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THE SCRANTON JOURNAL - September 24 2003

Photo from Scranton JournalMost people don't realise that the lowly carrot has a rich history reaching back thousands of year. Or that carrots come not only in orange but white and purple, also. The carrot motif can be purchased on just about anything, from dishes and glassware to lamp shades, clothing, jewellery and artwork.

Frankly, most people don't care.

But don't tell that to the hundreds of carrot collectors around the world who connect through the only known carrot museum in the world - is an "e-museum", a website designed by John Stolarczyk of Yorkshire, England. He launched his "museum" in 1996 and continues to expand and improve it.

Stolarczyk, who claims he personally "is not carrot mad," is taking a month to visit friends and carrot collectors in the United States. His travels brought him to Scranton last week, where he stayed a few days with Neal and Caroline Hoyt. Caroline is admittedly "carrot crazy" and has made many friends and contacts through the carrot museum.

Caroline's collection is primarily "useful items" featuring carrots, such as towels, dishes, gloves, glassware, salt and pepper shakers, etc. Her country kitchen is a monument to the carrot, including carrot lights, wall stenciling and candles.

Stolarczyk, on the other hand, claims he is not a carrot collector, but a collector of carrot collectors. His personal carrot collection contains only a few unique items, and he enjoys growing carrots and other vegetables in his garden.

In contrast, many visitors to his website take their carrots very seriously. They chat, swap and share information about their favorite vegetable. Most are from Europe and the United States, but he said he also receives a lot off hits from Japanese carrot enthusiasts.

The carrot museum got started innocently enough back in the '90s. Stolarczyk said his family loved to travel and made a point of visiting any local museum they came across. At one point his daughter joked that there probably was a museum for everything. But a museum for carrots? The idea was launched.

Stolarczyk said his purpose in creating was twofold: tell people about carrots and learn web design.

He is a self-taught web designer who was first exposed to design while working as city administrator in Bradford, England. His wife is an archeologist and helped him "dig up" history on carrots. When that avenue was exhausted, he began developing information on cultivation of carrots, both for the home gardener and commercially.

"Then I got frivolous," he said, "with jokes, kid stuff, trivia. The latest thing I did was create Mr Carrot Head on the website."

Stolarczyk, 53, was designing the carrot website while employed in Bradford. When he retired a couple years ago, he decided to "treat himself by backpacking alone around the world. His plans were abruptly changed when the United States was attacked on 9/11 and the world was no longer as safe a place to travel.

At that point he began planning a trip to the United States to visit many of the carrot collectors who he'd met on the website.

During his month-long journey, Stolarczyk has visited a collector in California who has carrots tattooed on her arm, belly and back; a woman in Tucson who hand-crafts carrot soap; a collector .in Kansas City who specializes in carrot plates, and a farm wife in Scranton Iowa, who has a kitchen full of carrots.

He'll visit a man in Cleveland, OH, who claims to have the world's largest collection of carrot sacks, and an architect in Boston who advertises as (completely unrelated to collecting carrots, as it turns out).

Stolarczyk will top off his carrot travels to a bed-and-breakfast in Rhode Island whose owner boasts the largest collection of carrot items in the world. He plans to return to England in early October.

Caroline Hoyt and Stolarczyk had not met until last week, but they felt they knew each other.

"We're not strangers," Caroline said "We have written for years". While in Scranton Stolarczyk packed up a few carrot articles he couldn't find in England, primarily ceramic items.

"It's getting harder to find (unique) carrot things," Stolarczyk said. "I'm trying to get people to custom make things."

For instance, his daughter designs carrot motifs in her cross-stitch handiwork. -is an evolving creation. Stolarczyk, with the help of the Boston architect, has designed a new floor plan for the museum. Eventually, visitors will enter the front door and choose which floor and room they wish to visit. And maybe some day, he'll even design a real museum out of bricks' and mortar.

But for now, Stolarczyk says he's having a great time visiting "my carrot people" and talking carrots from coast to coast.

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