MyAmericanFuture

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Friday, October 3, 2014

October 3, 2014: American Collectors: Phil Collins!

[There are few practices more AmericanStudies, but also more complex, than that of collecting historical, cultural, and artistic treasures and memorabilia. This week I’ll highlight and analyze five such collections and the collectors who assembled them. Please share collections and museums of interest to you for a collected weekend post!]
On a couple takeaways from a very strange recent story.
I’ve long waited for an opportunity to blog about Phil Collins, and finally with this series the chance has presented itself. Actually, that’s a bald-faced lie, and backwards to boot—I had never given Phil Collins the slightest bit of blog-thought (although “Land of Confusion” might be worth a post down the road, now that I’m doing such thinking) until my colleague and friend Irene Martyniuk sent me this late June BBC story about Collins donating his ginormous collection of memorabilia related to the 1836 Battle of the Alamo to a San Antonio museum. It was that story which inspired this week’s series on collectors and collecting, and so it’s only fitting that I end by thinking about a couple angles to that weird—or at least seriously random—bit of AmericanStudies news.
For one thing, note Collins’—or at least the story’s—conflation of cultural and historical versions of the battle. Collins says that he has “had a love affair with this place [the Alamo] since I was about five years old,” the age when he saw “the 1950s TV series Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier” (King was a 1955 live-action film edited together from episodes of the TV show, but I think we can allow a 5 year-old some latitude in memory). It’s probably likely that most of us are first drawn to history through cultural rather than historical texts, but there’s still some significant slippage in Collins’ statement—neither the TV show nor the film, nor for example the John Wayne film of five years later, would have connected Collins to “this place” itself, but rather to versions of it just as constructed as the one he gradually assembled in his Swiss basement. And certainly none of those versions were likely to have included the Mexican histories and stories that comprised a significant part of the battle as well.
For another thing, and one relevant to this entire series of posts, there’s the distinction but also the overlap between private and public collecting. The two would seem quite different, both in purpose (Collins assembled his collection to make himself happy, while a museum does so to share its artifacts with and inform the public) and relatedly in audience (Collins’ collection was limited to whomever he invited to his Swiss basement, while a museum’s is ideally open to whoever can travel to, afford, and otherwise access it). But on the other hand, every collection I’ve highlighted this week came into existence because of the efforts, the choices, and even the personal interests and quirks of individuals, and I think it’s fair to say that there are few if any museums about which we couldn’t say the same. Phil Collins doesn’t seem to be in the same discussion as Isabella Stewart Gardner or George Catlin (P.T. Barnum, maybe—I kid, Phil fans, I kid!), but maybe a century from now we’ll see his donation and collection in the same light.
Crowd-sourced post this weekend,
Ben
PS. So one more time: what do you think? Other collections you'd highlight?

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