New exhibit opens at the Jack Mason Museum

06/01/2017

In a world in which technology increasingly records our thoughts and records, the Jack Mason Museum is offering a glimpse into the printed past. “Hidden Histories—Diaries, Daybooks, and Ledgers of the Shafter Era (1860s to 1930s)” is on display through July, with a unique perspective on West Marin’s past as recorded in the beautiful handwriting and decorative marbled papers of yesteryear. Carola DeRooy, a member of the museum committee and the archivist for the Point Reyes National Seashore, curated the show.

It begins with the account book of Frank Miller, a blacksmith who lived in Olema. A hardworking man who trained his sons in the business, Miller recorded such tallies as making 286 horseshoes and 20 bolts over the course of a year. Much of his work supported the local agricultural community and the “butter ranchos” of the Point Reyes peninsula. (The rectangular blocks of butter sold to us today in one-pound paper packages might have mystified a 19th century shopper, who purchased butter in two-pound muslin-wrapped rolls or asked their grocer to scoop a lump out of a barrel.) The quality of Point Reyes butter was well known, and the exhibit includes copies of advertising cards and magazine articles lauding it.

Civic life is recorded with an 1886 copy of the Marin County Great Register of Voters. Flipping through the pages, one finds 20 different nationalities just within Point Reyes. The lesser known stories of Chinese immigrants in the community, who worked as sawyers and butter-makers, are told in James Shafter’s day-book records of the amount of wood cut and split for fencing. 

Agriculture as an essential element of West Marin life is a continuing thread through the exhibit, but a new industry is also documented: leisure and recreation. Snipe, quail and deer tallies are noted in a copy of a Fish and Game logbook of the Bear Valley Country Club at Divide Meadow, and photographs show day trippers enjoying the country life—“rusticating”—in the Olema Valley. An Olema Cemetery register records the accidents and illnesses of 19th century life, and diary pages, correspondence and newspapers cover some dramatic and difficult moments in the life of the Shafters. Make a point of spending some time reading through the records. The exhibit is open to the public during regular Inverness Library hours, with an open house planned for July 4 during the annual firehouse races.

Loretta Farley, a Point Reyes Station resident, serves on the Jack Mason Museum Committee of the Inverness Association.