Where to Hang 26 South American Masks.And Other Ways to Display Collections

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Where to hang 26 South American masks . . . and other ways to display collections

The joys of collecting involve more than accumulation; they also depend on showing things off. And whatever you collect, from model airplanes to rare porcelain, the options for display are countless. These three pages show eight examples.

A first step is to realize that it may not be appropriate or possible to show off everything at once. Too many objects in a limited space can diminish their impact. If you're short on space, create storage, catalog your collection, and rotate pieces. (For information on cataloguing and appraisals, see page 134.)

Getting ideas for your display

To learn about arranging objects, it's helpful to study the display techniques used in museums, galleries, and stores. At the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., for example, planes suspended from cables hover at dramatic angles, allowing viewers to experience the perspective of a plane in flight. On a much smaller scale, the collector pictured on page 94 achieves similar realism as his models swoop beneath a ceiling of blue sky and clouds.

The ceiling offers a creative stage for items generally viewed from below. To enhance his collection, a kite enthusiast attaches swivels to the lines suspending his kites, allowing them to turn in a breeze. Beveled glass also benefits from being displayed at a height so sunlight can illuminate its singular designs and colors (see page 94).

Walls can provide dramatic surfaces for collections. For greatest impact, keep objects at eye level. As shown above, masks clustered tightly on a stairway create the uncanny illusion of faces in a crowd, while Southwest native art engages the viewer far more at eye level than it would assembled on a tabletop. To experiment with arrangements, you can organize objects on the floor before committing yourself with hammer, hooks, and nails.

Different displays different effects

In selecting a stage for your collection, remember that different displays produce different effects: while mechanical banks assembled on a table beg for the penny that will motivate their interesting movements, the clear boxes encasing Thai pottery (above right) say, "This object is valuable. Please don't touch.'

For these more formal displays, you can find furniture designed particularly with collectors in mind: glass-fronted cabinets or glass-topped tables with shelves or boxes underneath. Or you may decide to invest in custom-made stands or tables for important pieces, even to build a wall of shelves or niches, as for the Japanese porcelain and South American folk art. …