Sara Cromwell, interim assistant director of the Museum of Anthropology, spearheaded an effort to give her student employees a chance to run an exhibit on their own while also giving the Museum a display unlike any it has had before. What resulted is the newest exhibit for the summer: MOA’s Cabinet of Curiosities.
The exhibit features nearly 80 exotic items hand-picked by the four student employees (and a Salem College student) and Cromwell. Other than that, Cromwell’s work with the project was deliberately limited, letting the students take control. “We looked at Cabinet of Curiosities as a way to reward the invaluable work of our student employees while simultaneously allowing them to improve upon their curatorial skills,” Cromwell explains. Her role was to answer any questions the students might have and help initially with the research of the objects. She also had help from museum educator Tina Smith throughout the process.
Cromwell came up with the theme of a cabinet of curiosities to create a space for objects from the Museum’s vast collection that haven’t been displayed before. Cabinets of curiosities, or wunderkammem (wonder rooms), originated as private collections of exotic and extraordinary objects in mid-sixteenth century Europe. Looking for a way to verify their wealth, individuals displayed as many foreign objects as they could in a jam-packed room of their home. The items represent a diverse group of disciplines such as fine art, natural history and anthropology. These displays served as precursors to modern museums.
Similarly, the exhibit features a large range of unique objects placed in a Victorian-era study to represent the aesthetic of the original wonder rooms. Included in the display are a necklace of human teeth and brass leopards – the items Cromwell is most curious about.
The exhibit is now open and runs through Aug. 29, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays. Admission is free.