Meet the Collector: Tree Fern Prints and Skillets and Insects (Oh My!)

John Tidwell’s bathroom is not exempt from becoming a showcase for one of his collections: vintage tree fern prints!

As part of our ongoing Everyone Is A Collector series, we’re highlighting collector extraordinaire John Tidwell, Philadelphia-based collector who treats the art of collecting like an ongoing project of establishing his own historicity— one that evolves with time and place, and reflects his own personal experiences. He talked to us about what draws him towards his subjects of collection, and what collecting means to him.

What is it that you collect?

Rocks, Buddhas, political buttons, stamps, coins, cast iron skillets (Griswold), exotic textiles, 78 rpm blues records, 33/3rd Rock, Jazz, Classical World music, Jim Flora record albums, old family photos (mine), imagery for decoupage, signed 1st edition fiction/non-fiction, ethnic masks & figures, old tree fern prints/postcards, old wood boxes, animal skulls I embed in plastic, insects I embed in plastic.

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

For reasons never very clear, I have collected a variety of quirky things that I suddenly developed a fascination with. My  love of old blues 78rpms (another collection) introduced me to Columbia & RCA Records illustrator Jim Flora, who gave jazz and big band albums in the 1940s and ’50s a uniquely artsy look.(https://www.jimflora.com).

Tree ferns were another obsession, which like malaria, returns from time to time, and is only thwarted by the climate of the Northeast. Now I content my fernophilia by perusing the one-and-only authoritative book on tree ferns, and playing my drum, made from the trunk of an Australian tree fern species. 

When did you start your collection?

Since I was a kid (I am 58 now). Different ones at different times— all are ongoing, as occasion and finances permit.

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

They are a reflection of me, a mosaic of my interests, tastes and obsessions. To see my apartment is to see who I am. They are friends from my life that conjure memories or provide use.

John Tidwell is a writer and teacher by trade and an artist by vocation. He has lived in the wilds of West Philly for three years, since relocating from Silver Spring.

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