Muggle Studies 101

muggle studies 101

Deluxe Chicken Grooming Kit [c.2011]

Witches and wizards, it is with great pleasure that I introduce this most illustrious exhibition of Muggle artifacts for your edification and enjoyment. The 45 items were originally displayed at Wand Works, our Harry Potter event. An interview with the Curator, Téa Wimer, can be found at the end of the post.

Click on the images below to enlarge both the image and the caption.


muggle artifacts curator, tea wimer

Téa Wimer is a sophomore at Princeton University who intends to pursue Anthropology as her major, as well as creative writing. She’s also a massive Harry Potter fan, which made her the perfect Curator of Muggle Artifacts. With boundless energy, Téa sailed through everything with us – acquisitions, brain-storming, writing, edits, and installation – with creativity and confidence. The labels are a hoot (I couldn’t resist the fun of writing some too), but I particularly like object number 45. Stumped for an explanation, Téa decided to turn it over to the kids for feedback. You can see some of their responses at the end of the post.

The day of the event, Téa donned her Curator’s uniform (thank you Lewis Center for the Arts Costume Shop!) and strolled the exhibit floor, answering questions, doing demonstrations, and chatting about her findings. All with a tremendous sense of humor and a twinkle in her eye.

How would you describe your relationship with the Harry Potter books?

I was (and still am!) absolutely crazy about the Harry Potter series! I read whatever was released in the series up to that point early in elementary school in a short amount of time, and then my grandmother got me the last two books through pre-order. It’s hard to imagine that the series was still being written and released when I was growing up, because now it’s blown up to be a cultural phenomenon!

My dad is a huge fan of the movies, too, so every weekend spent at his house was spent re-watching at least one of them. Now, I definitely look back on Harry Potter with nostalgia. I keep meaning to re-read them because I’ve forgotten little things, but college and ever-increasing adult responsibilities make it to where I can’t spend as much time as I would like. So now I watch the movies a lot and spend more time on Pottermore than I probably should.

What skills did you bring to the table as Curator of Muggle Artifacts?

I think one of the coolest things about this process was that my developing skills as an ethnographer and anthropologist met with my creative side. I’ve always been looking for ways that those two (seemingly separate) parts of my interests can intersect, and even if this seems a bit “silly,” I really enjoyed taking a previously known object and regarding it as an anthropologist might look at an unknown cultural rite or artifact and creatively thinking up a way that a Muggle might use the given object.

I also had to think of myself as a different character sometimes too, as a wizard who is genuinely baffled by Muggles and their weird ways. I think that my child-like curiosity and imagination has never really left me, and that was also a huge plus as the Curator of Muggle Artifacts.

muggle cookie slicer

Where did you get the artifacts?

Dana, Katie, and I took a day and went to a nearby thrift store. We sifted through every inch of the store and picked out the most bizarre and random objects, and then convened at the end and I chose what I thought would be best to use. [Note: Objects 2 and 12 are from the private collection of Katie Zondlo].

How did you decide between the different artifacts?

There wasn’t really a set system for deciding between the different things we all amassed. I tend to be pretty impulsive, so sometimes it was just simply knowing that the object had to be in my collection because it was so weird – such as the Slimnastics language guide or the fuzzy pink Muggle trophy. You just can’t pass it up! Of course, sometimes I had to be practical, so if I felt like an object wasn’t giving me ideas, we would put it to the side. As we drew nearer to the event, some of the objects still weren’t prepared, so they were scratched and used as props or conjoined with other items in the collection.

muggle artifacts on displayHow did you decide to approach your exhibit labels?

Dana and I set up a lot of deadlines. I had to have a certain amount of labels done by a certain date, which was intimidating because we had nearly fifty objects and only so much imagination (plus it was really my first project with a real deadline that mattered, outside of school of course). But I just ended up doing the ones that I could think of very quickly first, and then the ones that needed a bit more time and consideration, I went to Dana and Katie for inspiration.

Which was the hardest object to write a label for?

There wasn’t any one particular object that was the hardest, but rather a bunch of the items gave me a hard time. It tended to be objects that had very straightforward uses, such as the World Checker (globe) or the Muggle wand (remote). I also noticed that it tended to be more modern items that gave me trouble, for obvious reasons. It was hard to be imaginative about things that I use on a daily basis, but a lot easier to imagine what a rusty old saxophone could be used for!

Which object is your favorite?

My favorite object is the Wave-Cooker, which is part of the Squib Assimilation Kit. It gave me so many cool ideas about what it must be like in J.K. Rowling’s world, as a magical family member who has no actual magic. What would that look like historically? What if there were social justice movements to make magical witches and wizards more accepting of their magically mute friends, relatives, and neighbors? What if some of the geniuses we know in history were actually Squibs who just knew more about the universe due to their upbringing in the magic world? It’s so interesting to me.

Another favorite few objects are the ones used by rich Muggles, like the curtain hooks (fancy bookmarks) and the custom engagement rings (beautiful glass napkin holders with giant flowers) because I think that working class people like my family really have no clue or can even grasp what a more well-off person can do with their time and money, so I think the imaginative process was close to the real thing (being a wizard and thinking about Muggles academically).

discussion of muggle artifactsHow did the event attendees react to your exhibit?

Overall, I think a lot of people loved it. Some parents were quick to explain what the objects actually were, and a couple of kids even came up to tell me that I had no clue what I was talking about – my favorite being when one of the children said I should be fired from my job at Hogwarts. Everyone seemed to really enjoy it, parents more than kids sometimes, and I’m very grateful that I got to share it with everyone at the event!

* Suggested uses for unknown object number 45 include, but are not limited to: hairbrush, spoon, sled, back scratcher (both human and cat), scalp scratcher, glove cleaner, jewelry hanger, shower scrub, mermaid’s display hanger, lost DAB, hat holder, fish’s home, hand of glory decoration, something that makes things smell good, telepathic device, skin exfoliating loofa, plant that makes you inconspicuous, very flammable device, future-predicting crystal, torch (both Muggle and ever-burning), booger holder, part of an underwater volcano, teleportation device (specifically, to the bathroom), space artifact, petrification device, monster that will grab you, exploding popcorn butter that’s frozen in time, and weirdly…coral.

** I’ve got the Deluxe Chicken Grooming Kit in my office if anyone needs to borrow it.