Tuesday, March 28, 2017

On the Other Hand . . .

It is a wonderful thing if your genealogy quest branches out to lead you into collectibles territory. History can provide so many inspirations for further research pursuits, and sometimes those pursuits can lead to tangible collections.

There is one caveat in order, should you find yourself stepping full speed into collecting items significant to your family history: collections mean very little, in the long run, if you don't pair that with the generosity of sharing. It would mean very little to the world, for instance, if Gloria Austin—whose collection of carriages I mentioned yesterday—chose to have her priceless historic specimens kept behind closed doors, for her enjoyment alone. By allowing the public to step inside the doors of her museum, she not only shared, but served to inspire an interest in the history of specific details of a bygone era.

I've been reading a library book lately that is targeted to artists. It provides a list of ten cardinal rules for young creatives who want to be successful at their craft. Among those ten rules is one which seems, at first, to be directly opposed to the concept of assembling collectibles: "Open up your cabinet of curiosities."

By this rule, author Austin Kleon speaks to those who see the product of their work—as well as the resources which inspired their work—as something to be kept under wraps until just the right moment or the right person.

Under a subheading for this rule, Kleon's book Show Your Work! proclaims, "Don't be a hoarder."

The author explains,
If you happened to be wealthy and educated and alive in 16th- and 17th-century Europe, it was fashionable to have a Wunderkammern, a "wonder chamber," or a "cabinet of curiosities" in your house—a room filled with rare and remarkable objects that served as a kind of external display of your thirst for knowledge of the world.

Basically, it was what, in modern times, became what we call a museum—only back then, it was a collection of wonders reserved for a very limited audience.

Times are different now, of course, and philanthropists and collectors have partnered to make such collections open to the public at nominal charge. Even so, it's not only the rich and famous who have made these collections accessible, but everyday people may find themselves the source of significant collections.

And not all of these collections are of expensive, large objects. As Austin Kleon observed,
We all have our own treasured collections. They can be physical cabinets of curiosities, say, living room bookshelves full of our favorite novels, records, and movies, or they can be more like intangible museums of the heart, our skulls lined with memories of places we've been, people we've met, experiences we've accumulated.... These mental scrapbooks form our tastes and our tastes influence our work.

In asking, "Where do you get your inspiration," Kleon concludes,
Your influences are all worth sharing because they clue people in to who you are and what you do—sometimes even more than your own work.

Much of the work of a genealogist involves both the examination of others' collections and the assemblage of our own. Certainly our end product—the documentation and explanation of our own family's history—becomes a collection in its own right. And just like Kleon's rule for all creatives—which includes us as genealogists and documentarians of our family histories—we need to consider just how we are going to go about sharing that collection of facts, figures, and wonderful vignettes.

By the time it's all said and done, we need to remember: no hoarding.


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