Tucked away on the nearly silent fourth floor of Kennedy Library lays a treasure trove of California history.
From Oct. 25 to Feb. 27, 2018, Cal Poly’s Special Collections and Archives will display “Picturing California: A Visual Trip Through the Golden State.”
“The particular aim of this exhibit was to show California in a visual way so rather than it being a kind of text-heavy history exhibit, it is telling the history,” Special Collections and Archives Director Jessica Holada said.
Special Collections and Archives houses valuable and rare books and materials as well as all Cal Poly records, according to Director of External Relations Brianna Martienies.
“A lot of the research students do on campus is through journal articles and that sort of thing, but this really [gives students] the opportunity to use those primary resources for your research. We have got collections that relate to all sorts of disciplines,” Martienies said.
“Picturing California: A Visual Trip Through the Golden State”
The exhibit’s artwork ranges from photographs and playing cards to books and advertisements. According to Holada, the pieces on display are only a small sample of Cal Poly’s full collection, which the university began gathering in 1969.
“We really are trying to show a sweeping survey of what we have in the collection, highlighting what we call ‘manuscript collections,’” Holada said.
Each showcase, Holada said, shows a different side of California. One case, which highlights California’s coast, also includes photographs and presentation album from Carmel-based architect Mark Mills, who studied under Frank Lloyd-Wright.
Another case shares images of California’s urban development, specifically changes made in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas. Holada said one piece in particular, panoramic images of San Francisco shot by Eadweard Muybridge, was an important part of history.
The photos taken by the famous 19th-century photographer are both unique in content and quality. Muybridge’s photos show San Francisco prior to the 1906 earthquake, which leveled much of the city, and he shows it in a way that few photographers knew how to at the time.
“It may seem like ‘Oh these are a bunch of photos that are laid together,’ but in order for his camera to see the way that made the view continuous was a technical feat at the time, “ Holada said. “So this is a really magnificent thing that we have in the collection; it’s an important piece of California photography.”
Bringing more students to Archives
Art and design senior Swasti Mittal helped promote the exhibit using her own artwork. Special Collections hired Mittal to design a series of posters and flyers to advertise for the event.
“[Jessica] wanted like a strata kind of feeling, so like pieces of rock or landscape,” Mittal said. “So I tried to leave it a little bit ambiguous in the actual graphic element and then I tried to bring in some of the pictures that she sent me of exhibit pieces and work those into the graphic a little bit.”
Every detail of the poster, down to the orange color used to represent the California poppy flower, had elements of exhibit pieces.
According to Holada, not many students know about Special Collections and Archives unless they come in during a class. However, “Picturing California” is a way to bring more exposure to the resources and history available to students.
“It is really an opportunity to let our campus community know that we have these resources. So it is not only stuff that students could be inspired by for their class, that you know they could use to study from, but it is really to take away some inspiration, to enjoy things,” Holada said.