Posts by alexis coe:

Do you know what your neighbors collect? People in Santa Cruz are about to find out, and the answer might surprise you. Mayor Don  Lane owns thousands of decorated eggs. Good Earth Tea founders Ben and Louise Zaricor own flags from the Civil War and the moon. Veterinarian David Shuman is an amateur taxidermist who collects animal skulls.

Santa Cruz Collects at the Museum of Art and History runs from August 11–November 25, and promises to do more than just display the extraordinary collections of local residents and institutions, but also examine how the items we collect inform notions of who we are, both as individuals and a community.

Executive Director Nina Simon, who the Smithsonian once called a “museum visionary,”  never fails to engage the public in innovative ways. Simon, who authored the book The Participatory Museum, started a conversation about a “truly community-generated show”  when she was first hired in 2011. The entire first floor gallery will now be known as the “Collecting Lounge,”  a space where visitors are invited to linger and create. Fabric, toys, sand, and a variety of other objects can be used to bottle up a personal memory. The jars will form an installation the museum hopes will extend from the floor to the ceiling, reflecting the ways in which people experienced the exhibition.

Of course, Simon  doesn’t  stop there. “We also have other interactive components to the exhibition,”  she explained, noting this is “an opportunity for people to weigh in on which objects our museum should deaccess, a psychological quiz about collecting types, and a talkback area about digital hoarding.”  Deaccessioning is the process of refining a collection by sale, trade, or donation, and one that is rarely so transparent because it is frequently misidentified as scandalous and detrimental to an institution. In actuality, it is necessary to enhance the quality, use, and character of an institution’s holdings, but these decisions are often made in hushed tones behind closed doors.  Including visitors in this conversation is downright revolutionary.

But why should residents of San Francisco drive an hour and a half down iconic Highway 1 to see and engage with the exhibition? Simon offers a compelling argument: “For some people, it’s the one-of-the-kind objects-the first flag captured in the Civil War, Steve Jobs’ original copy of the Apple business plan. But more importantly, this is an exhibition that really lets people dive into questions of why they keep stuff and what it means to them.” 

The Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History
705 Front Street,Santa Cruz, CA 95060 [Map]

Closed Monday. Admission is free-$5.

Get in touch with the author @alexis_coe.

The San Francisco Fire Department Museum  just might be the best museum you’re not visiting. When locals and tourists alike seek out museums in San Francisco, they get stuck in a cycle, repeatedly visiting  SFMOMA, the FAMSF, the Asian Art Museum, and the Jewish Museum. While these museums are certainly exceptional, they aren’t the only ones in town.

The SFFD museum should not be dismissed as a place exclusively serving fire department enthusiasts and school children. This small museum boasts a rich collection of quirky, fun ephemera, ultimately offering visitors an unusual lens through which local history can be understood. No matter what your interests are, the SFFD Museum has something for you.

The Great Earthquake of 1906 was felt from Oregon to Los Angeles, and is still remembered as one of the greatest disasters in San Francisco, if not the whole United States. The fires that followed the earthquake and aftershocks  were far more  destructive, blazing for four days and nights. A glass case dedicated to items  retrieved  in the aftermath leaves a significant impression on visitors. The plates above were rendered nearly unrecognizable by the intense flames.

Fire extinguishers are a world unto their own. These water grenades consist of a glass sphere filled with carbon-tetrachloride. Firefighters hurled the glass balloons at the base of a fire.

Lifeline guns fired missile-like projectiles, deploying rescue lines of 200 to 700 feet.

The photograph above describes the scene unfolding as the “Night the Axel Broke” in 1914, but truth be told, these photographs were all staged. Early departments sought out to document their work, and they were not above a reenactment. Look carefully at the studio stamps as you walk by and you will spot a set of beautiful prints by Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), the famous pioneer of motion photography.

The museum houses more than five large iterations of early fire trucks, from hand pumped to horse-drawn. Firefighters resisted the use of horses early on, but the city’s notoriously steep hills left them with few options. Only the driver and the engineer of the company rode on the engine, with the remaining members relied on the company house wagon to respond to calls. By 1922, the department relied on motorized units.

Early firefighters knew what to save first, and it wasn’t the baby. The firefighters were  originally  volunteers, paid by individuals.  In the 18th and 19th centuries, a happy customer was one whose bed remained intact. Mattresses were the most valuable items in the home, so firefighters carried bed keys on every call, which allowed them to easily disassemble frames and usher mattresses to safety.

Facial hair aside, much can be learned from the company photos that line the walls. Early immigrants banded with brethren from the motherland, forming companies based on their country of origin. The Swedes volunteered together, but you can bet there was no Norwegian among them.

The San Francisco Fire Department Museum is a safe bet for successfully breaking the cycle of going to the same museums time and again; give it a try, you won’t be disappointed.

The San Francisco Fire Department Museum

655 Presidio Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94115-2424 [Map]

Open Thursday through Sunday 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM. Admission is free.

Get in touch with the author @alexis_coe.