‘Curiouser and curiouser’ – A cabinet of Curiosities, tiny lectures on the weird and wonderful: WORD Christchurch

This Friday 30 August at the Rutherford’s Den Lecture Theatre (7.30pm to 9pm,) WORD Christchurch is proudly presenting:

'A Cabinet of Curiosities: Tiny Lectures of the Weird and Wonderful.' 

This delectable set of short, intimate and certainly unusual talks suitable for all ages, is being hosted in one of Lord Rutherford's former lecture theatres. Hosted by experts and amateur enthusiasts alike, such as Simon Winchester - British adventurer and author, Rachael King - WORD programme director and writer, Lana Coles - History and art enthusiast, Simon Pollard - science writer, and Tracy Farr, recovering scientist and novelist, this is a show I personally don't want to miss!

What is a 'cabinet of curiosities?'

Some of you may be asking, 'what is a 'cabinet of curiosities?' Well, I''m glad you asked!

A 'cabinet of curiosities', which is also known as 'Wunderkammern or wonder rooms,' are collections of extraordinary objects usually placed into a scene to tell a story. Originally, the term 'cabinet,' was used to describe a whole room, rather than the piece of furniture we know today. These acted as mini 'museums' and attempted to tell stories as well as categorizing the collection's oddities, weird, wild or wonderful things that are found in our natural world. However, many 'fake' additions to the collection were known to circulate such as mermaids, jackalopes and other fantastical creatures. These would be set into displays that worked like plays or tales, representing ideas and themes. Skeletons could be displayed with delicate cuffs, collars, clothing or strings of pearls, and could be positioned to show them playing the violin, crying into handkerchiefs, or even playing in a garden. Even early circuses contained their own version of these rooms- which could also include people and other early 'freak shows.'  Some collector's would even hold public dissections by candlelight accompanied by refreshments and music!

What should I expect?

The odd, fun, wacky, weird and wonderful! Bring a friend, family, or loved one and become intrigued by this unusual 16th century tradition. Discover something strange and learn something new while hearing from experts and amateur enthusiasts.

Wait, I want to know more about these collections!

If you are like myself and have suddenly sparked an interest in this collection, never fear - the library has plenty about them!

Feast your eyes on these curious titles:

Cabinet of Curiosities

Cabinet of Curiosities is exactly the book for every young explorer or old adventurer who loves finding stuff in nature and bringing it home. This is a lavish, oversize, illustrated, and chockful introduction to the wonders of natural history and the joys of being an amateur scientist and collector. Nature writer Gordon Grice, who started his first cabinet of curiosities at age six when he found a skunk's skull, explains how scientists classify all living things through the Linnaeus system; how to tell real gold from fool's gold; how to preserve butterflies, crab shells, feathers, a robin's egg, spider specimens, honeycombs-and even skull's and bones. It also includes what to do with your specimens, such as buildng a cabinet of curiosities out of common household objects, like a desk organizer or a box for fishing tackle.

Viktor Wynd's Cabinet of Wonders

The Viktor Wynd Museum in East London is arranged with the sensibility of a 17th-century Wunderkabinett. It displays and sells an eccentric and seemingly random collection of objects, that includes everything from shrunken heads to narwhal tusks; united only by the sense of wonder they inspire in their curator.

Now, Wynd takes readers on a tour of homes, private collections and museums that share his fondness for things arcane, desiccated, antique, or just plain odd. The book visits rarified locations lovingly curated by bohemians and artists: from a rambling Devon farmhouse and its historic taxidermy to an Italianate villa in East London to the House of Dreams Museum. It also includes advice on how to start a collection of your own, covering details on auction houses, private dealers, flea markets and fairs, and shows that having distinctive taste does not necessarily require a massive budget.

The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities

Open the Cabinet to leap back in time, learn about linguistic trivia, follow a curious thread or wonder at the web of connections in the English language. Paul Anthony Jones has unearthed a wealth of strange and forgotten words: illuminating some aspect of the day, or simply telling a cracking good yarn, each reveals a story. Written with a light touch that belies the depth of research it contains, this is both a fascinating compendium of etymology and a captivating historical miscellany. Dip into this beautiful book to be delighted and intrigued throughout the year.

How do I create my own collection? It looks fun!

Personally, I would love to create my own collection, and I found out its not as daunting as it feels. Everyone can do this, and it would be an awesome science project or hobby!

  1. Do some research as to what things you would enjoy to collect - e.g. shells, animals, trees, mythical creatures.
  2. Check your local museums, vintage stores, antique shops, flea markets, fairs, and local buy sell and exchange sites e.g. Trademe. Buy whatever meets your fancy!
  3. Go for walks to scrounge around for unused birds nests, interesting flowers that have fallen, leaves etc.
  4. Make your items special cards or other ways to catalogue them. If you wanted to, you could keep a notebook of your research so others can read about your collections. 
  5. You could make your own odd curiosities and include pet rocks, fairies, unicorns, mermaids etc. 
  6. Show it off! You have placed a lot of work on your creations, why not show your family or friends? 

What will you get? What will you see or hear? Is it really odd? Did this really happen? You will have to come along to find out!

A Cabinet of Curiosities: Tiny Lectures on the Weird and Wonderful Friday 30 August 7.30pm at Rutherford's Den Lecture Theatre

Step right up and discover something strange! We have gathered together a delectable collection of short and intimate lectures on curious subjects, from experts and amateur enthusiasts, delivered in the characterful surrounds of Ernest Rutherford’s own lecture theatre. What will you see? What will you get? You’ll have to come along and find out. With bestselling British author and adventurer Simon Winchester, writer and WORD Programme Director Rachael King, novelist and recovering scientist Tracy Farr, art and history enthusiast Lana Coles, and science writer Simon Pollard.

WORD Christchurch Shifting Points of View

WORD Christchurch presents Shifting Points of View — a spectacular line-up of New Zealand and international speakers to warm you up and get you thinking. Shifting Points of View runs from Sunday 18 August to Saturday 14 September 2019. Visit our page on WORD Christchurch Shifting Points of View for more information, previews, reviews, and WORD reading.