Every semester I share the story of the Angel Museum with my students. It is a simple story really – almost a modern day fairy tale. It all began in 1976 when Joyce and Lowell Berg were vacationing in Florida. They happened to stop at an antique shop where they fell in love with an Italian bisque figurine of two angels on a sea-saw. They immediately bought it and brought it back home to Beloit, Wisconsin where it became the first cherished artifact of what would eventually become a very grand collection of angels.
Now, I usually take some creative liberties with my story about the humble beginnings of the Angel Museum. I imagine Joyce and Lowell scouring the world for angel imagery – passionate in their obsession and abundantly inclusive. I know for a fact that they find angel imagery at rummage sales. They save plastic angels that come on the top of cakes (with the frosting still encrusted on the bottom). They hunt down angels at craft shows and antique fairs. They look for angels in shops and in garages and they happily embrace every angel they find.
One day I imagine Lowell coming home from work and exclaiming to Joyce, “I can’t live like this anymore!!! The angels are taking over our home!!” There are angels on the wallpaper and on the countertop, rows of angels in special handmade cabinets and punch out windows with angels dangling from fishing wire. Joyce, of course, sees her cherished angels as art – she knows her collection is worthy of a great museum. She envisions herself as the caretaker of the angels. Her passion is so great and her heart so generous, she dreams of sharing her love of angels with the people of Beloit.
Joyce and Lowell begin their search for a new angel home in earnest. At first, there are some who doubt them – who wonder if the world really needs an angel museum (especially one that includes “dollar store special” angels stamped “made in China”). But Joyce and Lowell prevail. Eventually, they buy an old church building. They load up a truck and they set up shop. The angels are reframed, cleaned, put behind glass. Bright lights highlight the shining stars and a small gift shop graces the lobby.
I imagine the first days as quiet — Joyce in her angel costume at the front door, Lowell wringing his hands over slow ticket sales, a trickle of friends wandering about admiring the eclectic and somehow strangely inspiring collection of angels. And then, suddenly (I pause here in order to create a dramatic punch) . . . . Oprah! Yes, Oprah hears about the Angel Museum. She donates her collection of over 600 Black angels and the rest, well, the rest is history . . . .
Today, busloads of visitors arrive from across the Midwest to share in Joyce and Lowell’s dream. The Angel Museum is a legitimate tourist attraction – a respected institution in the town of Beloit housing angel art.
I love this story for a bunch of reasons. It is a story that really illustrates some important aspects of how we construct meaning, how people and objects can be transformed over time. It is a story about authority. Who gets to tell you what art is? Think on all the people who doubted the worth of Joyce’s collection. And think about the influence of space. (Funny, how that very same angel from the top of Buster’s eighth birthday cake takes on a whole new life behind a light and in a gold case.) Last but not least, it is a love story. A story of how love can transform the resonate quality of objects.
Think About It: Are there any objects in your life that have been transformed by your affection for them?
Molly Beauregard | Program Director