“Crave Covet Collect” book to feature Wichitans’ collections

Photographer Larry Schwarm and author Sondra Langel are collaborating on their third book, “Crave Covet Collect,” which will feature Wichitans and their collections.

Photographer Larry Schwarm and author Sondra Langel are collaborating on their third book, “Crave Covet Collect,” which will feature Wichitans and their collections.

Courtesy photo

Can you imagine someone collecting cat whiskers, not to throw away while cleaning but to save in an official collection?

Or how about bugs, Care Bears, thimbles or tennis shoes?

These are all collections that exist in Wichita, along with more traditional treasure troves of perfume bottles, Depression glass, art, books and automobiles.

Now, author Sondra Langel and photographer Larry Schwarm are collaborating on their third book, which will catalog some of those collections.

“Crave Covet Collect” follows their 2016 book “Wichita Artists in Their Studios” and their 2018 book “Thursday Afternoon Cooking Club,” which profiled a Wichita club that is the oldest of its kind nationally.

The first two books were particular interests of Langel, but Schwarm was the inspiration for the latest one.

“He is himself a collector,” Langel said. “It seemed fair to follow his plan this time.”

Schwarm initially wanted to do a book on tattoos, but he said, “That was out of control because everybody has tattoos now.”

Though the two already have a publishing date of May 2023, they have yet to select the 50 or so people who will be featured along with their collections.

“We’re inviting people to submit their collections for the book,” Langel said.

They’re taking submissions through November at www.cravecovetcollect.com, or you can e-mail Langel at slangel@cox.net.

Langel, a former businesswoman and teacher who always has been a writer, said in preparing for the book, she read almost a dozen books on collecting.

“I learned that for a couple of hundred years, people had all these Freudian notions about why people made collections.”

Some speculated it was because people had been abused or ignored as children.

“I don’t plan to analyze anybody in that way,” Langel said. “This is not going to be a psychological study of people and their collections.”

She said it simply “seemed like it would be fun to look into what people collect and why.”

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Larry Schwarm’s many collections include these hand-carved wooden figures. Courtesy photo

Langel is only a casual collector herself with several thousand books, though they’re not part of an official collection, and she has a number of Santa Clauses.

“A real collector has an idea about what the collection is for,” she said.

That includes where it should be displayed and when it will be complete.

Langel has learned that people go to great lengths for their collections.

“Some of them are so extreme it’s unreal,” she said. “They will spend extreme amounts of money. They will travel all over the world. . . . It becomes a way of life for them sometimes.”

Schwarm thinks the book will sell well “because everybody’s curious partly about seeing in people’s homes” and also “inside of other people’s lives.”

Collections sometimes can be fascinating and sometimes appalling, or sometimes both at once.

Take any number of Schwarm’s collections, such as the small collection of cat hair balls from when he brushes his cats or the cat whiskers he collected and turned into a sculpture. He’s even collected his own whiskers for artistic reasons.

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Photographer Larry Schwarm collected cat whiskers for more than two decades and used some of them to create this sculpture. Courtesy photo

His wife, former Wichita Art Museum director Patricia McDonnell, is accepting of his collections in part because she has her own collection of antique radios, though that’s nothing compared to the many collections she’s seen through the years.

“I have come to my own reasoning that a true collector is a collector of collections,” McDonnell said.

There’s a woman she knows in Minneapolis who collects religious folk art and turn-of-the-century apothecary items among other things, and there’s only a tiny path in her house to get from room to room. Even in her kitchen, every ounce of counter space is taken with collections except for one clean square next to the sink.

McDonnell called these types of people mad collectors, and that’s kind of what Schwarm and Langel are looking for.

They have a selection advisory group to help, but Schwarm said they still need to set parameters.

For instance, one person has a collection of antique circus posters, but since those were inherited, Schwarm said they probably don’t count.

Or if people collect items to then sell them, they probably won’t count either. And he said car collections may be too big to feature.

Schwarm said they’re hoping for diversity of items in the book.

Langel said it will be an intriguing look into Wichitans.

“I think it opens people up,” she said. “Once you start talking with people about their collections, they become very real and personal.”

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These felted balls made from cat hair are one of Larry Schwarm’s many collections. Courtesy photo

Carrie Rangers has been a reporter for more than three decades, including almost 20 years at The Wichita Eagle. Her Have You Heard? column of business scoops runs five days a week in The Eagle. If you have a tip, please e-mail or tweet her or call 316-268-6340.

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