Working in the archives is part treasure hunt, as we search through boxes for items for exhibits, blog posts, and places to put new donations. I find that it’s a lot of fun, partially because you sometimes don’t know what you’re going to find while you’re looking for something else. A few days ago, we came across a unique and fascinating find in the collections: a dress.
We have almost 500 dresses in the Clarke Collections ranging in colors, time periods, shapes, sizes and uses. Some are handmade, others are machine made, some are two pieces like Victorian dresses, others come in one piece. This dress was in two pieces, a bodice and a skirt, with internal boning that clasped at the front. It was probably for a woman who was about 5 feet 3 inches tall, which was a relatively common height at the time. The neckline was made up on long strips of silk that flowed loosely and long strips of silk ran down the full length of the skirt. The silk was not any regular kind of silk though, but cigar ribbons, which had been sewn in layers onto a tan colored slip.
Cigar silks were ribbons that were used to bundle cigars together during processing. Smoking cigars was a popular past time during the Victorian period, and women would oftentimes collect the silk ribbons for their sewing, creating beautiful quilts from rows and rows of the silks. Cigarettes came with coupons that could be redeemed for silk pieces as well, known as cigarette premiums, which included the brand name and, oftentimes a beautiful lady or some other popular design like flowers. Collecting premiums was happening around the same time as a rise in popularity of the Crazy Quilt, which had women searching for scraps of pretty fabrics to add to their ever-growing patchwork quilts. These silks were oftentimes incorporated into other quilts, or became quilts in themselves.
This dress, however, was an unusual find. We don’t have any information on who donated it to the museum, who wore it, or why it was made. We haven’t been able to find much in terms of other dresses like this being made. Was it made to show off a silk collection like the quilts were? Or to advertise cigars sold locally maybe, in a way similar to this photo of a model for Wells Drugs decked out in a variety of items sold at the store? We may never know.
Welcome to part 2 of our blog series on early industries of Humboldt County! This week, we'll be taking a closer look at the earliest industries in the county-natural resource extraction. These are the industries that initially brought settlers to the region.
At these landing points, port towns like early Eureka, the waterfront developed in a wildly colorful locale, stocked to the brim with saloons, supply stores, docks, and gambling halls. These port towns supplied newcoming miners with everything they needed (and didn’t need) at a high cost. Once they were stocked, the miners could start the journey to the goldfields located along the Trinity and Klamath Rivers. Some eager miners also tried to pull gold flakes from beach sand en masse, most notably Gold Bluffs Beach in the present day Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Those efforts failed- but the name stuck.
Mining was carried out by people from around the world who worked, oftentimes uneasily, side by side. Chinese miners were employed in the lowest paid, most menial jobs, becoming an integral part of the mining history across California and in Humboldt County. While they were detested by a large majority of other workers, they worked hard, rarely were sick (due to boiling their water for tea and rice and rarely drinking alcohol), and followed directions. They were employed digging water ditches in mining centers like Trinity Center, where 200-500 Chinese were employed at Coffee Creek Ditch.
Early settlers to the area did log the area immediately adjacent to Humboldt Bay in order to build their homes, however, early logging efforts focused on smaller trees, as tools brought from the East were built to handle smaller trees. Tanoak was popular in many areas, with the bark used to tan livestock hides. Bundles of this bark were stacked onto carts and carried by wagon trains along early roads in Humboldt county to port towns for export. Logging tools that traveled to Humboldt county with immigrants and merchants were not designed for the redwood trees of unusual size in Humboldt County- in the occasion that a large tree or stump had to be removed, loggers would drill holes into the tree, pack it with dynamite, and blow up the tree. It was a matter of time until advancements were made to capitalize on the giant trees and endless forests. Innovations, management expertise, and luck under the guidance of John Dolbeer, William Carson, and other enterprising men led to the construction of mills around Humboldt Bay. New inventions and technologies invented in Humboldt County like the double band saw, Steam Donkey, and Bull Donkey revolutionized the logging industry on the whole and allowed logging companies to speed up all parts of logging and milling, leading to more trees processed at lower costs. Logging companies forayed into the shipbuilding industry as well, to reduce their shipping costs by operating their own ships built from their own timber. With the addition of railroads locally and railroads later connecting Humboldt County to markets in San Francisco, the local and international markets boomed with redwood.
One often overlooked and short lived industry was oil drilling. Oil in Humboldt County was found as early as 1857 but was overshadowed by the rush to the gold mines, which offered the tantalizing chance of making a lot of money with low overhead. It wasn’t until the 1860s that oil was becoming nationally valuable, warranting locals to begin investigating the possibility of drilling for oil in the area.
A backup option was to attach barrels of oil to the sides of mules and send them on overland routes, but it was costly, inefficient, and dangerous. Drilling season was also limited due to rainfall flooding the oil wells. Other regions that drilled for oil were able to out-compete Humboldt County oil, bringing the short-lived oil industry in Humboldt County to an end in 1866. Later attempts were made to revive the industry, but none succeeded due to similar issues, namely cost and transportation.
The natural abundance of the region that became Humboldt County attracted early settlers to the region, tying the early history of the county to the larger history of California and the West as a whole. The towns themselves boomed and busted with the economies, but people began to settle in, starting their families and settling into industries like agriculture, which included farming and raising livestock. We’ll look more into these industries in our next post!
Natural Resource Extractions covers industries that made their money from raw materials- mining, logging, and fishing. These industries were typically what brought people to Humboldt County in the first place. Early settlers sent word back to friends and family of the ‘untapped’ bounty of resources in Humboldt County, which attracted more people to settle the area. The Gold Rush in California brought people to the West Coast in droves in 1849 and 1850 and, when the mining claims didn’t work out, some left while others settled and got into other industries to make a living. Logging prospects brought a number of people from Canada and the northeastern United States to work in logging industries and bountiful fishing opportunities brought in more settlers from Scandinavian countries.
Agriculture includes farming and raising livestock, which have long been staples in Humboldt County’s industrial history. Farming communities established in this period exist in the present, in places like Ferndale, although preferred, money making crops have changed over time due to cultural shifts and blights. Raising cattle and sheep specifically have been longstanding industries in certain parts of the county.
Commerce is an industry that is frequently overlooked- in the early days of Humboldt County and California commerce was where the rags to riches stories often took place. Commercial leaders would got their start by buying goods from San Francisco and bringing them into Humboldt County to sell to miners and other residents at a high markup. This wasn’t unique to Humboldt County, and this practice was common around mining areas across California. Commerce also includes the transportation of goods into and around the county, a feat that was not for the faint of heart. Prior to 1914, transportation in and out of the county was via ship or overland routes, both of which had the possibility of being incredibly dangerous due to weather.
The exhibit explores the three industries through presentations of work processes and tools, and the stories of local individuals who worked in the industries. They are a small sample of those that made a life in Humboldt County’s early days and those that navigated the booms- and busts- of the local economy all those years ago.
This is part 1 of a series on early industries of Humboldt County, stay tuned for part two, where we'll be looking closer at natural resource extraction industries including mining, fishing, logging, and oil.
It's a new year at the Clarke which means a whole new year of exciting events and exhibits! Here's what's new at the Clarke for early 2019:
We're reworking some of our yearly events and adding new ones to the calendar! Be sure to like us on Facebook and join our email list to keep up to date on events as they're announced. (Hover your mouse cursor over the photo and click pause to pause the slideshow below)
Be sure to stop by the Clarke and see what's new!
This week, we'll hear from Brittany Britton, the Registrar-Curator for the Nealis Hall Native American Collections. She'll be discussing sharing the collection through social media via the hashtag #basketoftheday
The collections at the Clarke are large and wide ranging at times. Added to this is the limited exhibition area, we end up with artifacts that don’t get seen regularly or ever. For the last few weeks, Nealis Hall Registrar-Curator Brittany has been sharing videos, photos and information on some of the incredible baskets in the Nealis Hall Native American collection through the hashtag #BasketOfTheDay via our Instagram and Facebook stories. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram to see our collection up close and personal!
Brittany will select a basket or other artifact from the collection to highlight via video and photograph to get a full view of the object. The added benefit of this is a more indepth look, she picks up the basket, showing the inside, all sides and bottom of the basket. Opening lids to look inside when it is a closed vessel, and highlighting use of the object like the salt and pepper shakers from the Hailstone collection.
Here is a quick run through of some more recent #basketoftheday posts:
If there are baskets or items you’d like to see highlighted, please send us a message! We love hearing from visitors and what they get out of the #basketoftheday. We'll also be keeping you up to date on other behind the scenes moments and collection views through our Facebook and Instagram.
This week, we'll hear from Brittany Britton, the Registrar-Curator for the Nealis Hall Native American Collections. She'll be discussing some tips for at home basket storage and care.
At the museum we get questions now and then from visitors who have a basket or a small collection of their own. The general questions are usually identification based, but also around how to take care of these objects in a way that preserves them for a long lifetime.
So a new basket has come into your home, or you have an extensive collection but just are not sure if you are storing things correctly? Here are some simple tips and check ins that you can do with your collection.
The basics come down to handling, storage, and when warranted how to clean your baskets.
When handling other artwork or antique items it is best to understand what vulnerabilities are at play in the structure of the object. When picking up the basket or other object do so with both hands and never grasp by the rim or trust handles to carry the weight of the basket. In some Indigenous traditional world views it is best seen to handle baskets with bare hands as skin contact is important to the life of some items. You can choose to wear gloves like we do at the museum (nitrile is preferred), or the next best bet is to have clean washed hands.
Storage is a common issue for all of us here on the North Coast, we have generally higher levels of humidity to deal with as well as the issues that come along with it. Humidity, light, and temperature are some of the storage variables that we can control. With our humid environment the best we can do generally is to get in-home desiccant pellets that draw moisture from the general area or use dehumidifiers. Generally it is best to store baskets and objects made of other organic materials at 30%-50% relative humidity and at a stable temperature no more that 70°F. This ensures that the organic material will not dry out and become brittle, and also to not promote the growth of mold.
The best level of care is always prevention, if there is a larger issue of cleaning or other maintenance needing to be done, contact a conservation professional.
In the coming year, the Clarke Museum is planning to hold a hands-on workshop for visitors to bring their baskets to learn basic at home care for their collections. Keep an eye out for announcements for this opportunity!
Decking the halls with boughs of holly is a common phrase to hear this time of year with Christmas just around the corner. While working on our Victorian Christmas exhibit, I came across a box labeled "Spool Tree Ornaments" in the museum storage vault. Inside the box were 30-40 decorated wooden spools wrapped in ribbon, sequins, beads and buttons.
The decorated spools remind me of a set of ornaments made by my great grandma in Wisconsin that my mom inherited and that we still use on our Christmas trees today- they're styrofoam spheres wrapped in satin with beads, sequins, lace and other decorations, similar to the ones pictured below. They were popular craft projects in the 1970s (in fact, my great-grandmother made so many of them that all of my mom's 4 other siblings also got their own set of ornaments when she passed away).
Merry Christmas and happy holidays!
For the last few weeks, I’ve been working with two volunteers on a big project: moving our downstairs archive space upstairs to make room for more exhibits on the main floor of the museum. The process lately has involved moving large, flat file cases out of the archive room to a staging area while we prepare their upstairs home and, due to the size of some of the flat file cases, that’s meant we’ve had to take everything out of the drawers, move the drawer, then replace the items once the drawer has been moved. While it takes a while to move things this way, it gives us a chance to get a really good look at some of the things in the collection that we may not otherwise see. This week, those things were a number of WWII Posters produced by the Office of War Information (OWI).
I had seen some of these posters before in the collection and outside of it. Of course the most well known include the Uncle Sam “I want You” pointing signs and Rosie the Riveter “We Can Do It” poster. They’ve transcended WWII era America to become something quickly recognizable (and oftentimes spoofed) however, many of the posters that were produced at the time and appear in the museum collections were rather alarming, with slogans like “a careless word, a needless loss” featuring an unconscious sailor on a beach.
The posters used a variety of symbols and slogans promoting patriotism and support for the war effort, and many were happy individuals supporting the war effort, however some drew on incredibly racist stereotypes or dark subjects. Some of these posters made specific references to negative outcomes, like ships sinking, from people “talking”.
When the WWII period is viewed through these images, a polished, united picture of the population of WWII America arises, which leads to interesting questions on what kind of America people in that period were fighting for in the decision to engage in WWII, and how that image compared to the outcomes reached by the time the war came to an end.
When I visit Founder’s Grove and Women’s Fed, I think of Laura and thank her for her work, and for the work of the women, many now lost to history, who stood with her to save the redwoods.
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