The “We Came with Dreams” video exhibit was recognized as the best in the state in 2011. (Cydney McFarland/Peninsula Daily News)

The “We Came with Dreams” video exhibit was recognized as the best in the state in 2011. (Cydney McFarland/Peninsula Daily News)

Museum in Port Townsend expands to bring in more exhibits

PORT TOWNSEND — The Jefferson County Historical Society has expanded into the basement of historic City Hall to bring in more rotating exhibits to the small Jefferson Museum of Art &History.

Most of the year, the museum at 504 Water St., is open every day from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. In January and February it will open only on weekends — with the same hours — so the staff can clean and change out exhibits.

Admission is free to members of the historical society and on the first Saturday of every month for Jefferson County residents. Otherwise a fee is charged.

The newest exhibit, in what was once a women’s jail cell, documents Port Townsend’s literary background with a collection of works from the 1970s and ’80s by local printers.

The exhibit was curated by Jenny Westdal, president-elect of the county historical society, and Becky Schurmann, the museum’s collections manager and exhibit designer.

The exhibit, “Printed Word in Port Townsend,” boasts works from seven literary printers: Empty Bowl, Copper Canyon, Lockhart Press, Dragon Gate Inc., The Wale, Sagittarius Press and Greywolf Press.

“At one point there was one publisher for every 850 people in town,” Westdal said. “It’s amazing a town of this size had so many literary presses.”

The works are mostly soft-cover books, printed and decorated intricately, which makes the tiny white cell an ideal place to display them, she said.

“These wouldn’t work in the big gallery because they’re just so little and detailed,” Westdal said. “But they’re just historically and artistically important to this town so we’re glad to be the first to really display them.”

Westdal said the works on display are just a fraction of works printed during the era depicted.

“We had to really make a lot of cuts,” Westdal said.

The walls are decorated with photos of the poets and writers whose words fill the little books, all done by photographer Steven Johnson.

“He was a friend of many of those writers,” Westdal said.

“The photos also make the exhibit much warmer and you see that these works were mostly done by young idealistic people.”

The new exhibit ate into some of the space previously occupied by the museum’s prostitution exhibit, according to Bill Tennent, executive director of the historical society.

That exhibit, along with the jail cells, tends to be among the most popular.

“Ever since we put out the sign with ‘great art, creepy jail’ on it we’ve had a lot of people come in for the jail,” Tennent said. “Kids love it.”

The jail and prostitution exhibits are permanent fixtures at the Jefferson County Art and History museum, along with the more historical exhibits on the ground floor featuring artifacts from area local tribes, early explorers and maritime history.

“Since we’re the county museum, we do try to make sure we look at the county outside of Port Townsend,” Tennent said. “But it’s so small in here we don’t have a lot of room for changing exhibits. That’s why we opened the downstairs.”

Upstairs, the Historical Quilt exhibit will be replaced in February by the Peter and Pat Simpson gallery. Of the 27 quilts currently on display, 23 are on loan from 11 families from Jefferson County.

“We wanted to focus more on the families and their stories rather than just quilt making,” Tennent said.

“But this is essentially an art galley. Of course you can’t really divide art and history when you’re talking about historical quilts.”

________

Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 55052, or at cmcfarland@ peninsuladailynews.com.

Becky Sherman and Jenny Westdal stand in the Printed Word of Port Townsend exhibit the two co-curated. (Cydney McFarland/Peninsula Daily News)

Becky Sherman and Jenny Westdal stand in the Printed Word of Port Townsend exhibit the two co-curated. (Cydney McFarland/Peninsula Daily News)

The jail in the basement of the museum is consistently one of the most popular exhibits. (Cydney McFarland/Peninsula Daily News)

The jail in the basement of the museum is consistently one of the most popular exhibits. (Cydney McFarland/Peninsula Daily News)

The Historical Quilts exhibit will be gone in March and is made up of mostly quilts on loan from community members.

The Historical Quilts exhibit will be gone in March and is made up of mostly quilts on loan from community members.

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