Opening January 2020, California Stories from Thámien to Santa Clara is the museum's permanent history exhibition that traces aspects of Ohlone heritage, Mission period history, Californio lifestyles, and early Santa Clara College events, to offer insight into the changes across Santa Clara Valley and the roots of Santa Clara University.
Since the late 1970s, the de Saisset Museum has offered a permanent history exhibition. The former exhibition, California History, underwent several changes and developments over the decades with the addition of new artifacts and interpretive information, but since 2015, the museum has undergone a focused, concerted project of redesigning the messaging and offerings of this exhibition.
Working with members of the Ohlone community, SCU faculty and staff in related fields, and subject matter experts from across the Bay Area, the museum has developed a new exhibition that helps to better tell the complex history of the site where Santa Clara University sits today.
Santa Clara University is located on the traditional homeland of the Ohlone and the story of Thámien and of Santa Clara University are very much intertwined. It is a story of innovation, revitalization, and survival. It is also a story of colonization and assimilation. It is a story that continues to unfold today.
While many of the artifacts and photographs in the previous exhibition are still present, the new exhibition features additional artifacts and historical objects as well as contemporary replicas, murals, and other features that help to tell the story of the transformation of Santa Clara Valley, the establishment of Santa Clara University, and the continued presence of the Ohlone people. Among the new additions are two large murals that depict aspects of Ohlone life prior the arrival of the Spanish in the 1700s; a life-size tule boat and several baskets created by Ohlone artist Linda Yamane; and an adobe brick display created in consultation with Gil Sanchez (the adobe preservationist and architect responsible for the rebuilding of Mission San Jose in Fremont, CA).
The de Saisset Museum serves as the caretaker of Santa Clara University's California History Collection. This important collection, which is on permanent view, includes Native American art and artifacts from the pre-European contact period, such as baskets, jewelry, ornaments, and hand tools. Other highlights of the California History Collection include the distinctive Mission Collection, which ranges from Spanish Colonial devotional art—including religious paintings and santos dating from the 18th century—to 19th century gothic style decorative arts.
Through historical objects and artifacts, the California History Collection tells the history of the area from the pre-contact period to the founding of Mission Santa Clara de Asís, through the Gold Rush and early years of the College. This collection forms the basis of the Museum's educational programming—an active program of free docent tours that cover the Mission and the California History Collection. Every year, thousands of children from the Santa Clara Valley and beyond are introduced to their region's history through this tour program.
Images left to right: Tule reeds, photo courtesy Greg Pio; Ceiling of Mission Santa Clara, photo courtesy Chuck Barry; Exterior of Mission Santa Clara, photo couresty Joanne Lee.