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Where Tea Sets Mingle With Stuffed Birds

March 03, 1994|WENDY MILLER | Wendy Miller is editor of Ventura County Life

History, like art, is in the eye of the beholder.

Especially at the Ventura County Museum of Art and History, where art (with a small "a") and history (with a small "h") have coexisted amiably and provincially for much of the past 80 years.

There, tea sets have mingled with farm implements, Kewpie dolls with stuffed birds and Native American artifacts with historical figures to create a rather eclectic, yet quaint collection.

But even historical museums need to keep up with the times. And with a recent National Endowment for the Humanities grant and a new arts curator (see Josef Woodard's Q & A with Tim Schiffer), the Ventura County museum can now get dressed up and ready for the 21st Century.

"I don't think many museums exist that are as organically tied to the community as this one," said staff writer Jeff Meyers, who wrote this week's Centerpiece story, which looks at the museum's past, present and future. "The museum was created as a monument to the people who founded it, the county's pioneers. But their descendants are willing to forget the ego trip and create a modern museum with a different interpretation of history."

Meyers seemed well suited to the task of charting the historical museum's history. His visits there brought back scenes from childhood.

"A favorite memory is the annual class trip to the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan," he said. "I was mesmerized by the scale of the dinosaur skeletons and the grandeur of the exhibition halls, leaving me with a warm and fuzzy feeling for museums."

Of course, the scale is a bit different here in Ventura County. The exhibition spaces could never be called halls, and there are no dinosaurs, although there is a stuffed California brown bear.

But downstairs, as in all museums, is the stuff, or clutter, of dreams.

"I'm a sucker for relics," Meyers said. "So it was a treat to get a private tour of the museum's basement, where collections of weird objects are stored on shelves in a climate-controlled environment.

"I think a garage sale is in order."

Elsewhere in the section, Shop Talk columnist Leo Smith dug up some finds of his own when he compared local discount store prices on five of the most commonly purchased items.

Who says shopping is not an art?

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