Re-examining the Scope of the Canon: The Different Portrayals of the Age of Contact

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The “Age of Contact” was a period in the 18th century when the Spanish first began to interact with the Native people of California; this time period can also be identified as the Mission period. From September 27 to December 8, 2017, two different museums in Santa Barbara displayed artifacts from this time period, when the Spanish initially interacted with the Chumash, but tell two very different narratives. The Santa Barbara Mission’s permanent exhibition highlights the historical narrative of the culture and religion that persevered for over 200 years. The Art, Design, and Architecture Museum (AD&A), on UCSB’s campus took a different perspective in their recent exhibition, Sacred Art in the Age of Contact, by looking at the artifacts based on the repurposing and continuity of materials.

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The Santa Barbara Mission Museum displays the artifacts from this specific time period in a historical way. Their focus is on the religious pursuits and successes of the Franciscan Fathers. The artifacts are displayed with a spiritual reverence and little mention is made about the involvement of the Chumash as artisans. The objects are also observed for their utilitarian purposes, such as displays on the different types of agricultural tools used presumably by the Chumash. The Mission overall looks at the Franciscan and Chumash artifacts as a blending of traditions, but does not acknowledge the repurposing and exploitation of skills for the purpose of spiritual conversion.

AD&A looked at the artifacts from the “Age of Contact” through three different lenses: through the material, the revitalization and blending of traditions, and the continuation of beliefs today. The exhibition was arranged by the different materials used to create these artifacts and looks at the duality of the different meanings of these materials for the Chumash and Franciscan Friars. The curators also focused on the conversion of the native people through the repurposing of their skills. And finally, the museum highlighted that these traditions are still practiced today by the Chumash living descendants.

Overall, the Santa Barbara Mission’s museum looks at these artifacts through a historical and factual focus, while AD&A highlighted the cultural implications of the blend of the different cultures. Both museums look at the very specific relationship between the Chumash and Franciscan Friars, but through different and unique scopes.

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-Celie Mitchard, Education Outreach Program Intern

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