Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology

Current Exhibitions

Exhibit announcement: Fire and Water, Elements of Change. Opens January 23 through July 31, 2020. For more information please call 530-898-5397

Fire and Water: Elements of Change

Students in the Museum Studies Program at Chico State have mounted an exhibition that examines the planetary consequences brought on by the climate crises around the world and close to home. Fire and Water: Elements of Change confronts the extreme disasters of wildfires, rising seas, epic storms and devastating droughts that dominate our news cycle. These events are not just in remote or far off places; rather they have impacted our local communities in ways that have permanently changed our geography and identity. This is personal.

This exhibit observes our changing planet, from an anthropological perspective, through two major elements: fire and water. Ancient and contemporary societies around the world identify four basic elements— fire, water, air, and earth—as a way to understand phenomena in nature. On the surface fire and water appear as opposite forces, but science and traditional ecological knowledge provide frameworks to see the interconnected relationship between these elements.

Both fire and water are life-giving, but can also be forces of destruction and change. Our county has seen and felt these forces first-hand in two crises in two years. On a soggy day in February of 2017, the Oroville Dam’s main and subsidiary spillways could no longer handle the excessive pressure resulting from heavy rains. The threat of the dam bursting prompted the evacuation of more than 180,000 people living in the path of the dam. On a hotter and drier than usual day in November 2018, a spark lit a tree in Pulga and burned through homes and businesses, leaving people homeless overnight. Over the course of the next weeks, the unthinkable became reality. The town of Paradise and other foothill communities had been destroyed by the Camp Fire. Both incidents have taught us that everything must be re-evaluated. Knowledge on all these issues will help visitors be better informed to make tough decisions moving forward.

The exhibition sensitively portrays and discusses these issues and tragic events in a respectful manner. Open spaces, gentle music, videos, and artwork offer a safe space and buffers to explore potentially difficult topics for the community. Global incidents of similar ecological disasters coupled with scientific research connect our local stories with wider dialogues about climate change, water insecurity, plastic waste, and California water issues. Situating local stories with global perspectives offer ideas on actions to take. The exhibit will also feature an interactive Virtual Reality for visitors to experience the Myth of Prometheus in 3-D. The exhibit also features two installations by local artist, Eve Werner.

Humans can be remarkably resilient. In the exhibit, art and the elements converge. Like ourancestors, we see beauty and mystery in nature. From the floods and ashes, we rise with new purpose and creative thoughts to solve and confront climate challenges. We invite the publicto explore the exhibit with a sense of inspiration. The exhibit will remind viewers of the incredible beauty and wonder nature provides. At the same time, visitors will be challenged to connect and engage with the consequences and possibilities the twin forces of fire and water have brought to everyone’s doorstep.

As with all the museum exhibitions, free tours for K-12 and college classes are available. Spring 2020 the Valene Smith Museum of Anthropology will partner with the Turner Museum and Meriam Library to offer a new 3-hour Friday morning program. The three campus entities will provide hands-on STEAM activities to enhance awareness on climate ecological literacy, primary document research and the arts.

Unbroken Traditions Poster

Unbroken Traditions

The first viewing of Unbroken Traditions is during the Exhibition Reception on Sept. 18th from 5:30 to 7 p.m.. 

“When you weave a design into a basket, you put the spirit of what you are weaving right into the basket” – Lilly Baker, Mountain Maidu Basketweaver, 1911-2006

New Exhibition Features Baskets from Four Generations of Mountain Maidu Weavers of the Meadows-Baker Family

The Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology will hold a grand opening reception for the exhibition, Unbroken Traditions: Basketweavers of the Meadows-Baker Family of Northern California, on Wednesday, September 18th from 5:30-7:00 p.m.  Special guest speakers begin at 6:00 p.m. The exhibition represents the culmination of one year of research and collaboration between Mountain Maidu weavers, other tribal experts, museums studies students, faculty and curators.

The Meadows-Baker family consists of four generations of Mountain Maidu basketweavers who continued the tradition of basketry by sharing their talents. The exhibit shows only a glimpse into the lives of the Meadows-Baker family, but their impact on the cultural and artistic Maidu traditions is monumental.

Visitors will be able to explore the world of basketry and learn about the techniques and materials used to create these practical and ceremonial works of art. The displays feature the many uses for baskets such as storage, winnowing, cooking, fishing, acorn processing, and carrying infants.

The exhibition title, Unbroken Tradition, seeks to remind the public of the long unbroken lineage of people who have emerged from repeated attempts to eradicate their culture with their deeply-rooted heritage and traditions intact. 

Weavers and the landscape live and work in harmony.   The exhibit exposes visitors to the importance of this vital and important reciprocal relationship between the two. Traditional Ecological Knowledge in this context teaches a weaver to learn the proper way to gather weaving materials from the landscape before being allowed to make a basket. The knowledge of the environment, plant lifecycles, and their unique characteristics was passed down through the maternal lineages of the Meadows-Baker family in this way.

As museums across the nation begin to recognize the injustices of the past against Native American groups and as Chico State publically recognizes the land on which it sits as having been the original land of the Mechoopda Tribe, the museum has worked in partnership with the campus Tribal Liaison, Rachel McBride-Praetorius and local consultants to lift up the voices and experiences of Indigenous California Peoples.  The basket, in fact, is the perfect symbol of the resilience of a people who survived and now thrive, even when political forces and colonial attitudes tried to eliminate these century’s old ways of life and art forms. We invite you to celebrate the natural beauty and artistry of Maidu basketweavers.  These baskets represent a deep and complex understanding and interdependent relationship with the environment as well as remarkable skill and artistry unsurpassed by any other artistic tradition.