Late last month I had the opportunity to visit the Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke to listen to a speaker. It had been awhile since I had the time to take in an event like that so I jumped at the chance. I was glad that I did. It is nice to do something educational while supporting the arts. The proceeds from the event went to support the museum so I was happy to pay the small fee that they were requesting.
The event was small, but the people that showed up to listen to the speaker were courteous and in good spirits. The location was the renovated Carriage House located on the Wistariahurst campus. The topic of discussion was the collection of Joseph Allen Skinner. The speaker was Cheryl Harden, Assistant Curator of the Skinner Museum located at Mount Holyoke College. For those of you unfamiliar with the Skinner family they were a turn of the century family who were very successful in the silk industry. They had many philanthropic endeavors and were successful industrialists of the day.
Joseph Skinner was the second son of the family. He was born to wealth and over his years amassed quite the collection. The topic of discussion was his diverse collection of everything. This is not just his 'stuff', but his self-described collection of items. Starting from a scientific curiosity of rocks and shells as a child. Then branching out into art and various properties. His many travels added cultural objects from around the world which was added to his amassed textile-era Americana.
The discussion delved into his history and how he became a 'collector'. This was a subject which I was able to relate to quite easily being a collector myself. It truly is a mindset that one has lurking in the psyche. There is a desire to preserve history through objects, particularly ones own history. A collection has just the same importance as a journal might have to another. It is an activity were one can look back feel a connection to the past.
The particular pivot point in history for Joseph Skinner which pushed him into that fold was destruction of his father's mill and property during a flood. It was at that point where the young Skinner, in Ms. Harden's theory, attempted to hold onto and reconstruct what was lost. That initial need to reconstruct which started with collecting little bits of what was lost in that flood and news about it snowballed over the years. It certainly is a plausible theory.
I would like to emphasize that the collection is quite diverse and is large enough to give birth to a museum.
If you would like to see a representation of his collection you can follow this link.
The Skinner Museum