Santa Barbara Historical Museum Celebrates Old Spanish Days
New Exhibit Features Film and Costumes from Decades of Fiestas
By Charles Donelan
The Santa Barbara Historical Museum continues to adapt and support Old Spanish Days through imaginative exhibits that take full advantage of both the museum’s extensive collection of Fiesta memorabilia and the deep knowledge around this tradition of the Santa Barbara community. The latest version of its ongoing Project Fiesta! can be seen through August 28, and it employs a battery of new high-tech projectors to create an immersive experience of the famed El Desfile de Histórico. Larger-than-life colorful footage of the equestrian parade dances across both walls of the main gallery, giving those who miss the pageantry of the event, which had to be canceled again this year, a chance to relive some of its former glory.
The innovative use of projectors and video also addresses the museum’s ongoing commitment to sustainable, low-waste exhibition installations, as it takes the place of multiple large-printed wall texts. Those are reserved for the entrance to the show and for the labels that identify the fascinating tableau that has been assembled down the center of the room. Here you will find carriages, costumes, and even a pair of majestic life-size model horses, all the better to display the intricate leather and silver work of some classic Fiesta parade tack. The carriages come courtesy of the Santa Barbara Carriage and Western Art Museum, a longtime supporter of the Desfile, and the horses were loaned by the area’s Equine Assistance and Evacuation Team, who use the scale models to train volunteers.
Inspiration for much of the fabulous Fiesta attire on display derives from Richard Henry Dana’s thrilling account of the De la Guerra wedding in Two Years Before the Mast. Items on display range from a reimagined white DLG wedding dress to an embossed leather jacket and a tiny toreador’s suit lavished with embroidery from its collar to its tight mid-calf cuffs. The overall impression of gaiety and expressive license tends to overcome any too-particular concerns about authenticity.
For the Historical Museum, Project Fiesta! is only one of the impressive things accomplished during the pandemic quarantine. The permanent collection has been reinstalled, with wider walkways, a great section on the Flying A Studios, and plenty of previously unseen artifacts. Deputy Director Dacia Harwood explained that the quarantine had been a remarkably fertile period for the museum in terms of collecting, as people were going through their belongings and sending materials of historical importance more frequently than ever before during this time.
In the museum’s middle gallery, a substantial show of images associated with the Mission is on display under the title “Queen of the Hill.” Finally, don’t leave without paying respects to Ed Borein’s steer. This magnificent fellow was in the first Fiesta parade in 1924. Was it Borein himself who performed taxidermy on his head? Ask the staff when you visit the Santa Barbara Historical Museum for Fiesta Project! 2021.
136 E. De la Guerra St.; (805) 966-1601; sbhistorical.org