On Saturday, February 5, my husband and I visited the Allentown Art Museum to attend the members’ preview of the exhibit Eclectic Collecting: Curiosities from the Vault. Here is what the exhibit is about, in the museum’s own words:

We knew we were going to see a lot of interesting things. And that turned out to be true, all right. I warn you up front, I will need to visit this exhibit again to get all the details, because lots of times I got excited about what I was looking at and forgot to photo the explanation cards so I could put some context to items in this post.

But maybe that’s a good thing, not having too much info for you to absorb. Let’s just go around the rooms the same way I did, marveling and exclaiming over the items set before me.

The exhibit is in two rooms. Here’s the larger gallery:

Did you see those giant clay vessels in the last photo? I was intrigued by these – they come from Pompeii and were set beneath the counters of ancient fast-food restaurants, accessed by a hole in the counter, and filled with wine or food items. I have just finished reading a book about Pompeii in which this kind of vessel was mentioned. What a treat to see them in person.

We spent some time examining these two cases:

You might be saying, “What are all those things?”, and that would be the point. They are all items that maybe are a bit mysterious to our modern eyes, their uses or functions buried or obscured in the past. The museum provided information via a video kiosk to help us figure out what what was.

For instance, in the second photo, see that red triangle in the back? As I understood it, a person would save the hair caught in their comb or brush and store it in this case, so that it could be used for other purposes, such as providing material for building up a puffy hair style.

And…maybe something else. Remember this topic for later.

Moving on. There was a collection of empty frames on the wall, reminding me of the kind of surrounds that the classical paintings downstairs in the museum are wearing.

But, I didn’t find out any more information because I was distracted by something I find enchanting: netsuke!

These little carvings are exquisite. An item of Japanese dress, they combine function with beauty. I can’t believe the delicacy and detail of the work.

Next we entered the adjoining room.

Shoes! Shoes! Shoes!

When my mother died we found a pair of shoes from the 1970’s that would have fit right in with this contemporaneous style:

I do not know why she kept her pair (it was a pair of green, blue, and fuschia pink shoes in a style very similar to this, including the chunky heels) for almost 50 years past their style date, but…obviously other people felt the same way about their footwear from that time, too. I will say the sight of these shoes really brought back the memories of a certain time all right.

I also liked these little cross-eyed child’s slippers.

Next, how about this? I liked the look of it. And reading the card, I think it’s a fancy lunchbox, if you get right down to it.

Next, bookmarks! As an avid reader, I was quite interested in these.

I’ve selected a few to show you. It is obvious that bookmarks were often made and given as gifts. Seeing this display I am prompted to want to make some myself…

Look at these exquisite tiny silver serving pieces. Just look. I was so taken by that silver chest full of tiny utensils. I also liked how they had some pieces displayed on what looked like to me a tiered tray piece meant for petit fours or pastries.

Next up, these gemstones, all polished up. There is quite an array (look at that giant amethyst, for example). And I noticed a moonstone, interesting to me because I remember, a long time ago in my childhood, a girl I knew had a moonstone ring she was allowed to wear to church. I wished so much for a moonstone ring like that for myself.

But…I looked for something special to me in this case and I found it. My birthstone, topaz. I love its warm golden sparkle. Always have.

Now. Remember when I mentioned the hair-saving container in the other gallery? And that I might want you to remember it? Here is why. This object is a wreath made out of hair. Yes. Way back in 1868.

It’s not to my taste at all. In fact I think it’s creepy. But there is no denying that in earlier ages people thought such an object was appealing and worth spending a whole lot of time making. Take a look at the work here.

Here is something more appealing to me – a collection of Scottie dog and poodle pins. I could have looked at this display for a long time. It just made me smile.

At the end of the gallery there was a display of vessels in different shapes and sizes. We were invited to find our likeness among the selection:

Guess what, with each item description there was a personality description as well. We didn’t know this when we chose our items – I only saw it when I reviewed the photos of the cards at home.

Either we don’t know ourselves very well or somebody picked characteristics at random, or…maybe we really are these people and just haven’t understood it to be so. Anyway, here we are.

My husband: (I need to mention that he felt none of the vessels truly fit his personality!)

And here I am:

I do like the part about how I am a good bet to make it through a zombie attack!


All right, I’ve shown you our experience of the exhibit. We plan to go through it again and examine our favorites more closely plus I am sure we’ll find some new details that will intrigue us in other pieces. I enjoyed seeing items that I did not know could exist (that hair wreath, for instance) and things I don’t come across in real life (netsuke; the tiny silver serving pieces; the bookmarks). I am once again amazed at all the variety and color and exuberant life that our world has to offer.

Thank you to the museum!

About Claudia McGill

A person who does art and writes poetry. That's me!

11 responses to “Collected!

  1. Well I have to say that the wreaths are really my favorite as far as appearance however, as soon as I think that they are made of hair, then I also get creeped out by them. So I will pretend they are made out of something else so I can enjoy the appearance. This is a fun exhibition and I am glad you took us along. The only thing about the vessel I thought related to you was the Zombie comment so I am glad you agree. This whole exhibition is sort of a high class Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum.

  2. Thanks for this! Re the hair piece, there’s a modern artist (forget her name) who weaves hair into fabric up to 5m in length.

  3. Pingback: Art at the Art Museum | Sometimes You Get So Confused

  4. Wow that was like a giant cabinet of curiosities! I would have been easily distracted in there, so much to see! I agree that the hair wreath was creepy, no to that one! But lots of amazing items/art!

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