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The Melancholy Museum: Love, Death, and Mourning at Stanford
Collection Rotation

The Melancholy Museum: Love, Death, and Mourning at Stanford

September 18, 2019–Ongoing

A Mark Dion Project

A view of a mourning cabinet

In-gallery view of The Melancholy Museum: Love, Death, and Mourning at Stanford, a Mark Dion project on view at the Cantor Arts Center.

Stanford Family Room (122)
Sarah Love Meidel Gallery (121)


Using over 700 items from the Stanford Family Collections, artist Mark Dion’s new exhibition explores how Leland Stanford Jr.’s death at age 15 led to the creation of a museum, university, and—by extension—the entire Silicon Valley.

Dion spent more than a year culling through the over 6,000 objects in the original Stanford Family Collections to create an exhibition that explores young Leland’s collection—he already was an avid and curious collector at the time of his death—as well as important narratives related to the Stanford family. These include the history of the railroads and the laborers who worked to create it, and the two earthquakes that caused major damage to the museum. 

The result of Dion’s efforts are two rooms filled with beautiful, startling, and quirky objects that are grouped together to highlight the Stanford family’s story and to invite visitors to reflect and make their own connections.

This exhibition is organized by the Cantor Arts Center as part of The Diekman Contemporary Commissions Program, in honor of Mona Duggan and her extraordinary dedication to the arts at Stanford. We gratefully acknowledge support from The Diekman Special Projects Fund and Maryellie Johnson and Rupert Johnson, Jr.



Explore the exhibition through this special presentation

When Jane and Leland Stanford experienced the immense pain of losing their only son, Leland Jr., just before his 16th birthday, they were compelled to enshrine his memory in a meaningful way...

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The Melancholy Museum Essay

By Susan Dackerman, John and Jill Freidenrich Director at the Cantor.

Although the museum established by Leland Sr. and Jane Stanford in memory of their son, Leland Jr., is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, it has only been in active operation for a portion of that time.

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Mark Dion Q&A

Artist Mark Dion answers questions about the exhibition and his artistic process.



Image: Artist Mark Dion holds the key to the Stanford Family Mausoleum in front of the family’s tombs, which he visited in preparation for his work reinstalling the Stanford Family Collections.
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Mark Dion in Mausoleum

Featured Objects

Horse Hoof Ink Well

Cantor Arts Center, Stanford Family Collections

Object Essay
Horse Hoof Ink Well

Ohlone Mortar and Pestle

Stanford University Archaeology Collections






First Inhabitants Essay

Object Essay

Ohlone Mortar and Pestle

Watercolor Paint Set

Stanford University Archaeology Collections


Object Essay
Watercolor Paint Set

To view all the objects in the exhibition please visit our collections page.

Image: Thomas Hill (U.S.A., b. England, 1829–1908), Palo Alto Spring, 1878. Oil on canvas. Stanford Family Collections.  Conservation of this work was made possible by a generous gift from Honorable “Bill” and Jean Lane, JLS.14945
View Collections

A digital Field Guide to the exhibition is available.

Explore online

Installing over 700 objects in the galleries required many hours of careful work for artist Mark Dion and the Cantor staff members who worked with him.



Installation Images




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The Cantor is open to the public, Wednesdays–Sundays 11:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. We’re always free. Advance registration is not required, but it helps us plan if we know who's coming.

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The Cantor Arts Center is located at the intersection of Museum Way and Lomita Drive in the heart of the arts district on the Stanford campus. The Cantor faces the Bing Concert Hall across Palm Drive, northwest of The Oval and the Main Quad.

328 Lomita Drive at Museum Way
Stanford, CA 94305-5060

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