House Cats: A Traveling Display of the
Museum of Natural & Artificial Ephemerata
Scott Webel and Jen Webel
Visitors to the Museum of Ephemerata in Austin, Texas, often tell us how meeting our cats is an important part of touring our in-home Dime Museum. The cats greet visitors, do tricks, and model displays. “House Cats” brings our furry co-curators out to meet the world.
The Museum of Natural & Artificial Ephemerata was founded in 1921 by Madame Mercury Curie and Rolls Joyce Jr. The latter was born Rasputin Zaplatynska, great granduncle to Scott Webel, current curator with Jen Webel. This curiosity museum served as a “zoo for endangered species of collection” like collections of saintly relics, Wunderkammern, and dime museums. After being boxed up after the former curators’ deaths in the ‘40s, the Webels reopened the Museum in 1999 out of their house in Tucson, Arizona. Since moving to Austin, Texas, in 2001, the Museum has expanded beyond the original curators’ “impermanent collection” to include community thematic shows like “Machines,” “Animals,” and “Ghosts.” These temporary exhibitions are venues for Museum visitors to share cherished objects and their stories with a broader public. During weekly open hours, the costumed curators offer performative tours woven from the narratives of the loaned items and chance events like animal tricks, kombucha tea samples, and explorations of the garden. The project is documented at http://mnae.org.
Scott Webel is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas at Austin’s Folklore/Public Culture program in the Department of Anthropology. He is completing a dissertation on quasi-public houses in the Austin area that host art environments and urban ecology projects that remediate urban waste.
Jen Webel teaches elementary art at a private school in Austin. She completed an M.A. in Art Education with a studio focus on new genres at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Her thesis focused on the history and aesthetics of kitsch.
Together they are the curators of the Museum of Natural & Artificial Ephemerata, an in-home dime museum in Austin, Texas celebrating its tenth year. They contributed an installation to the Austin Museum of Art’s 2008 “New Art in Austin: 20 to Watch” exhibition which traveled throughout Texas. The Museum’s temporary exhibitions benefit from support by the City of Austin’s Cultural Arts funding initiative. In 2006 The Austin Chronicle honored the Museum with being the “best tribute to the fleeting.”