Reinforcing My Beliefs

Feb 25, 2012 | 3 comments

At ‘The Heart of the Museum’ Exhibit

     I am a great believer in documenting our history – not only the long-ago or the short-ago history, but the right-now-today-soon-to-be history.  For most of us, it’s not until we reach our ‘golden years’ that we have the leisure to think about or talk about or even recognize our own history and the part it might play in the overall story of our times.
     “Write it down!” I tell people.  Fifty years from now, who will know about the way we lived?  Who will know what it was like to explore the wreck of the Solano on the beach?  Who will remember the storage space behind the bleachers at the old Ocean Park School – the place where some of us experienced our first kiss?  Write it down!
     Along those lines, the current exhibition at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum (CPHM) should be a wake-up call to all of us.  Titled “The Heart of the Museum,” it is a display of their recent acquisitions.  Its intent is not only to show the things, themselves, but to give recognition to their donors and, no doubt, to encourage visitors to consider possible donations of their own.
     Nyel and I spent a most enjoyable morning there yesterday. Luckily for us, Betsy Millard, the Museum’s Director, had time to tell us about the circumstances surrounding some of the donations.  There were etchings by Joe Knowles and watercolors by Charles Mulvey – donations prompted by recent exhibitions featuring those artists.  There were collections of scrapbooks and of silk-screened sweatshirts donated by their creators – a commentary on recent lives and times in our community.
     There were treasures from attics and bureau drawers and from crawl spaces in old buildings.  Among the objects on display were even a few items that are still in use at our house – but then I’ve often been told that I ‘live in a museum.’  The variety of artifacts and, in many cases, their familiarity – as in “Oh, we used to have one of those” –  plus the names of friends and acquaintances listed as donors on the identifying labels, gave me a real feeling of personal identification with the collection.
     Certainly, the exhibit reminded me to consider carefully before tossing stuff willy-nilly the next time I’m on a clean-out binge.  At the very least, a query to one of the professionals at CPHM might be in order.   Writing about ‘the now’ is only one way of documenting our history. 

3 Comments

  1. Betsy

    I’m so glad that you and Nyel came to see the show. Thanks for the blog boost. One of the nice things about a museum is that these collections become part of the whole community – touchstones from the past for the future!

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  2. Kathleen Shaw

    My father’s mother was born in 1898, and over the years she kept many of the items from her family’s home: some were small items such as glassware, some actual pieces of furniture. When she was moved into a “guest home” in her mid-nineties, my father (who was an only child) took it upon himself to remodel her house in Santa Cruz. In the process, he got rid of all of her furniture as well as most of her belongings. He claimed that the upholstered pieces (one chair was over100 years old and had been in her family the entire time) were musty smelling from the coastal climate, that the dining room set was inconsequential furniture from the 1940s (until I explained to him that all the chair seats had been recovered with needlepoint canvases she patiently worked on for years), and the rest was junk he couldn’t identify. When my sister and I visited in 1993, I was literally in tears, for why hadn’t he done some of the work while Grandma had lived there: she would have enjoyed the central heating, and the kitchen was considerably brighter and easier to use; and why had he gotten rid of all of her things? I was furious that he hadn’t at least asked me, as I lived with my grandparents every summer of my childhood and knew some of the history associated with her belongings.

    I believe it is necessary that we have turned our eye towards the history of the everyday (much of which is about women), as this is vital. Certainly stories of great world events should be part of the history curriculum, but without knowledge of the minutiae of daily life, how can we really know who we are? Upon re-reading Dear Medora, I was struck again by how mother-daughter relations are hardly different today on an emotional level.

    One of my great regrets is that I never sat my grandmother down in front of a tape recorder, let alone a video camera, and got her talking. To think of what she had seen in her 94 years! Keep up your work, Sydney, it matters.

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  3. Stephanie Frieze

    How I would have enjoyed accompanying you to the museum. My week at the beach just did not have enough days to do everything I should have liked. I am fortunate that my grandmothers were good preservers of family treasures and stories. My paternal grandmother moved too many times to have a lot of stuff the way my maternal grandmother did who raised her children in her mother’s house with a basement full of treasures, but I have inherited some things to pass on to my children. Some are more interested than others, but my Granddaughter Linda, at the ripe old age of not-yet-eight and because of the American Girl book and doll series, has had the presence of mind to talk to her great-grandmother about what it was like during WWII. I provide the media by playing old radio shows, swing music and showing her news reel footage.

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