Museum History

Craig Ayliff, Bolinas Museum’s first curator, speaking with a group of school children at the museum’s original location at 3 Olema-Bolinas Road, 1983.

 

Bolinas Museum began as the Bolinas Memorial Museum in 1983 and was initially dedicated to preserving the town’s history. Though housed in a small structure, the founders presented quality exhibitions of history and historical art. A thrift store helped to support the museum. The museum added art to its mission several years later, focusing on contemporary coastal Marin artists.

In 1989, the name was changed to Bolinas Museum moved to ample space in a newly restored historic building downtown where the gallery could accommodate art and history exhibitions. In 1998 the historical compound of buildings came up for sale. A well-run capital campaign with the generous support of many people allowed the museum to buy the buildings and expand into five galleries, its suite of offices, and rental space for other local businesses.

From the beginning, Bolinas Museum is buoyed by generous supporters and volunteers who contribute their time, money, and diverse skills to make this museum such a success. Families and individuals donate historical material for preservation and posterity, and invited artists have contributed exceptional works. Whether as significant donors, single memberships, or a dollar in the donation box, donations are vital to us. Because of volunteers, dedicated staff, and public support, the museum can continue to offer excellent exhibitions and programs and continue to have free admission to the galleries and our public events.

The People Who Made it Happen

David Van Dusen, Founder of the Bolinas Museum, standing with Annie Crotts at the 4th of July Parade. Left is Paul Ryan, the inspiration for a museum preserving Bolinas History.

 

Inspired by the elders of Bolinas and the need to preserve the history of the town, in 1983, David Van Dusen established the Bolinas Memorial Museum. Townspeople contributed the historically significant objects, photographs, documents, and memorabilia at the core of today’s history collection. Craig Ayliffe as curator, documented and organized the collection. The founding Board of Directors included David Van Dusen, Karen Gray, Craig Ayliffe, George (Sandy) Magid, Steve Henneman, Benjamin G. Dann III, and Steven K. Lander. The museum opened in a space just 12 x 24 feet. Van Dusen bought a former Quonset hut and remodeled it with the aid of skilled volunteers, and added a historic-looking facade.

Though the newly incorporated museum was in a tiny building, Craig and volunteers mounted sophisticated exhibitions of historical objects and 19th-century art. Craig did research, organized events, and gave educational talks.

Joan Bertsch joined The first Board of Directors, who became treasurer and served at the heart of the museum until 2005. Margi De Greeve, a leader in developing the museum, contributed many treasures from her family, whose Bolinas history stretches back to the 1860s. She and Peggy Duncan established a popular thrift store that helped support the museum until 1995.

The same year the Bolinas Memorial Museum was founded, another group was dedicated to Bolinas history. Ray Moritz, Dotty Le Mieux, and Barbara Kayfetz founded the Bolinas Historical Society. They assembled an invaluable collection of images, oral histories, and materials. With that research, Dotty produced the Bolinas Historical Quarterly. The Historical Society eventually donated its collection to the Bolinas Memorial Museum, and its members continued to contribute to the museum’s history archives.

When David Van Dusen and Craig Ayliffe moved away from Bolinas for other pursuits, they left behind a thriving museum, a gift to the community. Board member Margi De Greeve and President of the Board Sandy Magid guided the museum into its next phase.

Past museum directors David Van Dusen, Joyce Clements, Linda Samuels, Dolores Richards, Lucy Van Sands Seeburg, and Jennifer Gately.

 

In 1987, as President of the Board and Director, Bolinas sculptor Joyce Clements brought contemporary art to the Museum. Recognizing the wealth of accomplished local artists, she created the Living Artist Project and invited Linda Samuels to be its co-chair and then Curator. With the help of many volunteers, the museum presented many exhibitions of both history and local artists.

In 1988, Ewan Macdonald had just restored the complex of historic buildings that now house the Bolinas Museum (see below). Ewan offered the little museum a new gallery space in the main building. Making a move was a huge leap in expense and commitment for an organization run entirely by volunteers. Joyce Clements, Linda Samuels, and Joan Bertsch led the fundraising and establishment of an organizational foundation to make a move and expand the professionalism of the museum. In October of 1989, the Bolinas Museum’s grand opening at 48 Wharf Road revealed a handsome one-room gallery divided by a floating wall with space for history and art exhibitions. The museum’s Thrift and Gift store moved into the adjacent building. To organize the history collection, Sara Pusey, Superintendent of Bolinas-Stinson School, stepped in as Registrar and served as President of the Board.

After years of volunteer service, Linda Samuels became the first paid staff person of the museum as the Director / Curator. Samuels created exhibitions that ranged from fine art to environmental and historical issues and established the museum’s most important annual fundraising events: the Bolinas Museum Annual Art Auction and the annual holiday Mini Show. In 1994 Linda left the museum to pursue other career interests. Joyce Clements also left the Board to focus on her work as a professional artist. Together they had created a solid platform for the organization and expanded the vision of what was possible.

After an interim, Dolores Richards became the Executive Director and proved to be a visionary, developing the museum as we know it today. In 1997,  Ewan Macdonald offered to sell the building complex, and Dolores led a capital campaign that had legendary success. Many people gave significant donations to ensure that this goal came to fruition and the Museum now has its own home and footprint in downtown Bolinas. Before Dolores retired, she oversaw the final payment on the mortgage. Dolores expanded the museum from one room into five gallery spaces–several supported by individual donations– galleries dedicated to the main exhibition, photography, Coastal Marin Artists, Permanent Collection, and the history room where history buff Phil Frank created exhibits for over a decade. Dolores also developed the Museum’s Permanent Collection of locally relevant fine art and photography. Several Board members were invaluable in this development period: Sue Wright, Timothy Maxon, Jim, Beth Wintersteen, Ralph Camiccia, and Sally Robertson. In June of 2006, after 12 years, Dolores retired as Executive Director. She had guided the evolution of a small-town museum supported by a thrift store to its current polished standard of professionalism and reputation for excellence.

In 2006, Lucy Van Sands Seeburg (Vandy) became Executive Director.
 A long-time Bolinas resident, she brought a background in the arts and dedication to the continued excellence and development of the organization. One of Vandy’s first actions was to renovate the museum’s history room with funds donated in the memory of Amy Jordan, who spent most of her ninety-plus summers in Bolinas. The crowded opening celebration for the new light-filled history exhibition space included many descendants of early Bolinas families who came from far and wide. Vandy enlivened the use of the courtyard with many yearly series of courtyard concerts, art talks, and dynamic events such as the colorful Dia de Las Madres/Mother’s Day party. She also created an outreach program for Latinx families. The last Annual Art Auction that she organized in 2012 brought in the highest profit of its 20-year history. Vandy retired at the end of September 2012. Artist Dieter Tremp served as Curator of Exhibitions from 2006-2012.

In October of 2012, Jennifer A. Gately stepped in as the Executive Director. With experience working as the Director of Visual Arts at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts and the first Curator of Northwest Art at the Portland Art Museum, she brings fresh energy and new ideas to the museum. Having grown up in a small Victorian-era agricultural town on the East coast and having spent her summers at the beach, she is right at home in Bolinas, doing what she loves most.

Curator of Coastal Marin Art & History Elia Haworth joined the staff in 1999 and served many facets of the organization, including creating history room exhibits, curating exhibitions of local artists, and managing the museum on weekends. Chris Borg was the Office Manager & Development Associate, and Nicole Frazer was the Registrar & Exhibition Coordinator. The small staff, board members, volunteers, and supporters work together to bring diverse, high-quality exhibitions and events to the community and visitors.

Historic Buildings

The Museum’s complex of historic buildings is the stage for our visitors’ experience. They house our five galleries, a suite of offices, art and history archives storage, and spaces for other community businesses. These buildings have their own interesting stories dating back to the late 1800s when Bolinas was a little town growing around its embarcadero with an economy that was, until 1933, dependent on heavy schooner traffic between Bolinas and the markets of San Francisco. These structures have served the community in a great variety of ways, including as saloon and boarding house, meat market with post office, antique store, county library, restaurant, water department office, surfboard fabrication shop, woodshop, beauty salon, galleries, art studios, offices, stores, apartments and more.

Over the decades, Bolinas residents have picked up and moved many of the town’s buildings, including the Museum’s structures. The photograph above shows the original setting of our buildings. Left, the big saloon with its distinctive doorway is facing the street corner. After the 1906 earthquake, the little market building (right) was moved behind the saloon and today it serves as our Photography and Coastal Marin Artists galleries. In 1935, owner Henry Hoirup had the big saloon building picked up and rotated ninety degrees to join it to a hotel that had been built next door. Today, visitors enter the main gallery through that corner doorway, which is now in the courtyard.

By 1988, this complex of buildings had suffered from years of neglect. Empty and rotted, it was put up for sale and seemed fated to be torn down. But, Ewan Macdonald understood the importance of preserving historic structures. With a handful of more modern exceptions, Bolinas downtown architecture dates from between 1851 to the early 1900s – and a few from the 1920s. Ewan purchased the complex and oversaw its challenging and massive restoration. He also created the lovely courtyard where there had been a rubbish-filled swamp. The result is the handsome buildings that anchor the corner of downtown Bolinas. It was a significant gift to the community.

 

Left to right: The museum courtyard in 1988, courtesy of Ewan Macdonald. The museum courtyard in 2018 as we know it today.

As the restoration neared completion, Ewan offered the little Bolinas Museum the large room in the main building. Linda Samuels helped design a floating display wall that provided separate space for art and history exhibitions in the same room. The Museum opened there in 1989, supported by its thrift shop across the courtyard.

In 1996 Executive Director Dolores Richards led a successful capital campaign for the Museum to purchase the entire complex and expand its exhibition and public spaces. Many people gave significant donations to ensure the success of this goal.

In front of the street-side double doors, handmade bricks display the names of generous donors who contributed to the capital campaign. Inside the Museum, a plaque honors major donors whose sizable donations led the way in purchasing the Museum’s permanent home. The capital campaign’s success was aided by many smaller donations as well.

During Dolores Richards’ tenure as Director, she enhanced the buildings by changing doorways, adding a floating wall and hardwood floor in the main gallery, an art storage room, a history-archive room, porches on exterior doors the gateway, courtyard storage, and an enclosing fence. We crafted each change to blend into the original structure. When Dolores retired, she left the Museum newly painted and ready for the next chapter.

When Lucy Van Sands Seeburg (Vandy) became Executive Director in 2006, she had hardwood floors installed in the rest of the galleries, initiated conservation-oriented changes to the Permanent Collection gallery, and, with a memorial fund honoring Amy Jordan, Vandy redesigned and renovated the history room, creating a new, expanded exhibition space.

Past Executive Director Jennifer Gately (2012-2022) oversaw giving the galleries a fresh coat of paint and improvements to the “back of the house,” including office and collection storage upgrades. Thanks to the generosity of museum friends and auction-goers, we renovated the fine art collection storage space and installed rolling racks and humidity and light controls. The collection of historical objects that we once housed in a cramped attic was inventoried, tagged, and moved to a renovated office complete with humidity and light controls and earthquake-proof shelves, cabinets, and drawers. Both collections are now easily accessible due to the upgrades and the institution of a way-finding system initiated by a newly hired Registrar.

Maintaining buildings constructed more than one hundred years ago is demanding, expensive, and ongoing. The historic complex of buildings is undoubtedly the jewel in the Museum’s collection, welcoming locals and visitors worldwide. We are very grateful to friends near and far for their ongoing support of this historic treasure. 

Thank you!