The High Desert region has rich and varied cultural and artistic traditions. These artforms range from music, silversmithing and storytelling to Indigenous basketmaking and beadwork, Mexican charro roping and quilting. In academic circles, these traditional artforms are called folklife.
Folklife is everyday knowledge, traditional art and lore passed down within communities through imitation, conversation and practice. Since the spring of 2020, Riki Saltzman, former executive director of the Oregon Folklife Network at the University of Oregon, has been working with the High Desert Museum as the folklorist to record and preserve those traditions — ones rooted in the cultural life of a community whose members share a common language, ethnic heritage, religion, occupation or geographic region.
Saltzman, in collaboration with the Oregon Folklife Network, conducts fieldwork and pours through existing records to document our region’s culture keepers, including creating listening sessions with artists to preserve their stories and collect insights into the fine points of their artform. She collaborates with artists and arts and culture organizations in Central and Eastern Oregon.
The work supports a growing knowledge of folklife across the state. It also furthers the Museum’s continued commitment to gathering and documenting the diverse stories of people throughout the High Desert region.
Since 1982, Saltzman has worked at private nonprofit and state agencies in nine states where she directed a range of public programs, organized conferences and curated exhibits. Saltzman earned her Ph.D. in anthropology and folklore from the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of A Lark for the Sake of Their Country: The 1926 General Strike Volunteers in Folklore and Memory (2012, Manchester University Press) and edited the new book Pussy Hats, Politics, and Public Protest (University Press of Mississippi), which looks at the historical and cultural legacy of the 2017 Women’s March.
The folklorist position is supported by a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Saltzman’s appointment helps fulfill the NEA’s vision of vibrant traditional art programs throughout the country.
“Our job as folklorists is to tell the stories of the culture keepers,” Saltzman said. “We listen and then help them to share their traditional arts with others.”
Culture keepers, often referred to as folk or traditional artists, have strong cultural ties to their art forms, which they actively practice and work to preserve and pass on through presentations, demonstrations and performances. Culture keepers also work to pass down their artforms to younger generations to ensure their preservation.
Saltzman’s work with culture keepers will have a strong impact programs, exhibitions and collections at the High Desert Museum.
Looking back on a life of risk-taking and death-defying stunts, land speed record holder Kitty O’Neil declared, “I’m not afraid of anything. Just do it. It feels good when you finish. You made it.” Her words speak not only to her own love of speed but also offer encouragement to anyone contemplating a new challenge.
Our newest exhibition, Daredevils, looks at those who have attempted death-defying feats such as jumping a canyon or going faster than anyone thought imaginable. For daredevils and risk-takers, the High Desert’s playas and canyons have long provided a setting to test the limits of what’s possible. This original exhibition considers the cultural significance of daredevils against the backdrop of the challenges of the 1970s, including the Vietnam War, an economic recession and an unfinished civil rights movement. It was a time with some similarities to our own, as we navigate the uncertainty of a global pandemic and confront the nation’s racist past and present.
The exhibition highlights some of the best-known daredevils, such as Evel Knievel and Kitty O’Neil, considering how they became larger-than-life symbols of hope, freedom and independence.
It includes objects from High Desert stunts, such as the 1966 Triumph motorcycle that Denny Edwards, known as “The Flying Irishman,” jumped when he came out of retirement for a final jump just a few years ago. It showcases a helmet and jumpsuit worn by Kitty O’Neil, who set a land speed record in Oregon’s Alvord Desert in 1976.
O’Neil averaged 512.71 miles per hour, reaching a maximum speed of 618 mph, and held the women’s record for over 40 years. It features the leathers worn by Oregon native Debbie Lawler when she broke Evel Knievel’s record for the longest motorcycle jump, traveling 101 feet and clearing 16 Chevy pickups in 1974. Knievel later regained the record in Portland, Oregon, but Lawler still holds the record for the longest jump by a woman.
Through a playful and engaging exhibition for all ages, Daredevils explores the meaning risk-taking plays in our lives and why these individuals capture our imaginations.
We might think of self-care, the practice of taking care of one’s health and well-being, and the industry that has developed around it as a relatively new concept, but people have been hawking self-care goods for decades. At the turn of the twentieth century, these potions and contraptions made big promises, many of which seem dangerous or at the very least laughable today.
Take a look at these seven surprising self-care products from 1902.
1. Dr. Rose’s Arsenic Complexion Wafers
A pale complexion was desirable for a young lady of the early 1900s. Large sun hats and parasols were used to achieve the look of preserved skin, but for an expedited process, you might turn to a self-care product like this. “Perfectly harmless, when used in accordance with our directions,” the advertisement reads. The wafers undoubtedly did cause paleness… among other conditions.
2. Wrinkle Eradicator
“This convenient little article will remove wrinkles from around the eyes and nose and any part of the face,” so long as you don’t mind the process. This suction cup “invigorates” the skin back to health.
3. The Princess Bust Developer
Resembling a standard toilet plunger, this product promised: “a symmetrically rounded bosom full and perfect.” You “will be surprised, delighted, and happy over the result of one week’s use” is guaranteed. And for those wishing to properly display the latest in women’s fashion, it seems a small price to try such a contraption. Especially, since a full refund is “guaranteed” if you are not fully satisfied.
4. Vapor Bath Cabinets
Not unlike the modern sauna, with the surprising difference being a ventilated hole for one’s head, “vapor baths are great for blood and skin diseases.” There didn’t seem to be an ailment that the vapor bath couldn’t fix: “scrofula, eczema, salt rheum, hives, pimples, ulcers, boils, carbuncles, barber’s itch, oily skin, poor complexion, the common cold, …” the list goes on and on. With an alcohol stove, vaporizer, four-walled rubber-lined cabinet, and $5.95 one could have a cure for just about anything.
5. The Toilet Mask
A facial mask meant for “the removal of freckles, liver spots, and other facial blemishes” doesn’t seem so surprising at first. This mask, however, isn’t comprised of soothing botanicals and extracts. Rather, it’s an “acid cured” mask, made of transparent rubber, that promises to turn the skin soft and velvety.
6. Electric Insoles
Poor circulation? Cold feet? This product offers just what you need… an electric current. “A mild pleasant current is produced along the soles of the feet, which stimulates the blood and keeps it circulating constantly.” What is a little discomfort with the promise of health, right?
7. Giant Power Heidelberg Electric Belt
And if you don’t think the electric insoles are “shocking” this belt might do the trick. A cure for all “diseases, disorders, and weaknesses peculiar to men.” This product claims that the user will experience more benefits in one week of use than six months of going to the doctor.
All products advertised from the Sears, Roebuck and Company Catalogue from 1902. Sears, Roebuck and Company. “Catalogue No. 112.” Catalogue No. 112. : Sears, Roebuck and Company : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Sears, Roebuck & Co., Chicago, archive.org/details/catalogueno11200sear/page/n9/mode/2up. Accessed 30 Apr. 2020.
One of the most common questions we get from visitors is about how the creatures, from river otters to desert tortoises, came to be in our care. And every day, I spend time with a small, new resident that came to us last summer, a Western painted turtle with a very interesting story.
A good Samaritan found her in Woodburn with a screw in her shell and fishing line cutting into her neck. She was rightfully turned in to the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) for recovery. ODFW speculates that she was being kept as someone’s pet because of the screw. Most likely her owners inserted the screw so they could tether her outside. She escaped anyway and then got caught up in the discarded fishing line.
After the rescue and rehabilitation, ODFW contacted us to see if we could provide her with a home. We had the perfect spot in our Desertarium.
We have four Western painted turtles in the collection. All can be found in the Desertarium’s turtle exhibit. The species is found across North America, with the Western painted turtle being one of four subspecies. They are commonly found in the Willamette Valley in Oregon. However, they are still found throughout the Cascades, even on the east side in our neck of the woods.
Oregon’s native turtle species are protected, and it is illegal to remove one from the wild to keep as a pet. Unaware of this fact, many who stumble on a Western painted turtle in the wild are tempted to take it home. There are a few exotic turtle species in Oregon that are illegal to possess, the most well-known being the red-eared slider. It’s now invasive in Oregon thanks to the exotic pet trade. The message here would be to always do thorough research when deciding whether to acquire an exotic pet because they are not always legal. They often require care that is beyond what the average person can provide. Even if you find yourself out over your skis, so to speak, it is illegal to release pets into the wild.
Now that the turtle has a happier ending at the High Desert Museum, why is she non-releasable? This turtle cannot go back into the wild for a few reasons. First, ODFW biologists do not know where she came from. If she wasn’t originally part of a population of turtles, introducing her could potentially have adverse impacts. Oregon turtle populations are fragmented due to the disappearance of habitat continuity caused by human development and habitat degradation. Because of this, introducing outside DNA can potentially create offspring that are not well-suited for that particular area.
Because of the fragmentation of wild populations, introducing an individual to a new population could also spread disease that is found in one area to another. It is important to note that in the state of Oregon it is illegal to release wildlife that has been under human care for longer than 72 hours.
Discarded fishing line and other refuse — pack it in and pack it out. It is that simple. Discarded fishing line, hooks, lures, plastic bags, balloons, Styrofoam — all of it has the potential to harm wildlife. This turtle could have died if not found and given help.
We’ve been very happy with her progress. She is frequently seen floating at the surface of the exhibit where she can check out the activity in the gallery. She is also spotted basking with the other two females of the same species. Her wound from the fishing line is completely healed, but she will have her screw hole for some time. In the short time she’s been with us, she’s become an amazing ambassador for her species, sharing with visitors the importance of conservation and responsibility.
During World War II, the U.S. federal government incarcerated 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, about two-thirds of whom were United States citizens. The government used racist propaganda and fear-based arguments to justify their actions. For those who were incarcerated—imprisoned without charge—the experience was life-changing.
Witness to Wartime: The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujiiexamines this painful chapter of American history. Artist Takuichi Fujii was among those imprisoned, first at the Puyallup temporary detention camp on the Washington State Fairgrounds and then at Minidoka Relocation Center, where he lived with his family for over three years. During this time, he painted with oil and watercolors and sculpted. He also kept an illustrated diary. Nearly 400 pages in length, it chronicled his family’s forced removal from Seattle and concluded with the closing of Minidoka. Fujii’s illustrated diary as well as the other works he created illuminate the bleakness of everyday life in confinement as well as moments of beauty and hope. For some of those incarcerated, art served as a means of expression and survival. Fujii’s work makes apparent the resilience of those imprisoned.
After the war, Fujii and his family moved to Utah and then to Chicago as a part of the government’s resettlement program. He continued to paint, experimenting with abstraction. After his death in 1964, Fujii’s artwork from 1942 onward was kept in storage by his family until his grandson recognized its significance and began translating the diary.
This exhibition offers a rare opportunity to see the breadth of Fujii’s work, including his American realist paintings of the 1930s, his wartime paintings and drawings and his postwar abstract expressionist paintings. One historian has called Fujii’s illustrated diary “the most remarkable document created by a Japanese-American prisoner during the wartime incarceration.” It not only sheds light on the past but continues to resonate today.
If you visit the Museum this summer, you’ll get the opportunity to explore the original exhibit Desert Reflections: Water Shapes the West. The dynamic, multifaceted exhibition weaves together science, history, art and contemporary issues in its examination of the role of water in the region’s past, present and future.
In addition to the discussion of the complexities of water management, Desert Reflections connects visitors to its significance through visual art, music and spoken word performances. The High Desert Museum commissioned artwork from four Pacific Northwest artists for the exhibition. The project began with field trips into the desert with experts in order to spark discussion and inspiration for the pieces.
One of the four artists on the journey is Eugene’s art collective Harmonic Laboratory. The group created two installations for the exhibition. These are their stories.
Garden of Earthly Delights
When you enter the Spirit of the West Gallery, the main location of Desert Reflections, walk to the back of the room and you’ll find the haunting video triptych Garden of Earthly Delights. Three large flat screen televisions are arranged in a horizontal row, each displaying discrete black-and-white videos.
Garden of Earthly Delights depicts a loss of innocence, making deliberate reference to Hieronymus Bosch’s iconic triptych by the same title, created in the late 15th century. The original imagery reflects biblical scenes read from left to right; Eden, the Judgment, and Hell. Bosch’s triptych stands as a warning against the devastating outcome of irresponsibility and self-interest. The imagery used in the Harmonic Laboratory video version follows the same basic narrative, but is more political in nature, representing the tension between two bodies of diverse backgrounds engaged in a negotiation over water as a scarce and precious resource.
Observing the panels from left to right, the first screen situates an Indigenous woman emerging from a pristine river surrounded by a lush forest. The center panel zooms in on the two central figures’ hands pouring water back and forth between clear vessels. In the final screen a white male collapses onto the dry, cracked surface of a High Desert wasteland.
Garden of Earthly Delights uses two natural High Desert settings representing either an abundance of water or an extreme lack thereof. The protagonists reflect the socio-political tension between two groups in conflict over water rights: the Native peoples who have inhabited the area since time immemorial as riparian civilizations with deeply ancestral and spiritual ties to the water supply, and the white settlers who have journeyed west over the past two centuries to establish their homes and industries. This is a cautionary tale of the ultimate price of exploitation.
Floating above one’s head more than 8 feet from the ground, Awash creates an array of sonic and visual movement. The piece runs 32’ along the Museum hallway, and the viewer walks underneath a 120-speaker network. As sound moves across the speakers, the installation physically moves up and down in one large sinusoidal wave via Dacron string connected to a large rotating disc. The disc connects to 20 rows of speakers, translating rotary motion into smooth vertical movement.
Awash depicts the life, color and environment of the High Desert in a network of sound and moving parts. The kinetic sound sculpture emanates sonic shades of the High Desert while simultaneously flowing as a connected sinusoidal wave spanning 32 feet. The work hovers above the viewers’ heads and envelops them in sight and sound.
The soundscape in Awash has three types of audio: wind, water and color. For these three archetypal sounds, there are two audio modes. These modes either immerse the listener or move sound across the 32-foot structure. To help situate the listener within the High Desert, the piece amplifies field recordings of High Desert wind and Oregon waterways. The outside is brought inside, and across the length of the speaker array, viewers are enveloped in sounds that move above, through and around them. For sounds of color, a recording of a Skinner church organ, played by slowly adding keys and organ stops, creates lush, harmonic textures. These textural colors evoke the richness of the High Desert, a place that is shaped by multiple forces interacting in complex ways.
Unpacking the technical and mechanical design of Awash parallels understanding the symbiotic and complex forces at play in the water cycle of the High Desert. Ten electrical boards rest atop the structure, driving how sounds move. The boards are synchronously timed to trigger spatialized sounds across the structure. Standing underneath, one can hear and feel how natural forces move around us –– sounds of water and wind flow uninterrupted –– absorbed only by what is present within the space. The energy of sound is acoustically absorbed by bodies and materials in the museum, akin to the way that natural resources are consumed and absorbed within an ecosystem.
Sound waves propagate throughout the space and undulating kinetic motion immerse the viewer. Light shimmers off tessellating shapes hanging midair, evoking an environment teeming with life and motion. Like scales from fish or rings of a tree, the piece marks the shape of a body inside a living ecosystem. Awash is made up of small pieces; yet, the individual components connect to form a mass that has weight.
Awash mirrors the distribution of energy within an ecosystem. In the High Desert, floodplains provide an energy buffer that supports the productivity and sustainability of life, in particular fish populations. The kinetic sound sculpture disperses sound energy across 120 3-watt speakers. As sound moves over longitudinal and lateral planes, the space becomes “awash” with varying frequencies and amplitudes. No one speaker is loud enough to cut through the ambient noise of the environment, but together, the distributed energy of the speaker network moves sound as large, vibrational waves across the constructed landscape of the Museum.
In 1999, the permanent exhibition By Hand Through Memory opened to the public, and greeting visitors outside the entrance stood a towering, tule mat tipi. For generations, Native people of the Columbia River Plateau built and continue to build such tipis using natural materials including tule and cattail — tule is a large bulrush that is abundant in marshy areas. Cattail is a tall, reed-like marsh plant with a dark brown, velvety cylindrical head of numerous tiny flowers.
The tipi at the Museum was made by James Selam and fellow Yakama family members Delsie Selam, Loretta White, Susan Brown, Howard Selam and Ernie Selam. It immediately became a treasured, iconic part of the Museum.
Over its nearly 20 years at the Museum, thousands of visitors have taken in its beauty. Yet two decades later, it needed attention. The creation and care for the tule mat tipi are deeply spiritual acts. Over three days in early May 2019, the tipi was thoughtfully dismantled and methodically cleaned and rebuilt by Clarice Paul of the Wanapum and Warm Springs Nations, her husband Lightening of the Yakama Nation and their son Little Lightening.
In tule tipi repair, Clarice removes the mats from the tipi, rolls them flat, sprays them with hot water and gently washes the mats with water and a washcloth. They are then dried upright with fans.
While the mats are drying, three tipi poles are left in place and secured as the others are taken down for cleaning and repair. The circumference of the tipi is reduced to strengthen the framework and fit it securely to the base of the exhibit. Clarice ties willow branches on the inside of the tipi in three places, adding more points to secure the mats. Starting at the bottom, the mats are then sewn back on. If new doors are needed, as was the case with the tule tipi at the Museum, peeled down cattail reeds are woven together to make a door.
Some interesting details about this and other tule mat tipis –
– The interior of the reed expands when the air is cold, tightening them together when it’s needed most to keep the tipi’s interior warm. In warmer months the interior of the reed contracts making more space between the reeds so air can flow more easily.
– The door traditionally is placed facing east to welcome the sun.
– Previously the bottom row had two layers of tule mats, depicting a winter tipi. Now there is only one layer of mats to depict a summer home.
– Tule tipis are used as a shelter and gathering place for meals.
We are forever grateful to Clarice, Lightening and Little Lightening Paul for repairing the tule mat tipi. The knowledge, thoughtfulness and care brought to this project means that the tipi will continue to stand tall and teach thousands more visitors about the Indigenous people of the Columbia River Plateau.
More about the Paul family –
Lightening and Clarice have been together for 24 years with two sons (ages 21 and 10) and one grandson. Lightening is a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Yakama Nation. Clarice is an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and grew up as a Wanapum member from Priest Rapids, Washington. Clarice is a master weaver teacher specializing in tule mat weaving at the Northwest Native American Basketweavers Association.
A special thank you goes out to High Desert Museum volunteer photographer Heather Duchow who captured a delicate and important process!
The High Desert Museum exhibit The Beauty of Wild Things: Charcoal Drawings by April Coppini is open through June 23, 2019. Coppini’s deep love and respect for the natural world is evident in her large, lifelike drawings of wildlife, from mule deer and foxes to butterflies and bumble bees. The artist hails from a wooded suburb in Rochester, New York but has called Portland home for almost 25 years. Coppini joined us at the Museum in March not long after her exhibit’s opening to speak about her art, life and inspiration. The conversation continues here.
In your new exhibit at the High Desert Museum, your gestural charcoal drawings almost appear to move on paper. Is that an intended element of your artwork?
Only in that I’m trying to capture or convey something of the life of the subject as I draw. So it’s not foremost in my mind as I draw but more of a result of the process, thinking about movement and the life of an animal. And I’m always excited when I step back and the drawing has that feeling of moving, and always slightly disappointed if it appears lifeless and still to me! It’s like a surprise.
Living and creating in a city such as Portland, do you ever feel disconnected from the wildlife which you draw? Where do you go to escape the growing city?
I do feel disconnected at times, but I’m lucky enough to rent a house with about a quarter acre which, of course, is overgrown and unkempt from a busy life with kids. So wild things are attracted to the yard. We have chickens, so raccoons like us and coyotes run down our street. A couple of weeks ago a hawk swooped down in the yard about 15 feet from me, grabbed one of our hens (Fern) and dropped her a few seconds later, probably because she was too heavy!
We also live really close to Whitaker Ponds and that’s a favorite place for us. But I miss deer and rabbits and quiet, dark nights where you can see so many stars. So, we go to Astoria or Seaside or Pacific City every few months. We also hike in the Gorge or take the dog to the Sandy or Columbia. We’ve taken family trips to Bend, Cove Palisades and the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho. One day I hope to get a little cabin somewhere.
Do you ever draw subjects other than wildlife?
Plants! Flowers, people (in my sketchbook), domestic animals, motorcycles for my son.
In your Instagram feed, you shared the honor that comes from displaying your work at the Museum at the same time that we were hosting Rick Bartow: Things You Know But Cannot Explain. What kind of inspiration does the renowned Native artist bring to your work?
Rick’s work speaks to me on a spirit level, like the lines between humans and animals and species blur, and there is spirit, story. And it’s his story but all of our story, too. So, I’m filled with awe and wonder when I visit his work. The colors have an indescribable emotional impact. I feel forces beyond us. So those are things I hope for in my own work, that it might reach people in such a deep way, although differently. His work is also a reminder to play, to enjoy working. I sometimes get too intense and tight, and I’d love to work in color more!
When you spoke with visitors at the Museum in March, you shared that during your art school years, it was all about abstract art. Representational art was frowned upon. Did you work with abstract art at that time or have you always held firm to representational art? How did you buck that trend, so to speak?
The work that was favored at that time was conceptual, so more installations and concept/process over making work that fit into outsider’s view of what is “good” and saleable and fits on your living room wall above the couch. Although that time was challenging for me, I did work in video and installation, and somewhat abstractly even though I always went back to representational work, kind of like it’s my language. Ultimately, that experience made me think bigger, and more universally, and when I began to work when I was out of school I think it helped me experiment and think about the bigger, wider possible impacts of my work on the world. But I always fall back to figurative work because I am enthralled with living things. That’s how I want to spend my time. That’s what I’m curious about.
You have a love and respect for pollinators, specifically the bumble bee. How has your reverence for the many species of bumble bees evolved?
Originally, it was my late partner, Andy, who shortly after we met, told me about honeybees dying and colony collapse disorder. That sparked a series of drawings of bees, and as I started to search for reference photos, I began to see how many different bee species there were. It blew me away. I began to see them more out in the yard and I’d try to wrap my brain around the job they do and how some bees have a buzz that is the specific frequency to release the pollen of a particular flower or it won’t release otherwise. I got to know which bumble bees were native to the Pacific Northwest and also back East where I grew up and which ones were red-listed and declining, which ones haven’t been seen in years. I connected with the people at Xerces Society (which happens to be in Portland), an international invertebrate conservation organization. Now I follow their work and donate a portion of my sales from bee drawings to them. I also upload photos of the bumble bees I see to Bumble Bee Watch and iNaturalist to help their research. Entomologist E.O.Wilson says we all need to become amateur naturalists to stop the rapid extinction of species that is happening now, and I feel this is true.
Have you ever found any subject too difficult or elusive to draw?
I was commissioned once to draw New Zealand’s extinct Huia birds. Even though I printed out a ton of references, I just couldn’t get a feel for them. The last confirmed sighting was in 1907, so there aren’t good photos of them alive. I also have this gut feeling that the life force of a creature is out there, and I can feel it, drum it up when I’m drawing. Sounds kind of silly maybe, but who knows, right?!
How do you know a drawing is finished?
Pretty much when I feel like I’m about to ruin it! I’ve definitely overdrawn some things! And sometimes a drawing just clicks at a certain point and you know.
Sometimes, spring cleaning sneaks up on you, even when it’s snowing outside. This past weekend, the chore began as a quick vacuum to make the layer of cracker crumbs from the 4-year-old disappear. With the dark corners underneath furniture and behind curtains, however, my simple task became an all-day chore.
At the High Desert Museum, our collections volunteers do some spring cleaning of their own. Recently, both Spirit of the West and By Hand Through Memory, permanent exhibits, were briefly closed for an annual cleaning. Open since 1988, Spirit of the West offers a journey through the High Desert in the 19th century, including a Northern Paiute shelter and Hudson’s Bay Company fort. By Hand Through Memory, which opened in 1999, focuses on the Columbia Plateau Indian Nations. These two exhibits house hundreds of artifacts and objects, seen by thousands of visitors every year. To preserve the integrity of every single object, they must be cleaned, dusted and vacuumed.
Yet in exhibits with so many objects, where do you even begin cleaning? My house is one thing. An exhibition is quite another.
As I began quietly poking around the brightened exhibits, I was greeted by a small group of people doing their dizzying chore with immense pride. The spring cleaning is organized and guided by Museum curatorial staff. They are assisted by a group of dedicated, knowledgeable volunteers, many of whom have done this year after year. Darla, one of the collections volunteers, shared with me that the project is a huge part of their stewardship, the great care and ownership they take in the High Desert Museum.
The very first thing they do is remove all of the woolen and fur objects and props. They are packed neatly in labeled plastic bags and put in the freezer for forty-eight hours. Wait, a freezer? In order to destroy any moths that may be attempting to call it home, the object goes into an industrial-size freezer not meant to store employee lunches. Yes, even the taxidermy beaver makes the freezer his den for two days.
Once the woolens and furs and still-life critters are tucked away, the real cleaning begins, the kind of cleaning that happens with vacuums, brooms, feather dusters and soft rags. Just past Silver City in Spirit of the West is a cattle rancher’s settlement, with a wagon and cooking gear across the path from the bunkhouse filled with tack, every piece of equipment one might need to saddle and ride a horse. Each piece of riding headgear is gingerly removed from its hook and slowly cleaned with a soft cloth. The 100-year-old tack is returned to its place, creating the scene for visitors and making them feel like they’ve entered the bunkhouse of a real-life vaquero. No vaquero would let dust gather on his tack.
During my time chatting with the volunteers, I learned the difference between a prop and an object. A prop is something that a visitor might have physical access to, a wool blanket in Spirit of the West or pelt in By Hand Through Memory. Props are delicately stored in the freezer with the furs and woolens but do not require the same level of pristine handling as do the objects. Objects are protected behind glass or at a distance from the visitor and handled with the utmost care.
Once the cleaning of the scenes and objects is complete, the delicate focus returns to the woolens and furs. In Spirit of the West alone, there are seventy wool or fur objects. One might expect that every object is handled the same way, with cloth gloves as if in an episode of “Law & Order.” I learned from Darla that some gloves can pick up fibers from the furs. Thus, some objects require latex gloves and others require a clean hand. The small team working on the project knows without communicating which object requires which kind of glove. Clearly, this is a seasoned crew. One by one, the objects are laid out and cleaned with a low-powered vacuum. A small screen is placed in between the object and nozzle. The screen protects the object, keeping it from giving up too much fiber.
Closing off the popular permanent exhibits is done rarely. It’s done only for the most important of reasons, cleaning being one of them. The team works fast, with care and speed. Spirit of the West and By Hand Through Memory were each closed for five short winter days.
Both exhibits are back open to the public and looking as pristine as ever. Already, I can’t say the same for my carpet.
For nearly thirty years Ann and Phil Aines generously supported the High Desert Museum. According to their daughter, the importance of charitable giving was instilled by their parents. In fact, Ann’s father was also an early supporter of our work. Beyond sharing their treasure, Ann also gave of her time and talent as a loyal volunteer who contributed more than 4,000 hours. In 1997, she was named Volunteer of the Year and in 2010 she was inducted into the Volunteer Hall of Fame. She served in the wildlife department, working with raptors, and became affectionately known as the, “Bird Woman of Bend.”
Ann died in January of 2016 and Phil passed away approximately six months thereafter. Years prior, Ann and Phil had established a unitrust and named the High Desert Museum as a beneficiary, sharing a percentage of their estate. The Museum received approximately $150,000 to support the birds of prey. Little did Ann and Phil know what an incredible gift this would be to our institution and the lasting impact it would have.
The Museum cares for an array of birds, many of which partake in the wildly popular Sky Hunters and Raptors of the Desert Sky flight programs. Through these shows, wildlife experts educate thousands of people annually about various species’—their respective habitats, diets, unique physical traits and adaptions. The flight programs provide meaningful enrichment for our birds while simultaneously raising public awareness about critical conservation issues. Many visitors experience awe and wonder through these up-close interactions, inspiring them to help protect these magnificent creatures. One visitor commented: “The animal presentations are the best we’ve ever seen in any zoo or other museum!”
Some of the raptors are housed in a building called a mews. The current mews is the oldest structure on Museum property. It was originally designed to be a game bird pen that was later retrofitted. Thanks to legacy of Ann and Phil, we have the necessary funds to construct a new, state-of-the-art mews, that will greatly enhance the living quarters of our birds while providing much needed workspace for Museum staff. And the building is nearing completion! A contractor was hired to frame the building, but our Facilities and Exhibits staff have been working diligently on the interior finishing.
The new structure is much larger (the current mews houses six birds and the new one will house ten) with more spacious enclosures permitting the raptors both indoor and outdoor access with doorways large enough to accommodate various species’ wing spans. The interior includes fans to circulate air, radiant heat, clear plastic panels to provide natural light and ultraviolet lights set to timers (which impact molting and hormone production). There are smooth plastic interior walls, which are not only sanitary, but help to protect the feather condition of the birds. The exterior bars for outdoor living spaces have been constructed from six miles of steel conduit, which are also designed for bird safety. The larger building not only enables the Museum to provide the highest standard of care, but it may enable us to grow our collection of raptors. This long-held dream has now become reality thanks to the immense kindness of Ann and Phil Aines and for that we are forever grateful.