Show us yours and we’ll show you ours. Nearly one in every three people in North America collects something. People collect for pleasure. They also collect to remember, to preserve, to belong, to make sense of the world.”
This is what was written at the entrance of the Museum of Vancouver’s (MOV) exhibit that featured 20 Vancouver collectors and their rather unconventional collections last year. It was a beautifully curated show that invited visitors to enter into the fascinating, and sometimes unusual, world of collectors. Guests could also become part of the show by sharing their own collections on red and white post-it notes that were placed on the walls around the entrance and through a digital display that featured contributions to the hashtag #MyCollectionatMOV.
The show was the brainchild of Viviane Gosselin, the Senior Manager, Curatorial and Curator of Contemporary Culture at MOV. “I have been working in the field for 20 years and meet so many collectors”, says Gosselin. “Collectors are my experts. They know all the details. They have specific knowledge, bridging between public and private knowledge. Museums are always relying on collectors.”
“But because each show takes two to four years to set up”, says Gosselin, “we can’t offer a show or do justice for every collection.” As a result, Gosselin had “collected” several collectors over time. Even though she couldn’t offer each of them a solo exhibit, she believed that “it was worthwhile to pay attention to their world and their passion and doing it as a way to study the phenomenon of collecting.”
This eventually led to the idea of a group exhibit that would explore “the act of collecting, the collector’s vision and the role collections play in building identity, public memory and social connections.” But more specifically, it was meant to potentially provide insight into the questions of why people collect and if private collections affect public consciousness in any way.
When asked which collectors stood out for her, Gosselin had many but highlighted three in particular: Melanie Talkington, Rob Frith, and Kyle Seller.
Gosselin was impressed by Talkington and her collection of corsets. “She learned to make corsets by deconstructing them and turned her collection into a viable business.” Talkington, who has been making, selling and collecting corsets for over well 20 years, owns Lace Embrace Atelier, which is located in Vancouver.
From her very first purchase of a red wool corset in 1997 and after years of collecting, it is no surprise that she is considered a corset expert and has one of the largest antique corset collections in the world.
“I now have over 300 antique corsets, hoops, garters, stockings and children’s corsets,” says Talkington. “My collection has shaped my lifestyle. I created a fun and interesting business out of my passion for corsets. It has taken me around the world to work on museum exhibitions, participate in trade shows, and make new acquisitions.”
Sharing her knowledge, and educating others around the many different roles corsets played in our history, continues to be important for Talkington. In 2013, the Louvre Museum in Paris borrowed 40 of her corsets for The Mechanics of Underwear exhibit and plans to make her private collection more accessible to the general public by creating a museum in the back of her retail store.
Rob Frith owns Neptoon Records, Vancouver’s oldest independent record store. Although Frith has several items that he collects, the concert poster collection is one that is near and dear to him. “Music means everything to me. Posters are an important part of that. I have thousands and thousands of posters. Most are from Vancouver, but I have some from all over.”
He acquired his first poster when he was 12 years old. “I was always interested in art, especially art that was interesting and weird. My dad was a builder and had bought a house that had been rented by draft dodgers. He took me to the house to help clear it out and on the walls were several concert posters. I was blown away by the artwork and took them home and put them up on my bedroom wall.”
From then on he started to notice them all around Vancouver. He also went to his first concert when he was in Grade 8 and started to casually buy posters after the shows. Eventually his passion grew to include records. This led to him owning a record store and creating his own record label. “I have also reissued records and the posters have come in handy for those projects.”
Sharing his collection with a broader audience also matters to Frith. “I feel that this collection is important, it is a historical document. I have let people use my posters for illustrations in books, LP and CD releases, newspapers, magazines, television, and movies.” He has also been scanning images of all of his posters and placing them on his Facebook page.
Kyle Seller is another collector who stood out for Gosselin. Several of his vintage pinball machines and arcade games were on display at the MOV. All were in working condition and people could play some of them for a dollar or less.
Seller bought his first arcade game (Bubble Bobble) when he was 16, and still has it today. His collection has since grown to include around 60 and having to be creative with storage has led him to build a unique career for himself. “With my business, East Van Amusements, I restore pinball machines and rent pop-up arcades in pubs and other establishments around the city.”
According to Seller, the pinball and arcade market has found new life in Vancouver. “There are pinball leagues with regular tournaments and a massive culture for collecting.” All of this is good news for Seller as he continues to find new and exciting ways to be a part of that community and grow a business that fuels his passion.
In terms of why she thinks people collect, Gosselin suggests that it is related to how people see themselves. “It is tied to their identity and is an identity building process. As you build your identity, you are building yourself. They are always in that process of building, selecting and following their passion. Starts with intuition and interest but then you become more knowledgeable. And you get to know yourself better in relation to different topics.”