Monday, January 27, 2014

My Library, The Curiosity Cabinet

The "Cabinet of Curiosities", or Wunderkammer, has been a slight obsession of mine since I was a child (possibly coinciding with my first visit to the Harvard Museum of Natural History). The notion of the Cabinet of Curiosities began during the Renaissance, as a sort of predeccessor to the modern natural history museum. These cabinets, or sometimes entire rooms), were filled with objects taken most often from the natural world. Sometimes the objects were manipulations or alterations of naturally occurring specimens leaning toward the occult or mythological, such as chimeric taxidermy (like the Fiji mermaid) or mysterious crystals claiming to have powers.

16th century engraving (by Giuseppe_Maria_Mitelli) of the Curiosity Cabinet of Ulisse Aldrovandi.

Later, curiosity cabinets began to contain found objects as well, including pretty much anything that caught the fancy of the cabinet owner. That's where I find myself today.

When my husband and I moved into our current house almost five years ago we had been living together for a couple of years and so we knew each other's aesthetic tastes. The house is fairly small, but it has more bedrooms than we knew what to do with so we immediately decided to turn one room into a library of sorts. 

Slowly but surely our library (and to some degree, other rooms – as visitors can attest) has become our own little Cabinet of Curiosities. We collect lots of "strange" things like antique taxidermy, antique dresses and costume, paper ephemera, books, shells, sticks, bones... pretty much anything that catches our fancies. We teeter on the edge of "hoarding" pretty much every day, but having things displayed in this manor allows us to confidently say "We aren't hoarders; We're collectors!" (It's a fine line, I know...)

My husband is a comic book artist and illustrator, and his work has a very specific aesthetic (each piece is also similar to an illustrated Curiosity Cabinet) and so we justify keeping a lot of our found objects by calling them "drawing reference". It's amazing how often he pops into the library, now dually serving as my sewing studio, to grab a replica bird skull or a starfish so that he can get just the right angle on what he is drawing. 

I'll never forget the time I hosted an orchard cleanup potluck at my house and several of my horseback riding students came to help. Someone discovered the library on a trip to the bathroom and before I knew it I had a crowd of tweenager/teenagers in my room, whispering and pointing and asking all sorts of questions. They'd never seen anything like it, outside of a museum, and the notion that someone could have a collection like ours was certainly new to them. They still talk about it now, though it was at least three years ago! 

Today I thought I'd share a few photos from my library/curiosity cabinet/studio. The taxidermy we collect is all legitimately antique or of domestic/legal mounts - I'm a little paranoid about wildlife law! Some of the bones we have processed and cleaned, ourselves. In addition to the room itself, I have quite a few "mini-cabinets" and boxes that I have paper-crafted.

I will be posting a pre-Valentine's Day tutorial next week on how to make miniature curiosity cabinets like this for your secret admirée! They're a beautiful addition to any shelf/wall and since they are primarily paper-crafted you can add whatever you want to them to make them wholly your own! 

Okay, this one isn't really part of the library, but what is a Curiosity Cabinet without a resident feline friend? He's certainly curious!

Do you have any areas in your house that you think of as Curiosity Cabinets?