Kelley and Kempthorn have always been collectors, but in many ways the story of Mathom House is a love story. When they first met, they each had small collections of old photographs, and on one of their first dates, over a decade ago, they purchased a stack together, thus marking the beginning of their joint collection. At the time, Kelley already had “the Bone Cabinet,” a display case filled not only with bones but also birds’ nests, feathers, seashells, fossils, exoskeletons, and other natural history objects.
When they eventually bought a home together, they knew they wanted a dedicated space to house their growing collections, which include but are not limited to: photographs, seashells, automobile emblems (specifically Cadillac hood ornaments), vintage Christmas ornaments, pottery fragments, model trains, stamps, vintage teal ceramics, autograph books, and over 120 teeth. These objects are all found, bought, and gifted; although some of the teeth are friends’ extracted wisdom teeth, Kelley once bought a bag of teeth from an antique store.
As I ascend the creaky stairs to Mathom House on a chilly February morning, I’m confronted by a large horse skull on a knotted wooden pedestal. “Oh, that’s Roy,” Kelley quips. Roy the horse skull was, in a sense, the genesis of Kelley’s collecting practice and was named after a Michigan man who sold a very young Kelley an assortment of random things from his home collection. This practice of naming weaves throughout Mathom House, whose storage and display cabinets are fondly and somewhat enigmatically named after their provenance—the Rochester cabinet, Frenchie, the Hamilton—all with a specific reminder of their past lives. Indeed, Kelley and Kempthorn envision their collecting practice as a “way of embodying memory.”