Oregon Historical Society Unveils New 7,000 Square Foot Permanent Exhibit, Experience Oregon

(Photo courtesy of Oregon Historical Society)

Visitors of all ages, and from all parts of the world, come to the Oregon Historical Society (OHS) each year to learn about Oregon. Whether you were born here, have chosen to make this place home, or are just passing through, it is undeniable that there is something special about this state. From its varied geography to its innovative legislation, Oregon is complex and distinctive, filled with people whose stories are the foundation of the state we see today.

On Thursday, February 14, the Oregon Historical Society will unveil a new 7,000 square foot exhibition, Experience Oregon, a dynamic educational space that allows visitors to learn about the countless people, places, and events that have shaped this place. February 14 is also Oregon’s 160th birthday, and OHS will celebrate the grand opening with a blessing led by members of the Confederated Tribes of the Grande Ronde followed by a ribbon cutting ceremony at noon. Other celebrations during the weekend include a Family Day event filled with cultural performances and activities on Saturday, February 16, and free admission all weekend, February 14 through 18.

Experience Oregon is very aptly named,” says Kerry Tymchuk, executive director of the Oregon Historical Society. “It is a state-of-the-art immersive experience that brings to life the remarkable and dramatic history of Oregon and those who have called it home. From priceless artifacts to breathtaking images to unforgettable stories of the individuals who have made and changed history, there is truly something for everyone in this exhibit.”

Visitors enter Experience Oregon through a panoramic theater that introduces major themes and sets the stage for the exhibit. Land and water are two of the most pervasive topics covered, displaying the diversity of Oregon’s landscape, as well as people’s historical and ongoing relationships with its resources. Visitors follow a “river” along the floor to reinforce the importance of water to Oregon’s history, and to the many people who call this place home.

“Across Time” stations throughout the exhibit use broad themes such as home, water, and land to draw connections between yesterday and today. Experience Oregon’s design continually directs visitors back to the present, emphasizing why learning about history matters.

Interactive stations throughout the exhibition include a “Stories from the Archives” tablet game, a covered-wagon replica visitors can walk through, role-playing games that allow visitors to take sides in historical debates, listening wands that bring to visitors voices from the past, and opportunities to offer ideas and opinions on relevant themes. As visitors leave the exhibit, they can create a memory blanket as a digital “takeaway” using photographs and artifacts, as well as Pendleton blanket designs, to help recall favorite moments from the exhibit.

Over three years in the making, developing Experience Oregon has really been a collaborative undertaking. Oregon Historical Society staff, trustees, and volunteers; Oregon Tribes; educators; content specialists; historians; community members; and multiple design firms from across the country have contributed their talents to create this new cornerstone of our museum.

“The design process for Experience Oregon was truly cutting-edge, and is one of the aspects that makes this exhibition so unique,” says OHS Museum Director Helen B. Louise. “It’s impossible for a single person to adequately tell a history this immense as there are so many points of view to consider. Rather than having one single curator, the content and conceptualization for Experience Oregon has been a collaboration of stakeholders, making this such a rich exhibition, both in content and design”

OHS has scoured our collections to display artifacts from across the state’s geography and history – some on exhibit for the first time. One beloved artifact is the Benson Automobile, one of the first cars built in Oregon. Nils Benson began building this car in 1904, and then displayed it at the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition the following year. Another favorite artifact returning to display is the Scarborough canoe, a quintessential Chinook-style canoe. Local Tribes refer to the canoe as the “ancestor,” and it has inspired the carving of new canoes in its likeness that Tribes use today. OHS will also be displaying for the first time a housewife (sewing kit) that was carried by George Shannon, the youngest non-infant member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

All of the artifacts on display in Experience Oregon are from the Oregon Historical Society museum collection, and our research library preserves the vast majority of the archival materials on view. Experience Oregon would be impossible without the countless Oregonians who, for over a century, have turned to OHS to preserve their histories.

Experience Oregon officially opens to the public on February 14 at 12pm. The Oregon Historical Society’s museum is open seven days a week, Monday — Saturday from 10am — 5pm and Sunday from 12pm — 5pm. Admission is $10, and discounts are available for students, seniors, and youth. Admission is free every day for OHS members and Multnomah County residents.

Opening Weekend Events:

Grand Opening Celebration

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Festivities begin at 12pm

Celebrate Oregon’s 160th birthday and the grand opening of Experience Oregon with birthday cake, music from the Oregon Oldtime Fiddlers, a blessing from the Confederated Tribes of the Grande Ronde, and the official ribbon cutting to unveil the exhibit!

Family Day

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Activities from 12-4pm

Enjoy musical performances from Portland Taiko, BRAVO Youth Orchestras, Oregon Trail Trio, The Prairie Blossoms, and Portland Gay Men’s Chorus. Listen to traditional Kalapuya/Coos storytelling, pan for gold with representatives from the Wells Fargo History Museum, and take home a souvenir of your visit from one of our activity stations.

Free Admission Opening Weekend: February 14-18, 2019



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