Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Private collections go public

airline safety card

Christopher Coleman, a DU assistant professor of digital media studies, collects airline safety cards such as the one pictured. The collection will be on display at DU's Myhren Gallery through April 25. Photo: Courtesy of Christopher Coleman

When the Myhren Gallery committee decided to launch an exhibit featuring the collections of DU employees, it found that faculty and staff members were quietly collecting some odd things. Now those private collections will be open to the public.

Collections of motel keys, airline safety cards, popsicle sticks, bottle caps, Fiesta ware, antique vibrators and more will all be on display at the Myhren Gallery’s Faculty Collects exhibit.

Christopher Coleman, assistant professor of digital media studies, has been collecting airline safety cards since 2000. He says he is intrigued by how the graphic artists depict calmness in a situation that is absolutely terrible.

“People look serene, even when they’re preparing for possible death,” he says. Coleman has 20 cards from several domestic and international airlines. He says the designer of the British Airways cards uses a much more stylish approach, where the other cards have the same old-fashioned style.

Roddy Mac Innes, associate professor of photography, collects motel keys. Prior to his career as a photographer and professor, Mac Innes was a mineral prospector for oil companies. He was on the road eight months of each year.

“They’re like little mementos or trophies,” Mac Innes says. “They just remind me of that lifestyle.”

He describes it as a lonely and difficult time, one he wants to remember so he does not return to it. He has 60 keys from the United States and Canada. The colorful plastic handles attached tell where he’s been: Sundowner Motel in Tonopah, Nev.; Arne’s Royal Hawaiian Motel in Baker, Calif.; Littletree Inn in Boise, Idaho, and the list goes on.

Sarah Gjertson, associate professor of studio art, collects antique cosmetic compacts and vintage vibrators. The vibrators come from the early 1900s, when doctors used the objects to treat an illness they called hysteria. Gjertson says at the time they were not considered naughty objects; in fact, vibration was considered a cure-all for numbers of ailments, including broken bones.

“When we look back, we think, ‘How could they have ever done that?’” she says. “At the time it was a legitimate tool for doctors to use.”

Gjertson’s collections have appeared in her work. The objects educate the audience on their history, but the work can poke fun at how we often can’t see things clearly until later on.

“History becomes clearer as it comes older,” she says. Gjertson has seven vibrators, all in working condition. They will be on display along with her compacts at the exhibit.

Sixteen faculty and staff members will share their collections. Faculty Collects runs through April 25 at the Myhren Gallery.

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