Luke Kelly: Collections of Peculiar Singularity
December 11, 2012
There is an upcoming auction at Sotheby’s, on the 12Â and 13Â of December, of a huge and remarkable collection of photographs all focused around hands:
The diversity of this singular focus is astounding, amplified by the incredibly expressive and telling nature of the way people use their hands. This amazing sale has gotten me thinking about other deep veins of collecting that I have come across. When done correctly, vast collections with narrow focuses–in shops, private homes or institutions–can contextualize and empower themselves, with echoes and minor differences drawn out by the relationships shown.
Of course, in Vermont there is the amazing and eclectic Shelburne museum, which houses 150,000 works from Electra Havemeyer Webb’s collection, including the lighthouse and steamship that she had moved to the site. While the entire magpie-like amalgamation is amazing, it is the hundreds of circus posters and thousands of hand-carved miniature circus parade figures that line the entire length of their own 518-foot long building that makes me think of the brilliance of obsessively narrow collections. An area that would not normally hold much interest for me, circus figurines, is suddenly given much more impact thorough the associations and juxtapositions created by great playful repetition.
Last year I went into a brilliant rare bookshop, Oliver Wood, tucked away in a tiny London mews house. The ground floor was filled with interesting bits and pieces, but it was the second floor that was reserved for the two remarkable items on sale. One was an entire collection of books all relating to the subject of death and the other was a similarly vast collection of historical books relating to sex. This binary sex-death collection occupied the majority of the second floor, and they were only available for sale as a whole. The proprietor told me that–as it is in life–the sex part of the collection was better than the death part, before adding, â€œbut we are still working on it.â€
All sorts of other strange, singular collections exist. I know someone who only collects red paintings; the Foundering Museum in London has a collection solely made up of the mementos left by mothers with their children at the orphanage gate. I even once sat next to someone at a dinner who boosted as to having collected everything that could be found that documented the life of an unremarkable 19th century Scottish immigrant. He aimed to own every single thing that existed that spoke of her existence
Even to a collector like me, this seems to be the limit.
Luke Kelly and Emily Eisen own and runÂ Mill Goods. The shop sells an eclectic mix of industrial and vintage finds out of an old textile mill boiler house sitting atop a stream, in Harrisville, NH. Luke also writes children’s stories and has three books due out with Putnam.