Museum of Sonoma County Preps for Permanent Exhibit of Local “Stories”

Located in downtown Santa Rosa, the Museum of Sonoma County engages locals and visitors through a massive collection of historical artifacts and contemporary works of art.

Now, the museum is creating a new permanent exhibition that will take a cue from long held Oral traditions to inform and enthrall attendees through stories rather than objects. Due to open in 2022, “Sonoma County Stories” will capture the area’s culture and people through true tales representing the county’s diverse population and the local connection to the land.

Groundbreaking journalist and historical writer Gaye LeBaron anchors the planned exhibit. LeBaron has been devoted to bringing Sonoma County’s stories to the public for her entire life, and exhibition will feature selections from her video Oral History Collection, amassed over three decades.

“Gaye LeBaron, who spent over fifty years chronicling Sonoma County history, conducted video interviews so that the people she wrote about throughout her career could share their own stories,” says Eric Stanley, the Museum’s Curator of History. “To hear about the remarkable history of Sonoma County from many of the people who lived it is powerful. This exhibition celebrates that idea–Gaye’s unrelenting attention and love for the people and stories of this place and the desire to elevate their voice.”

Combining the Oral Histories with other sources, the exhibition presents stories from a variety of perspectives. Spanning time and geography, the array of voices featured in the exhibition tell the stories of individuals, families and communities representing the many cultures present in the county over the last two centuries, including Latino, Native American, Asian, African American, European and more.

The “Sonoma County Stories” exhibition will include several participatory components. At the interactive listening and viewing “kitchen table” station, visitors can feel as if they are telling their own story to Gaye or reading her column at home. A focal point of the exhibition will be a forty-foot-long glass case displaying well over 100 artifacts from the Museum’s extensive permanent collection. As a dazzling window into the past, accompanied by videos and other related content at the viewing station, the objects will serve as a three-dimensional timeline, bringing Sonoma County’s history to life.

More than just a set display, “Sonoma County Stories” will recognize the region’s ongoing history, and the notion that everyone has a story to tell. A critical aspect of the “Sonoma County Stories” project will be the invitation to visitors to share their stories, thereby continuing to collect and present community stories into the future.

While the exhibit’s opening is several months away, the museum is kicking off the program’s fundraising with a launch event on Thursday, July 22. The evening will include an overview of the proposed project and exhibition. LeBaron will also appear in conversation about the stories that define the region and the challenging journey in gathering and telling the many stories of Sonoma County. Admission is $50 for the in-person presentation and after-program reception (space is limited). Registration for the virtual event is $10 for Museum members, $15 for non-members.

Charlie Swanson
Charlie Swanson is a North Bay native and an arts and music writer and editor who has covered the local scene since 2014.
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