JCSM called nine members of the university community to respond objectively and subjectively to art from JCSM’s growing collection of natural history prints. The resulting exhibition is an orchestrated chorus of diverse voices responding to the art, science, and wonder of representing the natural world.

To expand the conversation, Ralph Brown Draughon Library’s Special Collections Department loaned materials from their collections; JCSM appreciates their kind collaboration. We also thank the Auburn University Museum of Natural History in the College of Science and Mathematics for loaning materials from their ornithology collection.

Claire Wilson

“Collections and Collecting”

“As the acquisition is incorporated into the collector’s self, it is imparted with a sense of sacredness. This sacredness may be enhanced through contagion, where the collector infers a magical connection to the collectible’s creator or prior owner through ownership and handling of the collectible” (William D. McIntosh and Brandon Schmeichel paraphrasing Russell Belk, 1995).

I love to collect things. There’s art and books and music in my home, of course. But there are also nests and fossils and pods and seeds and lots of living creatures. And in my professional life as an editor for “The Encyclopedia of Alabama”, I get to collect my favorite thing: information. I think that the quote above gets to the heart of my collecting. I chose this lithograph by Stow Wengenroth, because it struck me as beautiful, but also as odd and slightly menacing. This artist “collected” an image of two birds that are not normally found together for his own reasons, and they work well together. In our collecting behaviors, we humans like to organize the world into neat categories, but this piece breaks that convention. I found that attractive because it made me think about the way we categorize things. I volunteer at the Auburn University Museum of Natural History in its paleontology collections.  I do so because I want to “collect” the experience of interacting with the world at a time I can never “be” in.  In the lab, scientists have organized the animal collections according to categories that made sense to them. Birds are in one set of drawers and dinosaurs are in another, but birds ARE dinosaurs. All of our categories are, at some level, manufactured. I don’t say this in a negative way, however.  The act of collecting—art, fossils, pets, data—helps give us the necessary illusion that we can make sense of our world.

Claire Wilson is Senior Editor of  “Encyclopedia of Alabama”

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