Pre-history of the Bay Area at the Bolinas Museum


What was the Bay Area like when prehistoric mammals—mammoths, camels, saber-toothed cats—roamed the vast river valley that would eventually become the San Francisco Bay? On March 30, four new exhibitions open at the Bolinas Museum that explore Bay Area natural history, both ancient and contemporary.

In the main gallery, “Changing California: Historical Ecology of the Bay Area” addresses Bay Area history from the Pleistocene epoch to 250 years ago. About 8,000 years ago, as ice-age glaciers melted, sea levels rose 300 feet and the great valley flooded, becoming the San Francisco Bay. New life generated in an almost unimaginable abundance. In the early 1800s, the sky was still darkened by migrating birds, condors sailed overhead and grizzly bears ruled the land. 

The exhibition is inspired by Laura Cunningham, biologist, artist and author of the award-winning book “State of Change: Forgotten Landscapes of California.” It melds fine art with history and science to share a glimpse how life and land evolved in our region. Contributions from scientists enrich the exhibition with facts and artifacts, including the skull of a saber-toothed cat, and fascinating information about the geologic forces that created our rumpled, hilly landscape. The exhibition also looks at the human-caused, near-extinctions of some species, and contemporary activism that is helping species and habitats rebound. In the face of sea-level rise and climate change, we need a human commitment to the health of our planet. 

The Coastal Marin Artists gallery features internationally recognized painter Thomas Quinn, whose wildlife subjects have such nuanced realism that viewers get a visceral sense of their presence. Inspired by ancient Chinese and Japanese art, each image is distilled to its essence. Quinn grew up in Marin, and has lived in West Marin with his wife, artist Jeri Nichols Quinn, for decades. 

The museum’s photography gallery presents Bay Area photographer Beth Moon’s luminous, large-scale prints of majestic, primeval California trees standing before the vast night sky. This selection of images is from her “Diamond Nights” series. While these trees have lived for thousands of years, human generations pass like falling leaves. Finally, the museum’s permanent collection gallery features new gifts of works by Tom Killion, Russell Chatham and Gottardo Piazzoni. With these exhibitions, we hope to catch your attention, broaden your perspective, stimulate your imagination and inspire your curiosity to learn more.


Gallery talks start at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 30, followed by a reception from 3 to 5 p.m. Admission to exhibitions is always free.


Elia Haworth, a Bolinas resident and curator of Coastal Marin Art and History for the museum, curated this group of exhibitions.