While it may be difficult to envision a time when the notoriously liberal town of Santa Cruz actively supported a war, it is precisely this sentiment that the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH) will be remembering. The MAH, along with the McPherson Center and the UC Santa Cruz History of Art and Visual Culture (HAVC) department, will be presenting “Our Threads of Allegiance: World War II in Santa Cruz & Abroad.” The student-created exhibition will run from May 28 to July 17, and First Friday on June 3 offers free admission along with complementary live music and refreshments.
The MAH is providing a space for UCSC students enrolled in a three-part Museum Exhibitions HAVC class series to utilize the skills they’ve developed in their classes to create an exhibition.
“This is our chance to show off all the hard work we have done throughout the year, and we would like you to enjoy it as well!” reads the student-created “Our Threads of Allegiance” Facebook page.
As young Santa Cruzans enlisted and were shipped overseas to fight in World War II, the families they left behind rationed food and materials, using coupon books displayed in the exhibit. Different uniforms, photographs and other World War II memorabilia will all be on display as “Our Threads of Allegiance” holds tribute to the war effort that brought Santa Cruz together decades ago.
Carol Wilson, a third-year Stevenson student, discussed the relevance of the subject.
“What our exhibit hopes to accomplish is showing the interconnection of the community,” Wilson said. “World War II was a time when everyone worked as one to help the war effort — everyone was a part of it. The quilt and the different uniforms are iconic.”
Students enrolled in the Museum Exhibitions class series investigated several prominent local World War II families for the exhibit. The Trenbeth family was especially generous, donating both the uniform Wilson mentioned and a journal detailing the families’ experiences during the war. As part of the classes’ efforts to make the exhibit more interactive, excerpts from the journal will also be available as audio recordings.
“We want people to be engaged and have things to do,” said fourth-year Porter student Brendan Arenas. “So some of the pieces incorporate audio, and in other parts people will use their hands. We incorporated a lot of interactive elements into the exhibit.”
The HAVC students also acquired a large quilt. The multicolored quilt, composed of embroidered squares, was a small token of home on the battleship where it was eventually taken. Rachael Torres, a fourth-year Stevenson affiliate, found special significance in the quilt.
“Mothers and wives embroidered their names on this quilt to send overseas,” Torres said. “The dates really connect the exhibit to the time period for me. When you see 1942 on the quilt you know you’re looking back into history.”
The project itself is an interesting glimpse into an important part of our nation’s past, but the HAVC students who worked on the exhibit also gained valuable experience.
“This is exactly what I want to do with my life,” Wilson said. “I want to be a registrar at a museum.”
But Porter fourth-year Arenas pointed out that working in museums isn’t for everyone, and this is why the HAVC program provides such a meaningful experiences.
“There are very high requirements to become a curator,” Arenas said. “You need a Ph.D., and might not make enough money to pay back the investment. It’s not something I’m sure I’ll be able to do, so this might be the only time I can reasonably curate an exhibit. I’ll always remember it.”