From Bidwell to Robin Hood

City’s history gets an expanded, and permanent, display at Chico Museum

Chico’s Chinese temple remains are back at Chico Museum.

Chico’s Chinese temple remains are back at Chico Museum.

Photo by Jason Cassidy

Chico Through Time opens Saturday, Feb. 27, at the Chico Museum.
Chico Museum
141 Salem St.

“It’ll be perfect to put right there,” guest curator Dianne Donoho suggested as she pointed across the room to where an incoming bench might be placed. “People can sit on it while they view the Chinese temple exhibit!” The energy level was high on a recent Friday morning at the Chico Museum, as the folks who keep the venue running were busily preparing for the upcoming exhibit, Chico Through Time, opening Saturday, Feb. 27. Donoho, chair of the museum’s exhibition committee, was eagerly awaiting the arrival of a special piece—a bench made of local wood from the former Hooker Oak, on loan from City Hall.

The excitement was understandable. With 12 diverse exhibits representing various themes from Chico’s history, from the founding days of Rancho Chico to Bidwell Park’s role as a location for the 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood to artifacts from the Dr. Enloe’s medicine cabinet, Chico Through Time promises to be a fitting tribute to the city’s history.

“The concept started about two years ago with our exhibit Chico in Black & White,” Donoho said. During that time, Chico Museum showcased photos from late historian John Nopel’s collection of local historical photos. “It was very well received, and as a result of that, we did an exhibit on Mechoopda Indians, and [one called] 100 Years in Chico, and while that was up, we started working on this.”

Chico Through Time is what Donoho refers to as the museum’s new “permanent but flexible” exhibit. “We’ll change out the themes here and there at different times, and we might even change the name eventually. We’re flexible about it all, except that whatever we put in here has to be related to Chico. We’re not flexible about that!” She laughed.

Nearly every corner of available space features displays, one of which is making a return to the museum after being out since 2010. “People will probably be most excited that Chico’s Chinese temple is back and ready for display,” Donoho said as she motioned to the intricate, newly cleaned and restored, golden arches from a temple that once stood on Cherry Street.

“The Chinese were significant to Chico history in the late 19th century, especially with their role in agricultural work,” Donoho said. The temple remains hold ancestral tablets of three gods, including that of Kuan Kung, the god of war and peace, and alongside the temple installation will hang traditional Chinese robes and colorful infant hats.

The replica of a 1916 Chico classroom is likely to be another highlight, nestled in the schooling exhibit. It features rows of wooden desks, a chalkboard with cursive alphabet inscriptions, and journals with lesson plans from the early 20th century. “We’re going to find the name of a real teacher who worked during this time, and possibly have someone simulate a lesson they might give,” Donoho said.

To help plan the layout of the exhibit, the museum called on Hall Marketing and Design along with a handful of Chico State interns. And all the relics? “Probably about half of every display here comes from [local collector] Randy Taylor’s personal collection of artifacts. And John Nopel’s son David has offered as many photos from his father’s collection as we needed. Everyone has been so enthusiastic about helping,” Donoho said.

Donoho and company are hopeful that the new direction of Chico Museum will strike a chord with nostalgic locals and anyone looking to learn about the city’s history. “We have so many stories to tell about Chico, and the exhibit is structured in a way that we can now do that, permanently,” she said.