In its vaults, the California Historical Society (CHS) holds an extensive array of manuscripts, photographs, maps, artifacts, scrapbooks, and ephemera. Making these materials accessible to people across the state, and the world, is part of our mission. While our digitization program is rapidly expanding so that items are viewable online, we are also fortunate to have gallery space where our staff can curate stories of California—highlighting what we have in our collections, filling gaps in the historical record, and bringing to the forefront histories that deepen our knowledge of this vast and diverse state. Through exhibitions, documents and artifacts can be placed in relation to one another and given context and full explanation.
While CHS frequently connects with other archives to support our exhibitions, most often we source materials from our own holdings. Such is the case with our latest exhibition, Mapping a Changing California: From the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century, which was drawn from our collection of more than five thousand maps. The show was organized by guest curator Paige Laduzinsky with direction and support from CHS’s Director of Exhibitions & Engagement, Erin Garcia.
The process of creating an exhibition—from the first discussions over subject matter, to fleshing out context and historical background, to installing often rare and fragile artifacts—requires many months. What follows is a behind-the scenes tour of the journey CHS’s maps took as they traveled from the vaults to the gallery walls.
The curators began designing the show by first carefully measuring the maps for frames and vitrines. Curatorial staff prepared detailed floor plans and elevations to ensure that everything would fit in the allocated spaces. A designer began creating graphic materials and helped staff decide on a color palette for the galleries.