“The Jenks Society for Lost Museums” — group of students, professors, and artists — spent several years researching the Jenks Museum of Natural History and Anthropology, one of Brown University’s vanished museums. They gave it a second life, re-collecting scattered relics and remnants, and transforming words into rooms and fragments of curatorial description into spectral art.
“The Lost Museum,” a three-part installation in Brown’s Rhode Island Hall from 2014 through 2015, told the story of Jenks and the museum that was his life’s work, of his sudden death on the building’s steps and of the museums subsequent decline.A reimagined office, complete with axe and gun, bottles of arsenic and a walking stick, portray John Whipple Potter Jenks, naturalist, professor, and founder of the museum. Tattered labels from objects surviving from the museum speak of fragility and decay. Artists conjured the ghosts of artifacts once found in the museum back into existence, recreating artifacts that were among the ninety two truckloads of museum collections hauled to a dump on the Seekonk River.
It is a work of art that relies on subtlety and rewards the curious, a story that displays loss over time and demonstrates the uncertainties of preservation, an exhibit that presents a memory of the past and promotes hope for the future.
The installation was supported by Brown’s 250th Anniversary, Brown’s Mellon Foundation Sawyer Seminar “Animal Magnetism: The Emotional Ecology of Animals and Humans,” the Creative Arts Council, the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage, and the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World.