When Collections Talk Back

I barely cook. I may think I know how important seasoning is (cough, Bobby Flay, cough), but I’ve never made my own spice rub or even know where to begin to make a steak flavourful. Despite those delusions, I collect salt and pepper shakers. The first one I got was when I visited the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. It’s a flowery, antiqued looking pair of porcelain cats. Followed by a black cat and yarn ball, and then a pair of distinguished gnomes. I tell myself, it will all make sense when I get my own place after college, where I will have a kitchen to store these ridiculous salt and pepper shakers. But, all of us are collectors in some way or another. It mostly manifests in physical assortments, but varies from person to person. Christian Jarrett, a psychologist, advised The Guardian that the urge to collect stems from, “unloved children learn[ing] to seek comfort in accumulating belongings; another is that collecting is motivated by existential anxieties – the collection, an extension of our identity, lives on, even though we do not.” Jarrett also theorizes that it is a matter of accumulating resources to attract a mate or an “endowment effect”, or extreme valuing of objects once we own them.

Collecting became a staple about 12,000 years ago. Today, I don’t collect salt and pepper shakers to impress potential mates, resolve any familial issues, or ease an identity crisis. Instead, it’s just something fun to do. There’s something exciting about having something no one else does. The same goes for Sammi Curran, a WLP sophomore, who prides herself on her shark teeth collection.

“I love animals, and sharks have always been one of my favorite animals since I saw Jaws when I was about seven or eight,” Curran says. “They’re terrifying yet I think they’re gorgeous and such amazing creatures. So, I started researching them and found out that you could buy prehistoric shark teeth from millions of years ago. I tend to go on vacation to places near water, and so I decided to collect them whenever I see them in little shops wherever I go.”

The motion of seeking out a special shark tooth and buying it in its padded box is part of the thrill for Curran. She labels each tooth based on where she bought it. Some of her collection include shark teeth from Cape Cod, Newport, Rhode Island, and New York.

She muses, “It’s strange to hold them and think that once it was in a shark’s mouth.”

Her collection currently totals at about eight shark teeth, with plans to someday acquire an enormous Megalodon tooth. Her favorite tooth was bought on Long Beach Island because it is a “sandy brown color and it’s about two inches long, like most of them. It looks like a perfect isosceles triangle which is pretty cool. Curran’s collection screams a deep love of animals and illustrates her kind nature.

Collections also preserve memories. Mercedes Lamb, a Writing for Stage and Screen student, collects ticket stubs and letters, “I still collect, I love going out to movies, especially with friends and I hang the notes I get up on my wall as a reminder of friends and family as well as a pick me up.”

Recently, Lamb saved her ticket from The Revenant screening. This assortment of tickets and personal letters show not only her passion for films, but it is a testament to her friendships. It is a way of keeping memories alive, of reliving all the joys and sorrows of the films she’s seen.

Collections obviously write their own stories, but some items create dialogues. Amanda Lester, a WLP sophomore has an array of containers in all shapes, styles, and sizes.

She began collecting containers by frequenting Goodwill and finding treasures in the home section. Now, she scouts for unique containers from different parts of the country or the world whenever she goes to a thrift store.

“My collection currently consists of jars, mugs, bowls, baskets, crates, vases, small chests, and boxes,” Lester says, “My biggest container is a bushel basket that I got from apple picking, and my smallest is a jewelry dish painted to look like a cow . . . I am really fond of my lemon-shaped woven basket and the small beaded box that my friend got for me from India.”

Lester intends for this container collection to be a lifelong endeavor. This emphasizes the versatility of collections; it gives the collector the ability to remember, reinvent, and reinvigorate their lives. Lester could display her plethora of containers all around her home as a testament to precious life figments.

“The great thing about having a container collection is that I find uses for all of them. The smaller boxes can hold earrings or coins, and I have a chest the size of a loaf of bread where I keep my pens and scissors. I'm excited to move off campus and be able to add bigger containers to my collection . . . many people have told me that my decorations are not things that they would've thought to put together or even to buy at all, and I love the amalgamation of all of my quirky containers.”

But if you’re really passionate, collections can start during your childhood and continue on through adulthood. Lauren Lopez, a WLP sophomore, started collecting key chains in elementary school.  Keychains are multifaceted. They can dangle from a backpack, snuggle your keys, or even decorate a bedroom.

Similar to Curran, Lopez has found her precious key chains on vacations as souvenirs.

Lopez remembers, “My favorite is one I have from an amusement park in Virginia called Busch Gardens. The theme park is European themed so the keychain has a turning 3D hexagon in the middle that has all the flags of the countries represented in the park.” For Lopez, her collection as a whole is “like a cool little scrapbook for [her] to look back on.”

Cara Casier’s, VMA sophomore has taken collections to a whole other level —bizarre celebrity screenshots.

While most people think of collections as tangible items or memorabilia, Casier shows that digital collections are possible too. All Casier has to be do is hit command – shift – 4 to save these wacky celeb facial expressions. She says, “I liked the idea that men I found attractive could make stupid faces and still a) be attractive to me and b) make me feel like hey, these are people too. Collecting them came from me wanting to keep them on my computer so that I could show them to my friends. I think as long as famous men I find attractive can contort their faces to be something other than a smolder I'll have a folder for them on my laptop.”  

Most notable in Casier’s collection is an entire folder dedicated to One Direction members’ faces from pausing music videos (Harry Styles takes the cake). More of her gems  include a star struck Taron Egerton meeting Mark Ruffalo and Zayn Malik with his eyes bugging out.

It's definitely comforting even if it's at the slight expense of their self esteem,” Casier says. “But hey it's not like they know anyways. Unless of course they read this article . . . oh god.”

No shame here. For all we know, Harry Styles could be collecting his fiftieth Saint Laurent shirt or Mark Ruffalo could have dozens of Hulk action figures. Collections are what you make them; fiercely intimate, strange, or even practical. They start a conversation and give people the ability to say, “Here I am!”

Now, on to the next (salt and pepper shaker, that is).

Photo by Ebrima Manjang