Arts & Culture

Students curate stamp collection exhibit

American studies class uses John Hay Library’s stamp collection to form historical exhibition

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, February 18, 2016

Students from the fall 2015 American Studies course “AMST 1510: Museum Collecting and Collections” demonstrated their philatelic expertise in collectively curating the exhibition “Thousands of Little Colored Windows: Brown University’s Stamp Collections” that opened Feb. 10 and will run until May 13 in the John Hay Library.

By showcasing stamps that chronicle U.S. and world political and artistic history, the exhibit serves as an educational resource for the Brown community.

The course, open to both undergraduate and graduate students, emphasized the intricacies of curating an exhibit and encouraged students to contemplate how to utilize art collections as a resource, said Steven Lubar, professor of American studies, history and history of art and architecture, who taught the course.

“Brown has wonderful collections that aren’t as well-known as they ought to be. It just seems a perfect opportunity to get a group of students to work on the collections and show how they can be useful,” Lubar said.

“Thousands of Colored Windows” displays a mere fraction of the University’s antique stamps. Since 1995, the entire collection has been managed and curated by Tom Greene, a designated representative of the Rhode Island Philatelic Society, which has managed the University’s stamp collections since the mid-1930s. The stamp collection is mainly composed of three large donations from George Champlin, Webster Knight 1876 and Robert Galkin ’49.

From these and other donations, students compiled stamps into seven separate sections of the exhibition: “Art,” “Charity,” “Collection,” “Communication,” “Definition,” “Motivation” and “Politics.”

Anna Meyer ’18 explored and curated “Art.” “We started talking about stamps as art and using stamps as an art exhibit,” Meyer said. “What we found is that artists use stamps to play with national identity.”

Meyer’s group chose to include a series of miniature Bhutanese records that serve as stamps. When the stamps were played on a record player, the record played folk songs, the Bhutanese national anthem and stories from Bhutanese history in both English and Bhutanese.

“Stamps are a direct image of a nation,” said Sarah Dylla GS, curatorial fellow at the John Hay Library and masters student in public humanities, who served as a teaching assistant for the course. “What a nation decides to show itself as in a stamp is reflective of government.”

The student stamp selection for the “Politics” compilation reflects this sentiment of national identity. The section captures the history and the development of communist China by chronicling the production of stamps from 1945 into the 1950s. During this time, the regime changed from rule by nationalists Chiang Kai-shek and Sun Yat-sen to the communist party system of Mao Zedong.

“Politics” also explores how stamps reflect political upheaval in the People’s Republic of Congo. Within a month of gaining independence, Congolese stamps reflected the change in governmental leadership, replacing their previous name, Belgian Congo, with its current name.

Kara Noto GS, a masters student  in public humanities, touted the universal relevance of the stamp exhibit “No matter your background or academic intent, there is something in the collection that could inform your research and academic pursuits,” she said.

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