Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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‘Cabinets of Curiosity’ showcases personal collections

Two Wheaton sophomores have curated a campus art exhibition from the personal collections of faculty and staff members.

It's not often that one sees dollhouse families on display next to pink Depression glass and deity statues from around the world. A student-curated exhibition now on view at Wheaton offers a glimpse of just that—along with examples of Armenian lace, antique coffee grinders, heart-shaped rocks and more.

Student exhibitionGiven the opportunity to develop and mount an exhibition of their own devisal, sophomores Kayla Malouin and Lauren Salois chose an original subject: the personal collections of Wheaton's faculty and staff.

"Cabinets of Curiosity," showcasing nearly two dozen such collections, is the fascinating result.

The project originated last semester when Leah Niederstadt joined the art history faculty and became curator of the college's permanent art collection. She wanted to install a new exhibit in the display cases outside Watson's Ellison Lecture Hall, which had held a collection of Wedgwood pottery for some time. Niederstadt decided to offer a curating opportunity to Malouin and Salois, two of her student workers in the Collections Study Room.

"When Professor Niederstadt asked if Lauren and I would like to create an exhibition, I immediately agreed," said Malouin, who enjoys both history and art history and wants to become a professional curator.

Student exhibition"We both wanted to try something new, and we wanted to display a collection that people would find interesting," said Salois, who hopes to double major in art history and studio art. Hitting on the idea of displaying faculty and staff collections, the students sent out an e-mail invitation and were surprised when more than 20 people answered the call.

"My favorite part of the process was getting to observe what everyone collects, from Buddhist scroll paintings to a collection of doll house TVs," Salois said.

The students were able to exhibit objects from all 23 collections, since librarian Elliot Brandow and College Archivist Zeph Stickney took an interest in their project and offered them additional display space in the library.

Depression glass
Depression glass from the collection of Ann Sears, professor of music.

"It was a collaborative effort among faculty, staff and students and a great learning opportunity for Kayla and Lauren, particularly because they are interested in museum work and what it entails," said Niederstadt, who teaches both art history and museum studies at Wheaton. "I was impressed by their ability to see the project through to the end result: a fun and quirky but still educational exhibition."

"It was a long process to put together an exhibition of this size, but Kayla and I both learned a lot along the way," Salois said. "We both got to take part in the selection process and also learned important aspects such as filling out condition reports and loan agreements. With lots of help from Professor Niederstadt, we pulled everything together and created a professional and intriguing exhibition."

Deity statues
Deity statues from the collection of David Wulff, professor of psychology.

Malouin agreed that the project was a great learning experience. "There was so much involved," she said. "We had to communicate with the participants often in order to learn their stories and receive the objects. We also created the labels and planned where each collection would be placed in the cases. I enjoyed each part of the process. My favorite part was seeing and handling the collections and learning the stories behind them."

Professor of Art Tim Cunard started collecting dollhouse families in the 1980s after he and his wife bought a wooden sculpture of a family by the folk artist Lavern Kelley. The piece is among those on display in Watson.

Dollhouse family"The Kelley sculpture included mom, dad, son and daughter," Cunard said. "As a child, this was the makeup of my family. I started to think about family and the symmetry this represented…. In the course of my flea market adventures, I started seeing this four-person group in many toys and began assembling the collection."

The collections will be on display in Watson Fine Arts and the Wallace Library until the fourth week of January. Given the success of this exhibition, in the spring semester, two more of Niederstadt's student workers will have the opportunity to curate an exhibition in the Watson display cases.