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The Wunderkammer: The Curiosities in Indiana University Collections

Life mask of IU President William Lowe Bryan by Gordon L. Reagan (Class of 1937)

Life mask of IU President William Lowe Bryan by Gordon L. Reagan (Class of 1937)

With Halloween occuring next week, where can you see human skin, sixty year-old chewed gum, a ghostly life mask and anatomical x-rays, all from the IU Archives collections? Opening Friday, October 23rd at the Grunwald Gallery of Art, The Wunderkammer: The Curiosities in Indiana University Collections exhibit includes a selection of oddities, curiosities, the down-right gross (or to put it nicely, the “non-traditional”) drawn from the vast array of special collections on the IU campus, including the IU Art Museum, the Elizabeth Sage Costume Collection, the Kinsey Institute, the Wylie House, the Lilly Library, the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, the Glenn Black Lab, the Department of Biology, the Black Film Center Archives and of course, the IU Archives.

 

Description of the exhibit from the Grunwald Gallery web site:

“The public museums at Indiana University are easily accessible and often feature objects from their collections that are the most well known, valuable, and historically and culturally important. However, each collection also contains items that are unusual or non-traditional, which the public rarely sees. It is in the context of the Wunderkammer that we display these items, as a cabinet of curiosities similar to the traditional collections amassed by individuals in the sixteenth century. This tradition continued well into the nineteenth century, with individuals collecting art, natural history specimens, cultural artifacts and ephemera, and there is a resurgence of interest in this today. Special collections at IU were invited to partner with the Grunwald Gallery to select unusual or non-traditional items for the exhibit. Because of this focus, the information about how these objects came to be part of these collections is as important as the items themselves. This exhibit addresses the psychological motivations behind both institutional and private collecting, why and how special collections end up with unusual items, the stories that these unusual items have to tell, and the information and background they add that may not be obvious in more celebrated works.”

Objects from the University Archives’ collections include:

Life mask of IU President William Lowe Bryan – Gordon Loper Reagan, circa 1935-1936

Commissioned by Indiana University President William Lowe Bryan in 1935 when he was in his 70s, this life mask was completed by Gordon Loper Reagan of the Bloomington Allen Funeral Home. While details surrounding the commission are sketchy, Reagan was a student at Indiana University at the time and likely worked at the funeral home to fund his studies. He graduated in 1937 with a B.A. in Philosophy and followed that up with a M.A. in 1939.

Butternut badges, circa 1861-1865Butternut badges worn by IU students who were southern sympathizers during The Civil War

Worn by the Knights of the Golden Circle, an organized group of Southern sympathizers in the North during the Civil War, these badges were made from the cross-section of the butternut (also known as the white walnut). Carefully polished and fitted with a safety pin, these badges referenced the fact that rustic members of the Democratic party of the South often wore homespun clothing dyed with the bark of the butternut tree. These partisan emblems were symbolic of the idea that the Democratic party was the party of the people.

While not officially considered a border state, southern Indiana still exhibited many of the same characteristics. Violent encounters were known to occur around Monroe county, when Democrats flaunted their badges around Republicans at social gatherings, public meetings and church services. Reportedly, some of the young women on campus regarded these badges much the same as women regard being pinned by a fraternity member today.

Breathalyzer – Robert F. Borkenstein, 1954  

Using breath samples to measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC), the Breathalyzer was the first practical compact device for use by police officers investigating traffic violations Robert Borkenstein's prototype for the first Breathalyzerand accidents.  It went on to revolutionize the ability of traffic enforcement officials to identify and prosecute drivers under the influence of alcohol. The Breathalyzer was commercially produced and adopted by law enforcement agencies throughout the country and world.

In 1958, Robert Borkenstein retired from the Indiana State Police and joined the Indiana University faculty as Chairman of the newly established Department of Police Administration (today Criminal Justice). In addition to his administrative roles, Borkenstein was an avid researcher and prolific figure in his field. One of his most significant research endeavors was the Grand Rapids Study of 1967-1968, the findings of which supported changing the legal blood alcohol content from 0.1 to 0.08.

Dental X-rays – Joseph Charles Muhler, circa 1950s

A proponent of the practice of preventative dentistry, during graduate school in 1945 IU alumnus and later faculty member Joseph Charles Muhler began research into over 150 fluoride compounds, then believed by dentists to be the solution to tooth decay. With continuing support from Procter & Gamble, he conducted clinical field tests on Bloomington, Indiana school children and demonstrated that stannous fluoride was the most effective at hardening and protecting tooth enamel.

Licensed to Procter & Gamble, the product was branded as Crest and was distributed nationally beginning in 1956. In 1960 the American Dental Association’s Council on Dental Therapeutics endorsed Crest as an effective preventative measure against tooth decay.

Doris Joan Richards Neff Scrapbook, September 1945-August 1946

Often called Joan or Jo, Doris Richards entered Indiana University as a freshman in 1945 and lived in Sycamore Hall. She participated in the Archery Club and was a member of Pamarada (an honorary for independent women). During her time as a student, she meticulously kept a series of scrapbooks which document her Indiana University experience from 1945-1949. Highlights from her freshman year scrapbook include a cookie in the shape a tennis racket, a frog eye lens extracted in Zoology, a friend’s chewed gum and another’s peeled skin following a sunburn as well a more traditional items such as programs for campus athletic and social events, dried flowers and leaves, and cards from family and friends.

Joan graduated in 1949 with a BS in Physical Education with High Distinction and the same year married classmate Franklin Warner Neff.

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Some other objects in the exhibit include Herman B Wells’s handmade underwear from the Elizabeth Sage Costume Collection; A petrified hen’s egg from 1835 found trapped inside the walls of the Wylie House Museum; the original 1955 Relax-A-cizor device from the Kinsey Institute Collections; and Diana Ross’s lunchbox and gold record from the film Bustin’ Loose from the Archives of African American Music and Culture, to name only a few.

This exhibition will open Friday, October 23 and continue through Wednesday, November 18. An opening reception will be held on Friday, October 23 from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm at the Grunwald Gallery. A noon talk will be presented by the curators and collection managers of several special collections on Friday, November 6 in the Grunwald Gallery.

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