My original assignment was to visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum and relate it to two scholarly articles I received in class. I predicted I would be disappointed with such specific parameters, but my expectations were blown away when I entered the museum. The sheer number of rooms was astonishing, and each room’s contents were increasingly intriguing. I got lost in painted ceilings and ancient statues for most of that day. I scribbled down my first and second impressions of each room, and took note of which objects drew most visitors’ attention. Gallery attendants divulged interesting background information, which I also wrote down.  Once my notes were completed, I remember thinking I had looked at everything in the museum but had still seen only a tiny part of what it was.

My essay became an attempt to look further into the true nature of the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum. Rather than wandering in halls, I wandered with my mind.  I compared the mystery of the Gardner museum to more clearly organized collections I had seen and to the chaotic wonder cabinets in my secondary source material. A conversation with a classmate yielded more insights and alternate perspectives. Did our discussions bring us to an understanding of the Gardner museum, or only to deeper questions? I toyed around with my fragmented ideas and tried to string them into a cohesive argument about the nature of ordered collections. I glued my thoughts together as I wrote, and allowed the paper to be more free-form and visually based than my usual style. Like a wonder cabinet, this final paper is clear in some ways and disorganized in others.  My hope is that my essay inspires readers to take a second look at local museums and find something extraordinary in everyday surroundings.

KATIE GRISWOLD is studying environmental science with a minor in marine science in the College of Arts and Sciences class of 2016. She hails from the Washington DC metropolitan area, where museums are free and plentiful. The essay is dedicated to her mother and father, for showing her the Smithsonian collections and raising her with an appreciation for art. Katie also thanks Dr. Daniel Hutchins for introducing her to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and Phoebe Horgan for lending inspiration and a pencil.