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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Do Curators Suffer Insomnia Trying to Catalogue Art?

I’m a collector of smallish things, so I’m sympathetic to Joan Hoffman, curator of the Holling Clancy Holling Museum in Leslie, Michigan. Joan writes frequently that she’s found items Holling illustrated. Such things as a toy punch out of an elephant designed to fit on one end of a Kitchen Klenzer can, with the other end of the elephant on the opposite end. (Since 1894, Fitzpatrick Bros., Inc. has provided quality scouring cleansers including the industry original, Kitchen Klenzer.)

A decorative blanket goes over the middle, a dress-up monkey to perch on top, and a short story about elephants on the back. The animal parts and stand are cardboard; the blankets are paper, being more flexible to cover the middle section of the can. The blanket part, being of a lighter material, is separate from the cardboard animal parts.

This 1932 advertising giveaway is precious today in filling out Holling’s body of work. Joan bought the elephant “knowing Holling was especially fond of this animal going back to his first circus at the age of five.” A camel, lion and zebra comprise the total collection.

She wrote last year, “I was 99.5 percent sure this was a Holling item when I saw it on the Internet. The style and colors were definitely Holling. Then, one of my co-workers at the museum spotted the tiny HCH initials on the hind foot of the elephant I had purchased.”

Success! But this is where insomnia comes in. For some reason, the dealer sent the elephant but not the blanket. Joan did receive blankets for the camel and lion. Joan e-mailed back and it turned out there was no elephant blanket. Now the dealer couldn’t sell the camel and lion because she had no blankets. The dealer told Joan, “Send back the elephant and the two blankets and I’ll give you a refund plus postage. Plus a future discount should you want to buy something.”

“As you know,” Joan reported, “I especially wanted Holling's elephant because of his fondness for the animal. While not sleeping I thought up a possible solution. If I bought the camel using the future discount, kept the camel blanket and sent her the lion blanket, what would I owe her for the camel? She gave me a very low price, probably to get rid of me. So I have a complete camel set and an elephant without a blanket.”

As you might think, it’s not easy being passionate about an elusive artist.