Remember the days — if it’s not already too late — when your family had get-togethers to show vacation slides? Seems a bit like yesteryear, doesn’t it?
The concern that tactile collections of this kind are disappearing was the spark behind the Danbury Museum Historical Society’s show, “Collections, Community, Conversation, an Accessible Art Exhibit.” On exhibit are 18 collections of everything from punk rock fanzines to Colonial apothecary items.
“What I call the `touchables’ are going away,” said the show’s curator, Catherine Vanaria, assistant professor of photography at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury. “I see the change taking place in society as to how people collect and share collections. As digital photography becomes more and more popular, the actual physical objects, documents and artifacts are slowly being forgotten.”
“The show is about collecting,” said Brigid Guertin, executive director of the museum. “Through this exhibition, we are having an ongoing conversation with the community.
“Collections are a reflection of who we are, and people love to share and talk about their collections,” she said. “It always starts a conversation, no matter what you collect — whether you collect frogs, irises, glass, dolls or photographic images.”
For this exhibit, people from around the area answered the call to participate.
Bruce Wingate, a Danbury musician, lent his collection of punk rock fanzines. These paper periodicals document a time before the Web when fans of bands like the Ramones and the Clash connected by creating, reading and trading these do-it-yourself publications to keep up with the latest news and shows. The fanzines covered regional music scenes and generally were sold at shows or through the mail.
Another unusual collection of Black Americana postcards was lent by former Danbury educator John W. Cherry, whose postcards date to the early 1900s. The historical nature of this collection surprises and informs and gives new meaning to the term “politically incorrect.”
“This collection in particular gives us pause,” said Vanaria. “We do have to look in the mirror and do some reflection.”
A resident of New Fairfield, Vanaria is a lifelong collector of photographic artifacts. Her early collecting habits focused on contemporary work, but as photography shifted from analog-based (film) to digital, she became attracted to older photographs found at tag sales or destined for the trash.
“These were historical orphans looking for a home,” she said. “As an educator, I’ve realized the importance of the physical photograph (and negative) as objects.
“Digital photography has changed viewing habits — the family album has migrated to the computer screen. The act of touching photographs has disappeared. Now photographs are posted to Facebook or stored on computer hard drives and are easily forgotten since there is no physical trace.”
At the museum, however, the cases are filled with a wealth of objects. Phyllis Zagarella’s collection of “house pins” (created by artist Lucinda Yates) tells the story of the artist, who was at one time homeless. Her journey brought her to design these pins that depict houses.
Vintage sewing machines sit alongside a collection of model airplanes, and a collection of decorative book bindings from the 18th and 19th century prove that collections can be as esoteric as they are fascinating.
Deb Keiser is a freelance writer. Email email@example.com.