Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder.


(I feel less and less like this blog has to remain entirely about pencils all of the time, and I suspect that Comrades might enjoy this book very much.)

My favorite part of The Walters Are Museum in Baltimore, Maryland is generally The Chamber of Wonders. I like to think that my own education in philosophy hasn’t stripped all of the wonder out of my brain and heart, and that particular room always renders me wide-eyed and open-mouthed. Each visit is like I’ve never seen anything there before (except the bear skull; I never forget the bear skull).

So when I was browsing at Normal’s — my favorite bookstore in Baltimore —  and came across Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder, I was excited. I soon discovered that this book is, truly, a delight.

A finalist for the Pulitzer and the National Book Critics Circle Award, this volume begins with The Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles and Mr. Wilson. I don’t want to give the entire story away, but the verity of the museum’s contents and the claims of the director seem true, then untrue, then completely and absolutely certain. The author, Lawrence Weschler, dives into the claims and exhibits and shares the story.

The curator and founder of the museum, David Hildebrand Wilson, is as fascinating as his museum. Formerly a skilled video artist and technicalist, he brings to LA a museum that harkens to the institutions’ harbingers, in the collections of curious individuals of a bygone age. The book’s second part details the history of such collections and their role in giving us the modern, positivist museum.

Mr. Wilson was awarded a MacArthur “genius grant” in 2001, a few years after the publication of the book. While the book was being written, the museum was in substantial financial trouble (or on the cusp of it); so this is good news. I was reading and wondering if I’d ever get to visit the museum in person, especially since I don’t exactly drop into LA on a regular basis.

For now, I have to satisfy myself with our own chamber in Baltimore. Our daughter Charlotte visited the Chamber of Wonder at The Walters last year when we went downtown for festivities related to El Día de los Muertos, when she was not quite crawling. Now, Charlotte can wonder on her own legs and explore for herself — both the exhibits of the museum and the wonders of the world.

[This post originally appeared, in different form and with a different image, on the Baltimore Book Blog by the author.]

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