How can I display my collection of anthropological souvenirs?

January 18 2012 |
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Two foot gourd!
I'm an anthropologist. I have collected a bunch of ridiculous souvenirs that, at the time, seemed like a good idea to lug back home. Some of my challenges:

  • A two foot long painted gourd

  • A Masaai belt: it's about 2.5 feet long and pretty fragile, as you can see on the left some beads are falling off.

  • Potentially-dangerous weapons: A Masaai spear (when it's put together, it's five feet long with a spear on one end and a blade on the other), Hazda arrow, a Japanese sword (my husband made them at one point, and has three worth displaying now).
  • A Malaysian oar, and a mess of miscellany: batik fabric, a hand carved cribbage board, wine bottles and corks, and a crap ton of pictures, paintings, and drawings.

I look forward to your ideas! -Betsy

AWESOME. First, take a look at the Snape-inspired office we wrote about on Monday. Logospilgrim made an ART out of displaying artifact-y pieces.

So it sounds like you have a few large things and a lot of smaller stuff. The large stuff could probably be displayed on its own in a suitable spot. I have a whale vertebrae in our guest room, just a'sitting on a vanity. Kinda like this:

That gourd? I think you should give it a shining spot: its own shelf, a well-lit corner on a buffet table, or the like.

I think rustic decor goes really well with items like these — and it doesn't have to look like a country craft farm house.

Using other less-machined-looking goods alongside natural elements and reclaimed wood can just as easily make a sophisticated-looking space. And that ladder shelf is brilliant! Here's another example of one:

For the smaller things, group like items together. If they're two dimensional, stuff a frame FULL:

Source: google.com via Haeley on Pinterest

If in doubt, declare THIS IS A COLLECTION with eccentricity. A protective dome:

Or an ornate piece of furniture:

Those are my ideas. I can't wait to hear what you guys have — I'm sure Betsy and I aren't the only ones with large, unusual items in our homes. Leave your thoughts in the comments!

  1. For the smaller items, you could try shadowboxes. Maybe get a photo of you from around the time you acquired the item(s), find or make a nice shadowbox frame with enough room, and place the picture in a corner of the frame with the collected items placed artfully around the photo. Have you also thought of doing a similar thing with a coffee table? If you get one for a good price, you could add a raised frame around the top and arrange some items in there (this might be a nice place for the fragile Maasai belt) and cover it with glass. Kind of like a mini museum display in your home. Also try unexpected places to display some items. Get some floating shelves to put on odd walls and drape some of the batik over it and set some of the items on the shelf. You could also try to fit the items in with the theme of the rooms of your house, for example, the spear in the kitchen as a nod to hunting for food, the gourd in a safe place in the living room (since gourds are often used as birdhouses, which are bird living rooms), if you have any dishes in your collection, display them in the dining room so they feel at home around dishes being used for food, you could display the swords in an entry way to symbolize protection. I'll stop now, but I hope some of my ideas help. Good luck with displaying what sounds like an amazing collection of items!

  2. Hang things on the walls! Up high, if they're dangerous. Put up two sturdy hooks and balance your oar/spear/sword on it.

    For the Masaai belt, if budget allows, I'd suggest going to a framing shop and asking for help framing/preserving it. Find a good local one; people who work in framing shops usually know their shit really well, and they are EXPERTS in displaying pretty fragile things.

    But yeah, I guess my advice goes roughly as follows: EVERYTHING ON ALL THE WALLS

    • Agreed on hanging things. That is what I have done with the vast majority of stuff I collected while living overseas. Gives the rooms a funky feel and keeps the walls from looking so bare.

  3. Depending on just how fragile that belt is, I'd consider displaying it on a body form. Often, wearable items are preserved better when they are allowed to lay and drape the way they were designed to be used- on a body! If you have other wearables in your collection you can layer them on the form as sort of a standing sculptural collage. Store display forms are not expensive and can be ordered online, or make one out of duct tape!

  4. I agree; hanging most of the items would be good, since most are light. An easier option to a shadow box might be a foam board, covered with a textured, complimentary fabric. Use a fabric glue on the front and stable the fabric around it onto the back. Then you can arrange the items on it and move them around easily; most fabrics won't show any holes.
    I LOVE that shelving unit in the last picture–looks like they halved a bunch of coffee tables to make it. Gorgeous!

  5. If the belt is REALLY fragile, I advise against letting gravity wear on it any more than it already has. This would mean displaying it in some fashion that lets it lie. Putting it down in a glass-top coffee table or in a flat display box on top of the coffee table, maybe?
    Alternately, if you can hang it, I still recommend sticking some head pins through it to help add support, especially in places where it's already raveling.

    And, if you really want to keep things properly preserved forever and ever… ACID FREE EVERYTHING!

  6. A curio/china cabinet would be awesome! You can mount flat objects on wood, or put them in shadowboxes or under domes, and just put 3D items on the shelves. It would be an unexpected display, but the furniture itself would look appropriate in most rooms — I especially love corner ones for space reasons.

  7. I'm also an anthropologist and my husband and I have tons of stuff from around the world. The ladder shelf is great! We also use a china cabinet (the glass doors are great for seeing, but somewhat protecting more fragile items).

  8. I agree w/many here that hanging the pieces sounds great – bet they'd look even more amazing if you paint the room a deep chestnut color first.

  9. Also, keep in mind that the traditional means of displaying a set of Japanese swords (assuming he has made the three piece set and not just three katanas, but it would probably work anyway) would be using a sword-set holder/stand like this one:
    http://www.mantisswords.com/folded4.jpg
    This could be put on a shelf or on top of a curio cabinet, easily.
    The Masai spear sounds like it should go on a wall, mounted on hooks (kinda like a gun rack, but more hook-y bits spaced further apart) just by size alone. Keeping it level above a few interesting pictures or a selection of artifacts on foam board or in shadow boxes might be an interesting way of putting a few related things in the same space.

  10. I'm a little late to the party, but we also have a two foot gourd (carved and burned to look like a bird!) which we set in a corner of our living room. If it falls over easily (ours does), you can put an eyelet screw in the wall behind the gourd and loop some fishing line around it. I also recommend this for ceramics in earthquake region. Our gourd has little stick feet to keep it propped up. You could put a narrow bowl or a wine bottle coaster under it to keep it propped.

    We also have fabric from Peru and some beautiful quilts and rugs. We folded and hung the fabrics over the rungs of an old ladder and sewed sleeves on the backsides of the rugs and quilts to hang them on the wall. Cut a small board to fit in the sleeve and add eyelets on each side. Then drill a screw through the eyelets into the wall.

    Making fabric into tablecloths is also a nice way of displaying them, if you don't mind them eventually wearing out.

    The belt could be mounted and professionally framed. It costs $$$, but it might be worth it in the long run. I've definitely splurged on framing for art I loved (where the art costs much less than the framing). Keep an eye out for ways of displaying things when you're visiting museums.

    I second buying sword stands for a shelf or a wall.

    Your collection is so beautiful and unique!

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