Porter-Phelps-Huntington Foundation, Inc.
130 River Drive Hadley MA 01035
Dear Friends and Family of the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum,
When we get old it dawns on us how strange and utterly unique our lives have been, how vividly our favorite things encapsulate our times and exhibit who we are. Each of us deserves a museum. Like the Huntington House but maybe a little more zany.
When James Lincoln Huntington turned the Huntington House into a museum in 1955 he preserved what he thought were the best of its furnishings and objects to tell the story of a whole family. And indeed when you walk through the house you can feel the aura of the ancestors. But their personalities are a bit misty. What we’re lacking are the things Jimmy Huntington discarded, which is not surprising because none were of museum quality. He might even have thought of them as detritus.
But something was lost. If he could have preserved a “cabinet of curiosities” for individual family members, they would have come more clearly into focus and come alive for us.”
Think about your own personal museum. What would you put in it? How would you curate your life? I see in my place an upside down snathe, a silver baby spoon, a pink pussy cap from the 2017 Women’s March, a piece of Manhattan schist, a small lucite pillar commemorating the opening day of Hampshire College, a Ralph Waldo Emerson monograph, an African fertility doll, an Eastern Orthodox icon, a chenille stole, a pork-pie hat with a stained sweat band, a pewter hip flask with my name on it. You get the idea.
This particular collection is unique to me. No one else could have imagined it, let alone want to replicate it. It’s eccentric, a little weird but wonderful too. It has personality. The place would be anonymous without these things. The Huntington House is fortunate in having extensive archives at Amherst College that flesh out the individuals who lived here. We know, for instance, that “nothing was as slippery as money” in the hands of Dan and Elizabeth Huntington’s eldest daughter and that her father’s “army of jokes” embarrassed her. But we have none of her favorite things, a toy, a scarf, a spoon. Our glimpses of her would have been fuller had we also been able to see the things she chose to be her daily companions.
I hope that as future family donations come to the Museum each donor will include a “cabinet of curiosities” of his or her favorite things. And I hope too that you will collect your own treasures for the fun of it, just to see what comes up. Meanwhile thank you for your support of the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum and for your interest in these questions. And if you do create your own “cabinet of curiosities,” perhaps you would share its contents with us.
Elizabeth H. Wheeler,
Board of Directors