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Sunday, May 19, 2024
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UB history professor decorates office with memories

Instruments, flowers and a zebra show a connection to travel, the environment and family

<p>A pink orchid catches sunlight on the windowsill in history professor Kristin Stapleton's office.</p>

A pink orchid catches sunlight on the windowsill in history professor Kristin Stapleton's office.

Kristin Stapleton moves around her office, pointing out the various musical instruments on her shelves. Each has a percussive wooden sound that rings through the room — and yet, the instruments often lay untouched as ornamental mementos.

For Stapleton, a professor and department chair in history at UB, office decorations represent memories and the people associated with them.

Alongside the traditional folk instruments that were collected during her travels in Vietnam, a pink orchid catches sunlight on her windowsill.

In a year, the vibrant flower may be white or yellow.

When the flowers wilt and fall from the stems, she takes the plant to her house and adds it to her collection, replacing it with a new one from Trader Joe’s. After several months, the orchids reflower at her home, sometimes in a different color.

“Some of the people who grow orchids, they’ll actually dye white orchids so that when you buy it, it might be pink,” Stapleton said. “After it blooms, you take it home, and then the next time it puts up a flower, it’s white.”

Her lifelong love of plants, particularly the deep sentimentality associated with orchids, stems from her mother, who was an avid gardener and an environmental activist in the 1970s.

The plants remind Stapleton of a time, as a child, that she and her mother wrote a letter asking a town not to build a mall on an empty plot of land.

“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this piece of land, it’s irreplaceable,’” Stapleton said.

Another decoration with particular nostalgia and a connection to her mother is the stuffed zebra her mother sewed for her when she was a child. The zebra was part of a Noah’s Ark collection her mother and grandfather worked together to make for Stapleton and her siblings.

Every item in Stapleton’s office exists to bring her joy and to make her feel at home in her own space.

“I think it’s a good idea to talk to professors about their offices, because we spend a lot of time here,” Stapleton said. “Some people really work very hard to decorate them.”


A stuffed zebra in Kristin Stapleton's office, a gift from her family.

Xiola Bagwell is a copy editor and can be reached at



Xiola Bagwell is a copy editor at The Spectrum. She enjoys reading and writing fantasy/romance novels, watching lighthearted movies and spending time with her friends and family. Xiola is a linguistics major, minoring in Spanish. 



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