December 14, 2016


I hate stuff.  I zealously prune bookshelves, clothes closets, kitchen cabinets, piles of fabric, the attic, the garage, and the parts of the basement that don't have fungus. Stuff actually affects me physically: accumulation constricts my throat and curls my shoulder bones into tight little balls. Naked space gives me oxygen and makes me more tolerant of my husband.
How could this be? Perhaps it is nature: my mother is a heavy pruner.  Undeterred by the fact that she has already given away most of her own things, she is now well into my father's side of the closet.  Perhaps the cause is nurture (using the term loosely): I often came home from school to furniture void of any of the objects I had seen on them that morning. The  large misshapen lump bulging beneath the neatly folded covers on my bed, however, was hard to miss.

And yet, on the other hand, I adore collections.
 Of just about anything.

My relationship to collections is also physical: I am yanked toward multiples as if in the grip of an Acme magnet from a Roadrunner cartoon.In the right hands,a collection is more than just a thing, pluralized...
In the right hands,a collection is an entirely new construct, just begging for exploration.  
The Bread and Puppet Theater Museum in Glover, Vermont overflows with 50 years of puppets from their uniquely radical political theater. In this world, "puppet" has nothing to do with Bert or Ernie:

 Other collections are less charged.
Collections seem to start small...multiples of two grow into four, four into 10, shoeboxes into glass cases...display cases into rooms of a house.
 Eventually, some collections take over entire buildings. That's when you get to call it a museum.
Museums like this one dot the backroads of America. We've seen them filled with the ordinary...
...and with the paranormal.
Hell, we've even stumbled onto museums that are collections of the buildings themselves.
My favorite collection is gently brewing in an enchanting little studio off a lovely lowland road in The Netherlands.
This is The Birdhut. It is home to a collection that maker/curator/appliance repair scheduler Saskia van Herwaarden calls "The Project." She chronicles its activity on her blog "Tales of the Birdhut." Here's the big picture...
...but you really need to look closer.. .
...and closer still.
Each inhabitant of The Birdhut has a name, a personality, and favorite sport.
They come together in community to share household chores...

And important events, like choir practice...
...and holiday meals.

Like us, they live their lives across a panorama of events. From praying for new baby born in New Mexico... honoring the arrival of cable TV!
Saskia shares their philosophical musings and breaks up their fights. She dresses them in Easter bonnets and gets them in the mood for Halloween.
I adore The Birdhut because it is a collection, yes. But especially because it is a three-dimensional collection brought to life by a fourth dimension: the place where Saskia's imagination meets real life. 
Like I said, my affinity for collections is physical. And this one, in an enchanting Dutch studio, brings me to my knees.

Go see it.


  1. gasp, it's me!

    thank you Julie (me at a loss for words)
    on the subject of collections, it never seems as if I am the one doing the collecting, it's more a case of beings and stuff turning up on my doorstep and finding self unable to turn them away.....

    p.s. the name is 'van Herwaarden'

  2. Oh damn, sorry about the name. (All those spaces and lower case letters really throw me.)

    Yes, but you give them a mighty fine home and that's what we see.(Speaking as one responsible for many of the "doorstep" actions.)

  3. you and Saskia are both brilliant, a wonderful journey of exploration summed up beautifully in that line "because it is a three-dimensional collection brought to life by a fourth dimension: the place where Saskia's imagination meets real life"

    1. Well, I couldn't let her think that the goings-on in The Birdhut are just a figment of her imagination, could I?

      Thanks for all that--and for the lovely xmas card!!!

  4. Oh Julie and Saskia, what a divine meeting! You are clearly akin.