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After the love dies

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 8, 2010 - The Schlafly branch of the St. Louis Public Library will soon be a place of refuge for the broken-hearted.

The library will display the Museum of Broken Relationships June 11-27. The exhibit, which originated in Croatia, gathers mementos from failed relationships and displays them in venues around the world. To localize the exhibit, the library began collecting objects from broken bonds in St. Louis in early May.

According to library event programmer Rachel Smith, the Schlafly branch has only collected five items, but more are promised. Among the items from St. Louisans are stainless steel rings, a gold Chinese pendant and a journal from New Zealand. Smith also expects a wedding dress. Donors submit each item anonymously and include a written explanation. Items cannot be returned and will travel with the museum.

Although the identities of the donors will never be known, most of the local mementos came from people who were older and had been in long-term relationships, Smith said.

According to Smith, the museum is not meant to be somber, but to spark conversation on human interaction. This makes the library an ideal venue for the event.

"We thought the library was the perfect place to discuss human relationships," Smith said. "It's our job to help people and provide information on these types of things."

Founded by Croatian artists Olinka Vitica and Drazen Grubisic, the museum came to be in 2006 and has collected more than 700 items from several countries.

The idea came to the two artists while they were sitting at the kitchen table one morning, lamenting their failed relationship. According to Grubisic, they did not know what to do with several meaningful items that the two shared.

"A lot is left behind from a relationship that is there just to remind you of the love that once was," said Grubisic. "Some just want to burn it or throw it away, but for us it seemed unfair."

Despite ending their relationship, Vitica and Grubisic remained on good terms and teamed up to start the museum. It took them almost three years to collect items for the exhibit, Grubisic said.

The museum's first mementos came from Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia and Bosnia -- countries that were part of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, but went through a painful breakup. According to Grubisic, the items came from "broken territories" and told the story of small dramas occurring in the shadow of big historical events.

The items in the museum were not all standard breakup symbols like letters or teddy bears, Grubisic said. The first mementos included a Vespa scooter, war medals and a pair of boots. Each object came with a written story that shares the specifics of the breakup and the significance of each item.

"We don't edit it, we leave it as it is," Grubisic said. "People are really trying to be the best when they do this and I think it shows."

While the museum has accumulated many unique items, Grubisic said that the strangest memento the exhibit has collected is a woman's gallstone.

"After her husband called her the wrong name in bed for the third time, she felt this horrible pain in her stomach and it turned out to be a gallstone," Grubisic said. "She said it was the only thing she ever got from her husband."

Although Grubisic will always remember the gallstone, he says each city the museum visits always offers intriguing mementos and stories.

"At every exhibition, we always get one that keeps us surprised," Grubisic said. "It isn't always the object, but the story behind it that surprises."

Patrick Sullivan is a senior at the University of Kentucky and a Beacon intern.

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