Remember when you used to collect? Maybe it was rocks, keychains, baseball cards, or Puppy Surprise toys. Whatever it was, many people did it as children. Some people never grow out of that compulsion to build a series of objects that may become the envy of others, or to amass a collection that has deep personal meaning. Until January 8, 2017, you can see 20 such collections at the Museum of Vancouver (MOV) in All Together Now: Vancouver Collectors and Their Worlds.
All of the collectors are locals except for two — but they collect things related to Vancouver. Viviane Gosselin, curator of contemporary culture at the MOV, explained that they made a point to focus on the individuals themselves. “The collection and the collector are at the forefront,” she said, explaining that they wanted the experience of the exhibition to feel like meeting the collectors.
They accomplished this by pairing each collection with a large backlit photo of its collector, along with a brief Q&A explaining why and how they collect. Only one of the collectors wanted to remain anonymous, but there is still a photo accompanying his collection of rare pocket watches, his face obscured by one of the watches.
Each collector has a unique story to share, and their collection takes on new meaning after learning about them and their motivation. For example, Marie Allen, an artificial eye collector, is a second generation ocularist, and custom makes glass eyes for her patients. There is also Harold Steves, who collects heirloom vegetable seeds. His grandfather and great-uncle started the first seed company in Western Canada.
All of the collectors are passionate about their objects, and the act of collecting has shaped their life. Often it starts small, without the goal of amassing a large collection, but it begins to grow from there. It seems there is a bit of a snowball effect that happens once you become known as a collector.
Gosselin easily separates collectors from hoarders, explaining that hoarding is pathological and non-discriminatory, whereas a collector will build a series and never want to add more of the exact same thing. A collector is usually more discerning.
I was extremely impressed by the diversity of collections on display at the MOV, as well as the interesting interactive component of each one. These are not static collections that you simply look at as you walk by. You can play the pinball machines, listen to a song on the jukeboxes, try on a corset, learn how to tie a fishing fly, and listen to music from the concerts listed in the poster collection. From taxidermy to prosthetics, and Chinese restaurant menus to action figures, this exhibition has something that will appeal to everyone.
One of the goals of the exhibition is to show the diversity of series and change the way people define a collection. The press release for the exhibition reports that nine out of 10 collectors are men, but Gosselin thinks that may be skewed by how a collection is traditionally defined. Many women may collect things such as shoes, clothes, or gadgets, and many people who actually do collect wouldn’t self-report as a “collector.” This show features seven female collectors.
Looking at these impressive collections, I was reminded of my former collecting days, when I used to find great excitement in adding the next item to my stash. For these collectors, that has never died. Everyone has a connection to the collectors’ experience, said Gosselin. “Even if you outgrew your collecting, people can relate to that rush.”