Sunday, March 18, 2001

Skeletons keep collector's life in perspective

By Marsie Hall Newbold
Enquirer contributor

        Who: Rebecca Kelm, 50, of Fort Thomas, associate professor and reference librarian at the Steely Library at NKU and collector of humorous skeleton figures and scenes created for the traditional Mexican celebration Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).

        Where: In cabinets on the walls of her sitting room. She also has a papier mache altar made by her sister, Beth Gierosky.

[photo] Rebecca Kelm of Fort Thomas has been collecting skeletons for about 20 years.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
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        Day of the what? Mrs. Kelm's collection began on a trip to Dallas about 20 years ago. She found a little wooden skeleton horn player in a Mexican import shop and became hooked on the figures..

        “Now I have close to 50 items,” she says.

        Tomorrow we may die: “The best thing about my collection is the humor,” she says. “This is a big family thing and not a sad time. All of the little skeletons are sort of poking fun of professions and situations. They seem to be saying, "Hey, we're all going to die. Come to terms with it!' ”

        On the lookout: Mrs. Kelm finds her collectibles on trips to Mexico, at God Save the Queen downtown and on “Collecting these items is an oddball thing,” she admits. “They are made of various inexpensive materials such as papier mache, wood, clay and straw. They were mostly made to be ephemeral, not to last.”

        Part of life: One of her favorite pieces is a diorama or box with little scenes inside. “It's a wonderful little wedding scene,” she says. “There's a little reception with the bride and groom, a cake, the photographer, and a boat with skeletons and musicians. Further along, there's a delivery room with a skeleton doctor, a skeleton baby and a dog.”

        “There are a lot of dogs in the scenes,” Mrs. Kelm notes. “But they are not skeletons; they might be a guide into the afterlife.”

        Setting boundaries: The only problem with her collection is keeping it in check. She has contained it to one room. “I'll see things that are great looking, but two feet tall. So, I'm "looking little.' That's why dioramas are so nice. They are small, and most have a mirror that brings you into the scene.”

        She's keen on the skeletons. “There is one underneath all of us wiping out gender, race, income level, etc.,” she says. “It makes everyone equal. I like that.”

       What are your prize possessions? Show them off by writing to Marsie Hall Newbold, c/o Tempo, Prize Possessions, The Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., 45202 or e-mail



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