From cat whiskers to abandoned flip-flops and Troll Dolls, ticket stubs and Pepsi cans, the memories and narratives of locals lined museum walls normally reserved for fine art.
The Santa Cruz Collects exhibition opened on Oct. 7 at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH) and will run through Feb. 19. The gallery gives local collectors of Santa Cruz a space alongside local artists.
The show is a collaborative effort on the part of MAH curators Nora Grant and Marla Novo who want to give amateur collectors an opportunity to showcase their collections next to artists. It gives contributors the freedom to show off collections that are significant to themselves as individuals.
Kate Clark collected ticket stubs, one from a Women’s music concert –– a genre inspired by the second-wave feminist movement protesting issues from sexuality, reproductive rights and the workplace. Clark recalled the concert she attended in the early ’70s as “life affirming” because she had recently come out as a lesbian.
“I think that someday, in my 80s, I’ll sit down with my partner and we’ll look over the tickets and recall that Pink Martini concert, or all those summers at Shakespeare Santa Cruz,” Clark’s artist statement read. “And we’ll sing a few songs from the Women’s music concerts.”
Another collector, Kayla Garnet Rose, began collecting cat whiskers 25 years ago. It started one day when she put one of her cats’ whiskers in a jar to represent its energy. Her collection now includes 157 whiskers from 12 different cats. The collection of whiskers hangs in a black frame on the wall, fanned out in a gradient of different lengths and colors.
“I became interested in creating that thriving kind of culture that isn’t necessarily going to be a part of the norm,” Rose said.
Barney Levy Jr., Santa Cruz resident and avid collector, showed his unique vision of Santa Cruz with his collection of abandoned flip-flops he finds on the beach and turns into pieces of art. What many would see as trash is transformed as the sandals are mounted to the wall in the shape of a wave.
“It made me think about what the owners of each one of those sandals imagined of their whereabouts,” said MAH volunteer Leonardo Cruz. “I doubt anybody had ever imagined it would end up in a museum exhibition.”
In many cases these were found objects –– items like jewelry, buttons and playing cards that collector Diane Grunes picks up on her walks around Santa Cruz.
MAH curator Nora Grant explained the idea for this show plays off a previous exhibit at the MAH which bore the same name. The previous show focused on the psychology of collecting and the line between collecting and hoarding, while the current exhibit focuses on the rhetoric of collecting.
Grant explained the knack of Santa Cruz locals to see the potential in the discarded and her appreciation for the authenticity of these collections.
“Santa Cruz is rich with garage [sales] and rummage sales seeking audience,” Grant said. “There are a lot of stories and collections that exist in people’s homes that you don’t always get to see.”
Artist Daniella Woolf’s collection is composed of family letters she found sitting in a box and shredded to cleanse herself of the emotions she felt when she found them. She wove the shreds into squares representing the “bad juju” from her past and reworked them into textiles. They appear to be lace curtains from a distance.
“Taking letters that had a lot of dark content, and transforming them into white woven lace-like forms has been uplifting,” Woolf said.
The collections varied in size from Genson DeLeon’s wine cork human figures set up in a scene inside a small Plexiglas case, to Steve Hosmer’s larger vintage signs from hotels and stores around Santa Cruz County.
“We didn’t want to give priority or spatial preference to professional artists,” curator Nora Grant said. “We really wanted to create a space where the artwork and the collections could dance together and mingle.”
Many participants shared the perspective the exhibit is about seeing things not for what they are but what they could be. Anika Tabachnick, who collects Troll Dolls, said searching for art in everyday objects allows her to see the world more positively.
Tabachnick began collecting the dolls because it made her sad to see them buried in piles of junk in thrift stores and she appreciated their “cute and creepy” quality. She started creating characters and a narrative for the trolls, photographing scenes and creating plays to tell stories she couldn’t otherwise express.
The exhibition provides a look into what it means to be an individual in this city by showcasing objects that don’t always make it out of storage.
“These collections give you little windows into people’s worlds, but they are just a window,” Grant said. “You don’t get to see entirely into their home. You don’t get to go into their basements and learn everything about them, but you do get to see this little window.”