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Home / Special Report / Diverse collections let them
indulge creatively

Diverse collections let them
indulge creatively

With ceramic molds of the human head and framed lithographs of famous profiles, Grant Romer’s office could be mistaken for that of a brain surgeon or psychologist. But those artifacts, in the lower level of the George Eastman House, are only a small part of Romer’s collection of material related to the subject of phrenology –an early science that analyzed the individual functions of the brain by studying characteristics of the skull.
Did you know the adage “You should have your head examined” originated in the language of phrenology? asks this director of conservation and museum studies–a man whose daily work entails “keeping things alive that are perfectly good.”
Romer is just one of the many professionals around town who indulge a passion for the unusual by cultivating collections.
What draws the conservationist to a study that has become defunct in almost all medical circles is an appetite that feeds on the curiosity of the unknown, and an appreciation of the human effort to satisfy that hunger.
“I like beautiful things, including beautiful thinking,” says Romer, who has under his protection literally millions of photographic and film objects.
Phrenology tries to understand and make sense of basic human issues, he explains. Besides, “there is nothing more interesting to talk about than basically who we are.”
That is Romer’s public explanation for why he collects the remains of human heads, and instruments, literature and photographs relating to phrenology–because it is an act of learning and studying.
And the private motive? That goes back to who we are, he says. “It’s the hunt, that animalistic urge. … There is no denying that there is pleasure in catching something you’re looking for.”
For Kate Brennan Shuey, the “hunt” requires a little more personal effort and endurance. Wanting to overcome her claustrophobia, Shuey immersed herself in a new hobby: scuba diving. Except for the fact that she had to squeeze into an airtight suit, load herself with cumbersome equipment and suspend unlimited access to fresh air, it was a natural sport for her to pick up.
“I love water, nature and beauty,” says the president and owner of Corporate Health Strategies.
Now, eight years after she and her husband became certified, Shuey says she does not think twice when diving some 70 feet into the water. It’s all about knowing your equipment, she explains with a serious face.
Island hopping in the Caribbean with her husband is now one of Shuey’s favorite pastimes. Since most diving spots are protected from human interference, she does not take anything from the beauty down under. But anything on shore is fair game for Shuey’s collection of some 2,000 shells, corals and sponges.
Her attraction to shells dates to her childhood summers on Lake Ontario. But scuba diving has given her a window to seek out shores with a much greater variety of aquatic plant and animal life. It is difficult for Shuey to contain her excitement when describing her feelings underwater. The tranquility, beauty and colors of the coral reef are almost indescribable, she says. “If you stay completely still you’ll see the little life in the coral come alive.”
Since her diving days began, Shuey has kept a detailed log of her travels and her acquisitions. She starts each entry describing where she is–the feel of the sand and the type of beach. Then she counts her shells and records the number, type, color and size. Cone shells, limpets, milky moons. And last but not least, she sketches the details of the mollusks.
Where does she keep them? “All over the place.”
A 3-foot coral found in the Bahamas rests above her fireplace. Two velvet- lined glass cases made by her husband hold several of Shuey’s favorites in the spare room of their home.
Each type of shell, explains Shuey, is found only in specific places.
For a man who is surrounded by music, relics from the 1950s and “pieces of prime vintage vinyl,” it is not surprising that Richard Storms, co-owner of the Record Archive, is a collector.
The object of his affection? Lawn sprinklers. Yes, lawn sprinklers.
Nevermind the fact that most people never look twice at these artificial rainmakers.
Storms says the fascination was unplanned. He stumbled upon three different kinds of sprinklers at a garage sale seven years ago. Somehow drawn to them, Storms brought them home, placed them on his kitchen table and said, “Gosh, this looks like a collection.”
Since then Storms has acquired some 600 of these mechanical lawn ornaments, which are organized on shelves in the basement of his East Avenue store. And he just recently appeared on a national cable television show for collectors. But the quirkiness of his pieces is not the main reason for his obsession, Storms claims.
The story of the sprinkler, from its origins in the 19th century to now, “traces the history of American industrial design,” he says.
“The Victorians,” Storms points out, “had 20/20 vision when it came to sprinklers.” They strove to perfect every function of a sprinkler, from being an aesthetic garden ornament to having a visually appealing spray to emitting a pleasant sound.
Quite a contrast, Storms points out, to the techie spaceship prototypes from the 1950s–a time when symmetrical rations of grass were carving out large pieces of American landscape. Not surprisingly, the record-store owner’s favorite hydraulic trinket is from this era. Storms says its unique, solid, industrial design just shouts: “I am a sprinkler.”
“I love it because it’s a really wacky approach to solving the problem.” And that, he says, is the real beauty of his amassment of garden accessories: “(It is) the ultimate (way to) invent a better mousetrap.”
A financial adviser, retirement specialist, traveler and collector: Roll all those things into one and voila! Anthony Nicoletti.
For 25 years, the Rochester native has been helping people make the necessary financial and emotional transition into retirement. He, meanwhile, has been honing his people skills by traveling the world.
As proof of his wanderer’s nature, Nicoletti rattles off a few faraway places he has ventured to: Corsica, France; Lisbon, Portugal; Sri Lanka. “I spent my 56th birthday at the Great Wall of China,” he says with contentment.
He first started traveling as a young broker in 1981. On his first business trip he bought a knit ski hat in Idaho; that hat was the first in a long line of headwear Nicoletti has accumulated.
The travel aficionado easily has more than 300 hats: “Wherever I go I pick up a hat.”
In Madrid, Spain, Nicoletti picked up a picador’s hat–you know, the man who pokes at the bulls, he says. In front of Winters Palace, the home of Catherine the Great, Nicoletti swapped a hat off a KGB officer for five bucks. “Russia doesn’t have organized shopping (yet).”
He buys only indigenous hats, “or else you lose the meaning.”
One tale tops his list of interesting hat tricks.
Nicoletti noticed that he had in his possession an FBI shooting hat and several items from the KGB. Not wanting to exclude anyone from his James Bond section, he wrote an impassioned letter to the director of the CIA, informing the organization of its absence. Now on his wall is the CIA correspondence and a hat.
Finding the rest of Nicoletti’s collection could stymie 007 himself.
Access to the collection is available only through a secret sliding door in his home office. A stairway then leads to a large room with hat racks hanging from the ceiling–a room that he calls his “own little world.”

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