I'm a freelance writer/photographer living in the East Village neighborhood of New York City.
Published May 24th 2010
A reliquary, or a container for sacred and precious objects, is a term that originated in medieval France. At that time, when European cathedrals were often raided by hordes of Vikings, it was easier to grab one box of valuables rather than debate what to save or abandon.
The City Reliquary is a small, independently operated museum in Brooklyn dedicated to preserving the artifacts of New York City, items no less precious to their keepers.
Founded four years ago by Dave Herman to celebrate the city's local heritage and its unsung heroes, the museum has in its permanent collection many artifacts about which most New Yorkers have forgotten: old subway tiles and tokens, items from the 1964 World's Fair, fragments from land-marked buildings, hundreds of nineteenth- and twentieth-century postcards, old signage, a vintage barber's chair and more. Its permanent exhibit is augmented with rotating displays, such as the recent Over Spilt Milk Exhibit (pictured), which documented artifacts and ephemera from the 1930s milk-producers of New York State. Various smaller rotating collections from the surrounding Williamsburg community add to the fun, too, such as those from local students. Of course, items lost and found also make their way to Herman for consideration, and space is devoted in the exhibit hall to artifacts deemed interesting enough to make the cut.
In addition, the City Reliquary hosts an amazing array of community events, such as its annual Bicycle Fetish Day, now in its sixth year, as well as various other block parties, art installations, and backyard concerts. A recent event was a sponsored group bicycle ride over the Brooklyn Bridge to celebrate its 126-year anniversary, complete with cupcakes.
Even with much support and good will from the community, the completely nonprofit museum is in dire need of continued funding in the form of public donations to keep it running. So, when you're in Williamsburg, drop by, take a look around, and make a donation.
The City Reliquary is open weekends and Thursday evenings only (though the website states that you can make an appointment to come by at any time). The surrounding neighborhood is chock full of unique storefronts, coffee houses, bookstores, and more, but nothing gets the conversation going more than saying, "Guess what I saw at the City Reliquary…"