Look under the rug, or maybe on that hard-to-reach windowsill, and you’ll find the stuff that’s attracting visitors to a quirky Northeast Kingdom gallery this summer. The newest exhibit at the Museum of Everyday Life, near Glover, is called "Dust."
It calls itself a “self-service” museum, so on this drizzly June day there’s nobody to greet visitors to the unheated, unpainted barn just off Route 16.
As a floor fan whirrs beyond a dimly lit doorway framed entirely in a mosaic of pencils, a tall guy sits at a desk bent over a microscope, near an explanatory sign headlined "Dust."
Under a powerful lens, the stuff of this special exhibit looks like small rocks.
“They give you pollen dust, they give you pocket lint, barn dust,” says Stan Mir. He and his wife, Carolina Maugeri, have been visiting Vermont with their two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Aki and this is their last stop before heading home. Curator Clare Dolan — she lives next door but is absent today — asked people all over the world to contribute granular matter for this exhibit.
In one corner, Carolina marvels at a chunk of dusty brick as she reads the note from the donor. “Dear Museum of Everyday Life, I received your request for dust while in Kathmandu following the recent earthquake,” it begins, and ends, “This specimen is part of a brick, the part not turned into dust from the destruction of Saku, Nepal, Scott Carrier.”
Fans of This American Life may know Carrier as a radio producer and podcaster who documented the Nepal tragedy. But other exhibitors are decidedly more rooted in the Northeast Kingdom. Stan Mir pauses before a truck windshield suspended from the ceiling and reads the label.
“This is on loan from Clark McKenzie of Sheffield, Vermont,” he reads. “I’m looking at probably a back window that’s covered with dirty mud and there’s a sign that says ‘Wash Me’ and there’s a smiley face finger-written in the dust.”
The exhibit moves unpredictably like this, from the cosmic to the comic, from the esoteric to the everyday. There’s a giant puppet of a dust mite, and there’s a whole wall of the implements invented over the years to eradicate the very thing this museum is celebrating. Stan Mir says peering at dust, pondering human interaction with it, even admiring it, was well worth an hour of vacation time.
“You get to look more closely at something that you are usually just annoyed by and it causes you to slow down and think about the different kinds of dust, and it actually becomes interesting and stirs the imagination a little bit,” Mir says.
Dust in its myriad forms will remain on display at the Museum of Everyday Life near Glover through December.