If PEZ Dispensers never struck you as works of art, pay a visit to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science and you'll see them differently. One of the most visually enticing displays in its new exhibit, Eye of the Collector, shows hundreds of Kermit and Princess Jasmine sugar-delivery mechanisms arranged in precise rows against a stark white backdrop. The collection belongs to Carla Eames Hartman, granddaughter of Charles and Ray Eames — yes, the designers of that famous chair — and that familial connection ceases to be surprising when you consider the unusual perspective on beauty and history that comes through in Hartman's collection as well as the 11 others featured in the exhibit, up through September 5.
Eye of the Collector is a delight because it shows how many of us act as curators in our own homes, and in doing so, underscores the relationship between museums and ordinary people. Museum visits are often otherworldly experiences, partly because when we peer at the placard next to a priceless Van Gogh and see the words “on loan from the private collection of," it can create the impression that the keepers of art and history are invariably wealthy, scholarly, well-connected people unlike most of us, who are just lucky to pass through for the afternoon. We may not realize the ways in which we ourselves build mini-museums when we collect Star Wars memorabilia, duck decoys or dolls for our children, because we assume that the real credit is only for collectors of "serious" objects like oil paintings and ancient scrolls.
Collecting is a very common human impulse with lots of different root motivations. Some collect out of sheer curiosity or because they get a rush from seeking out rare items, but for others it reflects a desire to connect with others, or with their own past, more deeply. Debbie Garrett, whose black dolls are on display, began collecting so that her young daughter would have dolls that looked like her to play with, something that Garrett didn't have when she was growing up. Bob Bragalone, the owner of the largest collection of Dallas Cowboys memorabilia, started building it after the Cowboys won their first Super Bowl in '72. For him it's a reminder of childhood, a time when life was more carefree and America's Team was still winning.
Also on view are Ronald Gard’s duck decoys; Anita Martinez's ballet folklorico dresses; Scott McCaskey's vintage bicycles; Deedie Rose's jewelry by studio artists; and a portion of Steve Sansweet's collection of Star Wars memorabilia, another that lays claim to the title, "the largest in the world."
One of the most extensive displays, and the one most like what you see elsewhere in the Perot, belongs to education entrepreneur Randy Best and his wife Nancy. Ever since a 1976 trip to China where they purchased a porcelain oil jug, the couple have bonded over their shared obsession with procuring objects that capture moments in time. Many of the items you will see in Eye of the Collector — including currency from the 1800s, an Egyptian flint blade circa 3000-2650 B.C. and a sand concretion that's 30 million years old — have never been viewed by the public.
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Eye of the Collector celebrates the unexpected ways that a love of art and history manifests in all of us, and in yet another nod to this spirit, the Perot invited patrons to vote for collections representing three categories: most unique, most visually stunning and people's choice. A collection of tops ranging from the 1700s to modern-day won for uniqueness, while a collection of guitars won in the visually stunning category. Gary Wieding was the people's choice for his fun shrine to the Beatles, built around an old upright piano that he'd bought for his kids at a consignment center in '91. One day Wieding was inspired to paint a yellow submarine on the front shutter, and he's never stopped finding new ways to decorate the piano with odes to his favorite band.
Although it's open to visitors, Eye of the Collector is not finished, nor will it be at any time before it closes in September. The final element is a giant monitor showcasing a continually evolving "digital collection" comprised of photos submitted online. If you have a legendary snowglobe collection and you're ready to share it with the world, it's not too late to contribute to this exhibit which provides an extraordinary window into the private passions of a diverse group of people, and a focused, personal way of connecting with history.
Eye of the Collector is on display at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, 2201 N. Field St., through September 5. For non-members, museum admission is $19 for adults, with a surcharge of $5 for the special exhibit. For more, visit perotmuseum.org.