Before every town had a museum, people assembled their precious belongings into collections called wunderkammers. One of the most famous was owned by an early practitioner of plastic surgery, Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter, who kept a wunderkammer of medical oddities, tumors, specimens, plaster casts and illustrations to help train young physicians.
After Mütter's death in 1859, others added a Siamese twin's death cast and Florence Nightingale's sewing kit. In the 1930s, Dada artists like Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp used the wunderkammer model to piece together odd associations, such as Man Ray's
, consisting of a photograph of an eye attached to the swinging arm of a metronome. In his
, Duchamp created a portable museum suitcase with unfolding compartments to display miniatures and models of his work.
This weekend, Curious Gallery aims to recapture the spirit of those personal museums. Coyote skulls, a vintage gray fox rug and terrariums filled with minerals and metals will stand adjacent to interactive workshops and gallery art.
Lupa, the mononymous Curious Gallery founder and author of a book called Skin Spirits: The Spiritual and Magical Uses of Animal Parts, wants viewers to leave feeling they can create or expand their own cabinets of curiosity.
What's in Lupa's own wunderkammer? We asked for a peek.
- The book is Natural History of Animals by Sanborn Tenney and Abby A. Tenney, published in 1870 by Charles Scribner & Co.
- The bottle is genuine vintage snake oil; the bits of the label that remain identify it as a tonic âFor Female Complaints and Diseases of Women,â manufactured by the J.R. Watkins Medical Company probably sometime near the turn of the 20th centuryâa steal at just $1 a bottle! I got it a couple of years ago at an antique shop out on the coast; the label amused me as Iâm a pretty dedicated feminist and I enjoy the irony of possessing such an artifact.
- The little wood and yarn deal in the center is a tiny planter I made a couple of weeks ago from scrap wood, secondhand yarn and a little Tillandsia air plant.
- The creation in the front is a decorative rattle made from a fox skull a crafty friend of mine found out in the woods in the Midwest, along with secondhand leather from old jackets, yarn from secondhand sources, and a secondhand fox tail that I got from someone who was tired of wearing it on their purse.
- The stick next to it is a piece of branch with some lichens that I happened to find along the sidewalk as I was walking from my car to Paxton Gate for the pictures.
- The skull is from a domestic or feral pig, probably one that died of natural causes and was left to weather outdoors for a couple of years. Itâs another antique shop find from the coast, and itâs one of my favorites for its imperfectionsâa snapped tusk, a broken jaw process and the weathered coloration.
- The costume piece on top of it is made from a piece from a very old spotted hyena hide that I bought from a taxidermy collector who was liquidating their collection a while back, along with more secondhand leather, handmade alpaca yarn bought from a local fiber artist, and a few bits of vintage metal from various sources.
GO: Curious Gallery PDX will be held at the DoubleTree Hotel, 1000 NE Multnomah St., on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 1-2. $20. All ages. Visit curiousgallerypdx.com for more information.