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The Creative Edge of Collecting The “Nothing” of William Davies King

Walkthrough of the exhibition at UCSB Library with William Davies King

In 2008, UCSB Theater professor William Davies King confronted his lifelong practice of collecting things of little or no value, in his book Collections of Nothing(U. of Chicago Press). Since then, he has transformed the idle collecting of ephemera into something enduring and creative—a story, a teaching, a work of art. He offers this exhibit to the creative imagination of its viewers, with a nod to those who are intrigued by the quirky things that professors do.

Professor King’s course, "Collectors and Collecting," has reached hundreds of UCSB students with the message that collecting can be meaningful, therapeutic, and beautiful, even if the collected objects are as trivial as the little squares that say “Place Stamp Here.” He also pays attention to the hunters of first editions and rare jazz albums, and to those who gather (like Andy Warhol) cookie jars.

You will find collections in nearly every American household: some are virtual (e.g. Pinterest), some conceptual (e.g. palindromes); some stashed in the basement, some proudly displayed. People tend to collect, and collecting works with a kind of value different from that seen in the marketplace.

What King has done is confront the social and psychological impulses to collect, and also the eye-opening possibilities of the sort of things that one might assemble. This exhibit surveys the range of his efforts to think through the world by holding on to its least-prized fragments. In some cases, his collecting is mere accumulation. In others, he creates a special place—a frame—for how the world’s stuff can be appreciated. And in some cases, he transforms his collected material into a form of collage.

For more information about King's collections, please visit

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