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After 50 years on the Santa Clara University campus, the de Saisset Museum still has a bit of an identity crisis.

``I often say that the de Saisset is the undiscovered jewel of the South Bay,'' said Rebecca M. Schapp, director of the museum, which combines art and history.

``People often times think it serves only the campus community. But the emphasis here is on lifelong student and community learning. The exhibitions, collections and educational programs are another teaching source,'' she said.

The ``identity challenge'' is also shared by the Euphrat Museum of Art at De Anza College and the Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University, said Bruce W. Davis, executive director of the Arts Council Silicon Valley.

``They all have a built-in audience, but it's a little more challenging to get the message outside of the campus community,'' Davis said.

The staff at de Saisset, which will mark its 50th anniversary in April, responds to the challenge in a variety of ways.

The museum, housed in a 19,210-square-foot building adjacent to the Mission Santa Clara de Asis, has an ongoing program of films, concerts and lectures. It annually welcomes buses of schoolchildren to its California History Collection, and it hosts multicultural events for university students and the public.

For the past several years, the de Saisset has held a reception for the Arts Council Silicon Valley's ``Arts Connect'' program for troubled student artists.

``They mount a professional exhibit of the students' work,'' Davis said.

The de Saisset is run by the university and is member-supported and privately funded. It and the San Jose Museum of Art are the only two museums in the South Bay accredited by the American Association of Museums.

The museum was founded through the bequest of Isabel de Saisset in memory of her brother Ernest, a SCU student in the 1890s and an accomplished painter. The museum is home to Ernest de Saisset's paintings, as well as his family's decorative arts collection.

The museum's permanent collection contains approximately 10,000 objects that include American, European, African and Asian art.

``I like to say that it's a very motley collection; everything from Native American artifacts to the works of contemporary artists,'' said Karen Kienzle, de Saisset's curator of exhibits and collections.

The California History Collection tells the area's story starting with the pre-mission California Indians and the founding of the Mission Santa Clara de Asis to the Gold Rush and the early years of the university. It features relics and sacramental objects from the original mission.

Besides its permanent displays of art, the de Saisset has six to 12 temporary exhibitions a year. They reflect the core values of the Jesuit university, such as diversity, social justice and the integration of different forms of learning, Kienzle said.

Current exhibits include the paintings of American Indian artist Frank LaPena and the work of Hisako Hibi, a first-generation Japanese-American best known for the paintings she completed at the Tanforan and Topaz, Utah, internment camps during World War II.

On exhibit now through March 11 are the cast acrylic monotypes of Bay Area artist Joseph Zirker, which he created from his patented process for making fine arts prints.

``We try to program exhibits that will resonate with the university and the larger community,'' Kienzle said.

A community celebration of the de Saisset Museum's 50th anniversary is scheduled for April 9.


The de Saisset Museum is at 500 El Camino Real in Santa Clara. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, but visitors are asked to call to confirm that the museum is open. For more information, call (408) 554-4528, or visit the museum's Web site at


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