Fun But Crowded, At Oakland Museum Opening

It was the place to be:  the Oakland Museum of California’s grand re-opening today.  Along with other faithfuls, we entered the temple after it was fully blessed by an Ohlone tribal member and various dignitaries.  The outside hasn’t changed, although the entry shifted to Oak Street.

Notice anything odd on the wall?  Project Bandaloop performed today, with dancers held aloft by climbing harnesses!  It seemed quite difficult to maintain grace during the entire dance, but these two wall dancers succeeded in spades.

Once inside, we headed directly to the History gallery and enjoyed seeing old favorites like the 1898 steam-powered fire truck.  This expanded gallery also housed evidence of the groovy 1960s to the current day.  Getting our fill, we headed over the Art gallery and were forced to wait for others to leave first.  Opening Day crowds are an aberration, though.

Anyway, these permanent galleries are simply more interesting and far easier to navigate than a year ago.  You can tell that museum planners thought deeply about our experiences.  Interactivity means high-touch, and not just computer screens planted all over the place.

After visiting the galleries, the new museum store was next on the agenda.  While it’s located in a more centralized and open location, the offerings disappointed us today.  All the local books and materials, once sold in the old store, have vanished from the shelves.  Maybe the place hasn’t been completely stocked, so the jury’s out.

If you would like to visit the museum gratis, then head down tomorrow.  There are many great events and concerts all day, including the always-inspiring Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir between 2-4pm.

Welcome back, old friend.

Oakland’s Museum Temporarily Fades From View

Like most Oaklanders, we’re saddened by the upcoming closure of the Oakland Museum of California.  Where will we go for our traditional wildflower and mushroom shows?  Where will we take visitors, who always get a kick out of the old timey, California galleries?  And where will we get a reliable, satisfying hit of art and culture?

Assuming the Oakland Museum holds on to its unique identity, we’re all for overdue improvements to the physical plant.  These are the first renovations since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the Moon (and the Hornet, but that’s another Oakland story).  In fact, the museum and gallery design plans look terrific and you can view them here.

Favianna Posters

As Oakland’s museum temporarily fades from view, the natives are curious about what happens after August 23rd.  We already know the history and art galleries are supposed to re-open in May 2010, while the natural sciences gallery re-emerges sometime in 2012.  Meanwhile, the museum will continue living, breathing and transforming itself.

Museum Collection Moves Out

Well, there’s a lot of time involved in dismantling rooms, exhibits and an entire museum.  “It depends on the size and complexity of the exhibition.  A painting show will dissemble more easily than large sculpture or fragile artifacts,” explained Elizabeth Whipple, Communications Manager for the Oakland Museum.  “Think of the water pump truck used in the 1906 fire and quake:  valuable, fragile, hard to move and store, essential to the History Gallery.”

The difficult move means that the treasure trove won’t move (or hasn’t moved) far away.  Back in 2007, the museum opened their state-of-the-art California Collections and Research Center.  So the trove is getting sorted, conserved and stored in a safe and undisclosed location within city limits.

It’s mind-boggling to deal with more than 1.2 million objects in the collection – including over 70,100 works by California artists, one million objects and photographs about state history and people, and 112,090 objects documenting the local ecology.

Museum Brain Trust Keeps Working

Whipple said the staff remains hard at work, as usual.  “Curators do much of their work at their desks (on the phone and internet), in meetings, and visits to other museums and artists’ studios.  That won’t change.  They don’t work in the galleries, except to give occasional tours to peers and the public.”

More importantly, no one will lose their jobs at the museum.  Due to the one-time nature of the renovations, some  staff will be assigned to other roles – and there’s plenty to do before next spring’s launch and reopening.

Even the museum docents will continue their training courses.  The history docents have received initial training at a live exhibit, and will attend storytelling and improv workshops.  Their art counterparts are learning how to look at art carefully, and will train in the unfinished art gallery this winter.

Museum Offers Cultural Snacks

Oaklanders won’t be left completely high and dry during the closure period, because the museum will offer cultural snacks to all takers.  Keep on the lookout for a range of talks, presentations and displays in the months ahead.  Here are few things already planned:

  • Public Art – The construction zone will become an art zone instead.  Oakland arts activist Favianna Rodriguez has been asked by the museum to install public art on the plywood wall fronting Oak Street.  She does beautiful and provocative work, including the posters shown above, and we can’t wait to see what she’ll do with all that space.
  • Native Crafts – Ohlone historian Linda Yamane has been commissioned to create an authentic basket, which Whipple declared as “the first Ohlone basket created in California in hundreds of years.”  Yamane will grow, dry, flatten, design and weave it herself – and visitors will be able to see her working on the heirloom.
  • Online Dia – A “Virtual Day of the Dead” is in the planning stages, where Oaklanders would submit ofrenda images for this composite, online show.  Oakland celebrates Dia de los Muertos on a grand scale every year, so why not pay homage to it?

Museum Still Visits The Public

Educational programs will be available without interruption as well, including presentations at classrooms and other city venues.  On the agenda are the Gold Rush, a nature sciences class about birds, and the California Indian Lifeways program.  If you would like more information, then please reach Joan Collignon, at (510) 238-3515.

Last but not least, the Museum Store will be available online.  While this store offers only a few books and maps today, it’s supposed to get stocked more fully.  We depend on their selection for many “what should I buy” gifts, especially around the holidays.

Remember, the countdown begins now.  You have only a few weeks, until August 23rd, to drop by the museum before it shutters for eight full months.  We suggest checking out the current exhibits – about Africans in Mexico,  Berkeley-based artist Squeak Carnwath, and the Giant Sequoias – as a fond farewell to this unrenovated friend.

Wildflowers Showing Off At the Museum

Rather than hike in the Sierras, here’s a lazy way to appreciate the spring profusion of wildflowers.  All you have to do is head to the Oakland Museum of California (map) – and see colorful evidence at the 40th Annual California Wildflowers Show.

The show officially opens this Saturday from 10am – 5pm, and Sunday from 12 noon – 5pm.  There’s also a preview party on Friday night from 5pm – 10pm.  Or start now and gawk at the beauty right here.

Purple Mouse-ears

(Purple Mouse-ears)

Seep Monkeyflower

(Seep Monkeyflowers)

Indian Warrior

(Indian Warrior)

Cliftons Fawn Lily

(Cliftons Fawn Lilies)

Fresh from the foothills, the wildflowers will be showing off their best colors at the show.  There will be full displays, microscopes available to study them closely, and botanists around to describe the flowers.

Various lectures take place at the museum, about the wildflowers and even how to cook them!  Here’s the schedule for Saturday and Sunday:

  • In the Shadow of Darwin –  Dr. Richard Beidleman – Sat, 11:00 am
  • Sierra Nevada: A Celebration of Wildflowers – Dr. Linda Vorobik – Sat, 12:30 pm
  • Sustainability and the Living Roof of the New Cal Academy – Dr. Frank Almeda – Sat, 2:00 pm
  • Native Plants for the Garden – Glen Schneider – Sat, 3:30 pm
  • Invasive Plants:  A Serious Threat to California Wildflowers – Bob Case – Sun, 1:00 pm
  • Slide lecture about cooking with native plants – John Farais – Sun, 3:00 pm

The Wildflowers Show takes place through support from the California Native Plant Society, the Jepson Herbarium, the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, and Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour.

More info:   The Oakland Museum of California is located at 1000 Oak Street (map).  Admission to this weekend’s show runs $8 for adults and $5 seniors/students with ID.  It’s free for kids age five and under, City of Oakland employees, and museum members.  For questions, please call 510-238-2200.

White Elephant Sale Celebrates 50th

2011 Sale Update: Yes, the 52nd Annual White Elephant’s alive and well, and it’s called the Wild, Wild WES.  The preview sale takes place on Sunday, January 30th from 10 am – 4 pm.

Ticket prices have increased this year, running $20 at the door.  In advance, you may buy a $15 preview ticket by snail-mailing this form (through the 25th) or by visiting the Oakland Museum’s reception desk (through the 29th).

Of course, you can chance it and wait for the main sale which doesn’t charge admission. But cool your heels, since that takes place on Saturday and Sunday, March 5-6th, from 10 am – 4 pm.

Oakland White Elephant


2010 Sale Update: Yes, the 51st Annual White Elephant’s alive and well. The preview sale takes place on Sunday, January 31st from 10 am – 4 pm, and costs $15 at the door. Then the main sale doesn’t charge admission, and takes place on Saturday and Sunday, March 6-7th, from 10 am – 4 pm.


In Oakland, the best-known White Elephant Sale is about to celebrate its 50th birthday!  There’s a preview sale tomorrow, followed by the full event in March.

The Oakland Museum Women’s Board (OMWB) organizes this annual extravaganza to raise funds for the museum.  They raised only $500 back in 1959, the first year the sale was held.  Fast forward, and the OMWB hauled in a whopping $1.28 million last year.

When’s the event?

The official White Elephant Sale takes place on March 7-8th, and admission is free.  However true aficionados know they can pay for earlier access, during this Sunday’s preview sale.  For a $15 entry fee/person, you get “first dibs” at this huge rummage event.

Doors are open from 10 am – 4 pm tomorrow, down at the White Elephant Warehouse – 333 Lancaster Street (map, directions).  Kids under 12 are free, but strollers must be checked at the door.

There’s some paid parking at the Fruitvale BART station or you can take BART.  There will be a shuttle running between the station and warehouse, which begins an hour before doors open.

What will you find?

Some 17 different departments of goods are presented in the 96,000 sq ft warehouse.  The sale depends on donations from Oaklanders and other East Bay residents, which are collected all year.  There are estate items along with all kinds of cast-asides (see photos), plus strict guidelines about items not accepted too.

Last year, the Women’s Board reported that furniture, jewelry, art and books/photos/music were the four largest departments, which jointly contributed over a half-million to the total $1.28 million sales.  Who knows, this could be your chance to discover a future Antiques Roadshow winner.

Yet this White Elephant draws attendees from the entire Bay Area, because you can find practical things you want or need too.  There’s a huge array of household items, which can help furnish your apartment or house.  Of course, loads of adult clothes and kids stuff are available as well.

What’s great is that all the proceeds are for the Oakland Museum – so you can’t go wrong here.

Become An Oakland Museum Docent

If you are a California history or art lover, then here’s a really neat opportunity:  volunteer to become an Oakland Museum docent.  You need to apply, get trained for a year, and then be available to teach kids and other museum visitors.  With this level of commitment, it’s not for everyone – but maybe for you?

The Oakland Museum has terrific permanent galleries covering history, art and the natural world.  These exhibits are closed while the museum undergoes modernization, and are slated to re-open in 2010.  Yet museum staff is already preparing to train docents, and get ready for next year.

Oakland Museum Of California

Interested?  Decide whether history or art turns you on. The history gallery contains over a million holdings “from the pre-Spanish Indian era to the late 20th century,”  while the art gallery includes “more than 70,100 works by California artists from the late 18th century to the present.”  Not an easy choice.

Then commit to docent training and more training. The application deadlines are February 1st for history or April 15 for art. There’s a $150 fee for training, and scholarships are available.  If accepted, you need to commit to these training schedules:

  • History Docents – Attend classes starting February 17th and each Tuesday afternoon through January 2010 (with summer break), and also take an external college course on local history.
  • Art Docents – Attend two orientation meetings this May, followed by weekly classes from mid-September through March 2010.

Since the docent programs have so many prerequisites, museum staff will hold an open house for interested volunteers Sunday at 1pm.  Otherwise, please contact or call 510-238-3514 for more guidance.