January 18, 2021
What have our staff been up to during these last ten months of sheltering in place? Let's catch up with our Associate Director and History Curator, Eric Stanley, to reflect on 2020 and look forward to 2021.
What does a “normal” day look like for you?
One of the great things about my job is that there are so many different elements to it and not all of my “normal” days are the same. Some days I am deep in research, exploring the Museum’s own collection or delving into other archives, museums, libraries or online sources to pull together the information for an exhibition. Other times, I am talking to artists, scholars, collectors or community members about their stories, histories, or artifacts. A normal day might also mean assisting with the physical installation of an exhibition or preparing for meetings with our History Exhibitions Committee or Collections Committee where we evaluate ideas for exhibitions or objects that might be accepted into the Museum’s permanent collection.
What projects are you currently working on?
Part of the silver lining of the pandemic is the opportunity to look at things from a different angle. One of our adaptations in this time of uncertainty has been to focus our exhibitions on our own collection. We have over 18,000 objects, and many have not been exhibited in decades. I’m currently working on an exhibition where we look at “big things” in our collection. Not only will it look at large objects in a playful way and see what history they have to tell, but it will ask questions about why certain things get preserved and others don’t. What stories get carried forward and remembered? Which tend to be avoided and why? By even looking at history from the simple lens of size- I mean what could be more basic?- some deeper themes emerge.
What project from 2020 are you particularly proud of?
The biggest history exhibition in 2020 was From Suffrage to #MeToo: Groundbreaking Women in Sonoma County. This was our project recognizing the passage of the 19th amendment, giving women the constitutional right to vote. While the Museum’s own collection documents numerous incredible women in history, it is -unfortunately- not that strong in recording the suffrage movement itself. Working with many partners and contributors, we chose to make the exhibition cut across the entire century from 1920 to 2020 and not just focus on suffrage in the early part of the 20th century. Not only were we able to play to the strengths of our own collection, but we created an exhibition that addressed the fight for inclusion and women’s rights across many eras. In a year that provided so many unpleasant surprises, I’m proud that we were able to produce this important exhibition.
What has been the biggest challenge over the last year?
Without doubt, the biggest challenge over the last year was in planning. Exhibitions work on a long timetable, with months or even years of planning. And that’s not even mentioning the public programs and educational material that has to be created to go along with the exhibition. One of the challenges we faced was adapting the programming to go along with our exhibition From Suffrage to #MeToo as it became clear we couldn’t have public gatherings. In a huge team effort, the staff of the Museum managed to create more programming than originally planned and we held virtual programs on everything from the lesbian history of Sonoma County to women in the field of sports journalism.
What projects for 2021 are you particularly excited about?
The project I am most excited about for 2021 is, without doubt, our Sonoma County Stories project, which will create an ongoing exhibition of Sonoma County history. We have not had a broad, long-term history exhibition for well over a decade. At the heart of the project is the video oral history collection created by the Museum in collaboration with journalist and historian Gaye LeBaron. Connecting the first-person accounts in those video interviews with actual, tangible objects in our collection is an exciting process. And, not only will this be a physical exhibition, but the project will also create a vehicle for the Museum to continue collecting stories from a variety of sources- creating a sense of many, diverse voices telling the history of our region in their own words! ...Did I say I was excited?! There will be important updates coming in the near future on this project and I encourage everyone to look for those.
Eric Stanley is the Associate Director and Curator of History at the Museum of Sonoma County. He works with the community and behind the scenes to highlight the incredible stories of Sonoma County’s history. He is responsible for creating the historical elements of all exhibitions and helps oversee the Museum’s extensive permanent collection. He has curated exhibitions on everything from the history of the environmental movement to rock and roll in the north bay. When he is not at the museum, Eric enjoys playing hoops, mixing cocktails, and game night with his family.
You May Also Enjoy
Get to know Eric and learn about his favorite exhibition, "Hole in the Head: The Battle for Bodega Bay and the Birth of the Environmental Movement (1958-1964)."
The mission of the Museum of Sonoma County is to engage and inspire our diverse community with art and history exhibitions, collections, and public programs that are inclusive, educational, and relevant.