Oakland Museum special exhibit explores John Muir’s legacy
The clearest way in the Universe is through a forest wilderness. – John Muir
In 1872 legendary naturalist John Muir returned from explorations in the High Sierra to Yosemite Valley, where he was greeted by two artists. They inquired about his recent trip and asked if he “had ever come upon a landscape suitable for a large painting.” Muir guided the artists east through Sierra landscapes, recording scientific and poetic descriptions of the natural world as well as comments by his companions: “All of this is huge and sublime, but we see nothing as yet at all available for effective pictures.” “Never mind,” said Muir, “only bide a wee, and I will show you something you will like.” In his book The Mountains of California, Muir details this first encounter with William Keith and his adventures to Mount Ritter. The iconic landscape of this Sierra peak inspired the painting above, now on view in the Oakland Museum’s first exhibit on the life and legend of John Muir.
Before arriving at this painting in the Action realm of the special exhibit, you will first journey through the realms of Wonder, Adventure and Discovery, where you will find objects that you might only see once in your lifetime.
A Walk in the Wild: Continuing John Muir’s Journey, opens tomorrow, August 6, 2011, through January 22, 2012, in the Oakland Museum’s Great Hall.
The exhibit’s creators hope that visitors, especially younger generations who might not know the story of John Muir, will discover what made him the “Father of the National Parks” and a legend who continues to inspire environmental stewardship in California today. Through video and displays, the exhibition connects Muir’s legacy to contemporary activists called “Modern Day Muirs.” Among them are Shelton Johnson, Yosemite National Park ranger; Tori Seher, Yosemite National Park bear biologist and Alcatraz bird biologist; Kemba Shakur, tree planter for Oakland Relief and six others. The museum plans to profile each Modern Day Muir on on their blog in the coming weeks.
After spending four years researching and preparing the exhibit, guest curator Dorris Welch became “obsessed” with the story of Muir. “I have an even more profound connection now,” said Welch. “What is very interesting is how many people share that connection, that this one man could have such an influence, that his legacy lives on in such a strong way. People are inspired by him, his writings to this day. If he had not been such a prolific writer, that probably would not be the case.”
Muir’s adventures in California, Alaska and beyond are brought to life though a blend of paintings and photography like large-scale photographic murals by Steven Joseph, historical research, journals, plant collections, ecology displays and interactive digital technology. The exhibit creators want you to interact with it, so they built it to stimulate all of your senses. Of course, you will probably feel the urge to get out and see, hear and smell the real treasures that Muir fought hard to protect.
Exhibition Supporters and Collaborators
Supporters of the exhibition include the Oakland Museum Women’s Board, The Bernard Osher Foundation, the J.M. Long Foundation and the University of the Pacific Library, John Muir Papers, Holt Atherton Collections/Muir-Hanna Trust.
Additional exhibition partners and collaborators include: Bonnie Gisel, Muir scholar and author; Jerry Pentin, videographer with Spring Street Studios; Dr. Bill Swagerty and Shan Sutton, University of the Pacific, Holt Atherton Special Collections, John Muir Papers; Carola DeRooy and Isabel Jenkins Ziegler, John Muir Historic Site National Park Service; and Malcolm Margolin, Heyday Books.
Images credits in order as they appear:
- William Keith. Mount Ritter (Crown of the Sierras). Oakland Museum of California, Gift of the Keith Art Association. Courtesy of the Oakland Museum of California.
- Early Portrait of John Muir. Courtesy of the Oakland Museum of California.
- Journal. Yosemite Journal, 1872. John Muir Papers, Holt- Anderson Special Collections, University of the Pacific Library. ©1984, Muir-Hanna Trust. Courtesy of the Oakland Museum of California.
- Model of Muir’s cabin in Yosemite Valley called the “Hang Nest” including replicas of his journals and views he had from the cabin’s window. On view in the exhibition. Photo by Christine Sculati.