Arts and Culture

Peculiar Art Collections: They're Some Kind of Wonderful

It's funny what you can learn sometimes, and in the strangest of places ...

British Lawnmower Museum; Lancashire, England
If an Englishman's home is his castle, then his garden is his estate and his lawnmower his coach-and-horses. Ever since 1830, when the lawnmower's inventor, Edwin Beard Budding, snuck out at night to test his new contraption (to avoid being noticed by his neighbors, who thought he was mad), Britons up and down the country have been spending weekly sessions in their backyards, battling weeds and grass with the aid of their rusting, blade-rotating friends. Over 400 of these faithful machines have been fully restored, polished and hoarded away in this museum. Two hundred tend to be on show at any given time, along with publicity materials, manuals, spare parts, photos, the world's largest collection of toy lawnmowers, royal mowers (Prince Charles and Princess Diana's), Rolls-Royce and Daimler-made models.

Icelandic Phallological Museum; Iceland
If you're a regular museum-or-gallery-goer, you'll be no stranger to the suggestion, blatant innuendo and just plain display of those parts of the body that we all, well, on occasion, find ourselves sniggering at. For this reason, the Icelandic Institute of Phallology was set up with the intent to create an environment in which, "it is finally possible for individuals to undertake serious study into the field of phallology in an organized, scientific fashion." What this translates into is a collection of penises "sampled" (wince) from each of Iceland's native mammals. All the samples are here, pointing at you rudely (though we think they're justified) from their wooden wall plaques: whales, walrus, seals and what is described as a "rogue" polar bear. There's also a sample of the popular, edible, 1930s smoked horse variety. And before you ask, yes, they've "been fortunate enough to receive a legally certified gift token for a future specimen belonging to Homo sapiens." We can't wait.

Museum of Bad Art; Dedham, Mass.
It's the best museum in the world ... in which to see bad art. No other collection boasts as many grand failures as MOBA. What makes the works presented even worse is the evident amount of effort that went into producing them (a key element the owners look for when selecting new pieces to add to the collection). Unlike the works of the greats, which can bemuse viewers for centuries as to their true meaning, the artwork at MOBA leads you to ask less complex questions, to clear up confusion related to an image's meaning. "Are those snow-capped mountains or ice-creams?" "Is it a dog or a car?" "Is she angry or just really, really red?" Unfortunately, most of these questions will never be answered, as the people who commit these crimes-against-taste rarely sign their works and are therefore untraceable. What you will learn, however, through gazing upon these gems on display, is that - contrary to popular belief - there are times when it is perfectly acceptable and necessary for someone to be told that they cannot follow their dream. Sorry, folks.

Enduring Beauty Museum; Malaysia
Teetering over both an exhibition on local culture, and a display of kites at the Enduring Beauty Museum, is a display centered on the various and diverse ways in which mankind has endeavored to attain beauty throughout the world and the ages. Pictures and exhibits tell the story of contemporary tribal practices, such as tattooing, lip-stretching and neck-stretching; ancient practices that called for children to have their skulls molded into oval shapes at an early age; and the ancient Chinese practice of foot-binding - restricting the growth of women's feet with silk ties to make them appear more desirable to their husbands and suitors. What at first seems to be a freak show of sorts later reveals itself as a call for greater universal awareness and acceptance of cultural diversities, both physical and ideological. 

German Christmas Museum; Germany
Have yourself a merry German Christmas at this museum in Rothenburg, said to be the site of Germany's most atmospheric Christmas markets and traditions. This place is Mecca for those individuals who never grew out of the season's traditions and want to live through the magic year-round (as well as those who wizened to the deal at an early age and now want to know what the secrets are behind all that red-and-white nonsense!). The museum features an unparalleled collection of nearly 500 nutcrackers, covering all the key bases (pestle, pliers and screw types). Another exhibit tells the history of Santa's various guises through the ages with the help of over 100 figurines, including his angelic (and surprisingly, sometimes demonic) little helpers. The run of Christmas ephemera is completed by an extensive array of Christmas decorations and a collection of locally made traditional candleholders, toys, incense burners and multi-tiered pyramid sculptures, which once took the place of the Christmas tree in this part of Germany.

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