Art and history, near and far

Museums in Spokane region house gems

Whether you’re driving west to Seattle, south to Bend, east to Coeur d’Alene, or staying home this summer, peek into the past at a regional museum.

About a half-day’s drive southwest of Spokane, near Goldendale, Wash., sits a crown jewel on a bluff overlooking the Columbia River—the Maryhill Museum of Art. One might wonder why anyone would build such a grand mansion on these 5,300 acres of relatively barren land.

But the museum, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, hosts prestigious traveling exhibits—such as last year’s Ansel Adams photographs—and is the permanent home of a collection of Rodin sculptures. Outside, a colorful sculpture garden draws children and adults alike, and peacocks roam.

From June 12 to Sept. 6, the museum will feature an exhibit of 38 glass vessels by internationally recognized glass artist William Morris. The exhibit, titled “William Morris: Native Species,” will include 38 glass vessels inspired by the flora and fauna of the Pacific Northwest.

The Tacoma-based Museum of Glass Mobile Hot Shop also will offer daily glassblowing demonstrations June 12 to 18.

Also this summer, the museum will host a Fourth of July celebration with laser-light show; an arts festival Aug. 21-22; and a free performance of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors in the sculpture garden, on Aug. 22.

The Maryhill Museum was founded by Northwest entrepreneur Sam Hill, who purchased the property and began building the house in 1914 with dreams of establishing a Quaker farming community, the museum says.

When that goal proved untenable, Hill was encouraged by friends including Queen Marie of Romania, to establish a museum. In 1940, several years after Hill’s death, the museum was opened.

The museum is open daily through Nov. 15. It is located near the intersection of state Route 14 and U.S. 97, across the Columbia River from Biggs Junction, Ore. For information, visit

Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Closer to home, the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture will open several exhibits this summer.

• “Ruben Trejo: Beyond Boundaries, Aztlán y más allá,” May 1 to Nov. 13. “Ruben Trejo was one of our region’s most important and respected artists. His work is in many collections, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum collection. ‘Aztlán y más allá’ is a survey of over 45 years of the artist’s sculpture, mixed media constructions, paintings and drawings,” the museum says on its Web site.

• Harold Balazs, July 17 to Oct. 9. This display highlighting of one of Spokane’s best-known artists will span Balazs’ 50-year career and will display jewelry, major sculpture, a hand-made wooden boat, enamel works, folk furniture, children’s toys, sketchbooks, and more.

• “Mestizo: Collections and Cultural Fusions,” July 31 to Jan. 15, 2011. This exhibit will feature historic objects from the MAC’s American Indian collections that focus on the Southwest, Mexico, and Central America. “These include pre-Columbian materials, brightly painted Mexican masks and stunning religious artifacts from the era of early Christian contact with the indigenous peoples of these regions,” says curator Michael Holloman, who is director of the museum’s Center for Plateau Cultural Studies.

“This exhibit explores through objects and personal anecdotes the ongoing identity of the Mestizo culture, a blend of Spanish and Indian culture, wrought by the Spanish conquest of Central America and the southern region of North America which began over 500 years ago,” he says.

One of the main artifacts will include “Christo Cana de la Maiz,” a 300-year-old Central American processional cross made out of paste of corn-stalk pith and ground up orchid bulb, Holloman says. “Such crosses were also used to decorate the interiors of churches for the Spanish and indigenous communities where many monastic orders were located for conversion and existing parishioner needs. This extremely rare object has been completely restored to almost original condition.”

In addition to the cross, the exhibit will feature Mexican “retablos,” small paintings usually on tin sheets, which originated when the Spanish came to Central America.

The MAC is located at 2316 W. First Avenue, in Spokane. For information, visit

Fort Walla Walla Museum

The Fort Walla Walla Museum, in Walla Walla, Wash., opened this year its new main exhibit hall and gift shop. The nonprofit organization has about 42,000 artifacts and now is able to display more of them, about 4,000 at one time, says spokesman Paul Franzmann.

The museum contains several buildings with antique farm equipment representing the rich agricultural heritage of the area. Outside, authentic buildings that have been moved to the site, such as the Union School, a doctor’s office, and log cabin, offer a glimpse into the way people once lived.

On June 12 and 13, the museum will host its annual “Fort Walla Walla Days,” in which people re-enact military encampments ranging from the Lewis & Clark expedition to World War I, says spokesman Paul Franzmann. Regional American Indian tribe members will share their heritages, and the museum will host a mock Civil War skirmish and Western art show.

The museum is located at 755 Myra Road. For information, visit

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