By Stacey Limone, Guest Services & Photographer
The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History is in its 132nd year. Just under one year ago, I joined our guest services team upon earning my degree in visual and public arts from California State University, Monterey Bay. From my perch at the point of welcome to the public, my inner anthropologist has been inspired through directly experiencing our museum’s role in the community.
It is incredible to meet people every day travelling from all over the country and from across the world. I am often asked: “What do you have here?” It is always enjoyable to share with our visitors the museum’s expansive collection of artifacts and specimens pertaining to all of Monterey Bay’s natural wonders, the many exhibits and all educational resources we offer.
And indeed - the museum has many awe-inspiring pieces of the scientific alphabet to share. Illumination by objects that tell a story of existence well before us humans had so much influence.
For myself - the objects, the many exhibits and our local historians and scholars become the catalysts for deeper poignant contemplation. Taxidermy, for instance, becomes more than simply stuffed animals. Here at the Museum children learn the interworking of life’s natural cycles. People of all ages look up at our grizzly bear in sheer non-self-conscious speechlessness. They readily discuss their epic wildlife encounters with me, somehow prodded back to their experience by the influence of a perfectly preserved creature’s presence.
I’m also lucky to learn from our community’s treasured descendants, including Rumsien and Chinese descendants who lived (and continue to live) in the Peninsula. Through their rich histories and artifacts we are able to stimulate community dialogue, which is relevant now more than ever. They remind us they are still here. I’ve also been moved to tears by a powerful poem on bravery and transformation written by a visitor who wrote to our staff about her experience with the butterflies, after she visited both the Monarch Sanctuary and witnessed the living chrysalises’ metamorphoses in the museum’s monarch exhibit.
From my vantage point I see our museum promote a sense of community. I see this in our local visitors and in our valued members. I have heard and seen the joy expressed by those introducing their children and grandchildren to the Museum for the first or even the hundredth time.
In this way the most influential artifact we have to present our community is the Museum itself and I have been fortunate to play a small role in an experience that helps evoke generations of inspiration.
As time moves forward our facility has adapted to our culture’s many changes, just as Pacific Grove itself has transformed since its inception in the 19th century. The historic rooms and cabinets of curiosity, which have elegantly hosted many variations of animal, geological, botanical, marine, and cultural artifacts over the past century, now serves as a vibrant center for an all-star team of volunteers, dedicated staff, community lectures and special events; while also being the home base for many local environmental organizations, educational classes and children’s science camps.
Our many visitors are led by their own curiosity to a crossroad of art and science, which exists in every room and corner of the Museum. I imagine, whether people are aware of it or not, that through their own investigation they have immersed themselves further in our amazing world. As I have learned with my own education and adventures with wildlife, the true worth of the admission fee (and it’s free for Monterey County residents), is determined ultimately by the spirit of engagement and the willingness to encounter and ponder our diverse world and community.