It’s not nice to envy other museums’ artifacts (or conservation labs or cafes) but lately I’ve been a green-eyed, collections management monster. The phrase: “Everybody has cool stuff but us” has definitely been running through my brain…but that’s not really fair or accurate.
When I actually stopped to consider it, I changed my mind completely. Though often overlooked as storytellers, objects can contribute a unique perspective that no other form of evidence can rival. A museum’s value, therefore, lies in its ability to communicate a story about the past through the interpretation of its collection. Although we don’t have fancy ball gowns worn by Dolly Madison, paintings by Monet, or other nationally historic pieces in our collection, what we do have is significant in its own right.
There’s a wonderful honesty and integrity to ordinary things. Indeed, ordinary objects can often give us a more reliable story than the extraordinary objects by being so unassuming. They are tangible, instantly relatable connections to the past and the people who used them. In comparison, extraordinary objects are often reserved for special occasions or only available to the wealthy elite. Sure, they might be impressive examples of high culture, but due to their limited use, they do not offer much evidence of everyday life.
So, we celebrate ordinary objects at the museum. Whether big or small, ordinary or flashy, all pieces of material culture have great stories to tell!