The Jenks Museum of Natural History and Anthropology, one of Brown University’s vanished museums, has been given a second life.
A group of students, professors, and artists calling themselves “The Jenks Society for Lost Museums” has spent the past year researching the Jenks Museum, re-collecting scattered relics and remnants, and transforming words into rooms and fragments of curatorial description into spectral art. They have built a three-part installation that re-imagines the office of the museum’s founder, showcases the remaining fragments of the collection, and conjures the ghosts of artifacts once found in the museum back into existence – as reimagined by over 80 artists.
An axe and a gun, bottles of arsenic and a walking stick, portray John Whipple Potter Jenks, founder of the museum. Tattered labels speak of fragility and decay. The installation tells the story of Jenks and the museum that was his life’s work, of his sudden death on the building’s steps and of the museums subsequent decline. The collection – 92 truckloads of artifacts and specimens – hauled to a dump on the Seekonk River.
It is a work of art that relies on subtlety and rewards the curious, a story that displays loss over time and demonstrates the uncertainties of preservation, an exhibit that presents a memory of the past and promotes hope for the future.
The Lost Museum will be on display in Rhode Island Hall on the Brown University campus, 60 George Street, the Jenks Museum’s original home, through May 2015.
The installation is supported by Brown’s 250th Anniversary, Brown’s Mellon Foundation Sawyer Seminar “Animal Magnetism: The Emotional Ecology of Animals and Humans,” the Creative Arts Council, the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage, and the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World.