Story of Smithsonian Institution in Illustrated Book by Benjamin Lawless

. March 30, 2011 . 0 Comments

Among the Smithsonian’s many museums, the Museum of American History clearly deserves the title “The Nation’s Attic.” It became an attic because its historians and curators were more interested in steam engines, sailing ships, spittoons and horse drawn carriages than collecting the stuff of modern life. They were specialists whose passion for accumulation resulted in store rooms crammed with objects of national importance. To the surprise of visiting researchers, some of these objects, which they accidentally discovered on back shelves and in hidden crannies, were of unsurpassed curiosity. It is these “curiosities” and the people who collected them that are at the core of the book, “The Color of Dust & Other Dirty Little Secrets from the Nation’s Attic.”

Collections of presidential portraits made of barbed wire, dresses fashioned from beetle wings, the Lord’s Prayer printed on the head of a pin, flesh-eating beetles and a silk purse made from a sow’s ear are but a sampling of the curiosities revealed in this book. The collectors of these strange objects, however, are the real story. Their exotic behavior is revealed in tales such as the curator who demanded his right to exercise by what he called “exhibit climbing,” the technician who collected “historic dust,” the dead Marine who guarded a display of his beloved Corps, the “Battle of the Brains” and the taxidermist determined to mummify a mammoth. These people and their sometimes idiosyncratic behavior would have a difficult time surviving in today’s more professionally oriented museums. According to the author Benjamin Lawless, they made the business of collecting history more fascinating though than ever could be imagined.

Although trained as a portrait painter, Benjamin Lawless soon found that portraiture could not hold a candle to the excitement of capturing the history of the United States through museum exhibitions. His chance encounter in 1953 with the Smithsonian Institution, which was hesitantly entering the 20th Century, led to his 28 year career as Director of Exhibitions. Now retired, Benjamin lives in a self-built house teetering on the banks of the Potomac River just outside of Washington, D.C. In the midst of consulting about museums, painting watercolors, sailing his boat and fishing, he occasionally takes pen in hand to write an article or two or sometimes even a book.

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The Color of Dust and Other Dirty Little Secrets from Our Nation’s Attic
Benjamin Lawless
Dog Ear Publishing
ISBN: 978-160844-740-4 136 pages $25.99 US

Available at Ingram,, Barnes & Noble and fine bookstores everywhere.

About Dog Ear Publishing, LLC Dog Ear Publishing offers completely customized self-publishing services for independent authors. We provide cost-effective, fast, and highly profitable services to publish and distribute independently published books. Our book publishing and distribution services reach worldwide. Dog Ear authors retain all rights and complete creative control throughout the entire self-publishing process. Self-publishing services are available globally at and from our offices in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Category: Museum News

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