Meet the Collector: Jen McCleary Collects All the Small Things

From vacationers to even the most seasoned travelers, we’ve seen them before: mugs, magnets, keychains, and postcards available in the various souvenir shops we pass in our journeys. For most, it becomes an after-thought. Most millennials and younger just “throw it on the gram” and call it a day. For artist and collector Jen McCleary, these objects signify much more. Collecting souvenirs has become a ritual during her travels and time abroad. Rather than an afterthought, it’s become nostalgic posterity–and honestly, a pretty awesome way to look at all the places you’ve gone in one nicely cataloged vision! This week in our Everyone is a Collector series, Jen tells us all:

What is it that you collect? 

Souvenir spoons and magnets, postcards, small artworks, odds and ends, and parrot feathers

Tell us everything about this collection! What attracted you to this? What do you like most about it? Which one is your favorite? 

I think I’m more of a scavenger than a collector! The only coherent collections I have are souvenir spoons and travel magnets. I also have little displays of small artworks and random objects all over my house. I can’t resist collecting odds and ends that I find- pine cones, shells, rocks, bottles, metal things…My favorite is our current mantelpiece arrangement- my husband worked in Japan for nearly a year and I stayed with him in Tokyo for three months. We traveled all over the country and collected some interesting things. I also love this bowl of ceramic pieces that I gathered from a small beach near Nagasaki. I spent at least an hour having the best time wandering around picking up all these little pieces! My dream is to make friends with a crow and have them bring me random shiny things. I also secretly want a metal detector but I think that might be taking it a bit too far.

Jen’s favorite pieces from when she lived with her husband in Tokyo for three months

When did you start your collection? 

I started collecting the souvenir spoons as a child and have kept it going as an adult. My husband and I have been collecting magnets from our travels for the entire time together. They’re a great memento since their small and easy to display, but it’s gotten a bit out of hand. We have another basement fridge that is covered in magnets. And I always remember having some sort of rock or shell or bottle collection as a kid! I think I get the scavenging impulse from my dad, though he mostly will pick up useful things like screws or washers and I’ll pick up things like broken glass and undefinable rusty bits.

souvenier spoons Jen’s collected since childhood

What inspires you most about having your collection in your home? 

I really enjoy always having something to look at and to remember my travels, especially now since I’m not going anywhere. I enjoy the process of making arrangements of artworks and random objects. I think of it in a “sum is greater than the parts” way. The subject of my capstone research project for my master’s degree was a comparative study of 16th-century curiosity cabinets and the work of Joseph Cornell. Both of these (and my random little displays) involve collecting and arranging objects in a way that somehow resonates and lends more meaning and interest to each object. I think the way the artwork and objects in the Barnes Foundation are arranged is also an excellent example of this.

Share your Collection! 
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