The art of the broken heart

The travel-sized bottle of conditioner is called Amazing Grace. “Mr. and Mrs. W had an open marriage into which my friend Dave had been made welcome,” reads an explanation posted next to the bottle.

The travel-sized bottle of conditioner is called Amazing Grace.

“Mr. and Mrs. W had an open marriage into which my friend Dave had been made welcome,” reads an explanation posted next to the bottle.

“After one of Mrs. W’s stays at Dave’s cabin in the woods overlooking the ocean she left behind some travel-sized toiletries.”

About a month after the toiletries were left, the Ws died in a car crash.

“Dave lost his best friend and the woman he loved with no public forum to grieve.”

The bottle came from someone in London, England. Now it sits as part of the Museum of Broken Relationships, a show at the Yukon Arts Centre’s public gallery until May.

“Dave gave me Mrs. W’s toiletries. I’m giving you the message on the bottle. You are giving Dave his public forum.”

The Museum of Broken Relationships exhibit is full of items like this, seemingly innocuous everyday things that are the leftovers of bygone relationships.

They touch on universal feelings, said Mary Bradshaw, the arts centre’s curator.

“Maybe not every story resonates by any means, but I think we can see ourselves in some of these stories,” she said.

The museum began as a travelling exhibit in 2006. Thought it now has a permanent home in Zagreb, Croatia, the museum still functions in much the same way, taking some of its items and travelling around the world collecting new pieces.

The stop in Whitehorse is its first Canadian visit.

Everyone who submits an item to the museum knows it’s going to be public. Yet some of the stories create an inescapable gut feeling that you’re invading someone’s private heartbreak, or at least sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong.

“At the opening I don’t think I’ve ever had that many people in the gallery and have it so quiet,” said Bradshaw.

“Everyone was just zoomed in, reading and even when they were talking they were almost kind of hushed. Which is interesting because it isn’t normally the case at an opening for us at all.”

A dozen Yukoners submitted items to the arts centre. They join a few dozen more on display from around the world.

“The call went out (to Yukoners) and we didn’t really know what kind of numbers to expect. Apparently, as far as our population goes, we got a good response,” Bradshaw said.

One Yukoner gave a wool work sock embroidered by his former partner to resemble a Christmas stocking. He held on to it for more than 30 years after the relationship ended.

The spring after the sock was made the pair packed up the car and moved to Dawson City, where he worked at mining camps and she waitressed.

The relationship unravelled, but the sock remained.

“Although we exchanged two or three letters and sorted out our finances, we never did get together for coffee to talk about what we shared and to say a proper goodbye,” the man writes.

“Things have panned out for me in a good way and I sure hope they have for her as well.”

Another Yukoner submitted a small jigsaw puzzle with a wolf on the front and a letter written on the back.

The pair met while travelling in Iceland but were forced into a long-distance relationship after that adventure ended.

The contributor describes the optimism that came with receiving the letter, a feeling that maybe they could make things work.

“Yet the card invariably fell apart every time I tried to keep it together. This could be said for our entire relationship.”

Bradshaw said for a lot of contributors, giving away these items was cathartic.

They’re “items that they just couldn’t bare to throw away, yet they knew it was time to get rid of them,” she said.

Once the Whitehorse exhibit ends on May 23, the items will remain as part of the museum’s larger collection.

The Popple, a staple stuffed toy for any child of the ‘80s, is still unopened in its box. It’s part of the travelling collection.

“I gave her the Popple as a gift after learning that she had never had one as a child and then suggested that it should remain unopened and it has.”

That’s the point, writes the contributor.

“With it I wish to donate my regret, fear, indifference, inflexible nature and the recognition and appreciation of her dedication to exist under the crushing weight of who I am.”

Some of the items strike a less serious note.

There’s the bottle of “intimate shampoo” submitted by someone from Croatia, a memento from a year-long relationship.

“After the relationship ended my mother used it for polishing glass. She claims it was absolutely great,” according to the write-up.

There’s the weight-loss book, a gift from someone’s ex-fiance. “Thank God I never married the guy.”

Bradshaw said there’s a mix of emotions that come with the items.

“It really varies. Some are kind of strange, some are incredibly funny and some are, oh my God, just heartbreaking,” she said.

On a small shelf is a black film canister. It’s not until you read the description that you realize it contains human ashes.

After 33 years of marriage, the relationship ended with his death.

The American contributor gave the ashes to the museum after five months of travelling the world. He wanted to “have my friends blow them to all ends of the earth.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at

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