to say 'I do' to be married. See Common Law Wife!"
See for yourselves. So bad it's good.
"Oneida legend says that the Oneida were led to these lands by following a moving stone; where it stopped, they settled. There is another ice-age linkage here because glaciers move staggering amounts of loose stone and boulders (glaciers are made up of about one-third stone and two-thirds ice) and deposit these stones as erratics. Erratics are non-native stones and boulders which can be found all over New York. Syenite is one type of erratic and is frequently found in Oneida territories. The Skenandoah Boulder is perhaps the largest syenite erratic. It is named for a very famous Oneida Chief Skenandoah... As you pass through village of Oneida Castle, on NY 5, note that this was once the site of the principal Oneida village, known as Kanonwalohale."
At Moultrie Creek, Denise Olson writes about stones of a different sort in Coquina, a post about the Castillo de San Marcos at St. Augustine, Florida, and the challenge that its builders faced 330 years ago finding materials for its construction in a state where stone is far from abundant. They ultimately quarried an offshore island for a shell rock called Coquina, which consists of "many small shells fused together over time forming a sort of limerock."
And that concludes this 3rd edition of Cabinet of Curiosities. On February 18th, the 4th CofC will be hosted by Thaddeus Nelson of the blog Archaeoporn. Let's be sure he has plenty of material. Submissions can be made directly to Thadd at <tjn2104 AT columbia DOT edu> or via the handy submission form. Those wishing to host future editions are most welcome to contact me directly. Not that I don't enjoy pulling this all together, mind you. But I know what I like in a cabinet of curiosities, and can't wait to see what you would include in yours.
(If you want the coffee table book, btw, it will set you back a fair piece, but I, for one, believe I shall make room for it in my budget. Or perhaps just spring for The Complete Plates in Color.)