The new exhibit at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science is not your typical science lesson. It’s a look at something rather personal that many people share — a love of collecting.
Paleontologist Anthony Fiorillo is vice president of research and collections and chief curator. He has collected many of the specimens in the museum’s permanent collection.
“Collecting is part of my genetics,” said Fiorillo. “Museums collect because they are charged with conserving and preserving the world as we know it.”
“Eye of the Collector” features nine personal collections. The entrance to each display is marked by a banner featuring the collector and a video of each describing his or her passion.
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Collections of objects and stories are how humans observe our own changes over time. For anyone who thinks they don’t collect, Fiorillo asks, “What do you have more than one of?”
“As people, we have something of an ego, and the collections reflect our ego,” he says.
Collections showcased in the exhibit include antique duck decoys, Pez dispensers and vintage bicycles from Scott McCaskey.
Collections include antique duck decoys from Ronald Gard, Pez dispensers from Carla Hartman, artisan jewelry from Deedie Rose, African-American dolls from Debbie Garrett and vintage bicycles from Scott McCaskey.
Bob Bragalone’s Dallas Cowboys memorabilia collection includes the iconic Tom Landry fedora. Bragalone became a Cowboys fan as a child in the 1970s and said that collecting over the years is “a portal back through time to get to relive those childhood memories.”
Steve Sansweet began his “Star Wars” collection with the first film in 1977 and his collection has grown to be the largest in the world, a mark recognized by Guinness World Records.
His most meaningful piece and the one that was the hardest to acquire is “a hand-painted banner that was used a year before Star Wars opened at a couple of conventions. It shows how [creator George] Lucas, even back then, was approaching the fans and was aware of how important the fandom was.”
Steve Sansweet worked for LucasArts as head of fan relations and now houses the collection at his nonprofit museum, Rancho Obi-Wan.
Sansweet worked for LucasArts as head of fan relations for 15 years and now houses the collection at his nonprofit museum, Rancho Obi-Wan.
The founder and namesake of the Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico collects colorful, traditional folklorico dresses. Martinez, who was the first female Mexican-American elected to the Dallas City Council, believed that Hispanic youth needed something to encourage them to succeed and be proud of their heritage.
“I wanted to do something to inspire them,” she said. “So that’s why I started the collection and the folklorico.”
Nancy and Randy Best’s collection is titled “The Best of Best” and features artifacts and items from their travels around the world. There are brilliant gems and crystals, ancient statues and pottery, art, and fossils — some that span thousands of years.
“A lot of the things we collect are things that everyone’s familiar with — things they’ve learned about in school,” said Randy Best. Nancy adds, “Our desire is that when kids come through and see these things, they say, ‘I can do that, too.’ ”
Included in the exhibit are local submissions chosen by a panel as the most unique or most visually stunning, and featured youth collections, along with the people’s choice winner selected through online voting.
After touring the exhibit, visitors may write about their own collections on paper and place them on the back wall. Alternatively, send a photo through the Perot’s website to have your collection featured in a slide show that will rotate throughout the duration of the exhibition.
We talked with Randy Best about one of the most impressive pieces in his collection, an enormous fossilized cave bear skeleton. The bear went extinct, along with the giant sloth and woolly mammoth, at the end of the Ice Age.
“Why did these very large animals disappear when animals almost like them, but of smaller body size, survive to today?” asked Best.
Interestingly, the cave bear fossil is fairly common. Fossils have been found in large numbers in Siberian caves and brought to the United States for auctions and fossil shows. Best points out a rare piece in his collection that has an even more interesting story.
Near the cave bear fossil, a much smaller passenger pigeon sits on display.
“The passenger pigeon is enormously interesting,” said Best, “because in colonial America, it was one of the most numerous birds on earth.”
By 1914, that species was extinct due to hunting and deforestation. Best thinks that this animal is one that modern researchers can study and learn from. In the future, technology could even make it possible for this species to be cloned and brought back from extinction.
Ultimately, Best said that’s what collecting is all about — learning.
Collecting is something you can do with any budget. It creates a lifelong interest and you learn so much by doing it.
“When you collect things, you are aware,” said Best. “Being aware of something, you suddenly find out that the area of interest is in the news all the time. You just didn’t pay attention to it before, but because you collect, you’re alert to it — whether it’s an object or an era in history.”
For anyone who feels inspired to start a collection, Best has this advice: “Collecting is something you can do with any budget. It creates a lifelong interest and you learn so much by doing it. I would encourage people who have the slightest passion in any area of interest to do so.
“Start with one. I started with one very small fossil that only cost 50 cents. Eventually, that led to the cave bear.”
Eye of the Collector
- Through Sept. 5
- Perot Museum of Nature and Science, 2201 N. Field St., Dallas
- 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday
- $24, $15 ages 2-17, $18 age 65+
- 214-428-5555; http://www.perotmuseum.org/
First Thursday Late Night: Collecting
Examine collections and discover how items become part of the museum’s collection. Watch a screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark, sort gems and play games. 7-9 p.m. May 5. Free.
Discovery Days: Inventions
Learn about inventions and how collectors curate them in this interactive family event with experiments, hands-on building and guest speakers. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. June 11. Free with admission.
Social Science: Curiosities
Investigate collections and the history of the Cabinet of Curiosities. Age 21 and older. 7-11 p.m. June 24. $20, $15 for members.
Social Science: Material
View materials such as silver and wood through texture, color and other factors. Age 21 and older. 7-11 p.m. Aug. 5. $20, $15 for members.