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The Mathers Museum’s “Find a Fable, Tell a Tale: A Story of Story Telling”

When Indiana University Folklore undergrad Amanda Hotz was considering what to do for her first museum exhibit as a student curator, she knew she “wanted it to be something to do with storytelling.”

“But I didn’t want it to be a bunch of books,” says Hotz, who is a senior with an emphasis in museum studies. “And since every museum person will tell you that all objects tell a story, I needed to figure out what aspect of their story I wanted to focus on.”

Since she was interested in the process of storytelling itself, Hotz gathered objects that spoke to her, “not necessarily through words, but through action or painting.”

The result is an exhibit of objects, each of which have a story to tell. She titled the exhibit, “Find a Fable, Tell a Tale: A Story of Story Telling.” It’s now appearing at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures in Bloomington, Indiana.

“I wanted to focus on how not only do we read stories but how we experience them every day,” Hotz says. “I wanted to show that to children that there is another way to learn stories other than having be read from a book.”

The small exhibit takes up three display cases in a corner of the Children’s Gallery at Mathers.
There’s a magic lantern projector from Germany, circa 1910. Powered by a candle, it serves as an example of how families told stories at home before radio and television.

A book of Norman Rockwell illustrations opened to one showing a weary woman salesclerk in the toy department of a department store recovering from the Christmas rush.

A coat hook from Nuristan carved in wood shows the social status of the carver.

A four-foot high marionette from Sicily was used to tell the epic poem Orlando Furioso in puppet shows.

There’s a Hopi Katsina doll that tells the story of how not to behave. The figure holds a slice of watermelon, symbolizing the vice of gluttony to be avoided.

The most eye-catching piece on display is an Alberlejas, a fantastically-painted papier-mâché figure that stands about three feet high.

The nightmarish creature has horns growing out of its head, a long tongue sticking out grotesquely out of its mouth, claws instead of finger, wings, and feet like a chicken. Its body swirls with garish colors, like something from a bad LSD trip.

The figure was conceived by a struggling artist from Mexico had had vivid nightmares of being chased by horrible creatures and yelling the nonsense word, “Alberleja!” He eased his nightmares by sculpting the creatures he saw in his dreams.

He put the figures up for sale in his shop, and they sold so well that the making of the pieces has become a family business in the Mexican town.

“It’s an example of a personal narrative that is now a part of their culture,” says Hotz.

“Find a Fable, Tell a Tale: A Story of Story Telling” is at the Mathers Museum through December 20th. The museum is on Indiana University between Eighth and Ninth Streets.

Adam Schwartz

WFIU Arts and Culture Producer, Editor "Directions in Sound"

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