Nicholas Wolterstorff ’53, whose Danish-made Wegner chairs were recently on exhibit in the Calvin Center Art Gallery, said of his and his wife’s collection, “Counting the Wegner chairs as works of art, we collected works that we came across that we loved and wanted to live with.”
People collect what they love, and once acquired and gathered together, a collection reflects something meaningful about its owner.
Sometimes, due to a donor’s generosity or other gift, Calvin acquires a collection that contributes to the mission of the university.
The following pages include examples of the university’s collections: art, minerals, books, coins, and plant specimens—some are quite visible around campus and others less so. Each, though, says something about Calvin for having acquired it and something about its collector(s) for having loved it.
The Bult Children's Book Collection
Every book has a story and not just the one written on the pages. Just ask Conrad and Delores Bult about any of their books and they will give you an account of where, when, and how they added the volume to their remarkable collection.
“Oh The Velveteen Rabbit,” said Conrad, “that one we got from a bookstore in Chicago.”
“That was a bookstore that we really learned to love,” added Delores. “There were a couple of elderly women there that had a cupboard just for us, and when they would buy a collection, they would keep the children’s books in our cupboard for us.”
She added: “On one trip to the Netherlands, we found this bookstore, and we spent hours up there looking through the books, checking pagination, checking illustrations, checking for cracks in the spine, checking for everything.”
“Condition is everything,” said Conrad. “We learned that it’s better to sacrifice and buy one good book than buy a lot of $10 books.”
In 50 years of collecting, the Bults amassed an astounding collection of more than 5,500 children’s books, each hand selected for its beauty, rarity, and delight it brought these bibliophiles.
The colorful volumes span more than 200 years of children’s literature, from the oldest, Proeve van Kleine Gedigten voor Kinderen (a Dutch counting book) (1778), to Mother Goose (1934) to The Frog Prince (2013).
A 1957 graduate of Calvin, Conrad returned to his alma mater in 1965, where he would spend 34 years as a university librarian. Likewise, Dee spent 26 years working at Calvin in the financial aid office.
The couple began collecting children’s books in the 1970s. Myrtle Van Laar, a fellow Calvin librarian, sparked Conrad’s interest in children’s literature, he said.
And Dee always had an interest in books. “When I was young, I told people I was going to marry a man with a library,” she said. “When I married Con, my uncle said, ‘You did it, kid.’”
The Bults took a special interest in books illustrated and authored by women, which were popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s. “These are very beautiful books,” said Conrad.
Among their favorites are a two-volume, signed, limited edition set by Dutch author and illustrator Rie Cramer, featuring beautiful illustrations of children.
“It took almost our whole lives to get those books,” said Conrad. “We tried once and were outbid.”
The Bults’ entire collection was recently purchased by Calvin through a generous donation from Robert and Shelley Hudson and will be housed together in Heritage Hall.
“Calvin is a natural choice for this collection and we are very pleased to have it,” said library director David Malone. “It’s a fabulous learning resource for students and scholars. We could do an entire mini exhibit and lecture just on Little Red Riding Hood, for example.” (The collection includes 21 different editions of this popular tale.)
Other notable pieces of the collection include a first edition signed volume of The Velveteen Rabbit, a signed edition of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and a Little Red Riding Hood volume inscribed to Harriet Beecher Stowe.
A little-known room in DeVries Hall serves a very large purpose: It houses Calvin’s herbarium.
This collection of more than 13,500 dried plant specimens dates back to the 1940s, when Martin Karsten, a Calvin biology professor, began pressing and documenting plants of west Michigan.
Alan Gebben, another longtime Calvin biology professor, added to the collection over the years, along with many others.
A recent research undertaking, the Emma Cole Project, under the direction of Calvin biology professor Dave Warners and visiting scholar Garrett Crow, has added more than 5,000 specimens of flora, making the herbarium a very active collection.
The project is comparing specimens documented by Cole, a 19th-century Grand Rapids-area high school biology teacher, more than 100 years ago to those still found in the Grand Rapids area.
“We’re doing a comparison of what the Grand Rapids area looked like in the early days,” said Crow. “We’ve lost some things—some high value swamps with rare orchids and that kind of thing. But we’ve also found some to be preserved.”
Reassessing the Grand Rapids area’s flora after 100 years of development helps make determinations about which areas are worth preserving and conserving, said Crow.
Adding specimens collected and identified to Calvin’s herbarium boosts the value of the reference tool.
“It has such a great teaching and reference component,” said Crow. “It’s a wonderful thing that we have this here. I hope that in 100 years someone looks at our specimens and is able to say the same thing.”
The Bruce Dice Mineralogical Museum Collection
Calvin’s world-class mineral collection, which went on display in the university’s Bruce Dice Mineralogical Museum in 2012, numbers more than 350 pieces and continues to grow.
A rare, 100 million-year-old octopus fossil; a piece of the Allende meteorite, the oldest isotopically dated material ever found; a 6-ounce gold nugget; a 3-foot-tall amethyst cathedral; and a large angel wing calcite are among the specimens represented in the collection.
The collection was donated by Bruce Dice, a 1948 Calvin alumnus, who had been and continues to be an ardent mineral and gems collector.
“I decided it was time to share it,” said the 85-year-old geologist from Houston, Texas, in a previous interview. “I have several pieces that the Houston Museum of Natural Science would have enjoyed having, but I went to the love of my life—Calvin College.”
The museum draws more than 3,000 visitors a year.
“You don’t see this type of quality outside of a natural history museum,” said Renee Sparks, Calvin geology professor and director of the museum. “What I love about it is it says that God is at work in every square inch even when you can’t see it. You have to go into mines to see these. Yet, here it is on display, and it’s so beautiful.”
The museum is free and open to the public 12:30 to 4 p.m. Wednesday–Friday
John Calvin Medals Collection
Collecting medals forged with the likeness of John Calvin is a bit like acquiring baseball cards, “except with a bit more substance,” said Karin Maag, director of the H. Henry Meeter Center at Calvin.
“The medals,” Maag said, “were made to commemorate events and, before the era of photos and media, allowed people to see what the Reformer looked like.”
In 1997, a gift from Ray Teeuwissen ’40, an ardent collector, was the seed for the collection, which now numbers nearly 100.
The medals come from all over the world and connect us to the Reformed faith, said Maag.
“There’s a lot of power in these images that look small,” she said. “They say something about the identity of the person; they say something about connecting with and valuing the people who have come before.”
New medals continue to be produced, including Calvin University’s own medal, which was made in 2009 to commemorate the Reformer’s 500th birthday.
The medals have educational value, for instance, “by reading the text in the margin, one could study what it is saying about Calvin,” said Maag. “By studying these objects, people are able to connect with the past in ways that you can’t do as quickly or as neatly with a book.”
Many of the medals are on display in the H. Henry Meeter Center.
Edgar and Ervina Boevé Art Collection
The recently acquired art collection from Calvin emeriti professors Edgar and Ervina Boevé includes Japanese and Chinese pieces. The most notable, Horse With Rider and Attendant, is a terra cotta sculpture from the 7th century Chinese Tang dynasty. Another part of the collection is a carved ivory set of Noh figures, depicting characters from classic dramas in Japan. The figurines combine a love of theater with art, reflecting the interest of the collectors, who were longtime art and theater professors.
“The Boevés collected pieces from around the world, and they lived with their art,” said Brent Williams, Calvin’s director of exhibitions. “We want things people have come to love."