For his first show of the year at WSU’s Museum of Art, interim director Ross Coates took a little different approach. As a result, opening night saw people who’d probably never been to an art opening before, many of them children. No artist’s ego was on display at this show, and so the conversations were not hesitant or whispered, but animated and mixed with laughter. Coates took 17th century wunderkammer, or “cabinets of curiosities,” as his inspiration. These cabinets were collections of exotic objects—strange plants, stuffed animals, artifacts—brought back to Europe by explorers. In the spirit of that Age of Exploration, Coates and the museum staff went exploring across campus, searching out its many museums and collections for forgotten marvels: iridescent beetles, beaded moccasins, a two-headed calf, a magical music box.

One interesting thing about the resulting show was that the collected objects were not labeled. If this was unsettling for some, however, their fears were not overheard. Rather, we expressed wonder and delight. The exhibit pulled our collective understanding of the world back to the helpless curiosity of our delighted ancestors. And just as 17th-century observers marveled at objects that had yet to be identified, explained, classified, so we modern observers were forced to study each object for its own sake—and its relationship to objects around it. As museum curator Roger Rowley notes in the show’s catalog, “The exhibition strives for a different kind of knowledge and understanding: the understanding, for example, that the coloration on a mask has a relationship to a kind of fungus, that a cross-section taken from a petrified tree has a similarity to the cross-section of the leg of a cow.”

Although the show has since dispersed, the wonders remain on campus, rediscovered, but returned to their permanent residences, their respective home collections waiting for articles of their own in future issues of Washington State Magazine.


Visit these campus collections and museums

Mycological Herbarium
Johnson Hall, Room 339
8-5, M-W; 509-335-9541

Drucker Collection of Oriental Art
By appointment

Maurice T. James Entomological Collection
Food Science and Human Nutrition Building, Room 157
8-5, M-F, by arrangement
509-335-5504, 509-335-3394

Historic Textiles and Costume Collection
By appointment; 509-335-3823

Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections
Holland/New Library
8-5, M-F or by appointment; 509-335-6272

Marion Ownbey Herbarium
Heald Hall, Room G9
8:30-5, M-F; 509-335-3250

Museum of Anthropology
College Hall, Room 110
9-4, M-Th, 9-3 F
509-335-3441 or 5-3936

Smith Soil Monolith Collection
Johnson Hall, Room 114
observation window
8-5, M-F; tours by appointment
509-335-1859 or 5-3471

Museum of Art
Fine Arts Center
10-4 M-F, till 9 Th, 1-5 Sat. and Sun.

Conner Museum
Science Hall, Room 126
8-5 every day; 509-335-3515

Culver Memorial and Jacklin Collection
Webster Physical Sciences Building
8-5, M-F; 509-335-3009

Robert P. Worthman Veterinary Anatomy Teaching Museum
Wegner Hall, Room 270
8-5, M-F; 509-335-5701

Nez Perce Music Archive
School of Music and Theatre Arts
Kimbrough Music Building, Room 360
8-5, M-F or arranged