By Laurie Paolicelli
Between the cradle and the grave, we live, we love, we work — and we collect. We collect . . . things. All things. Collecting is the great human endeavor. One of almost anything is never enough because if one is good, two is better and after two it’s too late. You can’t stop now.
Baseball caps, arrowheads, money, match books, glass eyes, cars, posters, first editions, seashells, art, shoes, stamps, coffee mugs, and coins — all collectible items. Nothing is not collectible, and everything is.
Enter Treasure Hunters, an exhibit of collections of some of our Orange County residents. There is something in this exhibit to interest everyone, but the true fan of memorabilia will be especially pleased.
Treasure Hunters, which opened this month at the Orange County Historical Museum in Hillsborough, features an eclectic range of “obsessions” from 16 collectors, from European armor to shopping bags, sports memorabilia, cameras and tiny houses. It also displays 27 other collections through “collector cards” and interactive components.
“The exhibit is community-based and reflects the diversity of the county,” Exhibits and Programs Coordinator Courtney Smith says. “The collectors all live in Orange County – not just Chapel Hill and Hillsborough but also Efland, Cedar Grove and other communities. They represent different ethnicities and range in age from 9 to 94.”
The idea for the exhibit was one of five choices that were submitted to community members to vote on. “The process was inclusive from the beginning,” says Smith. “After the topic was selected, we put out an APB for collectors. We posted it on our social media and in our newsletter, and I personally sent emails to every religious and civic organization in the county that I could find addresses for.”
The resulting exhibition may surprise many visitors, from the unusual nature of some of the objects collected, to the breadth of the holdings in the more mainstream compendia residents have in their possession.
Few know exactly what to call the collection of Americana that fills Steven Burke and Randy Campbell’s Greek revival compound. Burke prefers the term American Folk Art buildings, and, as it’s his collection, we shall call it that too. On display at the Historical Museum is a fraction of their vast collection of miniature buildings, from the little churches with their diminutive steeples, the quaint storefronts, the homespun bowling alleys, Art Deco theaters, Ferris wheels and farmhouses, all of them handmade and many dating to the late 19th century.
“People create collections for reasons as varied as the collections themselves,” says Kathleen Ferguson, Hillsborough Town Council member who sits on the Historical Museum board. “Some collectors seek out beauty; others childhood memories; and others cherish the rare and unusual. Treasure Hunters celebrates both the collections and the collectors by exploring the motivation.”
She adds: “It’s just cool stuff that people collect.”
Here is a list of featured collectors:
- Wade Allen, from Efland, European armor
- Larry Barker, from Hillsborough, Peaceable Kingdom paintings and collectibles
- Gabi and Rachel Bergman, from Durham (Orange County), Breyer Horses (over 3,000)
- Linsley Bowen, from Hillsborough, 1950s Lucite purses
- Steven Burke and Randy Campbell, from Hillsborough, Over 1,300 American Folk Art buildings
- Carter, Jacob, and Joe Currie, from Hillsborough, sports memorabilia (they have NC items and every majorly important player in basketball and baseball)
- Jacqueline Gibbs, from Efland, cruets
- Nancy and David Haines, from Hillsborough, Quaker artifacts (over 26,000 some dating to the 1600s)
- Alyssa Javadi, from West Hillsborough, vintage clothing
- Laurel Birch Kilgore, from Hillsborough, Art of the Chewa people of Malawi (she is a world expert)
- David Knox, from Cedar Grove, cameras
- Bob Lloyd, from Hillsborough, Orange County ephemera (giveaways from old businesses, old license plates and bottles)
- Richard Sarles, from Chapel Hill, Inuit stone carvings
- Mark Sloan, from Chapel Hill, mail art
- Debbie Suchoff, from Chapel Hill, shopping bags
- Eliza Wilson, was from Hillsborough, salt and pepper shakers
The exhibit also highlights 27 collectors in a “Collectors Card” series. They are also from all over the county and they collect items as diverse as chewing gum wrappers to hats to blue crabs.
A few highlights:
Did you know that the Quakers first published Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham City Jail? Come see this 1963 first edition copy along with other Quaker artifacts in Nancy and David Haines’ collection in the museum.
This Michael Jordan basketball is just one of the many pieces of sports memorabilia collected by Carter, Jacob, and Joe Currie on display in the Treasure Hunters exhibit.
1970s Maxi Dresses are part of Alyssa Javadi’s collection of vintage clothes that are on display.
And, of course, so much more, because so much more is what this show is about. The Treasure Hunters exhibit is a collection of what collectors collect. While the monetary value of these assemblages is impossible to determine, they are one of a kind, which makes them priceless. Do come see the show. Don’t add missing it to your collection of regrets.
The Treasure Hunters Exhibit will be open on Friday, February 24th from 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm in conjunction with Last Fridays. Wine, cheese, and other refreshments will be served. The museum is open to the public daily from 11:00 am – 4:00 pm and the Treasure Hunters exhibit will run through December 31, 2023. For more information, visit: www.orangehistorync.org.
Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.