Grant White, a Slatington conservationist and historian, lives in a gallery.
As you enter the main hall you are greeted by four huge display cases that contain geodes, minerals, spearheads, masks from Africa and mounted birds. The bulkhead is lined with ancient tools, and lining the floor are dozens of nature pictures.
White said every person, without exception, who enters his home for the first time is overwhelmed, then pleasantly surprised.
At first, the collection appears eclectic. Every corner is outfitted with mini collections that include everything from primitive art to Japanese kimonos to icons of Mickey Mouse and Kermit the Frog. However, each piece combines and is associated with White's conservation theme, which is "all things relate to each other."
Listening to White as he explains his maple syrup or plume collection, it becomes clear that everything does indeed interrelate and fit together. History and nature are intricately laced throughout White's exhibit to entice interest and conversation.
"The purpose of the collection is to enhance the concept of conservation. Conservation doesn't necessarily mean lilacs and roses. It has to do with the Earth, which is continuously evolving." White explains.
"Our bodily form is constantly changing in our own species. If you trace the life story of the newborn, we go from tadpole to frog and so forth up and down the scale."
Moving from room to room, there's a graceful transition from geodes to cranes. At some point you realize that all of the artifacts and collectibles are physically very close to you. Unlike a museum, where collections are 'secured and out of reach,' in White's gallery you become a part of each exhibit because it surrounds you.
As you meander through the mineral exhibit you get an appreciation for what's beneath your feet. Random collections of citrines and geodes are folded and tucked in between other exhibits providing a continual appreciation for this beautiful and natural resource.
One of the rooms in this expansive home is called the "Audubon Room." The walls are covered with prints by the famous wildlife artist, John James Audubon (1785-1851) who received notoriety for being the first to paint life-size replicas of birds. White explains that Audubon had 50 people painting birds and vegetation from lithographs, which eventually made up Audubon's sizable collection.
Groupings of chairs throughout the exhibit areas add to the uniqueness. Sitting among the collection while White discusses the significance of the items and why he chose to cluster them together enhances the visit.
"Many of the articles were bought at a flea market or auction," said White "It's a poor man's collection."
However, most pieces like the citrine coffee table are so beautiful, it's hard to believe his appraisal.
White will tell you that most conservation collections are directed at animals and not people.
"My collection is not a head hunt. It's art for art's sake."
What he means is you will not find heads of animals mounted on his walls, most of his collection has a very human touch. For example, there's a "crane room," where although there are many cranes displayed throughout the room, they are interspersed with Japanese architectural items and kimonos.
"Cranes," White said, "are symbols of fidelity and truth, which is why you will always find them on kimonos, especially bridal kimonos."
And that is also why they are exhibited along with other Japanese collectibles.
Being surrounded by each collection as White talks is a very unique experience. If you sit on the sofa in Grant's Audubon Room, for example, you are an arm's length away from a collection of Native American Kachina dolls on a coffee table, which is made from a tree trunk purchased in Brazil.
On an easel is a peacock made of Schnitz-art (German for cutting), which is a process of making your own paper and creating a picture.
Snakes, turtles and rabbits are tucked here and there to simulate the objet d'art's natural environment.
There are skylights in the ceilings and huge double doors that lead into other galleries. White will point to a room and tell you that is where he sits in the evening to watch the wildlife through a large sliding glass door. It's a respect for life, a zest for living and a long history of giving back to the community that drives White to keep moving forward.
White, along with a friend, the late Bertha (Bertie) Griffith started the Northern Lehigh Historical Society (NLHS), which today is a vital helping hand that is involved in raising funds for many community projects.
The historical society's most recent projects include the Slatington Heritage Trail and the Bed Bug Cave, which was originally willed to White, gifted to Griffith,and eventually turned over to the NLHS.
This is not White's first extensive collection. For 50 years he was known as Mr. Christmas. He had a large collection of sleighs and Christmas collectibles at his Mistletoe Farm. A number of years ago he sold the Christmas collection and created this new collection of conservation items.
White recently celebrated his 85th birthday. His passion for life is evident when he tells you about his plan to create an environment in his home where people can tour his beloved collections while he casually 'chats' and offers his personal perspective of life.
An open house is being planned for September. For more information, call (610) 760-9281.