This semester I have to design a coffee shop for my Interior Design Studio class and I think I will base my concept for the project off one of my favorite things: a cabinet of curiosities.
I have always been fascinated by the idea of a cabinet of curiosities (Also known as a cabinet of wonder, Kunstkammer or Wunderkammer in German). It may spring from all the nature center visits of my childhood, tapping on the glass pane separating me and snakes, picking up pine cones on nature walks, or simply being enthralled by even the simplest natural object.
I visited the Bell Museum of Natural History right here on the U of MN campus after my last class for the week. I cannot believe that I have not explored the wonders held within that building until now. Having a lecture in the large auditorium connected to the museum this spring and last, I have been mere steps away from a whole world of wonderful objects without even knowing it.
A cabinet of curiosities is literally a window to the world, a visual delight, and sometimes a visual overload. Basically they came about during the Renaissance period from rich guys who had time and money on their hands to collect cool stuff, though humans have been collecting intriguing objects throughout the ages. They bring to mind great adventurers and explorers who went to the ends of the earth and decided to pick up a few things along the way, or the anthropology professor who has filled his old creaky office shelves with peculiar things. They are a delight the eyes and the imagination.
I am particularly interested in the cabinets because they house such a variety of not only objects, but stories. Being an aspiring collector of curious objects myself, with every object there is a story and a history. The rocks on my bookshelf were picked up on the shore of Lake Superior last fall, the piggy bank a gift from my parents, and the feathers from a collection of my grandfathers.
We are accustomed now to searching out the latest YouTube sensation, the next big musician, or the up and coming artist or designer on the internet, yet we are still taping into the age old search for something that fascinates us. I think we need to remember that there are curious things all around us everyday if we just step out our door.
In the Bell Museum Touch and See room, it's like a cabinet of curiosities was strewn over the entire room. There are animal bones, antlers, rocks, seashells, animal pelts, live snakes and turtles, and many more objects that you can pick up and investigate closely. I felt like a kid again as I knelt on the floor and stared into the red eyes of a turtle, or when I lifted the various antlers to test their weight. In the room there are also cabinets full of various natural history objects, and I could spend hours gazing at the wonders within. For me, looking at the various treasures is more aesthetic than scientific because I could not tell you the difference and names of one bird or another, or identify what animal skull graces the shelf, but it does not diminish their intrigue.
I drool over books such as the 636 page volume of Albertus Seba's Cabinet of Natural Curiosities. I spend hours perusing photos of fellow curiosity hunters, such as Curious Expeditions Flickr page. I long to have an array of objects like ones you can buy here from a store in New York. I could spend hours in the Touch and See room at the Bell Museum. Some people collect the same object when they travel such as mugs, t-shirts, or snow globes, I buy something that is unique and will add variety to my collection. I cannot help but be curious about the world around me, I guess I still am that little kid who thinks they found a great treasure when I pick up a perfectly shaped rock, a piece of driftwood, or a fascinating seashell.