Unique New England Museums: The Museum of Everyday Life

By Carla Charter

On Vermont Rt 16, about 5 miles South of Glover Village is the Museum of Everyday Life which celebrates the mundane and everyday items in our lives. According to the inaugural exhibition in 2011 the goal of the museum is to explore, analyze and celebrate everyday life objects and allow a heroic, slow-motion cataloging of life; “We celebrate mundanity, and the mysterious delight embedded in the banal but beloved objects we touch every day, according to Clare Dolan, the museum’s founder.

The Museum has three components, according to Dolan. There is the Museum of Everyday Life Philosophy Department which involves the production and publication of theoretical writing about people and their relationship to objects, curatorial methodologies, and encyclopedism. The Museum of Everyday Life Performance Company creates puppet shows and performances in an ongoing effort to examine everyday life via the life of objects.  The Museum of Everyday Life Exhibitions and Collections is comprised of actual exhibits which make the theoretical work tangible and concrete.

“The Museum has been something I’ve carried around in my head for a long time,” said Dolan. “When I bought a dilapidated house and barn in remote rural Vermont in 2004… It took me until the spring of 2010 to make my first exhibition. And it wasn’t until 2011 that the first official Museum of Everyday Life exhibit: “Locofocos, Lucifers, and Phillumeny: A Celebration of the Match,” inaugurated its opening season.”

In the beginning Dolan said, she approached the museum mostly in a spirit of fun, “wanting to play with the museum as Establishment, to mock the highseriousness and expense of these institutions. I started by writing a manifesto and making declarations about what a museum “should” be.  As I became more and more absorbed in understanding the actual mechanisms of arrangement and display, and the ways that different display strategies can encourage different feelings and responses in the viewer/participant, I began to more seriously develop the idea of the homemade museum as a real and potential tool for transforming our relationship to our lives – helping us to be both more self-reflective and present in our day to day moments, to transform the way we think about being “ordinary” people and the mundane parts of being human.”  Dolan said the museum is a locus where the everyday object is the vehicle for examining the intersection of the Ordinary and the larger world stage of politics, power, economics, historic events, natural disasters – the “big” things.

Dolan plans the exhibits herself, making a decision in March on what special featured object will be highlighted during the next season.  Dolan then begins to spread the word about the upcoming exhibit to others. “People respond from all over, sending everything from ideas, associations, ephemera, suggestions of where to find multiples of the object, art made out of the object, or special examples or unusual uses of the object. I do a lot of research, scour garage sales, the internet and my neighbors’ barns and basements. Slowly an assemblage materializes. The fun is in sorting through it, arranging, describing and contextualizing, giving it shape. That is how the exhibitions come to be.”

Each spring when the previous year’s exhibition comes down and the new one goes up, Dolan takes some objects from the outgoing exhibition and installs those into the “Great Hall,” the main front room, which houses our permanent collection. Exhibitions from previous years have featured the Match, the Safety Pin, the Pencil, the Toothbrush, Dust, the Mirror, and Bells & Whistles. This year’s featured exhibition is about Locks and Keys.

For more information on the Museum of Everyday Lifevisit their website at  http://www.museumofeverydaylife.org