image: University of Chicago Magazine - logo

link to: featureslink to: class news, books, deathslink to: chicago journal, college reportlink to: investigationslink to: editor's notes, letters, chicagophile, course work
link to: back issueslink to: contact forms, address updateslink to: staff info, ad rates, subscriptions

  > > Editor's Note
  > >
From the President

  > >
  > >

When enthusiasm blossoms to full-blown obsession

PHOTO:  One paper-cut does not a collection make.You may have already noticed this issue's back cover. We're inviting those of you with a unique collection, one that you would like considered for an upcoming Magazine article about Chicago collections, to write and tell us what makes your set of stuff so special. Knowing Chicago alumni, the editors expect to hear from persons with definitive assemblages of all kinds. If you're like me, however, you won't be among the eager respondents. Instead, you are someone who has in your possession the beginnings of many collections, souvenirs of enthusiasms that never blossomed into full-blown obsessions.

Take the Chinese paper-cut at right. No expert on the subject, I know only enough to know that this particular brightly dyed piece of tissue-thin paper is the offspring of an ancient and far more elaborate art. And if I happen to see any of these inexpensive items when shopping in a city's Chinatown, I buy a few, saving some and using the others as they're intended: to decorate greetings and gifts. My collection of Polish paper-cuts or wycinanki-which began earlier and which was the reason I noticed Chinese paper-cuts in the first place-is not much more extensive.

Not that having lots of some particular type of thing is, in and of itself, enough to turn a set into a collection. When she was ten or so, my younger daughter (with help from her mother, other relatives, and friends) quickly assembled a menagerie of 70-plus Beanie babies. She still has them all, stored in one of those see-through plastic bins bought by people desperately attempting to master their things, but even when the Beanies were a part of her daily life, they never excited her interest as a whole greater than the sum of its parts-which is the belief that seems to drive the collecting impulse.

Some people have collections, like some heroes have greatness, thrust upon them. A bachelor living on the water gets his first set of dish towels with a duck motif as a gift; another friend or relative sees the ducks and divines a solution to the what-to-get-the-guy-who-has-everything dilemma. Three duck pillows, two mallard lamps, and one Canadian goose welcome mat later, a "collection" has emerged. Pretty soon, the owner of all of this duckiana may himself become the duck hunter. Even if he doesn't, the collection may take on a life of its own, requiring an act of will (or marriage) to derail it.

Lots of people, of course, have "collections" of books, videos, records, CDs, and so on. But again I would argue that these assemblages don't qualify as true collections, objects amassed not for the performance conveyed in the medium but rather for the thing itself: blue-and-white pottery because it is blue-and-white pottery; a rock or a leaf from every hike along the Appalachian Trail; every Barbie outfit, still in its original packaging.

At the same time, those of us who don't collect are thoroughly in awe of those who do: your sense of purpose, your desire, your ability to keep your eye on the prize. We can't wait to see the wonders you've assembled.- M.R.Y

A clarification and a correction

In the December/00 profile of President Don Michael Randel ("First Chair," page 20) a sentence summarizing the work of a Cornell University task force on undergraduate education relied on a sentence in "An Administrative Biography of Don Randel," by Adam Kissel, a graduate student in the Committee on Social Thought. In the February/01 "Virtual Chicago" (page 15), an incorrect URL was given for the "That Other Fair-Chicago World's Fair: A Century of Progress" project, whose Web site will go online sometime this summer (check the library's digital collections at


  APRIL 2001

  > > Volume 93, Number 4

  > > A Radical Takes Root
  > >
All that jazz
  > >
How to catch a Higgs
  > >
Bound to change

  > > Class News

  > > Books
  > > Deaths

  > > Chicago Journal

  > > College Report

  > > Investigations



uchicago ©2000 The University of Chicago Magazine 1313 E. 60th St., Chicago, IL 60637
phone: 773/702-2163 fax: 773/702-2166