Sag Harbor Whaling Museum Takes Close Look at Small Things | Sag Harbor Express | Dawn Watson
When people visit a museum, they tend to be drawn straightaway to the big, splashy exhibits. The smaller objects on display are frequently overlooked altogether.
But as they say, the devil is in the detail. Sometimes it’s the minutiae that yields the greatest understanding, and the most complete picture, according to Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum’s Collections Manager Richard Doctorow.
“The big stuff, sure, everybody looks at that,” he says of a typical museum visit. “But what about all those smaller items that we pass by without a glance? The ones that, when viewed together, tell the entire sweep of history? When do they get their day in the sun?”
It’s that thought that led him to curating “Fifty Small Things,” an exhibit of 50 objects that are small in size but big on history, which opens on Friday, August 26, and will remain on view through October 31. Carefully curated from the museum’s permanent collection, the items—tiny enough to fit into the palm of one’s hand though substantial enough to tell a significant story about Sag Harbor’ history—document a span of time from 1700 to 1945.
Some of those objects, such as an old arrowhead; an inkwell and scrimshaw tooth from the 19th century; and circa-1800s items, including a miter plane, toy book, hand-cut nails from Huntting House, and fractional currency, will featured in the selection on view. Each of the items, on their own, could lead the viewer “down a rabbit hole” of interest and exploration, says Mr. Doctorow. Presented together, they make a considerable impact when given proper due.
“History is all around us, even in the smallest things, such as the stuff of real life. The collectibles, the ephemera, the thrown-out objects, the pamphlets and ticket stubs,” says Mr. Doctorow. “Taken together, they tell a story about the daily doings here in Sag Harbor.”
But history doesn’t just remain in the artifacts of the past, waiting to be dusted off and put on display, says Bob Weinstein, the newly elected Vice President of the museum’s Board of Directors. It’s also in the here and now, subtly influencing and impacting.
“History doesn’t just exist in the vitrines,” he says, referring to the glass or plexi covers that go on display cases. “It’s all around us. Especially here in Sag Harbor, where there are remnants of the past everywhere. These things get under our skin and become a part of us. They tell us a rich history, even if we might not be paying total attention.”