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Finding curiosity in the art gallery

A skeleton of a bird, a red Lego, preserved specimens, old letters and candlesticks: all these items were on display for the Jan. 15 opening of the Cabinet of Curiosity, held in the Gretchen Schuette Art Gallery.

Chemeketa’s Life Science and Art programs contributed specimens used for observation to the exhibit, reflecting traditional curiosities found in private collections through the 16th and 17th centuries.

Specimens submitted by Jennifer Johns of the Life and Science department. Photo by Cecelia Love-Zhou
These antlers, submitted by Josie Wood, were carried for miles and gifted blisters to those who found them. Photo by Cecelia Love-Zhou

Deanne Beausoleil and Kay Bunnenberg-Boehmer, Chemeketa professors and curators of the gallery, expanded the exhibit by asking Chemeketa faculty and staff: “What thing do you have that is amazing to you, and why is it amazing to you?”

Faculty and staff were invited to submit any item they felt fit the theme of the event. Submissions included pieces of emotional, historical or natural importance for the person or community.

Jim Ward hid these hearts in his coworkers’ offices. Deanne Beausoleil’s candlesticks were purchased from a garage sale of the maker’s grandchild. Photo by Cecelia Love-Zhou

“What surprised me the most was that a lot of people brought in things later than we wanted, and every time they did that, they said, “I didn’t think that my object would fit,” said Beausoleil. “And so what surprised me was how many people originally thought that their objects maybe wouldn’t have a place here, but then saw that their objects had a really important place.”

Diana Inch, a librarian at Chemeketa’s Library and Learning Resource Center, brought in a bamboo chair.

“I thought that would be kind of an interesting item that I had around the house that represents the time I was in China,” said Inch.

For Inch, the chair reminds her of her time teaching English in China in the early 90s, right after the massacre at Tiananmen Square.

The gallery was full of other uncommon items. From artisanal carvings of whales made of jade, mounted buckhorns and images and artifacts from generations of ancestry, these objects became a “cohesive” connection between their owners to family, the Earth and memory, and the sharing of those stories connected contributors to the broader Chemeketa community, said Beausoleil.

The presentation of these contemporary artifacts provided an opportunity for gathering, sharing and learning about the history and natural aspects of each contributor.

This Dali-inspired melted clock, submitted by Traci Hodgson, functioned as an actual clock. Photo by Cecelia Love-Zhou

“We all have those little anecdotal stories in our lives, so part of this is about starting conversations about maybe looking at something and going, ‘Oh my gosh, my Aunt Ester has something like that too!’ and then you have that conversation about that,” said Beausoleil. “This is about creating a dialogue with either you and the artwork, or you and the person next to you, your classmate, or just whoever is in the gallery.”

To Beausoleil, creating a dialogue is the true purpose of these showcases.

“That’s always the choice we’re making in the gallery, both Kay and I. We are working to create a dialogue, or at least provoke thought, and provoke a discussion. That is the number one thought in our head: what will create a dialogue? What can be used to teach?”

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