Past Exhibits

Shadow and Water: Puppets of Indonesia and Vietnam

Enter into a world where the stories of the human experience are brought to life through shadow and water, leather and wood, music and narrative.  Learn about and see a collection of Wayang Kulit and Wayang Golek - shadow puppets of Indonesia and Mua roi nuoc - water puppets of Vietnam.  The collection is on loan to the museum from Rick and Nancy Ostrom, who spent several years living and working in Indonesia.

In the Wayang traditions, shadows are cast upon cloth, with only one dalang, or puppeteer, narrating a story that can lead into the night and include up to 100 puppets.  The tradition, which dates back to 900 CE, was designated a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2003.

Mua roi nuoc, which translates to, “making puppets dance on water,” in Vietnamese, dates back to the 11th century.  The tradition grew from a place were flooded rice fields offered villagers a place to entertain each other with stories of daily life and folktales - using water as the stage.  The shows, which are still performed today, are done in waist deep water, with the puppeteers hidden behind a screen.  The puppets are maneuvered using long bamboo rods that remain underwater and out of sight.

poster with shadow and water puppets for Shadow and Water exhibit.

Hmong Reflections: Stories of Our Own

We all want to know where we came from and where we are going; to reflect on our history and consider our future.  With this in mind, the latest exhibit is a community collaboration between the Chico State museum studies program, The Oroville Hmong Cultural Center, the Hmong Student Association, and many other individuals to tell the story of the Hmong in Butte County.

The story of the Hmong is one of survival and transition; it is a search for freedom.  Hmong culture, history, and identity is shaped by a myriad of hardships and triumphs experienced in Laos and Southeast Asia as well as the United States. Through the narratives of multiple generations of Hmong Americans, told from their own perspectives, this exhibition explores the changing lives of the Hmong people. The stories found here are of strength, courage, determination, dignity, and community. They are reflections of the Hmong – thinking back and looking forward.

Hmong Reflections Exhibit poster - show a hmong story cloth

Dragons: Tails of Myth and Meaning

September 8 - October 8th 2016  Dragons lurk in the collective imaginations of many cultures throughout the world. Some dragon stories embody the most terrible and horrifying aspects of humanity, while others represent the highest ideals of society.  We invite you to discover and explore the dragons of the world. Peak into a dragons cave, touch a dragon’s claw, and see a Chinese Imperial Dragon robe in an interactive exhibit for dragon lovers of all ages. 

poster for Dragon exhibit

Fired Earth: Beauty and Tradition in Asian Ceramics

pottery from Behrick pottery collection

January 27- July 2016  Fired Earth featured the University’s Behrick pottery collection.  The collection encompasses 120 pieces, featuring a variety of rare pieces from China, Korea, and Japan.  The exhibition spaned 2,000 years of creativity and ingenuity, when making the world’s finest porcelain was a carefully guarded Chinese secret. Some of the most notable pieces were from the Ming Dynasty (1350-1600).  Each piece of pottery illustrates a fragment of historical and cultural fluidity ebbing and flowing from lavish emperors, ceramic production advancements, opportunistic global trade, and changing political landscapes.

In addition to the pottery, kimonos from Matsumi Toku’s personal collection and the tools required for calligraphy from Robert Benner’s collection were also featured in the exhibit. Visitors explored the meaning and symbolism behind the Japanese tea ceremony and unfold the intricate process of putting on a kimono. Guests discovered the “four treasures” associate with the 3,000 year old art of calligraphy.  The connection between Asian art forms is revealed, and one senses the vitality which is deeply entwined in a very long history of creativity, innovation and inspiration.  

The exhibition fused the traditional art museum experience with the historical critical context of an anthropological museum, creating a brilliant feast for the eyes and mind of the visitor.

From Chico to China: The Life and Travels of Valene Smith

  poster for Valene Smith Exhibit

Springing forth from the depression era, a period of American history in which women’s careers were typically limited to the home, hospital, or school house, anthropologist Valene Smith was navigating the globe via plane, train, boat, and car. From the caves of France to the bazaars of India, this former Chico State professor was not only exploring the world but also charting out the unknown territories of Tourism Anthropology. In our new exhibit, the amazing story of this local travel and tourism pioneer will be brought to life through photos, videos, and an array of her own worldly artifacts. Learn about the remarkable life of Valene Smith this fall at our annual student-curated exhibit and spark your wanderlust.   

poster with skull and title of exhibit

Leaping Lemurs and Mysterious Crimes (December 2014-July 2015) explored the human journey from our African roots to modern humans through the eyes of physical anthropology.   From ancient fossil remains and changes seen in the human skeleton over millennia, plus recent developments in DNA  research, and the evolutionary developments in human and on-human primates,  the painstaking work of anthropologists comes to life, helping us better understand our human past.  That’s not all.  Do you like the television shows CSI or Bones?   See how forensic anthropologists really work as our exhibit showcases a mock crime scene investigation, all part of the life of physical anthropologists working in the 21st century.

Material Culture: Wearing the Art of Chikoko

poster for chikoko exhibit

September - October 2014  Enter the far-out and fantastic world of Chikoko at our annual student-curated exhibit.  For ten years this local collective of artists, designers, and performers have shared unique creations that blur the lines between art and fashion within our community.  See a collection of their clothing that ranges from political to playful at the Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology Museum.  The exhibit kicks off with an opening reception held on

Into the Blue: Maritime Navigation and the Archaeology of Shipwrecks

Image of poster from Into the Blue exhibit

The museum dove into the underwater world of shipwreck archaeology and nautical secrets of the Frolic, a ship which sank off the Coast of Mendocino during the Goldrush in 1850 in, Into the Blue: Maritime Navigation and the Archaeology of Shipwrecks.  The exhibit featured authentic artifacts recovered from the Frolic on loan from the Mendocino County Museum.   Artifacts from Bob Benner's world-class collection of historical navigation instruments were also on display.  These included an astrolabe, a Polynesian navigation chart, a ship's chronometer and a sextant.  Seafaring explorers of all ages will enjoyed this dynamic and interactive exhibit.  

The exhibition was open to the public December 2013 - July 2014

Dreaming Cultures: Myths and Visions of Distant Lands

October 2013

Image of Lida Penkova's artwork - view of a Mexican village

Enter into a world where stories, myths, and symbols of diverse cultures are rendered in the art of self-taught artist, Lida Penkova.   Born in Czechoslovakia, Lida Penkova spent her life traversing the globe.  When she retired from a career as a psychotherapist, she decided to give form to the traditional stories that captivated her throughout her life’s journeys.   Mythical and mundane characters are brought to life in paintings and linocuts that explore a wide range of themes - from the Mexican Days of the Dead to the Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime. 

Geographies of the Imagination

August 2013-September 2013

Imag eof baby and suitcases floating of the America - Artwork by Lydia Nakashima Degarrod

What is home?  A physical place on a map or a place that resides in our imagination?  Cultural Anthropologist and professional artist Lydia Nakashima Degarrod, born in Chile, interviewed Chilean exiles about their experience of leaving their homeland to escape the intolerable circumstances of Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship.  Through collaboration and intimate communication, Lydia created images, maps, and video to powerfully depict their individual journeys. 

Infinity and Beyond: Humanity's Quest to Explore Space

December 2012-July 2013

Poster from the exhibit - picture of space with title

To be able to rise from the earth; to be able, from a station in outer space, to see the relationship of the planet earth to other planets; to be able to contemplate the billions of factors in precise and beautiful combination that make human existence possible; to be able to dwell on an encounter of the human brain and spirit with the universe-all this enlarges the human horizon…

                - Norman Cousin, World Peace Advocate

From earliest times humans have looked to the skies with a sense of awe at the vastness of the universe that envelops us. Humans have soared to the other side of the sky to explore beyond the frontiers of our planetary orbit and become acquainted with the greater whole of the solar system we are a part of. The exhibit, “Infinity and Beyond:  Humanity’s Quest to Explore Space” presents the opportunity for you to venture into space, to visualize the breathtaking beauty of our galaxy and beyond, and to learn and wonder about humanity’s place in space. Drawing from scientific discoveries about space, our understanding of anthropology, our sensibilities of design, and the power of the imagination we present our interpretation of the all encompassing magnitude that space has on humanity’s past, present and future existence. Come join the quest to explore space from infinity to beyond.

Ethnomusicology: Exploring the Melodies of Culture

August 2012-September 2012

Image of exhibit poster - close up of a drum skin with exhibit tile and dates

Music reflects the cultures of the world - expressing the magnificent variety of human emotions and experiences.  From a banjo player in the Appallacian Mountains to a fiddle played by Huichol Indians of Mexico, music tells the story of a people, a time, and a place.  In this exhibit, visitors took a musical journey through the anthropological lens, viewing instruments from around the world and learning about the ways in which identity, religion and folklore are woven into the fabric of the musical of traditions of the world. 

Coming Home: Ishi's Long Journey

December 2011- July 26, 2012

Image of Ishi

A hundred years ago, on August 29, 1911, Ishi, the last living member of a small band of Yahi Indians, chose to walk into the Euro-American society of the early 20th Century.   As the centennial of Ishi’s arrival in Oroville closes in December, the Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology will open an exhibition to reflect on aspects of Ishi’s story. The exhibit will run through July 26, 2012.

The exhibition traces his many encounters, transformations and adaptations to the modern world.  From the beginning of his journey with a short stay in the Oroville jail to entering Victorian society in San Francisco, Ishi became a part of a new chapter in Native American history.  With Professor Alfred Kroeber in the anthropology department of the University of California, Berkeley, Ishi provided many first-hand insights into a bygone lifeway and became a living exhibit on Native American culture for the university museum.  His cooperation with preserving the lifeways of the Yahi people in the face of personal tragedy and the devastating reality of the annihilation of his tribe and American Indian populations, in general,  has left us with insight, information, and material culture that help better explain the cultural practices of California Indians.

The memory of Ishi and his long journey are preserved into the future as many Native Americans and others continue to honor his life. His legacy lives on in the collective memories of other California Indian tribal groups who are still here.  

The exhibit ends with a display titled the Ishi Digital Memory Project, allowing many voices to contribute their reflections on the impact Ishi has made on their lives and this area.  The museum has provided a web cam interactive to encourage our visitors to reflect on the significance and example of Ishi’s life and its continued meaning for a new generation. The museum staff and students recognize that one exhibition, like one man, cannot represent the entire telling of a complex and still unfolding story. We invite you to join the story…

Cradleboards: Carrying on the Traditions

March 2012-July 2012

Image of Native American in a Cradleboard

Our exhibition, Cradleboards: Carrying on the Traditions, was created by the Museum Studies Students of ANTH 466 under the leadership of Museum Co-Director, Dr. Stacy Schaefer.

The birth of a baby brings new life into the world.  In many Native American cultures these tiny little ones are well cared for within the comforting cradleboards specially made with love and good thoughts for their arrival. Cradleboards protect the physical well-being of the baby and provide a special vantage point with which to view the world. 

Many of the cradleboards on display were generously donated to the museum by the family of anthropologist Dorothy Hill. Sandra Knight and the Mechoopda Tribe of Chico Rancheria graciously shared one of their cradleboards and photographs of the fruits of their cradleboard-making activities. Cradleboard-maker extraordinaire, Susan Campbell (Mountain Maidu and Pitt River) kindly provided her assistance and expertise to Dr. Stacy Schaefer’s ANTH 466 class.

Through these wonderful collaborations, students gained valuable skills in exhibit research and design as they learned about the meaning and importance of the vital, long-standing tradition of cradleboards in Native American cultures. We hope you enjoy the exhibit, the beauty and craftsmanship of the cradleboards. The images of babies and their families are bound to make you smile and reflect upon the preciousness of life

Sacred Places, Dreams of Leisure: The Anthropology of Tourism

December 7, 2010 to July 28, 2011

High in the mountains a girl sits on aa fence that is overlooking a valley.

Photograph by Sharon Gmelch

As anthropologists, we study human cultures and human behavior through a holistic view and cross-cultural analysis, both the hallmarks of anthropology.  This is accomplished through four main approaches: archaeology, the study of past human cultures; biological/physical anthropology, which includes human evolution, and the biological adaptations humans make in their surroundings; language and how humans communicate; and cultural anthropology, the study of contemporary cultures.

Dr. Valene L. Smith, as a cultural anthropologist and geographer, was an early advocate for the study of tourism.  In 1964, she proposed this topic for her doctoral dissertation and was denied, because there was no body of literature in the field.  In 1974, Dr. Smith and a group of anthropologists met at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) in Mexico City.  This meeting was followed by edited papers that were published in Smith’s seminal book, Hosts and Guest: The Anthropology of Tourism (1977), an anthology of writings from many scholars on their experiences with the economic and social impacts of tourists on cultures around the globe. Dr. Smith and these researchers thus paved the way for the scholarly acceptance of tourism in anthropology.

The study of tourism has blossomed in recent years, resulting in a rich body of published papers, books, and conferences. Some key researchers and scholars include Edward Bruner, Erve Chambers, Eric Cohen, Sharon and George Gmelch, Nelson Graburn, Dean MacCannell, Margaret Swain, and many others. While today, anthropologists still grapple with precise definitions and measures to categorize their research with the field of tourism, it is a respected area of work to undertake.

Defining Tourism

How do we define tourism? There is no perfect definition, but generally, to quote Erve Chambers, it encompasses the study of “any kind of travel activity that includes the self-conscious experience of another place.”  The anthropology of tourism, simply put, is the academic study of the relationships between tourists and the people and places they visit. 

The study of travel and tourism is nothing new; throughout the millennia, humans have wandered and traveled the globe and shared their observations with others. In his book, The Songlines, the late Bruce Chatwin observes the nomadic nature of humans throughout history.  As humans, are we inherently wanderers by nature?

Developments after the Second World War might support Chatwin’s philosophical musings, as tourism quickly became a global phenomenon, and a full-fledged industry.  As a result, the study of tourism is now interdisciplinary, multifaceted, and complex.  Every day, countless encounters between travelers and their hosts play out world-wide.  As anthropologists, we are interested in the cultural processes associated with these human interactions and their meanings, providing us with potentially powerful insights in what it means to be human.

Put on Your Traveling Shoes

Sacred Places. Dreams of Leisure: The Anthropology of Tourism. Link to PDF of Poster

Within this exhibition, we invite you to ponder the many topics we explore, such as the influence of media on destination choices, meeting famous explorers, following the religious pilgrim’s journey, or embarking on an all-American road trip.  Find out what makes an “authentic” experience abroad, visit controversial sites, see the Seven Wonder of the World, and cruise the Caribbean.  Bon Voyage…

Living on Top of the World: Arctic Adaptation, Survival and Stewardship

December 10, 2009 - July 26, 2010

Blanket TossThe museum’s new exhibit, “Living on Top of the World: Arctic Adaptation, Survival and Stewardship,” invites visitors to see the Arctic like they’ve never seen it before, leading them to discover the wonder of the place, the animals and, above all, the people.
For thousands of years, the top of the world has been the home of Arctic peoples. This is also the homeland for polar bears, caribou, walruses, seals, whales, wolves, fox and many other animals unique to this dynamic region of the Earth. In this exhibition visitors can see some of the ingenious ways that humans have adapted to survive and enjoy life even in such a challenging environment. It may surprise them to learn that the original people to inhabit the Arctic and the array of wildlife found in these northernmost lands may hold the key to our planet’s future and the fate of humankind.
Collaboration is the watchword for the museum this year, as in years past, and the museum has brought together Arctic collections and artifacts from many institutions and private collections. An extensive collection is on loan from the Jensen Arctic Museum at Western Oregon University, several modern Inuit artworks are on loan from the Turner Museum on the CSU, Chico campus, and a rare auklet parka once belonging to Smith and now housed by the Phoebe Hearst Museum in Berkeley is also on display (see below description).
The Arctic exhibit also includes artifacts from the museum’s own collection given by researchers and collectors who donated significant art and artifacts from their Arctic explorations as well as personal pieces from the work life of Smith. These materials combine with the others on loan to weave a cohesive narrative of Arctic life before Western contact and continuing through today.

About the Auk Parka:

ParkaThis parka was made for Smith in 1965 by Hilda Aningayou on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Strait. It is made from the skins and feathers of more than 80 auklets. It took three years to fashion the whole garment; two years to hunt the full amount of birds and one year to prepare and stitch the skins and feathers in the traditional manner. While Aningayou made the parka, many younger women gathered to watch her methods. This technique had not been witnessed previously by that generation. A few years later, this parka was featured in Smith’s film version of Three Stone Blades. To anyone’s living memory, this was the last time an auk parka was made by someone in the Arctic.

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Flash of the Spirit!: The Music of Africa and Beyond

The rhythm of culture comes alive across the African Continent!
Spring 2009


The rhythm of culture comes alive across the African continent in this year’s Museum of Anthropology exhibition at CSU, Chico. Music is the shared doorway between understanding the regional similarities and differences in social, political, and religious ways of life in the many countries and regions of Africa. Drumming, dancing, performing, and singing styles find their home within a variety of social contexts and ritual meanings. A wide array of instruments, masks, jewelry, and other cultural artifacts lead the beat toward deepening the visitors’ encounter with these regions. Interactive exhibitions offer direct experiences with the power of the music. From traditional talking drums, to Reggae, to the Afro-Brazilian sounds of Bahia, follow the musical journey across Africa and beyond.

Although Africa encompasses 54 countries with multiple tribal influences in each one, Westerners still have a tendency to see the customs and lifestyles of these many regions in an undifferentiated manner. Part of the goal of this exhibition is to cultivate an appreciation for the many musical and cultural expressions upon this vast landscape and give social meaning and context within its respective communities. As globalization and Western influences come to these communities, what are the changes in the society and the music? Additionally, how have these African musical traditions influenced music and culture beyond their borders?

The exhibit encompasses 13 topics, including Chico’s own Lansana Kouyate, originally from Guinea who teaches the instrument of his homeland, the balafon. Also featured will be local retired teachers Ted and Frieda DeBernardi, who recently donated to the museum a tremendous musical instrument collection from Kenya and Tanzania.

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From Cave Art to E-mail Language and Meaning in Human Cultures

Spring 2008

Anthropologists and linguists agree language has been a part of human culture for at least 40,000 years. The archaeological record explodes with art and artifacts at that time, indicating that more complex speech systems had developed. That was just the beginning. In this exhibition the story of human language is told through the eyes of many cultures and their artwork, geographic location, and social systems.

In the mythology of arctic peoples, the migration of polar bears and whales is explained by the transformation of whales into polar bears.  The mask to the left, carved from a large piece of whale vertebrae with polar bear teeth holding the emerging polar bear, depicts this story. The mask is on loan to the museum from the private collection of Dr. Valene Smith Posey, emeritus professor of anthropology at CSU, Chico.

The museum invites visitors to discover the global expressions of language and communication. The arts and sounds of human life point the way toward understanding the origins and challenges facing the 6,912 languages of the world today. Explore the Upper Paleolithic cave art of Europe. Listen to the chanting voice of Ishi recorded 100 years ago on wax cylinders. Read a page from a 14th century illuminated manuscript. Hear an excerpt from Beowulf in Anglo Saxon. Create a poem on a refrigerator door. Experience the intricate Tanzanian wood carvings, whose images leap out of fantastic worlds with unfamiliar stories. 

Before leaving the museum, visitors will have a chance to wrestle with some age-old questions. Can great apes use sign language like humans do? Did ancient cultures deface buildings with graffiti? And is it really true that men don’t listen and women can’t read maps?

“There’s something for everyone at this year’s exhibition,” says Adrienne Scott, museum curator.  “Whether seeking an understanding of linguistics, an overview of the various writing systems or if you just love art and storytelling From Cave Art to Email offers an appealing outing for a wide audience.”

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Maidu Sense of Place:

Landscapes of Shared History, Culture and Destiny
CSU, Chico exhibit traces Maidu life into the 21st century

Spring 2007

The California State University, Chico Museum of Anthropology and the Mechoopda Indian Tribe collaborated with the Maidu tribal members of the Chico, Susanville and Oroville regions to present the current exhibition: Maidu Sense of Place: Landscapes of a Shared History, Culture and Destiny at California State University, Chico. This exhibit ran through May 25, 2007.
“This exhibit offers the public a unique opportunity to view the inspiring results of a collaborative learning project in which guest curator Arlene Ward and Maidu consultants shared their knowledge in presenting Maidu history and culture from the voices of Maidu people,” said Dr. Stacy Schaefer, co-director of the CSU, Chico Museum of Anthropology.
The exhibit showcases the Maidu’s close relationship to their traditional lands surrounding Chico into the Sierra Nevada foothills and to Mount Lassen, and how Maidu life was impacted after Western settlement. 
“The Maidu are a strong people,” said Mechoopda Chairman Dennis Ramirez. “This exhibit attempts to share the Maidu memories and stories from our perspective.”
This display takes visitors on a journey from pre-Western contact to contemporary Maidu life, illustrating that Maidu Tribes still exist and continue to preserve their cultural traditions, history and land.
“This sense of place is not only a locality, it is the people,” said Arlene Ward, guest curator of California State University, Chico Museum of Anthropology. “The villages of this great area were many and only a few remain. It’s important that these stories are not forgotten.”

At Openning Night: Maidu

Museum Opening Celebrates Maidu Culture
Left to Right: CSU, Chico President Paul Zingg; Tribal Council Treasurer and son, Kim Crowley and Joseph Patrick Crowley Jr.; Arlene Ward, guest curator, and Donna Rose, Tribal Council member.

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Gifts from the Earth:

Ethnobotany - an Exploration of People and Plant Relations

As the museum continues to grow and thrive as a cultural resource in the North State, we turn our focus to plants and their vital role in sustaining humans, bringing this message home to our community and the benefits we reap from the agricultural landscape that surrounds us.
Gifts from the Earth examines the fascinating topic of ethnobotany, the study of human and plant interactions within different cultures. The exhibit underscores the inherent value of all plants as energy factories on which all animal life depends. Displays tell the stories of human co-evolution with some of the world's most important foods, medicines, and other utilitarian plants. Back to Top
Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology

Museum Summer Hours

June -August 2nd, 2018


11 a.m.–3 p.m.

Closed to Public August 6-19, 2018

Note: The Museum of Anthropology is completely wheelchair accessible.

Our Location

The museum is located in the Meriam Library complex, across from the main library entrance.

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Museum of Anthropology
CSU, Chico 95929-0400

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