Two huge whale ribs, a doctor’s bag containing crude surgical implements and an early 20th century permanent wave machine (pictured) that looks like a torture device — they’re just a sampling of the items Alexandra Nicholis Coon found during renovation of the Massillon Museum’s storage facility began in 2009.
“Until that recent renovation, none of us knew what was here,” says Coon, the museum’s executive director. “And we’re still discovering things.”
Opened in 1933 as the Baldwin Museum in the home of Massillon founder James Duncan, the museum has amassed more than 100,000 artifacts. “The collecting focuses have changed over the years,” Coon says. “There was greater emphasis in the 1930s on fossils, seashells and taxidermy. We even had live animals at one time.”
And although some may call that quirky and even strange, Coon and Dan Kane, arts and entertainment editor of the Canton Repository, thought enough of the finds to turn them into an exhibit dubbed Odditorium. Clearly the exhibit, which runs May 19 through Aug. 26, couldn’t be just any exhibit.
“We decided it would be really neat to tell the story of our collecting history through a fictional family,” Coon says. “We’re going to transform the gallery into a house, and each room will represent a different family member.”
One room, dedicated to a young girl fascinated by the circus, will feature an extensive collection of circus memorabilia, including posters from the Clyde Beatty and Cole Bros. circuses and a miniature stained-glass carousel.
Another room will be devoted to a teenage boy interested in “strange and interesting things.” It will offer bizarre paintings and perhaps some taxidermy. The family’s glamour-obsessed mother will have a room featuring a purse made from a baby alligator, as well as shoes, dresses and coats.
“I’m hoping people will better appreciate the scope of our collection,” Coon says. “We want people to experience things visually in a new way. We want people to be surprised.”