About The Collection

Marcus Kelli was a self-taught naturalist of the 19th century. His life’s story, although still only reveled through a few letters and specimens of his natural history collection, is strange and fascinating. Letters have been discovered in which he describes an early exhibition into an undisclosed cave, where Marcus lived for a little under a year. After his stay there he found he had an intense interest in the natural sciences, which he continued to pursue throughout his lifetime. 

Marcus had gained a small reputation for his drawings and studies, finding a few previously undocumented species of field mice. Mentions of his successes had gained notice of William Richardson, a long time business friend of the Kelli family. Richardson was quickly escalating his maritime and ranching empire in San Francisco area in the late 1830s and called upon Marcus to survey the new lands he was hoping to acquire. In 1838 he boarded a merchant vessel and set sail. The journey took nearly a year to sail around the tip of South American and up the coast until at last reaching California- welcoming Marcus with boundless rolling mountains and opportunity abound.

Many of the specimens in his collection seem to be evolutionary oddities, undocumented by any other collectors or scientists from his era. He had an innate ability for finding unusual animals and insects in many overlooked areas. It is believed he never had any papers published, nor was his collection ever displayed to the public. 

It has been my undertaking to revel his untold story and discoveries through displaying his personal artifacts and specimen collection to the public in an interactive museum framework. I pull from fine art installations and museum exhibit practices to create a new kind of investigative museum. Visitors can read his personal letters and inspect objects hands on. I act as a guide to the collection, ready to answer all I know regarding Marcus Kelli and his work 

As part of my practice I create museum quality replicas in the spirit of the 19th century amateur enthusiast. Since research is an essential part of my work. I handcraft objects seated in historic probability, lending credibility and authenticity to the museum. The Field Cot, for instance, is a hand made replica of a “Cabinetta” bed use by the British military in the Boer and First World War made to collapse instantly into a lightweight stool that is easy to pack and move. The Field Phonoautograph pulls from an early Edison design, which Kelli would have been able to make field recordings with. This model, one of the very first, allowed the user to not only record sound but also play it back through the physical imprints of sound waves on wax. 

The Marcus Kelli Collection aims to awaken curiosity in people, so that they may take with them with a renewed sense of wonder about the natural world. For a modern person overloaded with technological responsibilities, connecting with nature can become a welcomed source of meditation and deep thinking. As our society shifts, we have reached a point where humans must make crucial decisions about the future of our planet. It is my hope that Marcus Kelli’s story can be used as a springboard for self-reflection on our relationship with nature and how we continue to shape it.