Drawing, 1878-1884. Henry Karunach (d. 1888), Hampton, Virginia. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. George D. Payne.
Cover, The Shrine Magazine, February 1927. Charles Buckles Falls (1874-1960), New York, New York. Gift of Dorothy H. Trower, in memory of Ralph E. Trower.
Tall Cedars of Lebanon Hat, 1960-1980. Probably American. Gift of Barry R. Stocker, Past Supreme Tall Cedar, 2001.056.1. Photograph by David Bohl.
“Curators’ Choice: Favorites from the Collection” is a selection of the staff’s pick of objects from the Museum and Library holdings. Staff members chose the nearly 150 objects on view for different reasons: aesthetic, intellectual, and emotional. Some admired the craftsmanship, while others were attracted to the story about a specific event in American history. Remembrances of family, or items simply thought humorous also guided the staff’s choices.
“The objects we make, buy, give, save or display in our homes speak volumes about who we are as individuals and as members of a larger society,” said Hilary Anderson Stelling, Director of Exhibitions and Audience Development. “They reflect not only our personal preferences, but also our values and beliefs, the time and place in which we acquired them, and the reasons we kept them. We give meaning to objects, whether they are valuable art, souvenirs from a fun vacation, or gifts that remind us of the giver.”
The staff had many objects to choose from. Since its founding in 1975, the Museum has collected many thousands of books, manuscripts, paintings, household items, toys, and pieces of clothing, from early colonial times to the present. Stelling chose a late 19th-century drawing of a Plains Indian artifact by Henry Karunach to include in the exhibition. Karunach was a student at the Hampton Institute, which taught trades, English language and other subjects with the now dubiously regarded goal of “civilizing” young Native Americans. Said Stelling, “We know only a little about Karunach and his experience at the school, but I have long been intrigued by this little painting of a Plains Indian artifact. I wonder if a teacher assigned the subject to Karunach or if he chose to draw this object because he felt homesick."
Sponsored by the Scottish Rite Masons of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, the Museum is known for its Masonic and fraternal materials, both those used in lodges in rituals and those used by Masons and their families in their homes. Collections Manager Maureen Harper was drawn to a Tall Cedars of Lebanon hat and case because of its peculiarity, as well as remembrances of family and community. “I agree with Christopher Hodapp, author of Freemasons for Dummies, who called the Tall Cedars of Lebanon’s pyramid-shaped hat ‘the oddest of fraternal headgear.’ The triangular, plastic zippered pouch to carry it seems just as odd. Still, it reminds me of men from the 1950s, like my father, who were proud of their community service—which, for the Tall Cedars, meant raising funds for muscular dystrophy research—and of their association with a fraternal group.”
Dean Lahikainen, the Carolyn and Peter Lynch Curator of American Decorative Arts at the Peabody Essex Museum will present an accompanying lecture, “The Art of Collecting: A Curator’s Personal Journey” on Saturday, October 23 at 2 pm. He will discuss our fascination with historical objects and show us some of his personal favorites. The lecture is free and is made possible by the Lowell Institute.
The Museum hopes that through the exhibition the public will enjoy the objects from the collection, and that it will inspire visitors to think about what heirlooms and other belongings mean to them.