In Memoriam: Richard Gurnee

From the glorious wingspan of our golden eagle to the small haunches of our slender salamander, our taxidermy displays are an impactful tool for connecting people to science and nature. For half a century, we have been lucky enough to build out this toolkit with specimens from a local pioneer in the ancient tradition of taxidermy. It is in the memory of this good fortune that we reflect on the life of local taxidermist Richard Gurnee, who passed away this fall.

From the glorious wingspan of our golden eagle to the small haunches of our slender salamander, our taxidermy displays are an impactful tool for connecting people to science and nature. For half a century, we have been lucky enough to build out this toolkit with specimens from a local pioneer in the ancient tradition of taxidermy. It is in the memory of this good fortune that we reflect on the life of local taxidermist Richard Gurnee, who passed away this fall. 

Gurnee, a thoughtful man who radiated warmth and knowledge, was also an artist who excelled at preserving the animal world through freeze-dry taxidermy. This unique process of Gurnee’s own invention enabled him to preserve challenging specimens with minimal construction of otherwise typical physical supports. From the bright plumage of traditional game birds to the unusual preservation of a sea anemone, his taxidermy process captured tremendous diversity. Gurnee’s distinctive work is an endless inspiration. A closer look at his specimens, like our taxidermied octopus, can teach us not only about the creature itself, but also about the history of the science and art of taxidermy

Some have been lucky enough to take field trips to his Watsonville-based shop – just over ten years ago, museum staff and volunteers got to explore Gurnee’s studio as part of an enrichment experience. As we reflect on the legacy of this incredible naturalist, artisan, and community member, we wanted to share some highlights of that experience for those of us who did not get the chance to explore Gurnee’s studio while he was still with us.

Gurnee’s work has brought us closer to our nonhuman neighbors, as well as more exotic and endangered animals, for more than five decades. Given the nature of taxidermy, it will continue to do so for many years, just as Gurnee’s legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of nature nerds in the Central Coast and beyond.

In Memory of John Anderson

With immense gratitude, the Museum acknowledges the incredible life of John Anderson, who passed away this April. In 1974 John began his 24-year tenure at the Museum, skillfully coordinating the many hats of exhibit installations, public events, and volunteer programs.

To his colleagues and the members of the public, John was an inspiration. 

Longtime friend and first full time Museum Curator Charles Prentiss, speaking in honor of John, underscored how John’s dedication, generosity, and love of life and community service “has enriched all of our lives and the lives of generations to come.” 

That richness is vividly apparent in the life of our Museum. From early iterations of the Fungus Fairs to the first Spring Wildflower Show and the origins of the Art of Nature exhibit — John’s work at the museum facilitated wondrous community natural history happenings. Museum newsletters describe his tireless pursuit of exhibit specimens — including a road-killed skunk still display. Newsletters also speak to the enhancement of docent programs, the expansion of field trip programs for underserved communities, and the establishment of class visits to the newly built indoor tidepool — led by John.

John helped to orchestrate the campaign of fundraising, lectures, walk-a-thons, and community engagement that brought the beloved life-size gray whale sculpture to Tyrrell Park. He was thrilled to see this dream become a reality. This October will be the whale’s fortieth birthday, and we continue to see that enthusiasm reflected in the community each day — in the laughter of climbing children, the delighted stares of beachgoers and the daily pilgrimage of joggers.

John Anderson’s rich legacy is also apparent in other local institutions. In conjunction with other museum and city staff and community groups like the Santa Cruz Longboard Union and the Westside Longboard Coalition, John was instrumental in the 1986 establishment of the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum. His efforts led one city employee to describe him as “the wave under our surfboard.”  

Former Museum Registrar Sally Legakis talked with us about how John’s love of nature was contagious and his knowledge of natural history deep rooted. He led field trips, identified specimens for public inquiries, and helped Sally navigate the contents of the collections. Bolstered by his warmth and generosity, John’s knowledge enabled him to connect people with science and nature in a way that was truly remarkable, and that rings true to our ongoing mission.

I never had the pleasure of working with John Anderson myself, but as the Collections Manager, I have the privilege of maintaining our institutional memory of him. I am often in awe of what our small but mighty team has achieved over our decades-long history, and John is a standout in that impressive crowd. When I think of where he stands out in our collections, I am drawn to our institutional archives featuring years of fun photos that capture key museum moments. Whether he’s leaning into a fern or photographing a fungus, cleaning a tidepool tank or teaching a class program, John is always in the thick of things. He always seems deeply engaged in the moment, hands-on and joyful. Our Museum would not be what it was today if John had not chosen to engage deeply with his work, his community, and the natural world in and around Santa Cruz. 

We are so grateful to John and to those who follow in his footsteps.  

John’s family has organized a page on the online memory platform Kudoboard where folks can share stories and pictures, or just read and reminisce about this incredible person. The contents of the site will be made into a book for the family to cherish.

Written by Kathleen Aston, Collections Manager, 2022

Natalie Wollman: Communication Coordinator

In Germany, Bavaria, Natalie grew up with the beautiful Alps mountain range in her backyard, and her parents took her hiking and exploring nature from an early age. Having the forest and river close by were her favorite playgrounds, and she says, “I am grateful that my parents taught me at an early age the love for nature and an appreciation that we live on a beautiful planet in an amazingly diverse space that we call home.”

Exploring is in Natalie’s soul. She chose a career that allowed her to travel and see the world—becoming a colorist working for the media industry on three continents in thirteen different countries fulfilled that wish. It allowed her to create TV commercials all over Europe, living and working in Poland, Ukraine, India, Mumbai, Africa, Cape Town, and the Middle East. Once she stepped out of the studio, she had the opportunity to explore the foreign countries’ various environments.

The rapid transformation in the advertising and film industry into the digital space inspired Natalie, by the age of 36, to work with the new marketing medium and support small businesses and non-profits to reach their digital marketing goals. Before moving to Santa Cruz, she worked on campaigns for the SOS Children Village, which provides humanitarian and developmental assistance to children in need and protects their interests and rights worldwide.

In 2017, Natalie moved from Germany to Santa Cruz, where she fell in love with Redwoods of Henry Cowell, Big Sur, and the fantastic diversity of Santa Cruz nature. Today, she is fond of hiking is the Pinnacle National Park southeast of Santa Cruz, home of the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) one of the most endangered birds in the world. “It is fascinating to me, that we managed, thanks to science and efforts in the 1980ies, to rewrite history and bring this species back to life,” says Natalie. 

Joining the museum combines her passion for protecting the environment, education, and support for young people to discover a new perspective. Supporting the museum’s mission to engage more people and inspire them to become stewards of our earth by understanding and enjoying the beauty and wonders of this beautiful place we call home is a calling and a dream come true. 

Emily Antonino: Education Assistant

Emily grew up in Santa Cruz and has enjoyed its natural beauty throughout her life by going to the beach, hiking in the redwoods, and watching sunsets on the cliffs. She traveled to California’s Central Valley to run intercollegiate track and field and to obtain her Bachelor of Arts degree in Plant Biology at University of California, Davis. She discovered her enthusiasm for outdoor science education at the UC Davis Student Farm. 

She strives to ignite curiosity and empathy for the natural world in every person she encounters, making her the perfect addition to our Museum team. Emily says, “I am excited to be surrounded by people who are as interested in nature and science as I am. I hope to learn more about local natural history and gain a deeper connection with my surroundings, and I am looking forward to sharing newfound knowledge with others.” 

Emily is inspired by the creative force of nature that invites many different ways of living. As she says, “ It teaches us to be open, accepting, and that there is no single right answer.” 

When not teaching science, Emily loves running on all the trails around Santa Cruz, from redwoods to cliffs to meadows, enjoying all the many different things to see.

Shelly Logan: Visitor Services Representative

Shelly was born in Santa Cruz, grew up in Sonoma County, and came right back to town the day she graduated high school. She went to UCSC for Sociology and has been working as a counselor for former foster youth since graduating. Shelly also  took time off to do a bunch of wwoofing (world wide opportunities on organic farms) in New Zealand, Oregon, Hawaii, and around Europe. 

This experience was driven by a huge interest in growing food, and most recently she worked on a sustainable agriculture certificate through Shone Farm. Shelly also works periodically for a few wineries in town helping out in the cellar when her friend winemakers need a hand. In addition to all this, she currently propagates succulents and rare house plants for a local nursery. 

While these jobs all keep her busy, she is “very excited about her newest work here at the museum!” As a Visitor Service Representative, Shelly can be seen at the front desk of the Museum, primarily on Fridays. Her favorite things at the Museum are the beehive and its outdoor spaces. 

Not surprisingly, she is most interested in botany and soil health and is inspired by nature’s tendency towards diversity and connectedness. Specifically, she is fascinated by mycorrhizae’s role in fungi/plant relationships, and the dynamic complexity of soil ecosystems. 

“I am excited about the potential soil has to store carbon through regenerative farming practices, and plan to continue my education in this subject,” says Shelly. Next time you see Shelly at the Museum or around town, join us in welcoming her and be sure to nerd out with her about plants.

Selena Stein: Visitor Services Representative

If you’ve visited the Museum on the weekend lately, you may have seen a new smiling face greeting you at the front desk — that of Selena Stein, our Visitor Services Representative who joined us as we reopened our doors this past spring. Selena grew up in Santa Cruz County and even volunteered as a teenager here at the Museum, leading tours and sharing her passion for this land we are lucky to call home.

College in the stunning Pacific Northwest took her away from Santa Cruz, but not for long. Since she returned in 2011 she has worked with children and found nonprofits to be a perfect outlet for serving her community. She is thrilled to be back at the Museum and delights in conversations with visitors of all ages.

“It is such an honor to be part of the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History’s dynamic team. I adore this beautiful space and eagerly welcome guests of all ages,” said Selena.

As part of our Visitor Services team, Selena excels at making our visitors feel welcome and is delighted to connect community members with the natural world. In her own words, “My goal now is to support visitors to feel comfortable and engaged so they want to connect with and better care for the earth,” which makes her the perfect addition to our organization.

When not representing the Museum at the front desk, Selena can be found outdoors playing in nature with her husband, daughter, and puppy. Her happy place is under the great redwoods and dipping her feet in the ample water sources here in Santa Cruz County. 

Join us in welcoming Selena to the Museum!

Rocio Sánchez-Nolasco: Public Programs Coordinator

Meet Rocio Sánchez-Nolasco, our Public Programs Coordinator, and newest member of the Museum team. Rocio grew up in Santa Cruz County and has cultivated her life-long appreciation for nature through gardening and by exploring local wetlands, beaches, and forests.

Like many locals, Rocio recognizes how special our region is. “I was fascinated and inspired by the diversity of habitats in the Central Coast, and beyond,” she said. “I think knowing that there is always something new out there to learn about constantly motivates and inspires me to research and get out in nature more.”

Rocio graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles with a B.A. in Art History and a minor in Digital Humanities. While at UCLA, Rocio learned about the importance of museum education and public programming in helping bridge a sense of community among people of all walks of life and cultivating knowledge through different perspectives.

“My favorite thing about museums is that they can provide a space for new knowledge and curiosities to spark intrigue, community, and learning in an unparalleled way,” said Rocio.

In her short time here at the Museum, Rocio has already brought our community together through outdoor events such as Saturdays in the Soil and Out and About, and she continues to support our Public Programs department behind the scenes in a multitude of ways. She is excited to continue to share her passion for local ecology and museums by helping others learn and connect to nature.

In her spare time, Rocio can be found at the beach, watching horror films, or making art. One of her favorite outdoor spaces to visit locally is the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve where she enjoys viewing the vast number of plants, birds, and marine mammals that rely on this critical wetland habitat.

Please join us in welcoming Rocio!

Ellen Stone: Education Assistant

Ellen Stone began her journey with the Museum as an event and outreach volunteer, but she joined our staff this past September as one of our intrepid Education Assistants.

In her role here, she can often be found leading school field trips at the Museum or out in nature. Ellen recalls a touching moment with one child while teaching a Nature Rangers program at Pogonip: “A little girl was following me around asking questions and so I lead her to a small spring in the ground where water was bubbling up. She sat there in awe with her eyes on the spring after we talked about what it was, and later came up to me to thank me for showing her. Sweet moments like these make me feel grateful to be able to weave my passions and values into the work I do every day in order to help children grow their relationships with nature.”

Ellen spent her own childhood peering into creeks, hiking in the mountains, and visiting the Natural History Museum in her hometown of Santa Barbara. She made her way up to the land of the redwoods to attend UC Santa Cruz, obtaining her B.S. in Environmental Studies. Since graduating, she has focussed her time on being outdoors, helping children make connections with the natural world. 

Both at the Museum and at home, she also loves finding ways to combine her love of art and nature through a variety of mediums and is always excited to try something new – from natural dyes, to weaving baskets, to nature journaling. Her appreciation for the natural world grows with every plant she respectfully uses for a project or for every landscape that she documents through sketching. 

Please join us in welcoming Ellen to the team!

Alex Krohn: Community Partner

A naturalist is someone who studies the patterns of nature. They seek to deepen our understanding of the natural world by observing the interconnected relationships of living things and their environments. Or in other words: Alex Krohn.

“Santa Cruz has the highest density of naturalists per capita of anywhere I’ve been, and I know the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History plays a large role in fostering, supporting, and helping grow that community. That’s something I absolutely support, and something I’m proud to be a part of,” said Alex — a Member, program provider, and collaborative partner of the Museum.

Alex has helped to facilitate a number of loans from the Kenneth S. Norris Center for Natural History to our Museum for events such as our annual Halloween bash, Museum of the Macabre, and exhibits such as the new Mushrooms: Keys to the Kingdom Fungi, January 11-March 1, 2020. He has also led programs for the Museum as a naturalist and frequents our events as a Museum Member. As if that weren’t enough, he is a big fan of our Gift Shop. “So far I’ve done almost all my holiday shopping in the Museum’s gift shop,” he said, which we just love.

Though it is a treat to witness Alex engage on any natural history subject, he is primarily a reptile and amphibian specialist with a PhD in Evolutionary and Conservation Genomics from UC Berkeley. He loves helping connect people with all aspects of nature, both from his post as Assistant Director of the Kenneth S. Norris Center for Natural History at UC Santa Cruz and across the natural lands of Santa Cruz County.

“Santa Cruz County is a truly amazing place,” he said. “We have fantastical species found nowhere else on Earth — from half-dollar sized beetles that only fly at night during the first rains…to multiple manzanita species only present on patches of geologic beach sand that was pushed to the top of a mountain. We have towering redwoods, and sandhill chaparral and coastal grasslands, each more inspiring depending on the day of the week.”

Alex says that his favorite part of his work at the Norris Center is stewarding the collection: “I’m in charge of helping care for, organizing and digitizing more than 130,000 specimens of mostly terrestrial (but some aquatic!) species — from bryophytes to birds.”

Providing access to these collections is paramount for Alex, as is fostering an interest in nature and museums for the students he serves at UC Santa Cruz, many of whom have interned in the Education and Collections Departments of our Museum.

We are grateful to have his support as a local naturalist, important community partner, and engaged Member and friend of the Museum. Explore the wonderful work the Norris Center does by paying them a visit or learning more on their website, and visit some of the mushroom specimens we have on loan from them through our Mushrooms exhibit, opening January 11.

Lisa Robinson: Museum Supporter

Lisa Robinson is a renaissance woman. As President of the board for the San Lorenzo Valley Historical Society, which owns and operates the San Lorenzo Valley Museum, she works on everything from website maintenance to managing collections and curating exhibits. Bringing together knowledge and skills from a wealth of disciplines learned over the course of a varied career, Lisa’s own work mirrors the richness of the many histories she strives to share with her community.

It was Lisa’s career as a Silicon Valley tech engineer that first brought her to the Santa Cruz Mountains. After leaving the tech world to spend more time with her family, Lisa embarked on an educational mission to support her burgeoning interest in history and art. Here she demonstrated her knack for curating coherent stories from various content – she developed her own Historic Preservation certificate from classes already being offered at her alma mater. She has applied these interests and skills to her local museum for nearly 15 years, where she began volunteering as a school programs docent. 

When asked about her favorite pieces at the SLV Museum, she struggles to choose just one. There’s a bound copy of a full year of the newspaper, “Community”, written by a high school teacher with the help of his students; the records from a local judge telling some interesting local stories; a splinter of wood from an infamous stagecoach accident; a wooden box built from the wreckage of the burned Felton Community Hall… Diverse pieces that tell many stories in different ways. The diversity of the collection is one thing she wants folks to know about–there are so many ways to connect with the past and to better consider our current times. 

Lisa’s love of history is also demonstrated in her choices for her favorite nature connections: the redwoods of Henry Cowell, the lime kilns, and an old gnarly tree–the Oldest Inhabitant, on Love Creek Road. These places are not only beautiful pieces of nature, they also tell important stories about the area’s rich history. You can’t tell human history without telling natural history, and this is why Lisa is also a supporter of the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History. She has played a crucial role in our collaborations, and enjoys seeing co-located exhibits at the SLV Museum and the Museum of Natural History. When the same exhibits are shown in each museum, viewing things from the perspective of natural history and cultural history, we have an opportunity to learn something different in each context. 

The role of a museum, according to Lisa, is to tell stories and connect us to history, not as an abstract thing, but as something relevant and important to our contemporary lives. This can be done in many ways, but museums must strive to tell stories from as many perspectives as possible. 

This is an especially exciting challenge when curating an exhibit with community-contributed content like SLV’s upcoming annual holiday collections exhibit. Once the museum receives submissions of objects from local residents, Lisa’s job is to tie them all together in a compelling display that is both relevant and true to their past. In that, she is a shining example and we are proud to have her as part of our Museum community.