GROTON -- Groton School's de Menil Gallery presents "The Commonwealth's Attic: Curious Treasures from the Massachusetts Historical Society" through March 4.

The understanding about what objects are truly museum-worthy has changed over time. Thus, objects once viewed as great treasures have been relegated to the basement and are now rarely displayed.

The winter exhibition at the de Menil Gallery contains more than 50 of those treasures from the society's collections. The items are as varied as birds shot by Theodore Roosevelt on vacation in the Adirondacks, tea allegedly gathered from the shore of Dorchester Neck after the Boston Tea Party, an elmwood burl bowl removed from King Philip's (Metacom's) tent after he was slain in 1676, a cane made from a charred timber of the White House after it was burned by the British in the War of 1812, and bullets fired in the Boston Massacre.

Peter Drummey, Stephen T. Riley Librarian of the Massachusetts Historical Society, will deliver a gallery talk about the exhibition on Thursday, Jan. 10, at 7:15 p.m. It is free and open to the public.

Founded in 1791, the Massachusetts Historical Society is the oldest organization of its type in the United States. Its members began to assemble documents and objects long before other museums started to gather their own collections. The exhibition at the de Menil Gallery includes objects one would expect to see in the collections of such a venerable New England institution: military hardware from the 17th century, handsome silver teapots and cutlery, 18th-century cloaks and waistcoats.


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And what gathering of New England artifacts would be complete without some object associated with Paul Revere? In this case, his tin lantern. The show even includes some objects that are not what they were assumed to be, on which visitors can test their sixth sense for fraud.

Visitors can tackle the questions a collection like this raises: What is the meaning of historical objects? Why are they preserved, and why have they survived? Are they valued for their associations, aesthetic appeal, oddity, or simply the stories that they tell?

The de Menil Gallery is at Groton School, 282 Farmers Row. It is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends. Closed February 8 through Feb. 11. Admission is always free.

Groton School is a diverse and intimate community devoted to inspiring lives of character, learning, leadership, and service, and is recognized as one of America's top boarding schools. It prepares students in grades 8 through 12 for the "active work of life."