On a recent European vacation with her son, Karin Winter blocked off a whole week to spend in Paris. To visit the city’s flea markets.
She came back to Colorado with a haul that made her more giddy than any sightseeing. Winter is happy because the vintage toys and quirky figures are colorful and weird, just like all of her favorite things. And because they fit perfectly in her museum.
Yes, upstairs at the Winter family’s house in Peyton is a makeshift museum that’s small in size and mighty in curiosity.
Winter has always been a collector, taking after her father. His eyes were on parts of passenger ships, and he brought along the kids for weekly thrifting trips.
For Winter, who grew up in the Netherlands, that meant Sundays traveling to neighboring countries and speaking to people in different languages while scouring shops for things of interest.
“It’s kind of like a treasure hunt,” she said. “That’s all I knew to do on Sundays.”
From the ages of 9 to 13, she took to collecting little metal tins. Her love of collecting kept growing.
She puts it this way: Her husband goes running to relax. She’d rather be dropped off at an antique store for hours.
That proved to be a problem when the pandemic began and stores closed.
Winter found herself scrolling on Instagram and Etsy and Ebay instead. The artist and photographer had used social media for her businesses and a blog about her life, including her life as a mother of five kids. She found herself following lots of accounts dedicated to vintage things and home decor.
“You’re stuck and can’t go anywhere, so I got stuck on Instagram,” Winter said. “It was out of boredom.”
She also found herself thinking about those empty shelves, which she had built by a friend to hold the 375 or so scrapbooks she created. That was one of her hobbies from when she started having kids. When she stopped scrapbooking, she moved the scrapbooks to storage.
By this time, she had slowed down on collecting things herself. Her lifelong stash of eccentricities was stored in boxes in the nearby barn.
And it had dwindled after Winter purged during a brief minimalist phase, inspired by Marie Kondo’s popular “magic of tidying up” refrains. While her house was unusually empty and clean for about six months, Winter didn’t feel the joy Kondo promised.
“I thought I’d be a better person for it,” she said. “It didn’t make me happier. It didn’t do anything for me. It made me yearn for more color and excitement.”
Flash forward to the middle of the pandemic. Winter started filling those white shelves and beyond with items she’d hidden in the barn. She hunted for more colorful and exciting things online as well as at area thrift shops, mainly Goodwill and the ARC.
“The floodgates opened,” she said.
She found stuff dating back to the 1800s and from around the world, from Japan to Germany. And Winter, who used to work at Anthropologie, filled her shelves to look like pictures from a magazine. The magazine, though, would have to be in the business of honoring the wacky and wonderful.
After all, Winter has come to call her space “The Museum of Whimsy and Wonder.”
“It kind of started as a joke,” she said. “Oh, ‘Mom has a museum now.’ My whole family thinks it’s silly.”
The museum title is an unofficial one. But Winter’s friends and followers still flock to it.
On Instagram, she is often seen twirling around in a colorful dress with her colorful collection as a background.
It’s not your everyday grouping of coins or bells. She has a taxidermied squirrel dressed up in a vintage Victorian dress holding with a music box. She has carnival masks from the 1920s, glass eyes, a box of medical slides showing human organs, clown figurines, a papier-mache donkey head, puppets, Dutch clogs and every kind of creepy doll you could imagine.
It’s the work of a true maximalist who collects what she loves, which means she’s often looking for things no one else would pick up.Some pieces could be categorized as junk, she says, “but you put them all together and it becomes quite something.”
People have noticed, buying some of her items and requesting visits to her house. She’ll usually say yes if the house isn’t too messy and joke that admission costs $5.
When it’s just her, Winter usually spends time organizing the shelves. Or, when she can, she’ll just take in the sights.
“It just brings joy,” she said. “Looking at it, you’re standing in front of something and you’re thinking about the colors, all the pieces and their history and where they came from. That’s what I’d do at any other museum.”