November 13, 2017

In Memory of Louise Pubols

Remembering Louise Pubols, former Senior Curator of History and dear friend

By Lori Fogarty

As I remember our dear colleague, Louise Pubols, former Senior Curator of History here at the Oakland Museum of California who passed away earlier this year, I can picture so many moments from the years we worked together. I recall collaborating on the creation of our Gallery of California History, and then traveling to New York for a national press conference to unveil our plans for the new galleries and the transformation of the Museum. 

I think about serving on a panel together for the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) conference shortly after the Gallery opened to present our work as a case study, and then watching with pride at the AAM conference the following year when she spoke about the Gallery as it won a national exhibition prize. 

And, of course, memories of her are intertwined with all of the exhibitions she led throughout her tenure here, like The 1968 Exhibit in 2012 and Above & Below: Stories of our Changing Bay in 2013, the major interdisciplinary exhibition she led with such brilliance. 

What stuck out in my mind most in the days after her passing, however, was the moment when she first came to interview for the position at OMCA. I knew right when I met her that she was the one for this institution. She had such a command of the history of California, such an understanding of the complexity of this state and, at the same time, a genuine desire to share this knowledge, to make it accessible, and to bring others into it this work as collaborators, co-creators and partners. She was looking for a place to make her mark, to share her passion, to put her academic credentials and deep commitment to research and scholarship to work in the public realm—and she certainly did that here, and we thought that she would be doing that for many more years.

Louise was both confident and self-deprecating about her work. I remember her droll comment when our creative consultant on the History Gallery, Kathy McLean, challenged the exhibit team to think about how we might interpret the gallery if we didn’t have any labels. Louise sarcastically asked, “Well, how would people know how smart the curators are?” She often talked about history as the “master discipline,” in part to tease her Art and Natural Science curator colleagues. History, she would say, is an “omnivore” since it encompasses all aspects of the human experience. She also poked fun of us parochial Northern Californians after her move here from Los Angeles reminding us that, indeed, there was more to the history of 19th century California than the Gold Rush.

Louise was a complex person in all the best ways. She was serious and she was very funny. She was strong and vulnerable. She was always willing to acknowledge what she didn’t know, too. Louise has left an indelible legacy on this institution and on the study of California history—and she is gone much too soon. 

— Lori Fogarty, Director and CEO