“History is made up of individual stories, and OMCA is a platform for bringing these stories to life—we are a place you can visit to explore these stories, and add your own.”—Louise Pubols, Senior Curator of History
There’s nothing static about the new Gallery of California History, and for good reason: California—multilayered and ever evolving—has no single storyline, no fixed narrative. Millions of individuals and their unique stories have shaped how we perceive California, and OMCA’s Gallery of California History reflects this diversity throughout its many installations. The story begins with its indigenous people and continues through to today with the increasing influx of people from all over the world.
“Coming to California” is the Gallery’s overarching theme, emphasizing the profound impact of the state’s successive waves of immigration. Explorations of Californians’ varied ethnicities, relationships with the environment, global connections, and dreams and aspirations also run through the 30,000-square-foot Gallery in interactive presentations that showcase more than 2,200 artifacts, works of art, photographs, and ethnographic materials. California has always been a place of great diversity, and there have always been new people coming who have changed the culture. Whether your family has been here for generations or you arrived two weeks ago, the idea of coming to California resonates—because ‘coming to California’ is both a geographic idea and a metaphorical one.
Artifacts in the Gallery have been carefully selected from over 1.7 million items in OMCA's collection that represent California's history and cultures from the era before Europeans arrived to the 21st century. The strength of the collections are in photography; California native baskets and other material; California Gold Rush era artifacts; and material that relates to California technology, agriculture, business and labor, domestic life, and significant events such as World War II. Recent acquisitions help us tell the stories of many ethnic and cultural groups, recent immigrants, the counterculture, and gay culture.
GALLERY HIGHLIGHTS INCLUDE:
Before the Other People Came
Explore seven different geographic regions of California as contemporary Native People describe the histories of their ancestors, their relationships to the land and each other, and the innovative practices that they crafted to live in each dynamic natural environment.
The Spanish Take This Land
Unpack the “baggage” of the Spanish settlers—religious beliefs, government, language, pastoral agriculture, and social structures brought to make California a Spanish place.
Coming for Gold
Discover the intersection of different cultures, languages, ambitions, and experiences of the Gold Rush era.
Seeking the Good Life
Explore the modern metropolis of Los Angeles in the early 20th century and the stories of the people and initiatives that helped “keep the good life going.”
Explore the story of the visionary talents who elevated moviemaking to an exciting new art form. This interactive exhibit invites you to gain firsthand filmmaking experience with opportunities to design costumes, create animation, and add sound effects to movies. If you’ve ever wondered if you have what it takes to become the next Walt Disney, Edith Head, or Steven Spielberg, here’s your chance to find out!
Forces of Change
Discover display boxes created by a variety of Californians that lived here through the 1960s to 1975, a period of increasing political turmoil, identity politics, and the growth of a significant counterculture. Explore individual stories and multiple identities from environmentalist surfers, anti-war Chicanos, conservative women, Black Panthers, and hippies, among others.
California: To Be Continued…
Consider the breakthroughs, trends, and stereotypes that have defined California over the past 35 years. Featuring interactive elements—such as a modeled Silicon Valley garage where you can explore recent advances in high tech, and Negotiating the Border where you are invited to examine immigration from a variety of perspectives—the Gallery invites you to explore and share your thoughts. Influencing the World? explores how California has been the birthplace of countless ideas that have had global reverberations, from computer animation to Burning Man to the Edible Schoolyard. And, what better way to contemplate California’s recent past than in a hot tub! Visitors are encouraged to enter OMCA’s new (waterless) hot tub lounge, complete with an umbrella, towels, and flip-flops, and soak up the Golden State’s unique cultural contributions.
Featured History Collections
The Ohlone Basket Project
The Native Californian basket collection at the Oakland Museum of California encompasses approximately 2,500 baskets from nearly all of the geographic and cultural regions of the state, including more than 50 tribal groups. However, this celebrated collection was missing one quintessential aspect of California’s Native American heritage—Ohlone basketry. Ohlone baskets are rare, with only a few dozen known to exist worldwide. Their scarceness is partly due to the tribe’s practice of burning one’s personal possessions upon death, as well as the radical culture change brought about in the Bay Area by the missionaries and early settlers. In 2010, OMCA commissioned Ohlone artist, basket weaver, and scholar Linda Yamane to create a very rare Ohlone basket to enhance the Museum’s Native American collection. This basket was the first of its kind to be made in more than 250 years, and serves as the sole Ohlone basket represented in OMCA’s collection.
Yamane, a renowned Ohlone basket weaver who specializes in ancient Ohlone traditions, is a Rumsien Ohlone of the Native people of the Monterey area. The Rumsien Ohlone are closely related to the tribes that first inhabited the greater San Francisco Bay Area, including what is now Oakland. Linda Yamane has spent several years researching and recreating the traditional Ohlone basketry style; and she and her students are the only authentic Ohlone weavers alive today.
In an effort to preserve the heritage of the Ohlone people, OMCA documented Yamane’s creative process over the years it took to complete the Ohlone Basket Project. Visit us here for videos unveiling the ancient rituals of Ohlone basket weaving techniques, from the collection of willow sticks and sedge roots to the hand grinding of olivella shell beads to attach to the coiled basket’s surface.
The Ohlone Basket Project is made possible by generous support from the Oakland Museum Women's Board.
American Indian Collections
The California Indian collections contain everyday and ceremonial objects, including thousands of baskets from hundreds of Native cultural groups across the state. Charles Wilcomb, the founding director of the History Department, began the collection in the early 20th century with a particular focus on the tribes of the Central Valley and Northwest and Northeast of the state.
The California Indian collections include amazing feathered baskets from the Pomo and Wintu, extremely fine basket hats from the Hupa and Karok, and magnificent ornaments made from shell, beads, seeds, and feathers used in Native dance. Collections also include Southwestern Indian pottery, weaving, and silver jewelry; and Pacific Northwest carvings, boxes and clothing. Some artifacts are the only examples of their kind remaining in the world.
The California Ethnographic Collection at OMCA is subject to the rules of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The Museum is advised on repatriation matters by its permanent Native Council representing the main tribal regions of the state.
Asia and Pacific Collections
The Asia and Pacific collections represent the close relationship of California to the Pacific Rim, through exploration, trade, immigration, and tourism.
The Pacific collection of ethnographic artifacts is one of the oldest in the Museum. It is based on approximately 220 private collections, the most notable being the John Rabe Collection. In the late 1880s and early 1890s, Oakland dentist John Rabe traveled throughout the Pacific, gathering materials from Australia, Micronesia, Melanesia, Polynesia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The Pacific collections include fans, fly whisks, chiefly regalia, canoes, paddles, clubs, masks, and tools, and textiles such as batiks, tapa cloth, and rare Maori cloaks. The Asian collections are not as extensive, but contain spectacular pieces, such as a purple silk and gold military uniform of a Manchu imperial prince and the red lacquer armor of a Tokugawa samurai. Holdings also include clothing and domestic and business artifacts from twentieth-century immigrant families, such as the Domoto, Lum, Uchida, and Chinn families.
The Museum's extensive photographic collections document the history of California and the West from the 1840s to the present, and include daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, cyanotypes, glass plate negatives, black and white prints and negatives, lantern slides, color prints, home movies, and videos. Notable among them is the Andrew J. Russell Collection, which includes hundreds of rare glass plate negatives and photographs documenting the exploration of the West and the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. The Gabriel Moulin Collection, Moses Cohen Collection, and Oakland Tribune Collection form the largest and most comprehensive photographic record of the history and cultural life of the San Francisco Bay Area from the 1890s to the 1990s. The recent acquisition of the Herrington-Olson and Stone & Stecatti Collections document the history of 20th century architecture in California.
The Tribune Collection
From its pioneering days in the late 19th century, through the Pulitzer Prize-winning work during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the Tribune has maintained a remarkable tradition of excellence in photojournalism. The Tribune collection is a major source for historical documentation of the Bay Area during the 1960s and 1970s. It is rich in images of protests at UC Berkeley, including the Free Speech Movement, the antiwar movement during the Vietnam war, and People's Park.
In 1995, the Oakland Tribune newspaper donated to the Oakland Museum of California its collection of news negatives and photographs, also known as its photo “morgue.” The collection, with about 3,000 negatives and a million photographs, documents the history of the Bay Area and California from the early part of the century through the 1990s. Copies of these images can be purchased from the Museum. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Andrew J. Russell Collection
In the decade following the Civil War, photographic artists were trailblazers as well as photographers, often accompanying government parties as they surveyed Western lands. Unique among this group, Andrew J. Russell (1830–1902) was assigned to document construction of the first transcontinental railroad as it stretched westward across the continent in the late 1860s. Russell’s photographs capture the majestic scale of Western lands, its native people, rough boom towns, and the gritty enterprise of railroad building. Through widely circulated albums and inexpensive stereo views, Russell gave the world a glimpse of the West, helping to create a visual identity for a place already endowed with mythic qualities.
In the late 1960s, the Oakland Museum of California acquired more than 600 original collodion “wet plate” negatives taken by Russell a century earlier, the largest intact group by a major 19th century photographer. The Museum offers exhibition prints from copy negatives struck from Russell’s original glass negatives. For more information, e-mail email@example.com.
The Oakland Museum of California holds substantial collections of everyday and elite household furnishings, telling a story of making and claiming homes in California. The core of the collection is the Wilcomb Collection. In the early 20th century, founding curator Charles Wilcomb brought together early American ceramics, glass, furniture, textiles, and spinning wheels—showing the everyday lives of many early American settlers. Since then, the Museum has aquired an entire kitchen from an 1850s house in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and a World War II housing unit for workers at the Hunter's Point shipyards. Decorative arts include over a thousand early 20th century design drawings, molds, and select silver pieces from the San Francisco firm Shreve and Co. A highlight of the furniture collections are Herman Miller Consortium pieces by Charles Eames, showcasing mid-century modern style in the state.
Ephemera in many forms—labels, menus, brochures, pamphlets, receipts, paper dolls, coloring books, sheet music, dress patterns—illustrates the ordinary in our lives. Road maps, postcards, letters, and business cards of yesterday are often thrown away. The Grafton T. Brown Collection has some of the stones used by this prominent 19th-century African American lithographer, as well as the graphics he created and his business card. The Boardman Collection of maps includes early surveyors’ tools. The Del Monte Collection includes can and crate labels and photographs of this food corporation from the early 20th century. Posters from World War I and World War II, San Francisco Rock concerts, and movies give insight into 20th century life. Representational titles from our collection of 19th- and 20th- century periodicals include: Godey’s Lady’s Book, The Wave, The Wasp, The Delineator, Sunset, Vogue, Life, Look, Silver Screen, and Family Circle.
Tools and Technology
The Oakland Museum of California's extensive collections of tools and technology show how people across the state have worked to make a living, and document a history of innovation. Beginning with the History Department's founding curator, Charles Wilcomb, the museum has collected early agricultural implements and rare mining equipment from the Gold Rush. A highlight of this collection is a complete 1870s assay office from Nevada City, used for both California gold and Nevada silver. Artisan tools document skills of the 19th century, including those of cobblers, tinsmiths, blacksmiths, tinkers, coopers, and cabinet makers. The twentieth century found Californians expanding into new fields, and the collections explore these endeavors, from early automobiles to the oil business, Hollywood, the defense industry, and high tech.