Sarah Lim: From exhibits to events, Merced Courthouse Museum has full year ahead

February 1, 2014 

One important aspect of curating local history exhibits is presenting the local historical subject in its larger contexts.

This is because it is useful to understand how local history is influenced and shaped by greater historical trends and events. The 2013 museum exhibits often presented the larger historical contexts of a local historical subject.

For example, the story of Merced County native Tsugio Sano in the “Young Historians at Work” exhibit highlighted the sacrifice, bravery and loyalty of the Japanese American soldiers during World War II.

In the “Music History” exhibit, Merced’s vibrant music scene in the 1960s mirrored national trends from the birth of garage bands to the British Invasion.

This year, we continue to present the larger context in our traveling and local exhibits.

Opening March 6, the traveling exhibit “A State of Change: Forgotten Landscapes of California” will present California’s landscape as it appeared 500 years ago. To achieve this, ecologist and artist Laura Cunningham, after extensive research, uses her striking paintings of the past and vivid photographs of the present to present California’s transformed landscapes.

This May, a Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit is coming to Merced. This exhibit is part of the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street series.

Back in 2005, the Courthouse Museum brought to you another Smithsonian exhibit about the food culture – “Key Ingredients: America by Food.”

This time, “The Way We Worked” will present a view of work culture and labor relations. Spanning the years 1857-1987, this exhibit documents American workplaces, work clothing, working conditions and workplace conflicts. It also reflects a work force shaped by race, gender, class and ethnicity.

Last year, the museum successfully collaborated with Merced High School history students to develop the “Young Historians at Work” exhibit.

We will continue this partnership this summer with a new exhibit celebrating Merced City’s 125th anniversary. This joint exhibit will chronicle the history of Merced from its incorporation in 1889 to the present day with a look at local government, business and cultural life.

Through a three-week museum program, students from the Merced Union High School District will get first-hand experience as museum professionals in developing and curating this special exhibit commemorating the city’s birthday.

This fall, we will end the exhibition calendar for the year with “Mexican-American Experience in Merced County.”

From Spanish land grants to the Civil Rights Movement, the Mexican American community has a long and rich presence in Merced County. This exhibit is the story of their search for political, social and economic opportunities in a rural Central Valley county.

For more information about these exciting exhibits, please join us at our Merced County Historical Society annual membership meeting Feb. 9 at 2 p.m. at the Board of Supervisors’ chambers. Our keynote speaker is Native American basket collector Grey Roberts, who will give a presentation on “The History of Central California Indian Basketry.”

Also at this meeting, Judge Brian McCabe will administer the swearing-in ceremony of our new officers with Charlie Galatro as the president. Past president Rosalie Heppner will be honored for her 2013 leadership.

Several history awards and grants will be presented. The 2014 Rossotti Capital Improvement Grant with a matching fund of up to $2,500 will be presented to the Gustine Historical Society for its purchase of an office copy machine. The Planada School District with its Planada’s Historical Figures project and Milliken Museum Society at Los Banos with its Photo Negatives Digitization project have won the 2014 Estep-Burchell Community Grant. Each will receive $500.

The 2013 Letus Wallace Award will be shared by the history students from Merced High School who participated in last year’s oral history project. The Heacox Pioneer History Award will be presented to Dan Nelson of Los Banos for his commitment to local history education through exhibits and lectures.

To recognize the dedication of our museum volunteers, we will present the 2013 Docent of the Year award to Ann Bean and Museum Youth Volunteer awards to Stefany Arceo and Greg Pina of Merced High School.

The Merced County Historical Society will also acknowledge its scholarship recipients, former Merced College students Emily Tenaya Dayhoff and Taylor Ann Doo.

The membership meeting is open to all. The museum is closed on Feb. 9.

Sarah Lim is museum director for the Merced County Courthouse Museum. She can be reached at info@mercedmuseum.org.

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