Sunday, February 4, 2007

Museums of Anything and Everything

In today's NY Times and elsewhere, I read with some fascination, the obituary of Elizabeth Tashjian, the founder of the Nut Museum in Connecticut. Read more about her in this 2005 New Yorker article. Her life's work was a complex combination of artmaking, collecting, and, in places unusual for a museum curator--such as the Johnny Carson show--educating the public about nuts.

Clearly, she had a particular passion, but the pursuit of that passion--founding a museum--she shares with thousands of others. Some people create museums of local history, or collect fine art--but Ms Tashjian belonged to the group of people who develop an all-consuming interest for a particular topic. In upstate New York alone there are museums dedicated to butterfly art, petrified creatures, maple, baseball, bottles, Easter eggs, firefighting, the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, Ithaca Calendar clocks, fiddlers and sailplanes--to name just a few of the state's specialized museums. Some of these make the transition to a more mainstream museum--the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum for example. Others, however, remain almost entirely the province of their well-intentioned and enthusiastic founders, never generating the finances and support necessary to sustain an organization.

Thinking of starting a museum? Think about the sustainability of your enterprise. Sure, you care about buttons, or wood planes, or whatever. Will anyone else? How can you translate your passion into a museum that others can care about--in a deeper way than just a curiosity?

There was an answer for the Nut Museum--a professor at Connecticut College saved the collection and in 2004, helped develop an exhibition at the Lyman Allyn Museum in Connecticut. Read a thoughtful Wesleyan student review of that exhibit here.

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