This series of blog posts includes photos I took of a small diorama I designed and installed for a new room in the history wing of the Oakland Museum of California, part of a group of two dozen dioramas collectively called The Forces of Change: 1960-1975.
To tell the story of an era of great societal change, historians working on this exhibit wanted to address a variety of perspectives. Many dioramas for Forces of Change were already in progress, including several that spoke of various aspects of the unrest of the period- and rightly so- but there was a desire to complete the narrative by finding a California artist or two who could share a visual presentation with a more mainstream outlook... in other words, a square like me who hadn't spent the Sixties protesting.
My official, dignified quote for my friends reading this blog is that I was honored to participate; the more honest quote is that I did an undignified happy-dance around the house when I read the invitation!
The email arrived in February of this year, and the museum reopened, after its extensive and expensive several-year renovation, in June. The museum has always been wonderful, but the renovation makes it even more so; I urge everyone to see it if they can.
The project always felt good to me. For one thing, I've long been an Oakland Museum enthusiast and frequent visitor, having grown up in the Bay Area and a die-hard fan of museums in general. Interestingly, the historian who contacted me had no way of knowing of that connection, but it made the project feel even more appropriate.
Beyond that, I was excited about the prospect of, at the very least, helping correct the impression that it was an era consisting largely of dischord. For one thing, what would a modern history wing of a museum be without some mention of the Apollo space program and moon landing? As it turns out, my humble assemblage of ephemera appears to be the only display in the history wing that includes any visual references to perhaps the greatest achievement of modern man. (Even in a cultural, non-technological look at this period in America, surely our safely leaving the bonds of earth must be included in any comprehensive presentation). Be that as it may, my inclusion of this event in my diorama was an honest one, in that it was tremendously inspirational to me. And I definitely was not alone.
And so I dug out boxes of memoribilia I've been carrying around for decades (oh, the vindication!) and set out to create a kind of personal narrative, the story of how I felt about that time period. I chose artifacts I felt would be of interest to the general public, while accurately describing my interests, attitudes, and dreams about my place in the world of opportunities I saw ahead of me. I wanted the diorama to express two key ideas: gratitude, and inspiration. Except for the blue painting I created as a backdrop, all the items were from the period. I even included my first-ever oil painting, a tiny floral still life painted on shirt cardboard when I was in high school. I also included two old photo-booth photos of my mother and father, taken during their engagement, put into the display at the last minute as a gesture of love.
Eventually it would probably make sense for me to put all these diorama photos and some text on a website somewhere, arranged in a better presentation. There are a lot of what I think are cool items; some are self-evident, others less so. Regardless of where this all ends up, I will eventually go into a bit more detail about what everything means. For now, what you're looking at is a collection of personal memoribilia that I arranged to tell a story.
Each diorama in Forces of Change is 32" across, 24" high, and 24" deep, inset into a wall, sealed with a clear acrylic pane. These dioramas have their own separate room in the history wing, complete with period rock music and psychedelic lighting as one enters (see? I told you). First I created a scale mockup at home, shown here. Then I arranged the items in the prepared wooden box (interior painted black as per my choice, like my mockup) on the museum premises while things were still a construction zone. As an aside, mine was the first one completed and sealed, as things turned out. Eventually I will try to find some decent photos of the actual room and intallation and post them online, as well. The second of my museum links above has a photo of what the diorama boxes looked like in their raw state.
Author and historian Adam Nilsen, who recruited me for my small part of the project, couldn't have been better to work with, and treated me with great kindness and respect.
And so, my portion of Forces of Change, in photos. Clicking on each photo brings up a larger version, should you want a closer look.