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updated: 7/13/2011 12:53 PM

Naper Settlement shows off its collection of curiosities

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  • Seemingly a modest figurine of a woman in a gown, the 19th-century statue's skirt opens to reveal her bloomer-clad legs. It's one of the unusual pieces included in Naper Settlement's Curator's Curiosities programs.

      Seemingly a modest figurine of a woman in a gown, the 19th-century statue's skirt opens to reveal her bloomer-clad legs. It's one of the unusual pieces included in Naper Settlement's Curator's Curiosities programs.
    Courtesy of Naper Settlement

 
 

That pretty little China doll with the red shoes seems innocent enough.

Not many would guess that the 6-inch-tall lady -- a decorative figurine from the 19th century -- has a naughty secret.

The artifact in Naper Settlement Museum's collection knows something you don't -- she has a peek-a-boo skirt that reveals her undergarments!

Gasp!

"A portion of her ceramic skirt can be pulled away and you can see her bloomer-clad legs," said Jennifer Bridge, curator of exhibits and interpretation. In her day, "you really weren't supposed to show your ankles or anything above."

She's one of many items that have piqued curators' curiosity and inspired a closer look and a behind-the-scenes tour of the Museum Collections Care and Storage Facility, 180 Fort Hill Drive, in Naperville. The first Curator's Curiosities program runs 2-3:30 p.m. Sunday, July 17, and includes a walking tour of the facility and discussions about many oddities within the museum's 40,000-piece collection.

People may be surprised to know that most of the museum's collection isn't on display at any given moment due to space as well as concerns about preservation, Bridge said.

Among the items kept at the facility are a car, wagons, larger vehicles and larger furniture pieces.

Of all the collection's items, many have caused curators to scratch their heads.

When the museum's curators are presented with an artifact they're unfamiliar with, Bridges said they ask themselves a series of questions: What is it made of? How was it made? How would it be used? How would it compare to now?

Another oddity to be featured during the tour are photographs taken around the turn of the century by a Naperville businessman, Eli Stark, whose photography hobby led him to experiment with double-exposure prints. The double exposure photographs show him boxing himself or shining his own shoes.

"Most amateur photographers were taking photos of their homes or their families," Bridge said. "Whereas he was staging these photos in a way that an artist might. And they're funny. I think his sense of humor comes through with what he chooses to do with the pictures and how he sets the scene."

The event is not as heavily academic as other programs put on at Naper Settlement, said Chief Curator Louise Howard.

"It's lighthearted. You don't take it too seriously," she said. "It's meant to be fun, meant to take a look at these different things and see what they can tell us -- even as a curiosity -- about our own history."

Participants may bring their own curious artifact to discuss with the curator.

Other expected highlights of the tour likely will include the collection of today's items, which will be history someday, Bridge said.

Recent additions to the collection include a machine used by a hearing-impaired Naperville woman to make phone calls and the mini dollhouse-scale models used by Kroeller furniture salesmen in door-to-door sales.

"We're interested in things that help us tell the story of today's Naperville in the future," Bridge said. "Who knows, something somebody donates today might end up being a curator's curiosity in 50 years' time."

Tickets are $10 per person, or $8 for Naperville Heritage Society sustaining members. Participants enter through Door C at the far northwest corner of the storage facility.

For information, call (630) 420-6010 or visit napersettlement.org.

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