Barbara, Sharon, and the De la Guerra Collection

More letters from the "M" section of the De la Guerra Collection.

More letters from the “M” section of the De la Guerra Collection.

By Monica Orozco, SBMAL Director

The De la Guerra Collection is one of the corner stones of our document collection from early California. Recently I interviewed two of our volunteers, Barbara Ceriale and Sharon Parker, who are helping us conserve this collection in order to get their insight on what motivated them to volunteer and what their experience has been.

What is the origin of this collection? José Antonio de la Guerra y Noriega (1779-1858) is a figure well known to those of us interested in the history of early California. He held many significant positions after his arrival in California in the late 18th century, in particular he was Comandante of the Santa Barbara Presidio and treasurer to the Franciscan Missions. He and his wife María Antonia Carrillo would have seven sons and four daughters who also played an active role in the history of early California. Louise Pubols, Senior Curator of History at the Oakland Museum, published an extensive history of the de la Guerra family, The Father of All: The de la Guerra Family, Power, and Patriarchy in Mexican California (2010) using the De la Guerra Collection at SBMAL as one of her main resources.

The De la Guerra Collection of over 1100 files containing multiple documents which belonged to José Antonio de la Guerra y Noriega and which remained in the de la Guerra family until Fr. Joseph Thompson, O.F.M., great grandson of José Antonio, deposited them in the Huntington Library with the stipulation that after his death they be transferred to the Santa Bárbara Mission Archive-Library. In 1967 Fr. Thompson died and the De la Guerra Collection moved to the Santa Bárbara Mission Archive-Library where they remain a permanent and significant addition to our collection of early California historical resources.

The collection is organized alphabetically and by author of the letter or document (the finding guide is on our website The work conserving the collection was begun by our 2012 Geiger Summer Intern and UCSB History graduate student Laura Moore. When Barbara and Sharon assumed the work they were on the documents authored by those whose names began with the letter “G.” Over a year later they have reached the letter “M.”

What drew you to volunteer at SBMAL?

“History has always been an interest of ours. We have enjoyed travelling to Mexico, Central and Latin American countries and are particularly interested in the Mayan culture and visiting those archeological sites. We also are interested in other ancient civilizations, but even though we have lived in Santa Barbara for most (Sharon) or all (Barbara) of our lives, we lacked knowledge of it’s history. We weren’t even aware of SBMAL until Barbara made the acquaintance of Monica, the director. We both recently retired and were looking for volunteer opportunities and this seemed like a perfect fit and we have really been enjoying learning about the de la Guerra family. Our professions were not in the history field. Sharon worked in Business Administration and Barbara was an engineer, both at a local Aerospace Company.”

Could you describe what kind of tasks you do to take care of the De la Guerra collection?

“We’ve been working on the de la Guerra Collection for over a year. The collection was already cataloged with each group of letters from one person to another given a file number. Up to 100 letters are in some of these groups, all stored together in a single non-archival folder. Our main task is to take one letter at a time, locate it in the finding guide, place it in an acid free sleeve and finally label a file folder for safely storing the documents.”

Do any skills from your background come in handy in this work?

“One might think a history or library science degree is required to volunteer at SBMAL, but all that’s really necessary is an interest in history, attention to detail and a willingness to do whatever is needed. In addition to working with the documents, we’ve moved all the books and artifacts from the conference room, so new carpet could be installed and acted as bouncers at lectures to make sure no food or drink got through the door, but mostly we are working with the documents.”

What has surprised you the most about working on the collection?

“It is surprising how little we knew about the early local history and it’s place in the national scene in the early years of the republic. It is amazing that the de la Guerra family kept all of these documents for us and future generation of amateur historians, professionals, genealogists and the like.”

Does any letter or person from the documents stand out to you? Why?

“A couple of people stand out in going through these documents, not for their historical significance, but more of an insight into their lives. One is Porfirio Jimenez, grandson of Jose de la Guerra y Noriega. He was an enlisted soldier during the Civil War and was sent to Arizona. He wrote letters to his aunt complaining about how hot it was and how ugly the landscape there was and that he was miserable. He said that even his cap was sad and ugly. We later Googled him and found out that he died as a soldier in Mexico in his late twenties, but the circumstances are unknown. Another character is Josefa, wife of Pablo de la Guerra, who was an important figure in Santa Barbara and a California State Senator. It seems that some things haven’t changed in 150 years. She loved shoes and when Pablo travelled to Sacramento or Washington DC, he wrote many letters to her about sending her more shoes. One letter he apologized to her because she didn’t like a pair of shoes he sent to her.”

Did you know much about the De la Guerra family before you started?

“We didn’t know much about the de la Guerra’s before working on this project. Just what you learn by visiting Casa de la Guerra and the Presidio [de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park both operated by our friends at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation]. Now that we’ve gotten to know so many of the family members and friends of the de la Guerra’s through their letters, we’ve returned to visit the Casa and Presidio with a renewed perspective.”

What has been the impact on you from working on this collection? Has it spurred your interest in anything new?

“Neither [of us] realized how fascinating this time was in local and California history, this is so much better than learning dry facts in a history class. Weekly we are holding letters written 150-200 years ago. We regularly go home and Google the people we encounter.”

What has been the most challenging about the work?

“The most challenging aspect of working on this collection is that most of it is written in Spanish and we have limited Spanish abilities. We rely on the English/Spanish dictionary quite a bit. But it is fun to pick out words and try to get the gist of the letter. It is like we are document archeologists. It is rewarding to be able to match up the letters with the finding guide and be able to label it appropriately, so others will be able to find what they are looking for more easily.”

What would you say to people who might be interested in helping SBMAL in some way, such as potential volunteers and potential donors? Why become members of SBMAL?

“Volunteering at SBMAL does not need to take a lot of your time. We only work there one morning a week, but still, it provides a learning experience and a satisfaction of knowing you are helping to preserve our history. Donors can help by providing much needed funds for document preservation. We need to use a lot of archival materials and they are costly. Also, there are books, artifacts and paintings at SBMAL that need preservation, so donors can help in that regard as well.”

We are very thankful for our amazing volunteers like Sharon and Barbara whose efforts have helped us care for our amazing collections over the decades.

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Mission Art, Architecture, and Sculpture

IMG_2745By Monica Orozco, SBMAL Director

What does an art historian from Switzerland have to do with the Santa Bárbara Mission Archive-Library? A great deal, actually.

The Santa Bárbara Mission Archive-Library is most known for its diverse collection of mission-era documents, books, and art. Along with these invaluable resources, however, we also have several collections of private papers donated by some of the most respected art historians, anthropologists, archeologists, and historians of California Missions. One of these collections most often requested is the Kurt Baer Collection.

Kurt Baer (1903-1979) was born in Switzerland as Kurt Baer von Weisslingen. In 1909, his family moved to Northern California, and as his scholarly work indicates, became a Californian. Baer would complete his undergraduate work and MS degree at UC Berkeley before studying design in San Francisco. Afterward, he spent several years studying and traveling in Europe.

In 1931 Baer returned to California to continue his studies, completing his doctoral degree at the University of Southern California. He subsequently taught at several universities and colleges, including USC and the University of California, Los Angeles. He was also very active in the world of theatre and ballet.

Baer joined the faculty at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1947 where he taught studio art and art history classes. While he would continue to work in theatre design, it was during his tenure at UCSB that his interests and scholarly work focused on California Mission architecture and history. His research in the field included participating in archaeological excavations at Mission La Purísima in the 1950s and he extensively photographed the exteriors and interiors of the missions of Alta California, documenting the paintings, artifacts, and sculptures. His research would lead to three major monographs, Painting and Sculpture at Mission Santa Barbara (1955), The Treasures of Mission Santa Inés: A History and Catalog of the Paintings, Sculpture, and Craftworks (1956), and Architecture of California Missions (1958).

Not only are Baer’s published works still key references for scholars, Mission museum personnel, and for us at SBMAL, but it is Baer’s assemblage of photographs and research notes that he contributed to the Santa Bárbara Mission Archive-Library that is frequently requested for review by researchers in the field of California Mission Art History.

Kurt Baer divided his research notes into categories reflecting his main research interests. There are files for each mission and some asistencias. There are also files focused on the use of the motif of the Good Shepherd in mission art. There are also files reflecting the studies and travels he undertook in Mexico and Peru in the 1960s under the Fulbright Program and in his capacity as a cultural affairs agent for the US State Department.

While Kurt Baer may not have been born in California, he lived most of his life here and contributed significantly to our knowledge of architecture, sculpture, and art in the Missions of Alta California and the important role these played in the evangelical efforts undertaken.

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A Visit from the (Book) Doctor

By Monica Orozco, SBMAL Director

Another peak inside.

Another peak inside.

Recently we had a visit from a “book doctor” or conservator specializing in the preservation and repair of works of art on paper, Karen Zukor from Zukor Art Conservation. She was here from Oakland to assess two of the crown jewels in our antique book collection, a 1493 Anton Kroberger Latin Bible and a 1488 Imitation of Christ. Both are incunabula, that is early examples of printed books from before 1501 in Europe.

Anton Kroberger (1414-1513) established his first print shop in Nuremberg in 1470 and soon operated a very large publishing house with links throughout Europe. The most well-known work to be associated with Koberger is the Nuremberg Chronicles (1493). The Bible in our collection is a Nicolas de Lyra Latin Bible with commentary. De Lyra was a Franciscan from in Normandy who became a theologian and well-respected for his commentaries on the Bible. We have three volumes of four-volume set. The pages within these volumes feature several verses of scripture surrounded by commentary. The different sections are distinguished by rubrications in red. These pages are truly beautiful!

While the pages themselves are in good shape for the most part, one volume in particular has had water damage. The covers of all three volumes need dry cleaning and some repair. In addition all the pages need to be dry cleaned. While these volumes are amazing now, once conserved, they will be spectacular!

The oldest book in our collection is a copy of Imitation of Christ printed in Florence in 1488. This is such an early version of the work that the author listed is Jean Gerson (1363-1429) instead of Thomas à Kempis (c. 1380-1471) to whom the work is now attributed. The pages in this edition are also a combination of beautiful printing with rubrications in red and blue. The cover needs some repair. Some pages need to be sewn back into the binding and some minor tears of the interior pages need repair. And after 526 years, this book is also in need of a cleaning.

The work needed to conserve these incredible books is really not extraordinary considering their age, but we will need help from our friends to get it done. I hope we can count on you to help us out! If you are interested in making a contribution toward conserving these amazing historical treasures please contact me by email ( or by phone (805-682-4713 ext. 152). Or you can send us a donation directly to: Santa Bárbara Mission Archive-Library, 2201 Laguna Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93105 and be sure to note you are designating your contribution toward the conservation of these books.

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Joining a New Age of Preserving History

By Rachel Hatcher, SBMAL Intern

Rachel Hatcher hard at work.

Rachel Hatcher hard at work.

In my recent adventure into post-graduate life, I have decided to fill some of my free time by reading classic books that I had previously neglected. For some unknown reason, George Orwell’s novel 1984 never appeared on any of my required reading lists; so, after graduating from Westmont College this past December, I decided to read it on my own time. What might this have to do with the Santa Bárbara Mission Archive-Library? During a typical afternoon, I work at SBMAL, preserving Father Serra’s writings with Photoshop. During the evenings of my first few weeks on the job, I read about Winston Smith—Orwell’s main character, who works at the Ministry of Truth falsifying history by re-writing past newspaper articles to reflect present circumstances. Through my work at the Santa Bárbara Mission Archive-Library, I was able to see the contrast between Winston’s reckless manipulation of history and my own preservation of history.

Responsibly engaging with the past by preservation through digitizing collections like the Junípero Serra Collection or the California Mission Documents is, in a practical sense, detailed, tedious, and time consuming. I was new to the digitizing process when I came to work at SBMAL. I had always been on the other side of historical study—I had been the researcher, wishing that a digital collection with easy search features existed. At the Archive-Library, with the help of generous grants from the Academy of American Franciscan History and California Missions Foundation, I became acquainted with the process of digitizing document collections.

The first step in the process is to photograph or scan the documents into organized computer files. Fragile original documents and books are digitally photographed so as to not harm them. The photographs or copies of documents are scanned if their condition allows. This part of the process is rather quick compared to the “post production” which follows. After we have digitized the documents, we photo-edit the thousands of digital files to “clean up” the images and make them legible.

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For example, I just finished editing a book from a file of hundreds of images in the negative (white writing on a black background). Post scanning and editing, the book is now easy to read—white pages with black writing, taking up a small amount of space on a hard drive.

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The final step in the process will be to input the digitized documents onto a computer station along with the finding guide where researchers will be able to easily scroll through the book and other documents that I and the others working on this project scanned and edited. The ultimate goal is to catalogue these files using a database called Past Perfect and it will all be stored off site for safe keeping, allowing us to safeguard these sources for future generations while still making them available to researchers.

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This project will take time and dedication. We recently hit a milestone with the number of completed scanned and edited documents for the Junípero Serra Collection, reaching 500 files out of about 1100. This work will be funded primarily by the grant from Academy of American Franciscan History. The grant from the California Missions Foundation helped us begin this groundbreaking work on California Missions Document Collection which contains 4200 distinct documents (many of with multiple pages). I hope to continue working on both collections and see them through to the end, but it will only be possible with the support of foundations like the California Missions Foundation and the Academy of American Franciscan History–and friends like you!

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A Gathering at Mission San Antonio de Padua

By Monica Orozco

Mission San Antonio de Padua.

Mission San Antonio de Padua.

The 31st annual California Mission Studies Association conference was held February 14-16. The venues included Hearst Castle, Rancho Paso de Robles, and Mission San Antonio de Padua. The weekend began with a tour of Hearst Castle on Friday, led by CMSA board member Ty Smith, Chief of Museum Interpretation at Hearst Castle. Friday evening was a welcoming reception and registration in Paso Robles with music provided by CMSA board member John Warren, director of the New World Baroque Orchestra.

Everyone gathered early Saturday morning at Mission San Antonio de Padua for a day-long session of papers on topics related to the theme for the conference, “Ranchos, y Vaqueros: Missions and Mission Land After Secularization.” The papers represented a diverse group of projects. It was inspiring to hear about the many efforts under way to restore or preserve Missions, historic adobes, and presidios, as well as the scholarly work being undertaken to expand our knowledge of secularization of the missions and the Rancho period in California.

The conference ended with a banquet and awards ceremony at the Paso Robles Inn on Saturday night.  I shared a table with Anne Petersen, Associate Director of Historical Resources at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP), Mary Louise Days, former Santa Barbara City Historian and Board Member at SBTHP, Donna and Garry Gillette, and Mr. and Mrs. Nels Roselund.  Donna, an archaeologist, is very active in the efforts to preserve the Dana Adobe in Nipomo and Nels, an engineer, has played an important role in the restoration efforts at Mission Santa Barbara.

The highlight of the banquet on Saturday was the recognition of three individuals who have made significant contributions to CMSA and the study of early California. Glenn Farris was presented with the 2014 Norman Neuerburg Award in recognition of his dedication to CMSA and his work as an archaeologist for California State Parks. The 2014 Edna Kimbro Award recipient was Dan Krieger, past president of CMSA. He is well-known for his teaching career at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and his work on the Rancho Nipomo Dan Adobe, as well as other preservation projects. John Warren was the recipient of the 2014 CMSA President’s Award. As director of the New World Baroque Orchestra, Warrren has played an important role in the research of the music of the Mission and Rancho periods and developed programs which help teach school children and others about the important role music played in Mission life.

It was a wonderful conference in which so many people with a great love for Mission, Presidio, and Rancho history of California could gather and share their knowledge and enthusiasm. Congratulations to the California Mission Studies Association, especially the Board of Directors led by David A. Bolton and all the volunteers, for planning and staging such a wonderful event!

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Among the Tohono O’odham

By Monica Orozco

IMG_2580As our name implies, the core of our collections focuses on the California Franciscan Missions. This emphasis is reflected in our major document collections, the collections of personal papers from preeminent scholars in the field of California Mission history, and in our main reference library.

So it might surprise many to find that our collections also include materials outside this scope. For instance, we have an extensive photo image collection which dates from as early as 1870 and that covers much of the Southwestern United States, Mexico, and even Spain. And since the use of native languages was often a key part of the evangelical process, we have materials documenting this as well. But perhaps one of our most significant collections from outside of California are the materials that came to us from the Franciscan Missions among the Tohono O’odham in Arizona.

This material is classified as the Oblasser Collection, named after Fr. Bonaventure Oblasser, OFM (1885-1967) who worked among the Tohono O’odham in the early 20th century. This extraordinary historical resource illuminates the complex relationship between the Tohono O’odham and Franciscan missionaries. We are still working on sorting through it all and creating inventories which we will post on our website for researchers to reference (and update as we make progress). But I thought I could at least give you some idea of what a treasure trove this collection is.

The Oblasser Collection spans the first half of the 20th century. To date we have sorted by year general correspondence from the 1910s through the 1930s. Still to be sorted are approximately twenty banker’s boxes of general correspondence from the 1940s through 1960s, material related to San Xavier Mission, St. John’s Mission and school, and the personal papers of friars and sisters at the missions.

But perhaps most captivating is the collection of loose photos, photo albums, and scrapbooks that chronicled life at the missions over the span of fifty years.

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These arrived at SBMAL in large cardboard boxes. The photo albums and scrapbooks were created by the friars and sisters who were also the primary photographers. These we placed in individual archival boxes and interleaved the pages with acid-free paper. But the boxes also contained hundred, if not thousands, of photos and negatives, some left loose and others gathered in manila envelopes. These all had to be individually sleeved and we tried to keep them in the order in which we found them. This work was accomplished primarily by our wonderful volunteers and interns.

Our ongoing goal is to sort through this material, to store it properly, create an inventory, and ultimately catalogue every piece of the collection. This is a long journey we have begun, but if what we have already found serves as example of what lies ahead, my, what a journey it will be!

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Saying “So Long!”

By Monica Orozco

Brian Burd former SBMAL Photo Curator.

Brian Burd former SBMAL Photo Curator.

This week we’re saying “So long!” to Brian Burd who was formerly Photo Curator at the Santa Bárbara Mission Archive-Library and who has been Museum Curator for the past two and a half years for Old Mission Santa Barbara. Brian has had a varied and exciting career. He worked on a car assembly line in Michigan in his college days, he’s worked as a photographer for several news papers (ask him about his time covering Michigan State basketball when they had a young player named Earvin “Magic” Johnson), and he worked for the Santa Cruz Island Foundation.

After his time at the Santa Cruz Island Foundation, Brian came to work at the Archive-Library as Photo Curator and was instrumental in creating order out of disorder. He helped envision and develop our photo digitization and cataloguing project. He was my right hand man when I first became Director, helping me find my way around the collections and filling in some of the institutional memory.

Unfortunately for me and SBMAL we lost the funding for his position two and a half years ago and Fr. Richard McManus, Guardian of Old Mission Santa Barbara, snatched up Brian. Together they have worked on renovating many of the exhibits in the OMSB Museum. The transformation in the Museum has been amazing!

But Brian is ready for a new chapter, one that involves lots of music and travel. First up is a trip to New Orleans with his wife Fran Malinoff. We will be losing a wonderful colleague and will only be a wee bit jealous thinking about all the new adventures he will be having! Stay in touch Brian, and bon voyage!

Brian Burd and Fran Malinoff playing music in the empty SBMAL work room.

Brian Burd and Fran Malinoff playing music in the empty SBMAL work room.

Monica Orozco is the Director of the Santa Bárbara Mission Archive-Library

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Get to Know Us

By Monica Orozco


We’re on a mission at the Santa Bárbara Mission Archive-Library. Our mission is to get out the word about who we are and what we do to as many people as possible. We think that when folks find out what a treasure they have here they will want to support us by becoming a member.

So many people still don’t know that we exist and are surprised to know we have been here since 1968 when SBMAL was established as a 501 (c)(3) not-for-profit institution. And if people are familiar with us, they are often surprised by the scope of our collections or by finding out that we rely primarily on donations and grants and that we don’t get funding from the Catholic Church, the Franciscan Friars, or the state of California. Our members are key to helping us cover our operating costs and to keeping our doors open. That is why we are on a mission to introduce ourselves to people who may not know us, and to help those who do know who we are to get to know us better.

Last December (2013) the Santa Bárbara Mission Archive-Library participated in an open house at Old Mission Santa Barbara that included an Advent musical program hosted by St. Barbara Parish and free admission to the Old Mission Museum. We participated with our own “open house” featuring a small exhibit of some of our most precious holdings in our Conference. Our SBMAL volunteers Barbara Ceriale, Sharon Parker, Gary Matz, and Louise Matz, joined by OMSB Museum docents Virginia Guess and Bessie Condos greeted visitors and answered questions about our exhibits. We have approximately 60 people visit us that evening, many for the first time.

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It might be that in the future we will have the facilities and staff to be able to have a permanent exhibit space and be open regularly to the public, but unfortunately we don’t have the resources yet to make that possible. However we can have more of these “open house” events in the future, if there is an audience for these.

I would love to hear your thoughts on these outreach events. Please participate in the poll or leave your thoughts in the comments. And if you aren’t a member already, please consider joining by using this handy membershp form. If you are a member, thank you for your support and pass the form on to a friend!

Monica Orozco is the director of the Santa Bárbara Mission Archive-Library

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A Day in the Life

By Monica Orozco

When people find out that I work at an archive they often respond by saying “That must be an exciting and interesting job!” And of course I agree that it is often both. But much our work here involves tasks that are critical but most likely would be viewed as tedious.

For instance, SBMAL has thousands of documents, books, maps, paintings, photo images, and other historical material that must be stored properly. Because standards have changed over the years, we find ourselves often having to transfer items from one type of protective sleeve, box, or file to another that meets archival standards. Such is the case with the thousands of photographs, slides, negatives, and postcards within our collection.

In past years vinyl sleeves were thought to be the proper storage format. Unfortunately, we have come to find that the vinyl tends to stick to the item stored within the sleeve. These sleeves must be replaced by polypropylene sleeves which meet archival standards. This task is time-consuming as each individual slide, photo, negative, or postcard must be transferred. Consider that we have several major photo image collections and you can only image the time and expense involved. The Norman Neuerburg Collection alone includes over 90 binders filled with photo images of various types.

Recently our volunteer Kosuke Fujiwara spent an entire day moving slides from the Neuerburg collection to new sleeves. Below is a photograph of Kosuke with 600 vinyl sleeves that once held 20 slides each. So that’s 12,000 slides Kosuke transferred in one day–and he’s still smiling!


It’s this kind of work by our volunteers that is critical in making sure that we have these historical resources for generations to come, but it takes an investment of time and funds. This is where you come into the picture. It is thanks to the support from our friends like you that we are able to purchase the supplies, such as acid-free folders and boxes, we need to take care of our vast and unique collection.

Our work in the archive is exciting and fulfilling. We take great pleasure in being caretakers of an amazing historical legacy. But we can always use more help! Here’s the SBMAL Wish List if you would like to make a contribution to help us directly with this work. And if you are interested in volunteer opportunities you can contact me by email (

Monica Orozco is the director of the Santa Bárbara Mission Archive-Library

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Junípero Serra and the Legacies of the California Missions

By Monica Orozco

On August 17 an exhibit opened at the Huntington Library called “Junípero Serra and the Legacies of the California Missions” co-curated by Prof. Steven Hackel and Prof. Catherine Gudis (both in the History Department at UC Riverside), and coinciding with the 300th anniversary of Serra’s birth. This exhibit is notable for the number of items on loan from Mallorca, Mexico, many California Missions, and of course the Santa Bárbara Mission Archive-Library.

This gathering of historical material will likely never be in one place again. While the life and work of Junípero Serra provide the central for theme for much of the exhibit, the curators also sought to include the voices of the native peoples of California, and the later interpretations of the Mission period.

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the exhibit several times, including attending the opening reception and participating in a field trip organized by our friends at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP) to which members of SBMAL were invited. I’ve also had the opportunity of visiting the exhibit with Anne Petersen, Associated Director of Historical Resources at the SBTHP, in which Steve Hackel gave us a guided tour. He was very generous with his time as Anne and I asked him all sorts of questions about what was involved in bringing this extraordinary exhibit together.

The exhibit closes January 6 2014.

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