One night many months ago, I was rummaging through old documents and happened to stumble across a book – a book from my previous life. It was my thesis from graduate school, a tightly bound distillation of my years of work in the department of pharmacology at the University of Minnesota when I was doing science.
An idea caught: Perhaps I could translate the work I’ve accomplished thus far, the years of work as a glorified junkologist, into a similar format.
Even as a grad student, every chance I got I was also salvaging buildings, collecting artifacts and photographing these remains. This catalog of objects is a representation, a “freeze frame” in time of my burgeoning collection as it exists under the BLDG. 51 museum and gallery in Chicago.
It is curated from several thousand photographs of artifacts I have escued over the years, many from Chicago buildings about to die or mere days from a wrecking ball.
Although the core of the collection remains constant, it is dynamic. Alive. Several pieces may come and go as my interests shift over time, and the grouping of objects and artifacts is often broken apart and rearranged in multi sub-collections.
The focus of this particular collection centers on architectural building elements comprised of diverse materials, including, but not limited to, art glass, cast iron, terra cotta andwoodwork.The highlights are fourfold: a variety of objects pertaining to my two favorite architects,Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis H. Sullivan, along with artifacts from notable Chicago theaters or movie palaces, and finally, commercial and residential buildings.
I really do not find a need to prattle on about the “art” of collecting, nor is it really necessary. The assemblage of images will speak for themselves. At the end of the day, I’m just the caretaker.
But I am proud of my collection and I feel the need to share it with others. I could spend hours, if not days, pouring over other people’s collections, but unfortunately, that just isn’t realistic. On occasion, I have had the opportunity to visit a fellow collector’s home. It is a chance to admire and actively discuss what they have in their possession, stories of acquisition, what we like most, and ultimately, where our collections will end up when we are gone. The camaraderie is certainly fulfilling.
Yet there are so many others out there who I will not get to share that with. For one reason or another, their collections are, in a sense, hidden. From time to time, bits and pieces surface or collections arranged in an auction format appear at auction. But experiencing a collection as a whole, in situ, especially as it was intended or is currently displayed and in the environment created through the mind’s eye of the collector, this is rare and a deeply moving experience.
By offering a catalog of my collection, accessible to any and all with similar interests, I hope to encourage others to do the same. To take the time to document their collection and make it available for us to see and appreciate.
There will no doubt be more salvages and opportunities to rescue and acquire artifacts ahead for me and these excursions will bolster the collection. I might come across a “tree of life” window in the next year or several items of equal historic significance. You never know. Shortly before I wrote this introduction, I acquired a Guaranty building ceiling medallion that was quickly added to this catalog before it went off to the printers. This then, is the first of more editions to follow. The city of Chicago is a very big place with quite a few buildings that change with time. Whether by demolition or alteration, pieces of ornament will be removed. I hope to be there, for as long as I remain in this business, to collect and care for them.
I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoy living in it.
Eric J. Nordstrom