Museums With Their Own Niche- page 2 | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
At last count, Velveteria, the Museum of Velvet Paintings has nearly 2,500 velvet paintings. (Richard Clement / Reuters / Corbis)

Museums With Their Own Niche

Subjects as wide-ranging as lunchboxes, roller skating, and Bigfoot have museums dedicated solely to their study and appreciation

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(Continued from page 1)

Vent Haven Museum in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, is the world’s only public collection of materials related to ventriloquism. A Cincinnati businessman named William Shakespeare Berger and later president of the International Brotherhood of Ventriloquists began the collection in the early 1900s; ventriloquists—“vents”—still donate materials. There are 700 ventriloquist dummies arranged in three buildings, some sitting in rows as if waiting for a class to begin. Unusual creations include a head carved by a German prisoner in a Soviet POW camp from World War II—the vent performed for fellow prisoners as well as for the cook to get extra food—and a family of figures used by a blind Vaudeville-era vent. Photographs and drawings of vents abound, including one from the late 1700s, when ventriloquism was more often a trick to con people out of money instead of a form of entertainment. The museum also has a library with 1,000 volumes and voluminous correspondence for scholars. Admission is by appointment only, and curator Jennifer Dawson leads hour-and-a-half tours for $5.00. A yearly convention is held nearby.

The Robert C. Williams Paper Museum in Atlanta originated with a collection by Dard Hunter, an artist from America’s Arts and Crafts Movement who traveled the world to record the ways that people made paper and collect artifacts. In the museum, visitors can examine precursors to modern paper, including many tapa cloths made from pounded bark in Sumatra and Tunisia with inscriptions from special occasions; a vat used by Chinese papermakers in 200 B.C.; and one of the one million prayers printed on paper and enshrined in wooden pagodas that were commissioned by the Empress Shotuku after Japan’s smallpox epidemic of 735. In all, there are over 100,000 watermarks, papers, tools, machines and manuscripts. Admission for individuals is free; guided tours are $5 per person or $8.50 for a tour and paper-making exercise.

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