By Regina Connell.
It seems to be that if you like the finer things in life, and are far enough along to have a lot of the basics taken care of, at some point you will confront the “c” word. As in collecting. As in being a collector. As in having a collection.
I think the first time I was aware of the idea of a collector was when I was living in Hong Kong. I visited the home of a lovely man named Paul Braga, a member of one of the oldest Portuguese families there.
My 7-year-old self was awed by a collection of snuff bottles. I had no idea of what they were. What on earth was snuff? I was told. (Yuck, said I, the 7-year-old. Why would someone want to stick something up their noses to induce sneezing, I wondered.) And why these fiddly little bottles with their intricate carvings? But I was fascinated, and whenever I could, went back to visit, listening to Mr. Braga’s stories. (He’d forgiven me the “yuck” comment.)
The word “collector” conjures up for me a certain seriousness: of studying and becoming knowledgeable in a subject; of being an adult; of investing, rather than spending; of building a legacy. Sometimes these collectors collect out of true love or a deep intellectual interest or belief in folk art or those snuff bottles…
Others start out collecting for love but end up collecting because they’re relentlessly competitive and just must have that piece in their collection (something I call the ‘trading card mentality’); others collect for the financial upside.
Still others are just in love with the idea of a collection, of being surrounded with a massing of things that give them an identity, whether it’s records or Buddhas or Shaker furniture or sculptural miniatures.
Some people are accidental collectors. They fall in love with roosters; with copper pans; with shoe forms; with spools; with vintage tools; with esoteric textiles from ancient hill tribes around the world. They don’t search for them, but just seem to find them here and there, or they start getting them for birthdays and Christmas, or just because someone thought they had the perfect person for that obscure thing they came across on holiday. It’s not about scholarship or connoisseurship per se: it’s just something that happened and is now part of them.
And for yet others, collections are about creating a little bit of immortality: you create a collection and it goes on beyond you, will always be associated with you as you become part of its provenance, its history, its lore. If you collect enough, you can call what you have a collection. If it’s fine enough, it’s an “important” collection. And if your “important” collection gets big enough, you create a museum and name it after yourself.
Well, as far as I’m concerned, the collections that are important are the ones born of love and connection, not ego, a hole in the soul, or competition…
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