Curator’s Statement: In The Age of Plastics


Objects endure, but people don’t. Loved ones may endure in memory, but not in material form. So we puzzle over a grandmother’s hairbrush. She is gone, but the hairbrush remains. Why? Yet, that hairbrush provides a connection between the remembered individual and the person in possession of the object.

All my life I’ve been fascinated by objects because they tell stories. The many hours of my life spent in antique and collectible stores and at auctions have fueled my pursuit of artifacts.

When I lift the receiver of a Bakelite telephone, I imagine how exciting it must have been to speak with others via the amazing invention that improved the lives of so many people. Maybe three parties used the same line and people took turns talking on that phone. Perhaps lives were saved because of that device. The object endured because it was made of durable material and was heat resistant—meant to last. That is quite a contrast to the object obsolescence culture of 2016.

Electrical devices with Bakelite casings were plugged into outlets to make connections. The symbolism of Bakelite and connections has not been lost on me in the preparation for this show.

Women lifted their spirits by donning colorful imaginative Bakelite Catalin jewelry, just as they cooked and cleaned with Bakelite Catalin utensils and appliances. Modern plastics made their lives easier and happier.

Through material things, we make connections. With Bakelite, we discover myriad stories.


Darlene Davies
Davies is the curator of the Women’s Museum of California’s current exhibit, Bakelite In The Age of Plastics

Do you have your own Bakelite collection? Do you want to learn more about the history of the famous plastic? RSVP to our Bakelite Show and Tell, August 26th at the Women’s Museum of California.

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