Catalina Museum celebrates 70th years with 70 rare items in a new exhibit – Orange County Register
For the past seven decades the Catalina Museum for Art & History has been celebrating the island’s unique history and art with a variety of exhibitions in the heart of Avalon.
Since opening in 1953, the museum has amassed a large collection of artifacts that now make up its substantial permanent collection. Some of these items have never been put out on display, until now. To mark the museum’s 70-year anniversary, venue officials have dug deep into its vault for an exhibition dubbed “Cabinet of Curiosities: 70 Objects for 70 Years,” which is now open and runs through fall 2024.
“Most of these have never been seen before. They’re kind of curious and odd artifacts, photos and paintings that we’ve acquired over the years and some of them are just difficult to tell a story about, but we have their history,” said Johnny Sampson, deputy director and chief curator of the museum. “There’s an interesting history in this island that goes along with early Los Angeles history.”
Here are five rare items to be sure to check out at the exhibition.
The first letter
Mailed in 1826, the earliest known letter carried eastward from Alta, California via Cape Horn is among the items on display at the exhibition. According to Sampson, it was sent from Catalina Island to Ipswich, Massachusetts by a crewman of the brig Barian to his sister, and it took more than six months to arrive.
“On the letter you can see the postmark, so it shows how it was put on a ship, it went around the cape up to Massachusetts,” he said. In the letter, the writer talks about the boredom and everyday life on the ship. The price of the stamp at that time was six cents.
Cedar chest from the USS Olympia
The Olympia, which was commissioned in 1895, is the oldest steel American warship still afloat and the museum was gifted a cedar chest that was once housed on the vessel.
Cannon cast from a shipwreck salvage
At about nine inches in length, it’s not a particularly intimidating or working cannon, but its story still packs a good punch. The cannon cast was made from a brass pipe found underwater near Catalina that was once part of The Valiant, a luxurious 162-foot yacht owned by San Francisco auto distributor Charles S. Howard. The yacht sank in 1930 when the gasoline generator exploded while the ship was moored.
“This artifact has so many stories wrapped up into it,” Sampson said.
This oar wrapped in snakeskin is one of the more unusual items on display. According to Sampson, in 1901 Pasadena-based artist Frances Lauderbach and a friend were hiking across the island and came across a large rattlesnake, which they killed, skinned, and mounted to an oar.
“In true artistic and creative fashion she just decided to put the snake skin on the oar. For myself, I thought what an odd thing for the museum to have. But it does talk about our history,” Sampson said.
The post office clock
It once hung in the first official Avalon Post Office, located on the waterfront in the Steamer Terminal Building. The clock was stored away when the post office moved to its current location in the Atwater Arcade in 1927. When the clock was put on display as part of the exhibition the time was set to a little past 8 p.m., which Sampson said is around the time the museum founders first met in 1952 to talk about creating a new island museum.
“Cabinet of Curiosities: 70 Objects for 70 Years”
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday.
Where: Catalina Museum for Art & History, 217 Metropole Avenue, Avalon
Tickets: $18 or $12 for island residents at catalinamuseum.org.
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