Wednesday, October 27, 2021
UI Pentacrest Museums

After more than a year’s work on our exhibition series My Collections, and our virtual program The Art of Collecting, we found ourselves curious and inspired by some very spooky collections we’ve been seeing around town. Halloween decorations! Meet Beth Berigan:

Beth's Spooky Collection Display

Beth has been collecting Halloween decorations for as long as she can remember. Her love of Halloween started in childhood, when she remembers her mother not having much but always using what she had to make costumes and celebrations special for Beth and her siblings. Beth passed this gift on to her daughter, making Halloween a special time of year with elaborate displays and an annual framed photo of her in costume. Now even with her daughter grown, the rest of us—especially neighbor kids—still benefit from Beth’s love of the spooky season. 

Beth's Spooky Collection Display
Beth's Spooky Collection Display
Beth's Spooky Collection Display

The bulk of Beth’s collection was acquired while she lived in Texas. When she moved here to Iowa City with her husband and 3 dogs during the pandemic, she gave much of her collection away to friends and local admirers to their delight. She says it didn’t take long for her to start re-building the collection here once again. 

Neighbors complemented the variety and balance of scary and cute in Beth's display, "I gravitate toward whimsical scary; not too frightening," Beth said. "I don't go for gore or extreme terror. I like a spooky, happy Halloween."

At its largest, she estimates her collection of Halloween decor required more than 20 storage tubs (most of them black with an orange lid), that she’d store in her attic. She’s refined since her move, but by the look of her yard, her collection doesn’t seem to be lacking one bit. “We have 2 large barrels that house the electrical cordage alone,” she told us. The lights are what makes Beth's display truly spectacular.

Beth's Spooky Collection Display
Beth's Spooky Collection Display
Beth's Spooky Collection Display

Every few minutes during our conversation, a car slowed down in front of her home to take a photo. When folks walk by, they call out in admiration and thank her for her display. “I think it brings joy, and I love meeting people this way,” Beth says.  When neighbor kids come to see her yard she quickly engages them, putting them to work with small tasks like turning on this decoration or hanging up that one. They delight at the opportunity to participate. "Now who wants to help me get the ghost light turned on?" she'll say to a group of young fans. "Me! Me! Me! I do!" they all reply at once.

Beth, a physician by trade, insists she is not an artist but it’s impossible to deny her thoughtful composition in arranging her collection on the lawn. The oldest item in her collection she bought more than 20 years ago. It’s a hanging bat, made of canvas. Her latest addition is her inflatable spider, which now resides on her roof. 

Beth's Spooky Collection Display
Beth's Spooky Collection Display

Pentacrest Museums Director of Research Collections Cindy Opitz said, “Technically, a collection can be anything—usually three or more objects based on a subject or historic theme, curated by the collector. Many collections remain hidden in closets or living rooms, but this is a great example of one shared with others during its annual display.” 

“This is such a fun example of how and what folks collect right here in our community,” Pentacrest Museums Director of Education & Engagement Carolina Kaufman said. “As stewards of museum collections, we’ve been fascinated by the human proclivity to collect, exploring personal collection stories through My Collections. Some collections, like Beth’s are too big to house in cases but no less interesting.” 

Beth's Spooky Collection Display
Beth's Spooky Collection Display
Beth's Spooky Collection Display

You can learn more about how to submit your personal collection in the My Collections exhibition series, displayed at the Museum of Natural History and see past and current exhibitions here: MY Collections | Pentacrest Museums - The University of Iowa (uiowa.edu). Our latest installations feature Jeff Pettit’s collection of Potato Heads and Sara Pinkham’s “Clucktion” of Vintage Chickens and can be seen on the first floor of Macbride Hall, just south of the Iowa Hall gallery. And remember, some of the best collections aren’t in museums at all. They might just be in your neighbor’s front yard, like Beth’s. 

Beth tells us her decorations are only part of her annual celebration. She saves the best for Halloween night, and you're invited for a "Trick ‘or Treat" on Halloween proper at 1207 Marcy Street, Iowa City. If you can’t make it, a stroll or a slow drive by after dusk will suffice. Either way, she'll be waiting...

Beth Berigan gets playful with her spooky collection display.