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Museum & Arts Center marks 35 years
by Reneé Mizar
Museum & Arts Center publicity coordinator
This is the first of a two-part story about the Museum & Arts Center in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley.
As the nation prepared to celebrate its bicentennial in 1976, a handful of Sequim-area residents of common vision set about making history of their own. The group, intent on preserving the rich history of this area, laid the foundation for what has evolved into the Museum & Arts Center in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley.
The MAC will commemorate its 35-year history at the MAC Nite dinner auction on Saturday, April 30, at the Sunland Golf & Country Club in Sequim. The event, the MAC’s primary annual fundraiser, will feature a catered dinner, live music, silent and live auctions, and a special digital slide show that pays homage to the countless volunteers and members who have contributed to the MAC over the past three decades.
“You say the word ‘museum’ and people just stop, but we’re so much more than that,” said Emily Westcott, board of trustees president of the MAC organization. “We’re on a solid foundation and with new direction. There are so many new and exciting things to look forward to. People need to be a part of it.”
While the organization’s name has changed over the years, its core mission has remained the same: to be the steward of Sequim’s cultural heritage. What began as the Sequim-Dungeness Museum in 1976 with a handful of dedicated volunteers, artifacts stored in the city jail and small historical displays in loaned spaces scattered around town, has grown into a thriving organization of more than 100 volunteers and 10 staff members spread across four facilities: the MAC Exhibit Center, Dungeness Schoolhouse, Second Chance Consignment Shop and DeWitt Administration Center, which houses the MAC archives, artifact collection storage and the Whatton Resource Room for historical and genealogical research.
Built by volunteers
With increased technological capabilities in this digital age, how the MAC goes about preserving Sequim-Dungeness Valley history has seen remarkable change in recent years. Card catalogs have given way to computerized databases, photocopied photographs to high-quality digital scans and handwritten interview transcriptions to video and audio recordings. What hasn’t changed, however, is the dedication that MAC volunteers bring to their work.
Just as the foundation of the MAC was laid by volunteers, the organization continues to operate on the strength of its volunteer base. How and why these dedicated individuals found their way to the MAC is just as unique as the talents and interests each brings to the work.
“It’s funny because I was sort of recruited at the grocery store by Margaret DeWitt,” research volunteer Zela Hamilton Speece said of the former MAC executive director. “I mentioned to her that I was born and raised in Sequim and she just jumped on it. It was just sort of an accident, you might say.”
Speece, 90, began her volunteer work several years ago as a docent at the MAC Exhibit Center, then transitioned into working in the research department at the DeWitt Administration Center. These days, Speece volunteers three days per week, adding newspaper clippings and the like to the MAC’s local history files and informally telling tales of old Sequim to the crowds of fellow volunteers who typically gather to hear her stories.
“I enjoy it. I’ve made a lot of friends and I’m learning a lot,” she said. “I’ve noticed the group that is in here is very compatible. We work well together.”
The first artifact added to the museum’s collection was a three-legged wooden milking stool used at the Evergreen Farm, donated by Dr. Robert E. Littlejohn of Sequim. Since that time, tens of thousands of artifacts, archival documents and compilations, published works and photographs have been donated to the MAC, creating a vast collection the depth and breadth of which reflects the richness and diversity of Sequim-Dungeness Valley history. The artifacts, only a small portion of which are on display at any given time, range from a horse-drawn buggy and 1907 Reo Runabout, the first automobile in the
Sequim-Dungeness Valley more than 100 years ago, to vintage textiles and Sequim Irrigation Festival memorabilia produced just last year.
“I am fascinated by the clothing people wore in the past. My favorite item in the collection is a bustle wedding gown from the 1880s,” said collections manager Alicia Gilstrom, who oversees the stored artifacts housed at the DeWitt Administration Center. “I’ve been here at the MAC since 2006 and I’m continually discovering the amazing objects in our collection.”
A new historical exhibit spotlighting different facets of area history is installed every three to four months at the MAC Exhibit Center, which is itself a piece of Sequim history, having been the old post office. While most exhibits are on a four-to-six-month rotation, the MAC also maintains three permanent exhibits: the Manis Mastodon, the Cowan Collection display and the Jamestown S’Klallam longhouse. The latter two are updated periodically with different artifacts.
“Old-timers who come in say it’s nice. They like the exhibit center. It’s more modern,” said area pioneer descendant Helen Bucher, who has been a volunteer docent for, by her best guess, about 20 years. “It’s so much more active now and the exhibits change more often. We have a lot of good people here who are responsible for that.”
Reneé Mizar is publicity coordinator and executive assistant at the Museum & Arts Center in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 681-2257.
The April 27 edition of the Sequim Gazette will continue the story of MAC and where it is headed in the future.