Too often we are blinded by the bling of our culture. For some reason . perhaps a trait of our competitive human nature, we feel compelled to strive for stature by obtaining objects, many of which are “only for show”. This results in over-extended finances and households brimming with unappreciated “stuff”. Undoubtedly, there are many examples of outstanding articles : luxury cars (that I would be fearful to drive), crown-worthy jewelry (that I would be uneasy to wear) and medieval manuscripts ( that I could only touch wearing gloves and would not understand the language at any rate). These extraordinary objects have much merit, of course, however, they are eclipsed, in my opinion, by those I can touch, admire and appreciate within my lifestyle. The most frequently asked question I receive when asked to identify a textile is:”What is it worth?” My answer is always the same: “It is worth what someone is willing to pay for it, nothing more” There is a difference between worth and value. One might value a family keepsake, its “worth” may be negligible.
These thoughts are the result of my learning of the death of one of my favorite people: Lloyd Cotsen, (1920-2017). I was not a family friend, nor had I ever met the man, but he had a passion, a passion for the everyday, the little things that told a story. He was a man I could relate with, at least in a small way.. Cotsen was a collector..of many, many things. An outstanding business man, he was CEO of Neutrogena and marketed the brand to every dermatologist and into most households. His business successes enabled him to financially add to his collections. However, his collections were of a broad interest and a result of a lifetime study of archeology.
He was also a great philanthropist and a benefactor to many museums. His donation to the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco consisted of Japanese bamboo baskets, to the Firestone Library at Princeton his collection of more than 40,000 children’s books.
To us in Santa Fe he is very highly regarded for his contribution of over 3,000 articles from his collections to the International Folk Art Museum and the endowment funds which provide support to the museum. This very varied accumulation of articles include many textiles ( an arctic parka of walrus gut, as an example).
“I buy things because they strike an emotional bell, they appeal to my curiosity, to the thrill of discovery of the extraordinary in the ordinary.”
Lloyd Cotsen, 1998
It might be a worthy exercise to follow Cotsen’s ability to see the “extraordinary in the ordinary”.
The Extraordinary in the Ordinary, Kahlenberg, Mary Ed., Abrams, Inc., 1998
This is one of my most favorite of all the books in my reference collection. The text is informative, the photographs beautifully printed and the scope of Cotsen's collection is outstanding.