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Talk to a few passionate collectors, and you almost get the sense that life just wouldn’t be livable without the objects of their desire.





Is it only human to collect things? Or, is it the motivation behind our collecting that separates us from other creatures?

More than one stand-up comic has poked fun at our penchant for squirreling away so much “stuff.” And unlike the stuff accumulated by enterprising squirrels, most of what we stockpile in the protective custody of our homes has little to do with our daily survival. Or does it? Talk to a few passionate collectors, and you almost get the sense that life just wouldn’t be livable without the objects of their desire.

In the cover story of this issue of Carnegie magazine, some local private collectors share their stories about how and why they started their collections (The Art of Collecting). Carol Diamond recalls the early years of her marriage, when she and her husband realized they shared a love of art but little disposable income. They decided to start investing in art—the more affordable kind, works on paper—for special occasions. They now have a prized and extremely valuable collection of 40 years’ worth of birthday and anniversary gifts. Another local collector, Bob Kerr, has risked life and limb to go digging for the rare minerals he treasures. He also likes hanging out at international mineral shows with other private and institutional collectors, all there to find the objects they covet and then negotiate a way to get them.

Here’s the catch: these collectors love their collections so much that they’ve begun giving pieces of them away—to places like Carnegie Museum of Art and Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Places where other people will be able to enjoy them. It seems contradictory, this willingness to part with something so close to the heart. And perhaps therein lies the motivation of a true collector.

“People want their collections to be seen and enjoyed by others,” says Marc Wilson, collection manager for the Museum of Natural History’s Hillman Hall, who, in his role at the museum, has been on the receiving end of many fantastic collections (Romancing the Stones). “Museums owe much to their relationships with private collectors,” adds Carnegie Museum of Art Director Richard Armstrong, who says that at least half of what’s on display at the museum has come from private collectors.

In fact, institutions such as Carnegie Museums were built to share one man’s passion for collecting the world’s treasures with the people who might otherwise never see such wonders. Carnegie Museums is now in the process of cleaning and preserving one of Andrew Carnegie’s greatest collections—his dinosaurs. In Disassembly Required, the man behind this awesome mission, Phil Fraley, talks about his job as an almost sacred responsibility. “It’s not just for us, it’s for people who come after us,” he explains, adding that 100 years from now, what he’s doing might help inspire kids to dream big, like he did. “To me, that’s what it’s all about.”

And maybe that’s what really motivates us to collect. Desiring and accumulating the things we love, yes. But also desiring to share the things we love with people who might feel the same about them, who might learn something from them, and who might someday do great things with what we started.

Definitely, a very human thing.

Betsy Momich

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