Friday, November 9, 2018

A Museum in Motion

~Ryan McHale, Curatorial Research Fellow

This week marks my second month as the Curator at the Museum. I have learned that, like the Valley itself, the museum is in constant motion, and this past weekend highlights exactly that.  From new exhibits to community events, to public hikes, the IVDM is much more than just a building with 4 walls.

big part of my last week was focused on exhibit development.  Since the beginning, it's always been a goal of the Museum to bring the outside geology into its education space with a dedicated exhibit.  Since January -- with the help of an IID grant -- we've been doing exactly that, and I was lucky enough to be there at the finish line.  Last Friday night David (the Museum Director) and I stayed up until 2am completing the final touches.  The result was a now-complete exhibit -- Geology: the Power of the Earth!  Exhausted, we decided to get some well deserved shut eye, and were back at the museum at seven to begin setting up for our event for the day, Ocotillo Rocks! 

Bright and early in the morning the kids of the Imperial County Probation Work Service Program came out to help us prepare for the event, setting up tents and chairs and then testing out our activities and exhibits. The Imperial Valley Gem and Mineral Society installed a new, permanent display case, taught visitors how to pan for gold, sawed open geodes, and gave a lecture on the geology of the Valley.  Museum staff led geology walks and painted petrified wood with our younger visitors. In total we had 191 people attend the event! 

But wait, my busy weekend didn't end there! Sunday morning, I joined the museum on its second Lowlanders hike, which is our beginner hiking program. We went to the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge and had such a great turnout! Between our first two hikes of the season we have had a total of eighty people attend, not to forget all of our four legged friends that came along too. Our leaders Alicia and Tom, both Sonny Bono rangers, did a phenomenal job and pointed out all the different species of birds in the refuge. 

I left work on Sunday ready for a day off, but also with a profound sense that I am a part of this community, of which I am grateful.  I can't wait to see what the next few months will bring!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Fall Fieldtrip!

~Andrew Alverez, Education Coordinator

Yesterday, Imperial Valley Desert Museum received Ballington Academy for our first field trip of the season.     We were excited to have our first students, parents, and teachers, so we arrived early to make arrangements.   I attached myself to a group and began to take pictures as children and parents went through the stations.   It was a challenging task that I was eager to take, for I was ready to do my part as a staff member.   I recalled advice given to me by other staff about photography and tried to apply it.  So, I was going up, down, and to the sides to capture moments as they happened.    In my excitement, I had forgotten my cap at home for the nature walk station, so I was taking pictures with sun obstructing my view as it obscured the camera feed.  I was determined to do a good job, so I sought an angle and focused on it.  I tried to find a center of focus and began to take pictures without using the camera as a reference.   As we moved through the wash, I was able to make a “makeshift” shade with my hands that allowed me to see through the camera and keep taking pictures.  Despite this obstacle, I was able to take great pictures that were used on museum social media posts.   When I saw that this had happed, I felt accomplished. 
When I was taking pictures, I was able to interact with parents and Ballington Academy staff.   I made some comments to reinforce some points made during the field trips and also answered questions about plant life in the Imperial Valley.   It was this station that I saw an interesting phenomenon:  Students were capturing our stations on their phones and tablets.   I was intrigued by this as it was a different method of engagement that I had not experienced before.    They were recording our stations to share them with their friends and family, and in the age of social media, there is no better way to do so.   
When we returned to the building, my group worked on our concrete tortoise, which served as our art station on this field trip. Students enjoyed this activity immensely and so did parents.   One parent wished they had known about us earlier so they could’ve come to us.   As we were nearing lunch time, we spoke about geology while we waited for the other group to come from the wash.   Ryan and I showed kids a phenomenon known as tribo-luminescence; a process that occurs when no electrons are passed between objects creating a spark inside it.  Students and parents alike were amazed by how two rocks were able to create something spectacular.   

It was fun and challenging to participate on my first field trip and I cannot wait to for the next one! 

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Seeing the Desert through a New Lens

~ Zack Sanchez-Chong Cuy, Education Specialist

On Saturday, September 22, the Imperial Valley Desert Museum hosted its Desert Photography Day with Macro Photographer Robert Marcos.  As a member of staff at the IVDM, I was fortunate enough to attend this exclusive event. Beforehand, I had no experience whatsoever in photography.  I was definitely nervous: I knew nothing about photography as an expressive art form, and this was my first event working for the museum. Thankfully, none of those fears came into play.

From the beginning, I was quite comfortable.  Many of us came to event with little or no experience, instead united by our love for desert photography and, really, the desert itself. This made for a very warm and welcoming experience for all of us.

Robert Marcos talked to us about his approach to macro photography, where one views what would typically be considered a common object through a zoom lens and the manipulation of that object using lighting and angles.  The result is an incredibly up-close and detailed view of objects that we otherwise overlook, which teaches that even the most common of things are quite complex and that there is beauty everywhere within nature when one takes a closer look.  Robert Marcos calls this his “revelation of finding beauty with the most minute things that inhabit the earth.”

Following his informative and quite entertaining lecture, we followed with a short hike across the museum property where we all applied what we had just learned. Robert Marcos' approach to desert photography was fresh and insightful, and was a great tool to add to my interpretation of our desert environment which ultimately carries over into other things.  There is beauty in everything around us: we just have to look at things through a different lens. Sometimes, it requires another person's perspective to help shape our own. I had a blast at the event and look forward to continue learning and growing along with the great people who support the museum and everything we do.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

A New Curatorial Research Fellow

~ Ryan McHale, Curatorial Research Fellow

Hello my name is Ryan McHale and I was recently hired by the Imperial Valley Desert Museum as the new Curatorial Research Fellow. I was born and raised in Hamilton, New Jersey and still call Hamilton home. I lived in Burlington, Vermont for four years while completing my Bachelors’ degree in History with a minor in Italian Studies at the University of Vermont. Upon graduating I moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, where I completed a Master’s degree in Ancient History at the University of Edinburgh. 

I aspire to be a curator and am eager to gain more professional experience in museum management. Previously, I was an intern at the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont working within the Collections Department. I also worked at two museums in Perugia, Italy in exhibitions and archives. I was particularly drawn to IVDM because of its aim to expand beyond the traditional notion of a museum. I find it extremely important to preserve local history and engage with the community. IVDM does this in a very unique way with art, art education, and the promotion of traditional crafts. The chance to interact with history and the surrounding desert environment creates a memorable experience and makes history relevant to each visitor. 

With each passing day, I am realizing the rich culture and history within the Imperial Valley. History is my passion and I strongly believe that anyone can like history, it is just a matter of finding something that they can relate to. I strive to develop the same passion and curiosity that I have for history in others. While at the IVDM I will be working on a number of curatorial and archival projects. I am eager to explore the museum’s collection and share with you what excites me. Stay tuned for my first temporary exhibit! 

Saturday, September 1, 2018

A New Education Coordinator

~Andrew Alvarez, Education Coordinator

My name is Andrew Alvarez, and I am happy to anounce that I have been hired by the Imperial Valley Desert Museum as the new Education Coordinator. Born in Northern California to migrant parents, I’ve come to live in multiple places.  Merced, Oakland, Imperial Valley, and most recently Mexicali, Baja California, are some of the places I’ve called home, but none of them have seen me grow as much as Imperial Valley.  In the Valley, I was (and still am) able to develop a sense of self through schooling, experiences with my community, and institutions such as Imperial Valley Desert Museum.  There was also an opportunity to grow on academic settings, which allowed me to express myself through essays, research papers on a variety of subjects, and presentations in and outside the US. 

It was through the SDSU-IV’s History Department that I gained a renewed appreciation for our region.  As with everyone that has lived in the valley, I could not wait to get out.  Circumstances led to me remaining in the Imperial Valley, and I enrolled at SDSU-IV where I was able to enroll on courses that changed my perspective about the region and myself.   At SDSU-IV, I developed an interest in my family history and the migration of my family through Mexico, and eventually, the United States.   This sparked interest in the migration of people from other countries to the United States, and people from the United States to other countries.  In my personal research, I’m exploring the topic of "Stateless Women", who were Mexican women married to Chinese men, who were then deported during Mexico’s anti-Chinese sentiment movements. It was also at SDSU that I met Dr. Neal Hitch and Marcie Landeros, who together introduced me to Imperial Valley Desert Museum as a research intern.

As for the future, I have reenrolled in SDSU-IV to complete a teaching credential with a bilingual authorization.  This would allow me to share my experiences and reach out to students who are struggling with who they are as migrant students, English Language Learners, or commuting from Mexicali to Imperial Valley every day.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Desert Survival Training

~Marcie Landeros, Museum Manager

Today was an exciting day here at the Imperial Valley Desert Museum. Members of the United Kingdom's Military, who are stationed at the Naval Air Facility in El Centro for desert training, came out to learn about desert plant identification and some basic desert survival tips. After a short presentation showcasing the types of plants and animals that they may encounter in our deserts (and prepping them what to do if they do encounter them), we then went out into our desert for a short hike, so they could see some of the life in the wild.

While out on the hike, we encountered serveral of the Yuha Desert's residents, such as the Desert Iguna and the Zebra Tailed Lizard. We encountered several sets of tracks, most likely belonging to a coyote, and evidence of the Whiptailed Lizards. We also discoved a new tarantula burrow, so we had the opprotunity to learn how to identify the differences between burrows. Then we were able to find several types of cacti, and talked about what parts were edible.

It was a bittersweet event for me personally, as it was the last field trip that I will do in the capacity of Education Coordinator. I won't be going to far, I have accepted the position of Museum Manager here at the Imperial Valley Desert Museum. While I will miss running our education department, I look forward to the challange that comes with keeping the museum organized and running smoothly.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Giant Purple Cactus

-Neal Lucas Hitch, Artist-in-Residence

The latest installation of desert-sized art at the Imperial Valley Desert Museum is the interpretive execution of a child's rendering of a purple prickly pear cactus brought to life.  Now a trio of brightly-painted sculptures, these large cactus give new life as defining characteristics on the landscape and greet visitors to our desert.

The cactus are made of rebar-supported plywood.  During construction museum staff tested multiple ply materials to determine the optimum deformation of the sculpture in the wind. As residents of the area know, Ocotillo is no stranger to high winds.  Gusts exceeding 45 miles per hour are common experiences, and are always a consideration in new construction: this land of extremes requires extreme installations.  Against this, building three desert-sized art pieces, each essentially acting as its own sail in the wind, was no small task.

Lucas takes a break in the shade of his cactus before painting
The result is a kinetic sculpture that gently sways in the wind like a real cactus.  Its upper areas are painted an assortment of bright colors, designed to reflect the life and diversity of the real purple prickly pear cactus, and to be just as eye-catching in its presence. Getting up close to it, visitors will see an even greater detail.  The base of the sculpture is covered in a mosaic made from hundreds of pottery sherds, collected from failed pit firings of pottery first made by children at the museum.  Their inclusion speaks to the nature and success of the desert itself: everything comes from something and the desert is a place of infinite resourcefulness and repurpose.

As with all museum installations, the giant cactus will be added on to over time.  Coming soon will be a small kiosk or sign explaining the art, as well as a landscaped trail guiding visitors the short distance from the road over the wash to the sculptures.  Small solar lights to spotlight the statues at night have already been added. Museum staff have seen many people stop by to admire the cactus and take pictures of them, and we hope this exciting trend continues! If you snap a picture, consider sharing it on social media and tagging the museum, and let’s get the hashtag #giantpurplecactus trending online!

Desert-sized art before paint

Desert-sized art after paint

Monday, May 14, 2018

Monumental (Mosaic) Achievement

~ Marcie Landeros, Education Coordinator

Today marked a monumental day, not only for the museum, but for me personally. Today was the dedication of a mosaic sign that will sit at the front of the museum property, welcoming visitors as they turn up Frontage Road to the museum. Having worked on every part of putting this sign together, from writing grants to get funding, to working with students to make the sign, to helping pour the cement, I was overwhelmed with joy to see it completed.

We started in 2015, with a grant from the Imperial Valley Community Foundation, and support from Imperial County Board of Supervisors, designing the sign through Rainforest Art Project. During the 2016-2017 school year, I worked every Wednesday with Seeley Elementary’s afterschool program to construct the sign, with the guidance of Rainforest. Working with students whose grades ranged from 2ndto 8th, we pieced together the 3-foot-high, 11-foot-long sign. 

Once the sign was completed, Home Depot worked with us to pour the foundation of the sign, and donated all the materials for the foundation. To build the wall that the sign is attached to, individual volunteers came out to support the museum. Were it not for the people who helped throughout the process, this dream would never have come into fruition. As Dr. David Breeckner said, “This project is a lot like a mosaic. A lot of different pieces came together, to create something truly beautiful.”  

Jessica Villalobos, Jennifer Hernandez, Jorge Casteneda, Pablo Quintero, Megan Herndon, Julissa Anaya, Alana Rodriguez with Pam Morton at the official unveiling of their mosaic sign 

Friday, May 11, 2018

A Night of Wine Tasting

A night of friends, fun and wine!

Southwest High School string quartet provided beautiful music all night

Last night the IVDM Society Board held their annual Wine Tasting event- and a great time was had by all!  125 museum members, guests, and wine lovers from across the county joined us at the El Centro Community Center for a night of wine, music, conversation, and high stakes bidding on a range of silent auction items. All wines were from Fernando Gaxiola and Baja Wine Food.  Beautiful chamber music was provided by members of Southwest High School's talented orchestra.Interim Director David Breeckner said "It was great seeing old friends tonight, but also really exciting to see so many new faces!"  More than half the people in attendance were at their first IVDM event.

Silent Auction- bidding war!
Over $13,000 was raised this year and all proceeds from the Wine Tasting go to the museum's Endowment Fund. When fully funded, the Endowment will support two permanent staff positions at the museum: a Head Curator and a Cultural Collections and Programs Manager.  These positions are vital to retain the necessary expertise for collections management and preservation on staff.  Every successful museum program stems from the preservation and accessibility of our local collections. Best of all, through 2019 all donations towards the Endowment are being matched by a Challenge Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities!  The goal of this five year grant has been to raise $1 million for the Endowment Fund and before last night, we were less than $300,000 to our goal.  Through July, the NEH grant will match donations dollar for dollar, so everyone's contributions are doubled! If you are interested in donating towards this grant, please click here.
Edgar rocked the hair and the wine pouring all night!

Monday, April 23, 2018


-David Breeckner, Interim Executive Director

Mike Rood shows constellations through a telescope to a young astronomer
Last night the Museum opened its doors for a special evening event – a night under the stars!  Against the backdrop of movies and some very special arts and crafts (applying mosaic to our new tortoise sculpture), 166 visitors joined museum staff and volunteers in enjoying this latest celestial event.

Mike Rood describes meteors before visitors search the skies
Opening with an introductory talk by IVDM board member and amateur astronomer Mike Rood, guests to the museum learned the origins of meteors and meteor showers, and the importance and timing of the Lyrids.  Using the mobile app Night Sky, Mike took his audience on a whirlwind tour of the constellations that fill our horizon.  The ensuing barrage of questions by the younger members of the audience showed their interest in the talk and all things astronomical – the difference between an asteroid and a meteor (size, origins, and material composition), if the stars had always been in their current places in the night sky (they haven’t), and the origins of their names and meanings in different cultures and places (it’s all relative).

Red lights preserve night vision while still lighting the way
Waiting on the setting sun, museum guests eventually left the air-conditioned building to set up their lawn chairs or drop a cushion and to await the heavenly show.  No telescopes were necessary this night, though many took advantage of their own or others’ to get up-close looks at the various celestial bodies.  Two lucky visitors looked up at the night sky through a brand-new pair of high-magnification binoculars, courtesy of winning the night’s $5 raffle.  Guests stayed outside and enjoyed their time for nearly two hours, closing the event well past its original 9 pm conclusion.  Despite the high winds typical to the region, propelled eastward over and down the Jacumba Mountains, guests remained unflinching in their skyward fascination.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

A Fair Day

Marcie Landeros works with clay at the Children's Fair

Kids visiting IVDM's booth 

Saturday was a day of fairs across central and western Imperial County and the Imperial Valley Desert Museum was thrilled to be able to join in.

The 39th Annual Children's Fair meant Bucklin Park was the place to be in El Centro- the Imperial Valley Press estimated 15,000 people came out during the day to enjoy music, face painting, food, and arts and crafts!  For the sixth year in a row, the IVDM joined the fun.  Over 600 people came by our booth to talk about the museum, and find out about tonight's Stargazing event. Staff members Anne Morgan and Marcie Landeros, volunteer Neil Zinn, and local student volunteers worked together to show kids how to turn clay into any shape and design they could imagine.  Kids created bowls, hearts, animals, and more and enjoyed every second of it!

Meanwhile, up in In-Ko-Pah, musicians, artists, and families celebrated Earth Day at the Desert View Tower.  IVDM Interim Director David Breeckner and education staff Edgar Bernal Sevilla encouraged visitors to join them in making crafted ceramic pots and figures.  Parents and children alike got in on the fun, working with muddied hands to make something worth taking home!  Over 125 visitors - many from San Diego county - stopped by the booth to learn about the museum's current activities and events.

Fairs and events like these make for long days, but are always immensely rewarding.  We look forward to them every year!  From teaching a father and his two young sons the art of a traditional craft, to watching a little girl laugh with glee as she presents her dirty hands to her mother, the IVDM is thrilled to be a part of the IV community, sharing with them its passion and understanding of the past.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Miller's Spring

- David Breeckner, Interim Executive Director

Old Highway 80
The Imperial Valley is a place steeped in history – from its beginnings as a part of the Gulf of California to the many appearances and disappearances of Lake Cahuilla and the Salton Sea, from the indigenous Kumeyaay to the first settlers, and from the old stagecoach routes to the current I-8. Few, however, remember a unique piece of local legend: the story of Al Miller, his garage, and an infamous tourist trap – Miller's Spring.

Hiking the old highway
On Sunday, April 1, twelve hikers set out from the Imperial Valley Desert Museum for an exploratory tour which retraced the origins of Miller's garage and Miller's Spring, and their mutual history with the valley's evolving highway system. Walking along the cracked concrete surface of the old highway, US 80, hikers began their day at 8 o'clock from the site of Miller's second garage – a massive, but derelict site still visible to anyone driving westbound on the modern I-8. Their goal? To hike from Miller's second garage to his first, and from that first one, to retrace the original footpath he had installed, up a nearby hill, to the site of his namesake spring.

US-80 first came to the Imperial Valley in the late 1920s, receiving a designation in 1926 and opening in 1927. Its concrete remains are still visible today across the western Imperial Valley and eastern San Diego counties, often seen winding alongside the current road in reflection of the early stagecoach trails.  Miller came to Ocotillo from Mountain Springs.  It was in Ocotillo that he built a garage in 1933, running a brisk business towing drivers and their cars up the grade to Jacumba.

Climbing Miller's trail
Not content with a single venture, Miller created a walking path that led from the back of his original compound along US-80, up a nearby hill, and to a site he named "Miller's Spring."  For the price of a dime ($1.92 by today's rate), Miller would let visitors rest and stretch their legs before their journey up the grade to the west.  Following a path lined with white-painted stones, still visible today from the eastbound lanes of I-8, visitors would summit the small hill to discover a truly remarkable site: a bench constructed from an old car frame and its rusting, SPRING suspension.

Did we mention the day of the hike?  In true April Fool's Day fashion, the twelve hikers that set out on the IVDM's Director's Hike, led by Interim Executive Director David Breeckner, were treated to one of the region's earliest long-standing practical jokes.  For a requested donation of 10 cents, the day's hikers followed in the footsteps of Miller, retracing the lost history of the area and adding their own part to its story.

Miller's Spring: one of the region's earliest long-standing practical jokes.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Start Your Tortoises!

-Neal Lucas Hitch, Artist-in-Residence

David Breeckner, Dan Evers, Neal Hitch bring statue into museum

This week the museum officially began the final stages in completing our next piece of desert-sized art. On Wednesday, March 28, a group of fourth graders from Meadows Union Elementary School in Holtville visited the museum as part of our regular field trip program.  Little did they know that, in addition to studying rocks, they'd be working with them!  Together, these students applied the very first tessera (a small stone used in constructing a mosaic) onto our Giant tortoise sculpture that will be installed outside on the museum grounds.

The Tortoise sculpture is the culmination of a long collaboration between the Desert Museum and Rainforest Art Project, and funded through a grant by the California Arts Council. The core of the sculpture is a lightweight concrete and foam tortoise that was fabricated by craftspeople at Rainforest Art Project. Starting this past Wednesday, the concrete base will now be covered by thousands of colorful stone pieces -- all hand-applied by elementary and middle school students from across the Imperial Valley. The result of their work will be a three-by-seven foot radiant tortoise watching over the museum grounds.
After one field trip, the shell is well underway!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Concrete Beginnings

 -Marcie Landeros, Education Coordinator
The concrete base for this amazing sign was poured today! Thank you Home Depot! 

Today was a very exciting day, both for the museum and for me personally. Today we poured the concrete for the foundation of a new sign that will be placed at the off-ramp of the I-8, in Ocotillo. This sign will welcome visitors to the museum and guide them up the road to the driveway. This project has been driven by our community, and it brings me great joy to see it continue to move forward.

Gibson & Schaeffer's cement mixer, pouring a concrete base
This project has been in the works for quite some time. The grant through IV Community Foundation was given in December of 2015, and was then supported by the Imperial Valley Board Supervisor Jack Terrazas. The sign was designed by The Rainforest Art Project, over the course of a year. During the 2016 – 2017 school year, I spent Wednesday afternoons at Seeley Elementary where Rainforest staff taught me how to mosaic, and I in-turn taught the students.

Marcie with Home Depot crew, watching the concrete pour
The finished concrete base: the beginning of the final step for our new sign!
Home Depot not only donated the supplies for the pour, but also provided the museum with volunteers. Home Depot also secured a truck from Gibson and Schaeffer Construction for the pour. Museum staff, board members, and volunteers made quick work of the pour, creating a beautiful foundation for a beautiful mosaic sign. I can't wait until we are inviting Seeley students out here to watch their mosaic get installed!