November 16, 2018
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Culture Club

A garage full of stuff is more than a pile of refuse
Philip Hooper

Stuff makes a big difference — especially when you are selling a home or trying to move into a new one. As my close friends know, I have a lot of stuff in my garage. It’s not a maze of Rubbermaid storage containers stacked precariously to the ceiling with holiday decorations and the family’s least important material possessions, but a curated collection of keepsakes, family heirlooms, local history, humorous oddities, and pop cultural ephemera.

Laid out with ambient lighting and 1960s office furniture, we call it The Museum of Material Culture. Sure, we’re one of those families that never parks in the garage, but we’re in good company.

Increasingly, the great American garage no longer keeps just cars. The garage has grown to new roles, a multifaceted space with new possibilities. A place where friends gather to watch the big game or play pool. A stage for a new rock band. A detached pool house cabana or Pinterest-inspired outdoor dining paradise. An artist’s studio. In newer neighborhoods without front porches, the attached garage fills in for the classic covered porch, where folks roll up the door, sit in lawn chairs instead of porch swings, and wave at neighbors passing by.

Our garage is a collection of collections. My penchant for collecting began in 1992 with Mountain Dew cans, while my wife Amanda started with Coca-Cola and has an impressive Duran Duran display. As time goes on, we’ve added some cherished old tools of my grandfathers: metal working tools from my grandfather who built P-47s and Victorian-era tools able to raise a mortise and tenon barn in 1890s fashion.

One man’s trash … Philip Hooper’s garage is filled with more than just things. It’s a carefully curated collection of keepsakes, oddities, history, and ephemera called the Museum of Material Culture. With 1960s furniture and collections galore, some of the museum’s notable items are a 1941 counted cross-stitch Last Supper, 1970s hair dryer chairs, Atari 2600, and collection of Mountain Dew cans..

Whether it’s Evansville items of local interest including two Servel gas refrigerators and a collection of Whirpool annual reports and employee magazines; Herman Miller chairs; an Atari 2600; 1970s hair dryer chairs; a library of National Geographics; or a 1960s Popular Mechanics handyman encyclopedia set (complete with instructions for back yard contraptions that would send a parent to jail today for endangering children), our collection connects us both to loved ones who have gone on and to times that too have passed.

Among my most prized possessions are a series of framed items I retrieved from a dumpster in Indianapolis: a 1941 countedcross-stich Last Supper, a late 1800s print of the 100 most popular depictions of Jesus, and a massive 1895 print of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln got to stay in the house.

At the root of it all is the question “Why do we collect?” At The Museum of Material Culture, it is an extension of what I do every day in my real estate world: making connections, and telling the story. In our garage, and as in all great collections of collections, there are many stories to be told that — if told well — can connect us to the past, to the present, and to a broader world.

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