OLD KILLALOE – When a person’s final request is to find a permanent place for their large metal elephant, there is a good chance that the individual led a full and vibrant life that was a bit beyond the typical experience of most people.
The elephant’s full history and exactly why it took on such meaning for its owner may never be understood completely, but perhaps the words of feminist spokesperson Gloria Steinem may shed some light. She said, “Elephants are so wise and so funny and so endangered and so intelligent. I just think there is a lot to learn from them.”
Like Steinem, the elephant’s former owner had been highly influenced by the feminist movement and in many ways was on its cutting edge. Like an elephant, there is a lot that can be learned from the life of Barbara Langtvet.
Langtvet had an extraordinary capacity to collect, sort, categorize and display a wide spectrum of items that were important to her. Most of these items were like the elephant in that they had some significance to her, but they were very unlike the elephant in other ways.
The elephant is large, extraordinary and made of metal. Most of the other things Langtvet collected were small, everyday items that were often made of textile materials. Her passion was in documenting the tools of women’s work and to this end she collected things like linens, laundry equipment and cooking utensils.
In the 1950s and 1960s these everyday items would have been overlooked by most people, but Langtvet saw their cultural significance and their importance in documenting the work of women as it was done in the home and for the family.
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