Your Own Wunderkammer
TIPS FOR AN INSPIRED COLLECTION
Display items that are truly special, either singularly
or in groups (e.g., your collection of sand from
beaches of the world, organized in little glass vials).
The contents of the cabinet should inspire aesthetic
Group things according to your own personal
system of organization. Take time to work this out
before arranging your pieces. Do rocks go together,
or things with holes? Avoid dull classifications, like
the date you acquired things, and instead strive for
curiosity and the excitement of the old cluttered
and mazelike Smithsonian before it was reorganized, that feeling of delving and discovery, of
seeing something new each time.
Collection Dos and Don’ts
» Do collect based on personal whimsy. For example,
butterfly wings that look like they have eyes.
» Don’t collect based on monetary or perceived
value. For example, those mint Cabbage Patch
Kids, still in the box.
» Don’t put disparate elements together. For
example, that plastic shrunken head from the
movie set doesn’t work if the rest of the collection
is old bottles and shells.
» Do have many small collections with idiosyncratic
» Don’t cram everything together on a shelf and
say you’re done.
There are several points of view on labeling.
Some people prefer not to. Others like the creative aspect, even painting their paper with milk
and baking it, or soaking it in tea, to “age” it.
Some collectors like to get fanciful, making up
names for specimens or creating labels that are
mysteriously blurred or indecipherable. Others
prefer precision and clarity, placing neatly lettered labels, sometimes with patterned or gold
edges, next to each exhibit.
Some examples of different kinds of wunderkammern, metaphorical and otherwise:
» The Unknown Museum: makezine.com/go/
» Joseph Bonnier de la Mosson’s extraordinary
Cabinet, a piece of which survives at the
Muséum Nationale d’Histoire Naturelle, in the
Jardin des Plantes, in Paris: makezine.com/
» Peter the Great’s Kunstkamera: kunstkamera.
The Cabinet for Your Wonders ru/en (and particularly, makezine.com/go/
Almost anything will do to house your collection. peterthegreat)
However, once again materials are paramount — » Shelley Jackson’s internet-based My Body:
real wood, metal, and glass are always better than A Wunderkammer: altx.com/thebody
materials that speak of cheap modern manufacture. » The Museum of Jurassic Technology: mjt.org
House your treasures in a vessel worthy of them. » The mind-bogglingly fascinating Cryptozoo-
Compartmentalization is always good. If your logical Scientific Art of Alex CF: alexcf.com
cabinet has drawers, take time to modify them into
compartments by inserting dividers, so that you
can nestle your finds into custom spaces lined with
beautiful tissue paper or silk-wool.
The key is to keep a sense of design and concept
in how you display things. How does the whole of
a category look together? Making a mosaic of your
objects in radiating patterns or neatly arranged
clusters can fill spaces nicely. Putting things up in
rows looks more scientific, so think carefully about
the effect if you choose this route.
Don’t worry about crowding — it encourages
» Finders, Keepers by Rosamond Purcell
and Stephen Jay Gould
» Owl’s Head by Rosamond Purcell
» Cabinets of Curiosities by Patrick Mauries
» Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet Of Wonder: Pronged Ants,
Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other
Marvels of Jurassic Technology by Lawrence
132 Make: Volume 17