For Kirk Kalinski, an interest sparked by an elementary school report turned into a life filled with pandas. His collection stayed small, with just an item or two, until 20 years ago, when Kalinski discovered the possibilities of the flea market. Since then his menagerie’s grown to include more than 200 pieces of panda paraphernalia.
“It just exploded,” he says. “I mean, there are panda plates, panda figures, panda cookie jars, teapots, liquor bottle decanters, panda jewelry—anything I could find.” A collection that at first fit onto a single shelf expanded to a shadow box on the wall, then to a bigger shadow box, and finally to a full-size hutch. There are larger items in every room of Kalinski’s house.
The discerning panda enthusiast doesn’t just pick up any old panda. Kalinski seeks a lifelike sensibility in each of the ten or 20 collectibles he brings home every year: “You’ll see the real cute ones, like they’ll be dressed as Santa Claus or with a pink bow on them, and I try to avoid those. I try to stick to the realistic ones.”
Speaking of realistic ones: Kalinski said that while he enjoys trips to U.S. zoos, he dreams of going to China to see pandas in wildlife reserves.
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