Cabinets of Curiosities contained any number and variety of interesting items. These shelves hold a scientifically cataloged egg collection, a Bering Strait kayak and stoneware beer bottles from Polk Marine Park, among other items. (Bill Tennent)

Cabinets of Curiosities contained any number and variety of interesting items. These shelves hold a scientifically cataloged egg collection, a Bering Strait kayak and stoneware beer bottles from Polk Marine Park, among other items. (Bill Tennent)

Port Townsend museum’s Cabinet of Curiosities hopes to pique your interest

PORT TOWNSEND — Stuffed birds, bird eggs, shells and coral, a Bering Strait kayak, stonewater beer bottles, old medical equipment and other unique items will be on display at a new exhibit inspired by the Victorian era, “A Cabinet of Curiosities,” at the Jefferson Museum of Art &History.

The exhibit opens to the public today. It also will join the Art Walk on Saturday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Women’s Jail Cell Gallery.

The Jefferson Museum of Art &History, located at 540 Water St. in Port Townsend’s historic City Hall Building, is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily with an admission of $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and $1 for children.

Cabinets of curiosities first appeared in the Renaissance as the forerunners of modern museums.

They included private collections that were significant to natural history, geology, ethnography, archaeology, religion, art or antiquities.

If the items seem random, arcane or unusual, it’s because many have never seen the light of day in the museum before, organizers said.

Becky Schurmann, collections manager and exhibits designer, thought the abundant collection of items from Albert W. Bash’s family would best fit in a cabinet of curiosities.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to get so many different, obscure things in the collection out and on display,” Schurmann said. “Some of these items are very interesting but have never been seen.”

Bash served as the collector of customs in Port Townsend from 1881 to 1885. He was accustomed to hunting game birds in China, so when he moved to Port Townsend, he shipped several species of Asian birds and released them on Protection Island. With President William Howard Taft’s approval, he rented the island as his own private hunting reserve.

Those exotic birds, now stuffed, will be on display.

His father, Henry Bash, worked as shipping commissioner. Henry asked captains sailing to the South Seas to bring him back a shell or piece of coral.

Their return on that promise also will be included in the cabinet.

The collection’s stock of bird eggs comes from Schurmann’s great-great-uncle. Scientist Wesley Bennet collected and classified eggs around the area.

Schurmann carefully photographed the eggs, copied the numbers and sent the information to Chris Wood, the ornithologist at the Burke Museum of Seattle. Wood was able to identify what type of birds produced the eggs from Schurmann’s records.

“This is a scientific collection, and he was collecting it in a scientific way,” Schurmann said.

Most of the medical tools, bottles and drills were donated by local nurse Jessie Pollard. Among them, a foot-powered dentist drill evokes pain upon imagination.

“It makes your teeth hurt just to look at it,” archivist Marsha Moratti said.

For more information, call Jenny Westdal at 360-437-0508.


Reporter Sarah Sharp can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56650, or at

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