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Michigan State University

Artifacts in Special Collections: Works of art

Technically, everything in Special Collections is an artifact. But here are some of the more unusual ones!


Special Collections is the library's department for rare, valuable, and fragile materials.

Materials from this department do not check out, but we welcome you in the Special Collections Reading Room in the Main Library lobby, across from the Circulation Desk. We're open by appointment.

A portable cabinet of curiosities


During the Renaissance it became fashionable for the wealthy and well-educated to assemble a "cabinet of curiosities" -- a room to display the unusual artifacts, scientific specimens, and works of art they had gathered in their travels. They were also called wonder-rooms, or in German, wunderkammer or kunstkabinett.

The Wonder Cabinet is a modern artists' rendition of a cabinet of curiosities, created by Barbara Hodgson and Claudia Cohen in 2011. Among its treasures is a tunnel book depicting a wonder-room in Naples in 1599, shown below.

The physical structure of this piece is very similar to the Laura Davidson tunnel books on this page.

Tunnel book from The Wonder Cabinet

Tunnel books

Fenway Park tunnel book

Laura Davidson is a Boston book artist and an MSU alum. Among her many creations are travel-themed tunnel books with three-dimensional scenes, like the view of Fenway Park (2007) shown above.

Botanical paintings on vellum

Painted Flowers volume

Margaret Weld painted exquisite botanical illustrations on vellum, which were gathered by her family and bound into a book in 1722.

Special Collections also has a reproduction of an engraving she made of her home, Lulworth Castle.

Miniature theater by Martin Engelbrecht

Engelbrecht's "Peepshow"

The artist and engraver Martin Engelbrecht (1684-1756) invented a form of entertainment which was popular for many years: the miniature theater.

Each miniature theater had 6-8 sheets of stiff paper with painted landscapes or interior scenes. The final sheet was whole, and the sheets before it had windows of various sizes and shapes cut out. When viewed all together, they created a three-dimensional scene. These could be the background for small paper figures or puppets.

Engelbrecht's creations are now extremely rare! MSU's example is called Eine Eremitage oder Eindiedlerei. The original box for the cards did not survive, so our Conservation Lab created a beautiful frame to display it.

Keywords to search for secondary sources: Martin Engelbrecht, miniature theater, peepshows.

Waynesart Sculptures

Wayne Hampton sculpture Last Call

Sculptor Wayne Hampton, active in the 1970s and 1980s, is believed to be the first sculptor to create work specifically for the gay community. We have four of his works in Special Collections.

Manuscript collection 421