Nov. 3, A Message from Leah Dilworth, CR Charter Board Member

Leah Dilworth attends Collectors’ Night, the City Reliquary’s annual celebration of the art of collecting. (Photo: Anna O. Grant)

2020 has tested everyone’s civic spirit. Fortunately, there’s a place where love and civic pride are alive and well. The City Reliquary invites all who cross its threshold to celebrate the wonders, large and small, of this great metropolis. 

I first stumbled upon the City Reliquary in 2003, when it inhabited the street-facing windows of founder Dave Herman’s ground-floor apartment at Havemeyer and Grand Street. I was designing a course about collecting for the local university where I teach, and I realized I had found an actual Wunderkammer, a cabinet of curiosities devoted to the “relics” of the civic corpus. Later that fall, Dave very graciously invited me and a dozen students into his home to explore the collection. The students were enchanted, and I became the Reliquary’s biggest fan. 

The first cabinets of curiosity appeared in the 16th century, when Europeans began collecting wonders of the wide world they were in the process of conquering. Unlike treasuries or hoards, these collections contained objects that reflected the world’s natural and cultural diversity and strangeness. Similarly, at the City Reliquary we find objects that aren’t what anyone would call treasures. In fact, most things there might be considered trash, things cast off or forgotten, fragments. But the Reliquary enacts a sea change upon its artifacts—and its visitors. Once inside, visitors are encouraged to stay awhile, to look around, to look carefully; isn’t this thing here amazing? We gradually realize that the twisted trolley rail, the subway grab hold, the bus transfers are witnesses to the past. But rather than a feeling of nostalgia, that things were better or simpler in the past, the visitor who accepts the civic spirit of the Reliquary will experience a sense of continuity with the past and a connection with the people who continue to live and prosper here. 

The City Reliquary reminds us that as citizens we are part of a grand, ever-changing social organism, built on a vast infrastructure created by and serving a kaleidoscopic variety of humanity. It excites wonder, and, now more than ever, we need that feeling. Please join me in supporting the City Reliquary so that its wonders will never cease.

Civically yours,

Leah Dilworth

Professor of English, LIU Brooklyn

In honor of Leah’s gracious recollection of the Reliquary collections, she has chosen the following Membership Tier names for this week:

$10/mo.  East River Water Level

$20/mo.  La Villita Cake Level

$30/mo.  Petrella’s Point Level

$50/mo.  Little Egypt Level 


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