John Muir’s legacy on display at Oakland Museum
on August 11, 2011
Dorris Welch has been working on the John Muir exhibition that opened last week at the Oakland Museum of California for four years, and during that time many people have told her how excited they were for it to open. That doesn’t surprise Welch—she said she thinks people in the Bay Area have “a high consciousness” for taking care of the environment, and share Muir’s views about protecting the natural environment.
But every once in a while, Welch said she’d tell someone about the exhibit and get a blank stare. “I realize they don’t know who he is,” she said. “Usually it’s young people, and they go, ‘I think there’s a hospital or a school with that name.’ And I have to tell them who he is.”
Muir, known as “the father of the conservation movement,” founded the Sierra Club and helped preserve Yosemite National Park at the turn of the 20th Century. There are more than a few places in the Bay Area that are named after him—including Muir Woods, Muir Beach and John Muir Elementary School in Berkeley. But his legacy is more than naming rights, it’s also his broader vision that people have a duty to protect wildlife, open space belongs to everyone, and part of our national heritage is the natural environment.
“He took the steps to really make a difference as a writer and getting involved politically, anything it took to preserve his precious wilderness,” Welch said.
Last weekend, the museum opened the exhibit Welch guest curated, “A Walk in the Wild: Continuing John Muir’s Journey,” an exhibition that explores “what makes the man and what are the primary aspects of his life, and work, and personality,” Welch said.
Journals and drawings by Muir that have never previously been available to the public are on display. The exhibit is also interactive and “multi-sensory.” Visitors can press a button and hear what the Yosemite falls sounded like from inside Muir’s cabin or smell Western Juniper berries. There’s a replica base of a giant Sequoia tree that visitors can walk into to get a sense of what Muir saw, smelled and heard when he chose to climb in and watch a forest fire. A famous Muir story about getting caught on the opposite side of a glacial crevasse from his dog is recreated as well, with walls that look like ice and a photo of the crevasse on the floor to leap over.
Part of the exhibition includes profiles of “modern day Muirs”—ten people that have a passion for the environment and share Muir’s sense of adventure, scientific inquiry or wonder about the natural environment. One of the “Muirs” featured is Dune Lankard, an Alaskan environmental activist and fisherman who was chosen because Muir explored Alaska. Lankard’s picture and information about his work is displayed in the Alaskan section of the exhibit. “They’re not all research scientists,” Welch said. “We have artists, writers, people who are conservationists.”
Welch said she thinks the exhibit will help those that may not know much about Muir learn more about his life. “[The exhibit] is user-friendly and accessible to people of all ages,” she said. “We’ll hopefully re-spread the word about Muir’s legacy, and how important he was.”
“A Walk in the Wild: Continuing John Muir’s Journey” is on view from August 6 to January 22. Click here for more information.
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