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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University January 8, 2007 | Vol. 36 No. 16
 
'Feathers, Fins and Fur' Spotlights Early Maryland Pets

An undated illustration from 'Cats and Their Ways: A Most Extensive and Amusing Collection of Engravings,' a holding of the John Work Garrett Library of The Johns Hopkins University.

By Heather Egan Stalfort
Historic Houses

Cats and dogs are reigning at Homewood Museum, where a winter focus exhibition titled Feathers, Fins and Fur: The Pet in Early Maryland has just opened. Organized in partnership with the Maryland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, it continues through March 31.

The exhibition is the culmination of a fall undergraduate seminar called Introduction to Material Culture: The Pet in Early America, co-taught in Homewood's original wine cellar by Catherine Rogers Arthur, the museum's curator, and Stuart "Bill" Leslie, a professor in the Krieger School's Department of History of Science and Technology.

The seminar was part of Johns Hopkins' newly created Museums and Society Program, an interdisciplinary course of study leading to a minor degree that offers undergraduates significant opportunities to establish meaningful connections with local and regional museums.

Drawing on correspondence, probate inventories, newspaper ads, journals and a rich array of visual materials, Feathers, Fins and Fur explores views of the pets and livestock that were part of the scenery of early Maryland and especially of Homewood, the 1801 country house of the Carroll family.

The students assisted in organizing and curating the show, in addition to the more practical aspects of exhibition production. "It's not just about research," said Lauren Strelec, a senior majoring in the history of science and technology, during the fall semester. "We do that, but we are also hunting down artifacts, coordinating displays and consulting with designers to create a catalog."

From engraved silver to spike-studded leather collars, this collaborative exhibition offers a unique opportunity to study the practices of pet-keeping in early Maryland, exploring not only how the often complicated relationships between animals and their owners were defined and observed but how the early-19th-century understanding of animal companionship compares to that of today. "We're looking at a popular, contemporary topic through the eyes of early Americans," observed Sandra Lackovic, a senior majoring in behavioral biology who plans to attend veterinary school.

Divided into several sections, the exhibition focuses on specific kinds of pets — including cats, dogs, birds, fish, horses and rodents — and related themes such as early veterinary practices, wild animal domestication, the affiliation between children and pets, and animal idioms. A variety of early dog collars, recipes for pet food, cages for small animals and fishbowls also are on display.

Related activities (see below) will augment the exhibition, on view to visitors during regularly scheduled tours of the museum, offered every half hour from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (the last tour departs at 3:30 p.m.). Admission to the exhibition and related programs is free with regular museum admission: $6 adults, $5 seniors, $3 students and children 6 and up, free for museum members and JHU affiliates with ID.

Free museum admission also will be granted to any visitor who brings in an item from the Maryland SPCA's Animal Wish List, including pet food, toys and cleaning products, for the duration of the exhibition. The list is available online at www.mdspca.org or by calling Homewood House at 410-516-0341. For more information, call 410-516-0341 or go to www.jhu.edu/historichouses.

Significant funding for the exhibition was provided by Anne Merrick Pinkard, whose generous contribution to Homewood House also makes it possible for the undergraduate seminar in material culture to be repeated in successive years, with different topics contributing to an ongoing understanding of early-19th-century life at Homewood.

 

Related Events

Find a Friend for Life

Meet adoptable pets from the Maryland SPCA in Homewood's wine cellar. Noon to 2 p.m. on Jan. 24 and every other Saturday through March 31. Free with museum admission.

When Animals Could Talk

Charles Camp, author, MICA art history faculty member and former Maryland state folklorist, looks at animals in folktale traditions. Noon on Wednesday, Jan. 24. Free with museum admission.

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