A trip to Bali in the ’70s and the purchase of some Balinese souvenirs ignited a passion in Judith Hansen for owls. Over the years, Judith has since amassed a prolific collection of owls in all shapes, sizes and colours …
Why collect owls?
I’ve been asked this question many times and after 36 years of collecting, I’m still not sure how to answer. There are really two questions: why collect, and why owls?
Collectors are a race apart and only fellow collectors understand the passion, the thrill of the hunt and the triumph of discovery and acquisition. There is a successful television show, The Collectors, an entertaining look at people’s obsessions. The enthusiasm, often bordering on fanaticism, comes through clearly as people display and talk about their collection.
The collections and their owners are a varied lot. We have seen collections of belly button lint, glass eyes and huge sheds of tractors, cars and planes. Of course, popular perennials, animals and birds in all forms, china, glassware, furniture, records, toys, clothes, comics and stamps feature as well, but it is the bizarre collections that attract the most interest.
A collection often begins with a single purchase or gift, the object chosen because of an emotional response: “Oh, isn’t that cute?”; a humorous reaction: “Have you ever seen such a weird such and such?”; a monetary motivation: “Gee, that could be valuable”; or aesthetic appeal: “What a beautiful object”.
Having up to ten similar objects is fine. Allowing more into your life is dangerous. You have become a collector.
If you walk into a cluttered, disorganised shop and immediately see the object of your desire, you have developed collector’s tunnel vision.
Friends and relatives are happy to have gift giving simplified. You now have a regular supply of gifts from overseas as well.
As a collector, you feature in people’s minds, “I saw a … and thought of you”.
Warning: becoming a collector is easy; becoming an ex-collector is hard.
What was the very first owl that started your collection?
My owl collection began in January 1973, when I visited a friend in Bali. Among my souvenirs were some small, carved, wooden, brightly coloured owls. I moved to Leeton that year and in the local Coles, I found a brown owl mug, then a stapler, sticky tape dispenser, pencil sharpener and egg timer in seventies pink and orange. My collection had begun.
Where do your source most of your items?
From the beginning, I had no discrimination, guidelines or taste. I did have a budget, so op shops, markets and two dollar shops were my main suppliers.
Arty and crafty owls abounded in the Blue Mountains where I lived for twenty years. Audrey collected owls and owned a shop, the Barn Owl and a teashop, the Owls Nest. We compared our latest acquisitions and she found me a valued customer.
I have a theory that there is a roster in factories in Taiwan, Japan, and now China, setting out the schedule for the mass production of specific animals, ashtrays and other collectibles. This explains why there are recurring surges in popularity for elephants, frogs, pigs, roosters, everywhere from the Franklin Mint to Go Lo.
Have you ever been a member of any collectors’ clubs or groups?
In the eighties, the halcyon days of my collecting, I belonged to an International Owl Collectors Club in England, subscribed to an American magazine, Owls, and received catalogues from The Owl’s Nest, an online shop selling every imaginable owl product, including owl pellets (I did not add these to my collection.)
How has your collection continued to grow over the years?
As technology progressed, the owl was used as a logo for many computer companies and financial institutions. The association with wisdom and mythology has seen many publishing firms, particularly educational and children’s, use owl logos.
Conservation causes find photographs of owls a good drawcard. So, I began collecting advertisements, calendars, photographs, greeting cards and bookmarks.
The collection continued to grow: candles, clocks, clothes, curtains, cushions, jewellery, moneyboxes, mugs, ornamental owls of all shapes, sizes and materials, paintings, quilt cover, salt and pepper shakers, soft toys, teapots and OWL numberplates for the car. At one stage, the car also had embroidered owl seat covers and a beaded owl seat cover.
How and where do you display your owls?
A collection must be displayed. An owl room was the solution in two houses but by the time we moved to Port, both the collection and I were looking worse for wear; culling was necessary. Donations were made to charity shops, and display space was curtailed.
Duplicates and cheap and nasties are easier to dispose of, but there are still so many owls of sentimental value, valuable or linked with the giver, that it doesn’t seem possible to become owl free.
“Why do you collect?” is often answered by another question, “How do I stop?”