Meet Penny Rich, one of our ardent supporters and a regular at our many special events. You may have met Penny at one of our exhibit openings, or even down in the garden with clippers-in-hand at a Saturday in the Soil.
Penny is a familiar face in the Seabright neighborhood, having moved to Santa Cruz over 20 years ago. Her outdoors-loving family enjoys a long tradition of supporting community-focused libraries, open spaces and museums.
“It’s so nice to have the Museum in our neighborhood,” she says. “It’s unique, it’s intimate, I like the wildlife, and I like the new and different exhibits!”
Her granddaughters first brought her to the Museum, where they often visited the sea stars and other marine creatures in our intertidal touch pool. “I even have a picture of all seven of them on the whale!”
Penny is an educator. For two decades she taught students at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California, both the history and culture of Latin America, from Mexico and Central America to Peru.
Her interests brought her to Mayan and Incan ruins in a historical trip through Latin America, where she met her husband. She continued teaching once back in Santa Cruz, where she taught English as a second language for 12 years, and eventually claimed the helm at her family’s flexible packaging business in southern San Francisco.
As a teacher, Penny enjoys seeing the Museum’s education team bring science education to Santa Cruz’s students through its robust programs.
“I really admire them,” she says. “They’re enthusiastic, they make it interesting and they really keep the kids engaged!”
Often in the coldest months we express our warmest feelings. When remembering old friends fondly you might send an email or post a throwback photo — in the 1890s you might have dedicated a book of poems. December’s Close-Up is “From California,” a beautiful folio of poems and paintings whose cover has graced our social media pages before. This month we dive deeper!
The dedication at the front of the folio announces: “To my lifelong friend, Smith Griffith, these verses are affectionately dedicated. Bart Burke Santa Cruz, Calif. Dec 20, 1890.” The author, Bartemus Burke, was born in Richmond, Indiana, and served as Santa Cruz Postmaster from 1887 to 1890. His poems, penned in fine calligraphy, speak of the joys of the Santa Cruz landscape, the delights of encountering nature and the return of wildflower season.
A page illustrated by the bursting reds of blooming thistles, for example, reads, “Clad are we in armor gray/Till the merry month of May/Then our scarlet plumes and gay/Don we for a holiday.” We have fewer details about Burke’s lifelong friend, Griffith. We do have a local news report, unearthed by Geoffrey Dunn in his research for Santa Cruz is in the Heart Volume II, declaring that Griffith would “not receive a souvenir of lovelier conception and design than th[is] one from Santa Cruz.”
The loveliness of this work comes not from the poems alone but from the breathtaking landscape and wildflower oil paintings that illustrate them, created by the gifted Santa Cruz artist Lillian Augusta Howard. Howard was born in 1856 and came to Santa Cruz in the early 1880s. She taught art, botany and English at Santa Cruz High, where she would later become Vice Principal.
Enchanted by the natural world, she took enrichment classes, learning how to teach students about marine plants and animals. She worked across a few mediums, including pen and ink drawings and photography. But she is best known as a watercolorist of wildflowers and landscapes.
In the late 1800s, Howard and others were fueling interest in elevating the California poppy, Eschscholzia californica, to something more than the unofficial state poppy. After holding an evening session on “Floral Culture, Wild Flowers and Ornamental Plants” at the 14th annual California State Fruit Growers’ Convention in Santa Cruz, November 1890, the flower-enamored educator opened a discussion on the proposal of a state flower.
To enhance the conversation, she showed paintings of several contenders, including the California poppy. A lively dialogue ensued, and was concluded by an impromptu vote. The California poppy won the lion’s share of votes. Formal legislature made it official in 1903.
As we wait for wildflowers to return, perhaps even the arrival California Poppy Day on April 6th, we might enjoy making a memento for a friend or loved one. If you have any special someones who would enjoy a personalized gift card or handmade nature craft, swing by our upcoming Winter Open House this weekend, Dec. 1 – 2, and dive into the holiday activities. Whether through art or exploration, with personal sentiment or historical significance, may we all enjoy the natural wonders of Santa Cruz this December!
Brendan heard the call of natural history early on, when he first peered through the foggy glass of a tarantula’s terrarium in his kindergarten classroom. While others enjoyed beautiful birds, graceful whales or majestic trees, his fascination with all things biological was sparked by a hairy, venomous arachnid. Soon enough, his bedroom shelves were filled with natural history books, snake skins and terrariums.
Brendan later pursued his scientific interests at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he earned his B.S. in ecology and evolutionary biology. While studying tarantula courtship abroad in Costa Rica’s cloud forests, he reaffirmed the idea that he loved talking and writing about science more than practicing it. Once home again in Santa Cruz, he completed the Science Communication Program at UCSC in 2016.
He enjoyed roughly two years of freelance science communication, working with scientific nonprofits and digital magazines to highlight new findings in geophysics and biological science before uniting with the Museum. Today, Brendan is the Museum’s Community Relations Manager.
He enjoys promoting the Museum’s extensive programming and events, and highlighting Santa Cruz’s rich natural history through the Museum’s social media channels. He also lovingly cares for the Museum’s oldest resident: Prometheus, the California kingsnake.
“Santa Cruz and the surrounding Bay Area hold a wealth of natural history, from slippery newts to secretive mountain lions,” he says. “And with research institutions abound, there’s an endless supply of new discoveries to unpack and explore!”
In his spare time, Brendan teaches jiu jitsu — a martial art whose aim is to incapacitate through choke holds and joint locks — in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He continues to report scientific findings as a freelance science communicator, and adores hiking and herping throughout the Bay Area with his dog, Baph, and partner, Julia.
For the past few months, we’ve been very excited to partner with the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band in presenting a series of talks, walks and workshops that highlight the past and present of the Native Peoples of California’s central coast. One of our exhibit halls, the Ohlone room, is permanently dedicated to exhibiting artifacts that offer insight into this part of history.
These include several large mortars and pestles which were used to pulverize or smash natural materials. They were especially useful in processing larger food substances, like acorns. November’s Close-Up expands this picture by showing another type of stone tool that hasn’t been on regular display: a metate, or milling stone.
The word “metate” is from the borrowing of the original Nahautl word, “metatl.” Metates are used with a mano, or handstone, to apply pressure to the materials that one is milling or grinding. When we think of metates, we typically think of the traditional Mexican, footed metate still widely used today to grind corn for masa.
In the Museum’s Hecox collection, we have a typical example (pictured below) of this style that was collected in the 1880s. Both metates and manos, and mortars and pestles, are types of querns: the broad term for a hand mill used for grinding materials.
Metates often take the form of rectangular slabs with a single shallow depression on one side, across which a mano was pushed in a back and forth motion. However, these traits varied across Native Californian tribes.
Due to their shape, metates can be hard to distinguish from natural rocks. Indeed, the nature of a rock was a big factor in whether to use a stone as a tool (softer stones make it easier to mold an impression, for example). The first metate depicted in this month’s Close-Up is from the Soquel area, and you can see that is has a flat work surface across the top.
Metates used by the Ohlone were sometimes used on both sides, and often with the lesser-used, circular motion of grinding. While metates were often used for milling smaller seeds, they could also be used to process other plant materials and even meat from small animals.