Collections June 2018: An Ohlone Basket

Ohlone basket

At the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, we are fortunate to be able to provide local residents and visitors access to one the few existing historical Ohlone baskets. Many of the remaining historical Ohlone baskets are in museums as far away as Europe and even Russia. Here, so close to its origin, it can better be seen within its historical and cultural context.

Our records describe this basket as a “relic of Mission Santa Cruz.” Location of origin helps us understand the history of baskets in cases like this, where we do not have any information about the weaver. Looking at historical baskets, basketry scholars also rely on the presence of technical features that distinguish the baskets from those of other California tribes to identify baskets made by Ohlone peoples, as well as the date the basket was collected and any history of being handed down in local families. The necessity of relying on these clues is partly due to the legacy of colonization. Cultural interruption like that of the Spanish mission system disrupted Native lifeways and traditions through the use of forced manual labor, severe punishments, and the spread of deadly disease.

In about 1885, fifty years or so after the Mission system was officially ended, this basket was collected by James Frazier Lewis. A Santa Cruz resident, Lewis was the son of Patty Reed Lewis, a survivor of the infamous Donner Party. This Ohlone basket was gifted by Robert Knapp, an heir to the Lewis estate, in 1945 to the Museum, where it has been on display or on loan at various points throughout its history.

The basket itself is a gift or funeral basket, made from both traditional, local materials and non-native materials, using traditional techniques. It is coiled to the left, and utilizes willow and bracken root fern. Like many baskets of the region, this basket has been adorned with beadwork. Traditionally the beads would be made from olivella shell disks. However, it was not uncommon to see European glass beads on these baskets, as is the case with this month’s Close-Up. These beads were typical of trade in the 1860s. These beads were sewn on with a single stitch of split willow. With the exception of a few red ones, the beads are white, which gives them a more traditional appearance. According to Christopher Moser in his Native American Basketry of Central California, this basket was originally decorated with Mallard Duck feathers and red Woodpecker scalps between the rim and first row of beadwork.

Because of its history, the basket offers researchers an opportunity to better understand early California, including the ways that the Missions impacted traditional domestic practices and the made-for-sale basketry trade. It also provides us a chance to better understand the role of indigenous women and their work in native life, both prior, during and post-Mission era. And while many may think that basketry is a relic of the past, it is also still very much a living, vibrant practice carried out by today’s Native communities throughout the state and the country. This basket serves as a wonderful connection between the present and past, and is an invaluable reminder of the culture and history contained within it.

Guest Author Maggie Hames was a 2018 SCMNH Collections Intern with a focus on digitization California basketry. Her original post has been updated by Collections Manager Kathleen Aston.

June 2018: Celebrating the Magic of Summer

Kids at Natural Bridges

Summer, like no other time, is the season we most associate with being outside.

For the Central Coast, summer may not always be the warmest part of the year. But with its long days, school breaks and family vacations, summer typically affords us more time than any other to recreate, travel to new places or our favorite spots, and discover new things about the natural world.

Summer kick-off festival
Summer Kick-Off Festival, 2017

The Museum will once again be a destination for all ages this summer as we ramp up new exhibits, public programming and, of course, summer camps. It all starts June 1, when we premiere the first of three Summer Art Series exhibitions and free First Friday receptions. We kick it off with Margaret Niven, an accomplished Tannery Arts Center artist whose show, Trees of Coastal California, will deepen our appreciation for the beauty and diversity of the trees around us. Shows in July and August will feature Diana Walsworth and Linda Cover, respectively, whose shows are titled Brink-The Art of Conservation and Nature in the Round and Square. Each of our First Friday receptions is open to the public from 5-7 p.m.

On June 23, we will officially welcome summer with the free, family-friendly Summer Kick-Off Festival, both inside the Museum and outside in Tyrrell Park. The full-day festival will feature kids’ music, food trucks, science-based games and live animals. New this year, we also welcome several partnering organizations, such as the Museum of Art & History, Museum of Discovery, and Watsonville Wetlands Watch, to name just a few.

2017 Summer Camp
Summer Camps, 2017

Lastly, in July and August, the hustle and bustle of school-year classroom visits will be replaced with the exciting energy of our summer camps for kids in grades K-5. Participants in the “Art and Science of Nature” camps will experience outdoor investigations and hands-on art projects, while the “Biomimicry Camp” will draw inspiration from nature to solve design challenges and generate ideas for a more sustainable life on earth. Both camps offer exciting field trips. Our third camp, “Can You Dig It?” will offer campers the opportunity to become junior paleontologists, geologists, and biologists as they dig into the world of fossils, bones, rocks, and dirt. “Can You Dig It?” is sold out but there is still time to apply to the other camps. And scholarships are available for qualifying families.

We hope you will join us this summer for these and other engaging opportunities to explore the wonders of nature.

See you soon at the Museum,

Heather Moffat McCoy
Executive Director

Joanne Curby: Seabright Neighborhood Liaison

Joanne Curby, Seabright Neighborhood Liaison

Joanne Curby is a familiar face around our beloved Seabright neighborhood. She is our liaison with the Seabright Neighborhood Association, which is a co-sponsor of the June 23rd Summer Kick-Off Festival.

Joanne, who is a member of the Museum’s Pat & Kirk Smith Club, is a key link between the Museum and residents who live in the charming homes surrounding our historic building and adjacent Tyrrell Park.

“The Museum is the gem of our neighborhood—a place you can come to both enjoy and take something away,” Joanne said. “When you come though the doors of this place, you will learn something or see something very interesting, and sometimes even astonishing.”

Joanne is fond of Albert Einstein’s quote: “Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.”

A Seabrightan since 1991, Joanne retired in 2007 from a 27-year career serving the City of Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation Department at the Louden Nelson Community Center, where she enjoyed maintaining the facility and spending time with seniors, veterans and other frequent visitors to the center.

Joanne enjoys taking care of summer homes for neighbors and looking in on older friends. An open-water swimmer, Joanne also is a member of the Swimming Masters Program at UC Santa Cruz and she climbs at Seabright’s Pacific Edge, which like the Neighborhood Association is a Member of the Museum’s Business Partnership Program.

Thank you for all your support, Joanne!

May 2018: Protecting Endangered Species

California condor
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

When we talk about engaging in stewardship of the natural world, we might be tempted to think of nature as it exists today. But the one sure thing about nature is that it is always changing—adapting to its own forces as well as those contributed by human factors. For many, the defining motivation behind stewardship is the desire to act in the present to positively impact the future—thinking about how actions we take now can improve conditions in nature.

As our natural resources respond—positively and negatively—to our actions, we must wonder what “nature” will look like to future generations who have never had the chance to see the Great Barrier Reef, an old-growth redwood forest, or a flock of snowy plovers. Will we be able to preserve critical species and habitats, and with what tools and resources? What role can we play individually to preserve something that is meaningful to us?

On May 17, the Museum will host the next installment of our bi-annual Rio Theatre Speaker Series with a panel discussing “Tales from the Brink: Recovering Endangered Species in California.” Moderated by California’s Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird, the presentation will feature status updates by three scientific experts on the California Condor, Southern Sea Otter and Salmonids—all currently listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The panel will explore how everyone from policymakers, researchers and individual community scientists on the Central Coast has a part in pulling these populations back from the brink of extinction. Secretary Laird, a former Assemblymember and Santa Cruz mayor, will provide a larger context about the status of species protection in California. I hope you will join us for what promises to be an engaging, informative program.

In addition to the Rio Theatre talk, I also hope you will visit us at the Museum for one or more of our other upcoming events, including our May 4 First Friday free science illustration demonstrations featuring exhibitors from The Art of Nature and our May 12 workshop “Seeds of Knowledge” highlighting strategies for habitat plant restoration and field sketching.

As always, we look forward to seeing you at the Museum, and appreciate your support.

Thank you,

Heather Moffat McCoy
Executive Director

May 2018: Paleobotany

Spring is coming along nicely at the Museum. We’re super excited about our blooming garden and growing programs related to native plants. For May’s Collection Close-Up, we have arranged a tour of our fossil plant garden. Rather than heading outside, this garden tour will take us into the paleobotany shelves of our paleontology cabinets.

Paleobotany, or fossil plants, is an interdisciplinary field relying on both botanical and geological expertise to investigate questions related to the evolution and natural history of plants. By studying fossil plant material, paleobotanists learn about the ancient organism and also delve into questions such as whether the specimen has close living relatives, how the fossil’s anatomy compares to that of modern plants, what the specimen can tell us about the relationship of different layers of rock and what the specimen can tell us about the the environmental conditions in which it lived.

Not all plant material is resilient enough to be preserved; often it decays or is consumed before it can be buried (and be on its way to fossilization). As a result, plant fossils typically consist of parts of the plant — most commonly, individual leaves or stem pieces. They are also often  preserved as imprints of the original specimen in the rock which holds them instead of preserved material itself. There is still surprisingly a lot of information you can gleam from incomplete fossil plants — from size and shape of the fossil to specific structures, such as veins, thorns and even individual cells under the right magnification.

Here are some of the beautiful specimens from our fossil garden and the stories they tell:

Foissilized Cordia leaf
Cordia leaf

Cordia leaf (Monterey Formation, Miocene epoch). Leaf fossils are the most common macroscopic remains of plants. With its clear leaf shape and veins, this specimen can be identified as a member of the Cordia genus.

Fossilized stem

Stem (Monterey Formation, Miocene epoch). This impression of a stem was found by a Soquel High student in the 1970s. If you look at it closely, you can see the impressions of the plant’s thorns, which are identified in this image by white arrows.

Fossilized Annularia leaf
Annularia leaf

Annularia leaf (Francis Creek Shale, Pennsylvanian epoch). This distinctive whorl of leaflets along a stem belongs to a member of the extinct Calamites family, a tree-like relative of modern horsetail plants. This specimen is one of several in our collection (like the one below) from the Francis Creek Shale, a famous fossil locality known for its unusual preservation of soft-tissued organisms within rounded nodules of rock.

Fossilized fern leaf
Fern leaf

Fern leaf (Francis Creek Shale, Pennsylvanian epoch). This beautiful impression of a fern is another great example from the Francis Creek Shale. Both fossil ferns and sphenopsids (like Annularia above) are commonly found within the rock formation, as are a wide variety of uniquely preserved land and marine fauna.

For a closer look at these fossils, as well as other exhibits and gardens, stop by the Museum through June to look our Collections Close-Up.

Meredith Jacobson: Education Coordinator (Field Programs)

Meredith Jacobson, Education Coordinator

As the Museum’s Education Coordinator for Field Programs, Meredith Jacobson embodies our organization’s mission on almost a daily basis. Leading our nature-based school programs and camps, Meredith has been directly connecting local kids to nature for the last two years.

Prior to working at the Museum, Meredith studied forestry and natural resources at UC Berkeley and worked for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, where she helped manage the Soquel State Demonstration Forest. She joined the Museum in November 2016 and now leads field trips in Pogonip and Neary Lagoon, as well as the Museum’s Spring and Summer Camps.

“There is never a dull moment working with the Museum’s field programs,” Meredith said. “Every time I’m out in nature with kids I learn something new, or a kid helps me see or think about something in a different way.”

Meredith said a highlight from this year’s Spring Camp was when the 6- and 7-year-old participants each painted a wooden sign for the Museum’s garden. “I hope they feel they’ve left their mark as a steward of this place and continue to come back to see how the plants have grown as they themselves are growing up,” Meredith said.

Meredith will leave the Museum soon to attend graduate school at Oregon State University, where she will study community engagement and collaboration in the management of forest ecosystems.

“Through this program I plan to combine my past experience in forestry with the skills I’ve developed at the Museum as an educator and communicator,” Meredith said. “I hope to help people become not just passive observers but active participants in the stewardship and management of the landscapes around them.”