Crazy collections, anyone?

Shoe Treads.
Men In Rows.
Vacuum Cleaner Dirt.

Forget stamps and coins. Some people amass things such as shoe treads, vacuum cleaner dirt and photographs of men in rows

NEW YORK • The New Museum's summer show The Keeper explores the complex relationships people have with the things they collect.

Why do people amass certain objects? When does a pleasant hobby cross the line into obsession, even madness?

Inspired by this vast exhibition, which includes about 4,000 items and artworks over four floors, created or preserved by 30 "keepers", The New York Times asked readers to submit stories and photos of their own collections.

The hundreds of responses were inspirational, delightful, poignant, shocking and disgusting, occasionally all at once.

A sampling of these collections: Absolut Vodka advertisements. Apple stems. Avocado seeds. Beach plastic. Broken objects. Chopstick wrappers. Discarded snapshots.

Doll heads ("The head must be found as a separate item," wrote Ms Brenda Segel of New York). Egg cups. Greeting cards. Harry Potter books in different languages.

Hotel room keys. Lucite grape clusters. Mahjong sets. Museum toilet paper from Europe. Nirvana posters. Oyster shells. Pockets. Potty-training books. Rubber ducks. Sand. Skull mugs. Soviet watches. Troll dolls. Typewriters.

Vintage: Barbie structures, electric clothes irons, metal measuring tapes, photos of a baby and a dog in a playpen, photos of people and places named Dick, Thermoses, Western Electric telephones.

The word "hoarder" came up more than once. Some readers expressed a tinge of regret; many more, joy. And a few, befuddlement.

Mr Scott McCarney of Rochester wrote: "It started out innocently enough with a plastic banana in a Ziploc bag on the door of my apartment when I was in college. Before I knew it I was publishing a newsletter and collecting bananabilia."

Here are some reader collections.


•The Keeper is on at New Museum (235 Bowery, New York City) till Sept 25.


"One of my most unusual collections is treads from the bottom of people's shoes found on hiking trails. I live in Phoenix and our trails are extremely rocky and hard, causing soles to break down.

In 2010, I was working on a project to collect a small object a day that represented something I did each day. On the first few hikes that year, I picked up some rocks from the trails I was hiking. Soon I noticed tiny pieces of coloured rubber on the trail and I couldn't resist picking them up.

The year 2010 ended, but I kept on hiking and picking up treads. I have never counted the pieces, but I imagine I have over a thousand. I can't resist the array of colours I see and different textures, markings and logos each little piece holds."

Heidi Dauphin, Phoenix


"For one year, at the end of every month, I collected the contents of my vacuum cleaner. I dumped them into a grocery bag, labelled the bag with the month and placed it in a corner of my attic. I valued the monthly ritual and somehow was comforted to know that this practice was now part of living a life in my home.

After the year passed, I brought the bags to my studio. I opened each month and spread out the contents. And I was mesmerised by what I saw.

I was moved by the massive mounds of hair shed by my dog Tyner, now matted and entangled in its own dark dusty beauty. I saw how the ladybugs that gathered on the sun-drenched living room windows in the summer had transformed in death into enamelled shells of spotted amber now headless, legless. The dense clumps of pollen from April made my throat tighten. Everywhere the remnants from life in my home were woven into the debris."

Constance Thalken, Decatur, Georgia


"I collect vintage photos of men in rows. The variations are endlessly fascinating: from standing to sitting to lying, from warmly intimate to cool and unemotional. How men interact when they line up in front of a camera says much about their times, social mores and preferences. In the photos, they define manhood in relation to one another."

Barry Harrison, Rancho Mirage, California

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2016, with the headline 'Crazy collections, anyone?'. Print Edition | Subscribe