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A chance to see curiosities

Through much of its existence, the 147-year-old Buffalo Museum of Science built its collection with donated items from leading citizens who had the wealth and time to travel widely.

Many were members of the governing Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences, and what they brought to the doorstep was unlikely to be refused even if it had little to do with the natural world. Those acquisitions were usually displayed, if they were shown at all, in wooden cases called cabinets of curiosity.

The current exhibition "Culture Quest," which takes up several side rooms in Hamlin Hall, the refurbished central gallery, offers a sampling of the astounding variety of objects -- 600,000 in all -- packed away in the big Humboldt Parkway building during all those years of eclectic collecting.

But the show is as much about collectors -- within and beyond the museum community -- as the things they were moved to contribute.

There is a "cabinet of curiosity" containing preserved plants from the long-hidden Clinton Herbarium, assembled in the 1800s by botanist George Clinton, the museum's president and son of DeWitt Clinton, the state's sixth governor.

Contemporary examples include South American insects collected by Mary Cohen and her husband, Harold, the former University at Buffalo architecture dean, and a wooden sculpture of an indigenous orator brought back from New Guinea by Charles Rand Penney, a prolific, worldly art collector who may be the last of his kind in Western New York.

A few displays highlight items gained and given through the museum's partnerships with other institutions, including Eddie the Chimp, the famed ape donated by the Buffalo Zoo, and ceramics once loaned to the Louvre.

Some offbeat subjects include a relationship with musicians Ani DiFranco, the cover of whose Grammy Award-winning album "Evolve" depicts moth specimens from the museum, and Robbie Takac of the Goo Goo Dolls, who loaned some of the Pez candy dispensers he collects.

Then there is the two-headed calf born on a farm in Lancaster in 1881 -- the sort of "weird and wonderful" novelty that the museum used to accept but no longer does, said collections curator Kathryn H. Leacock.

Unless an item relates to the mission, the answer is "Thanks but no thanks," said President Mark Mortenson.

"Culture Quest" will run through Jan. 4 and is included with museum admission: $7 for adults, $6 for seniors and $5 for students and children over 3.

e-mail: tbuckham@buffnews.com

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