A Campbell Anniversary

A Campbell Anniversary

by Hannah Ybarra

It’s easy to get lost in the architecture of our historic Campbell House. Kirtland Cutter’s Tudor-style home contains 32 elegantly designed rooms that reflect the purpose and grandeur of late 19th century tradition while hiding within its walls the technology and innovation of the future. However, the narrative of our largest artifact and longest running exhibition here at the Northwest Museum is far more intricate than the rococo ceiling and Corinthian columns of its interior. Campbell House is most intriguing when you put aside the decor and delve into the lives of the people who called it home.

This year, Helen is the one who is on my mind most often as it was her diaries that first endeared Campbell House to me. Helen was flesh and blood. Her story is straightforward: the daughter of a mining magnate and a stoic mother, she progresses through childhood in relatively uneventful normalcy. We hear nothing of her failures — simply the occasional mention of gifts and school friends in letters. Her diaries begin as she is introduced to society in 1913, a 21-year-old, and we embark on the typical journey of an early 20th century young adult’s life. Some may see inference in my narrative of Helen but, after years of relating her anecdotes as I go from room to room, I find her to be a true romantic. I relish the personal moments that she divulges amongst the mundane. Helen Campbell fell in love within these walls and this year would be her 100th wedding anniversary.

Bill wasn’t who she was supposed to marry. A pinematch box maker from Puxatawney, Pennsylvania, he had little to recommend him as a suitor. He was ten years older than Helen and he lived with 300 other men at the University Club in downtown Spokane. Perhaps she was attracted to the novelty of an unsuitable courtship at first or perhaps Bill was always going to be “the one”, but Helen hemmed and hawed over him for years as her mother fretted over the relationship. Other suitors came and went, but Bill’s consistent presence in the pages of her diary is telling. They had drives in the electric car, trips to the theater, quiet dinners at home with mother followed by evenings of Parcheesi in front of the Gothic sandstone fireplace in the Campbell’s library.

She married Bill on June 27, 1917, in front of that same fireplace. The Spokane Daily Chronicle described the event as “one of the most stately and pretentious functions ever seen in Spokane”. Her life with Bill would be filled with challenges. Shortly after their wedding he would be sent overseas to fight in WWI, missing the birth of their first son, William. Their second son, Alan, was lost in WWII. Despite the trials and tribulations, it is the narrative of life that draws us to history and the history of the Campbells. The love story of Helen and Bill is here waiting at the Northwest Museum. Come take a tour and celebrate 100 years.

Helen Wedding ArticleL91-159.41



A few quotes from Helen’s Diary mentioning the wedding and the war.

Sun. Feb. 4: Read “Mr. Brittling” all evening.  It is so good.  Makes all the conditions before the war so vividly clear.
Thurs. Feb. 8: Sewing club is going to the Red Cross to work since the sudden demand for helpers
Thurs. Feb. 22: Announced the engagement this afternoon at tea…by showing my ring. Such a day.
Tues. Feb. 27: Read “The Hilltop on the Marne.”
Wed. March 7 in New York City: Ordered “the dress”… at Hicksons. “It” is lovely – so simple & such long lines. 
Wed. March 14 in New York City: The war seems very close to-day.  Another ship sunk.  Wrote Bill telling him I intend to marry him no matter what.
Thurs. April 26: Went to a “motor” lecture & to see “War Brides” with Retta.  Terribly harrowing but very well done. 
Mon. June 4: Sewed 20 sheets for the 1st Red Cross unit which goes Wednesday. 
Tues. June 5: Registration Day.  Bill claimed no exemption except to tell them he was sole owner of the business. [First WWI draft registration date; all men between 21 and 31]
Wed. June 13: Got the last invitations off.  Rhea [Patsy Clark’s daughter] is …to be married the 7th of July because Guy will probably be called.
Sun. June 17: Heard Mr. Mangasarian [speak] on “The World after the War.” 
Thurs. June 21: Mrs. Gordon’s dance for us to-night.  Just the wedding party & so nice.  Supper at tables in the dining room after.

Wally Hagin Photograph Collection

From 1945 until his death in 2006, Wally Hagin captured photographs of local life, especially the clubs, church groups, portraits and special occasions of this area’s African American community.  In addition, Wally’s mother Irene had assembled a fine collection of photos and family albums during the course of her 99 year life. In October 1997, the combined treasure of about 1000 family and business photographs came to the MAC as the Wally Hagin Collection – a springboard in the Museum’s efforts to build a collection that better represents all the people of the Inland Northwest.
Wally Hagin’s story is a colorful one.  Born in Montana in 1915, he arrived in Spokane with his family at about age three.  His father Wallace helped a Montana friend, Reverend Emmett Reed, form Spokane’s Calvary Baptist Church. As a young man, Wally attended Gonzaga University, played trumpet in its band, and was the first African American in Washington to earn a pilot’s license.  He also earned a mortician’s degree, performed continuously in dance bands, After World War II, Wally Hagin took up photography as a profession and, carrying a camera at all times, documented local events, from weddings and parties, to graduation portraits and club pictures. 
Special thanks go to Jerrelene Williamson and the Spokane Northwest Black Pioneers for their efforts in adding this important collection to the museum collection, assuring that the region’s African American heritage is preserved and accessible to future generations.4125-4

House Guests Welcome

Imagine thousands of visitors walking through your house every year!
The Historic Campbell House keeps our small staff and occasional contractors constantly busy with daily, monthly, and annual maintenance projects. Thankfully, some projects only need to be done every 5-10 years. This year’s rotation included both the “invisible” (sweeping and inspecting the boiler, kitchen stove, and library chimney flues) and the “visible”, pictured here.  The kitchen tile floor, restored in the early 1990s, badly needed re-sealing, but small tile areas had broken loose.  When a search for new matching tiles failed, MAC exhibits preparator, John Richardson, removed existing individual loose tiles, cleaned and re-set them so the floor could be stained (cleaned) and sealed. And all this was done between tours! It’s the little details and the constant effort by our team that make Campbell House the treasure that it is. Stepping back in time takes a lot of upkeep but the ambiance is incomparable.  

Psyche & Eros Return Home for the Holidays

img_2944-smallThe mythological Psyche and Eros is back home in time for the holidays! During their 1903 and 1909 tours of Egypt and Europe, the Campbell family shipped a case of alabaster and a case of marble sculptures back to Spokane. Photographs of their home library in 1910 include a marble statue, “Psyche Revived by the Kiss of Eros,” likely from one of these shipments.
For years the statue has graced the Campbell House Library, resting on its green marble stand. However, the statue’s wings were broken and poorly repaired more than 30 years ago, and the overall surface needed cleaning.
 We’re sure that the Campbell family would be delighted to see their alabaster sculpture looking clean and whole again.
Special thanks:
Project funding:  Karen Sonneborn and Diane DeFelice
Volunteer conservator Cathy Tully:  plans, reports, and conservator search
Conservator Linda Roundhill (Woodinville, WA):  sculpture cleaning, repair & documentation
Collections Curator Val Wahl:  shipping arrangements & conservation supervision
Registrar Brooke Wagner:  in-house photography
Exhibit Preparator (and other MAC staff & staff families): transportation and labor

Perseverance in Preservation

The Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture houses, preserves, and protects thousands of objects.  Keeping track of all of the information for such a vast collection requires a specialized database.  The database that the museum uses describes and tracks each object in the museum’s collection.  Keeping up with cataloging and updating locations for this large collection is a constant task for the museum’s collection department staff.

Each object has a record in the database with many different types of information about it, describing both its physical as well as its intellectual attributes.  It’s crucial to capture all of the information around what we have collected, such as who it was used by, and where, when and why it was made.  As we are a regional museum, we collect and organize this information hoping that we will be able to tell great stories about the Inland Northwest using our collection.

To track the improvement of the collection database, staff have defined stages of record quality as “inventory levels” 1-6, with Level 6 being the most complete.  A Level 6 record has a high quality photograph of the object and represents a thoroughly cataloged object.  While our goal is to get the entire collection to a Level 6 status, with thousands of items and a continually growing collection this is a slow and ongoing process.

Some types of information are required.   A near term goal is to accomplish a Level 3 record for all objects, which includes the item’s location and a detailed description.  If each collection object has a Level 3 record, we can be confident that it is well situated in storage and that we can easily find it.  Over the past year and a half the Collection Department has been tasked with bringing as many object records as possible up to a Level 3 status.  This work included integrating a new Object Name Thesaurus (using the American Association for State and Local History’s Nomenclature) into the database to standardize the terms by which we name an object.  Using standardized terms creates consistency that makes digital searching and organizing easier and more efficient.

A standardized nomenclature requires the cataloger to choose specific terms from a predetermined list.  For example something previously described only as a needle must now be described as a sewing needle, medical needle, or a phonograph needle.  Consistent terms increase our rate of success at finding all of the phonograph needles in the collection with one search term rather than having to guess at all of the possible cataloging terms that may have been used.

This project involved going through thousands of records and renaming collection objects; for efficiency we updated the “inventory status” field of each record we handled.  At the start of the project in June 2015, 7% of object records were listed as Level 3 or greater; by the completion of the nomenclature project in June 2016 that percentage increased to 52%.

In addition, in 2016 collection staff committed time to an item level inventory of the history collection, including textiles and clothing.  This work requires handling each item to find its unique museum number and recording the location of that item in the database, as well completing the object’s record to Level 3 status – or creating a record if necessary.   So far this year 4,366 object locations were updated and 695 object records were added to the database.

Shown below are some of the interesting or unusual things we encountered:


725-26725.26, Spanish American War hard tack (survival cracker), 1898

2921-2 2921.2, Contact lenses c 1945

2962-1602962.160, Woven coverlet, (detail), 1841

Campbell House: a beginning

img_0388The start of every season brings about a new beginning. Over the last 118 years our Historic Campbell House has seen hundreds of beginnings. From the beginning of Helen Campbell’s marriage to William Powell in front of the Gothic sandstone fireplace in 1917 to the beginning of Campbell House cook Hulda Johnson’s romance with the milkman Lewis Olsen at the back kitchen door. It has seen the Eastern Washington State Historical Society grow and blossom into the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture  which is now 100 years old itself and displaying it’s newest exhibition Lost Egypt. Therefore it has been a pleasure over the last four months to be witness to the Campbell House getting her own beginning again, for the first time in 25 years.

Her windows are shining with new UV protective screens that will preserver her interior for decades to come so that, like the 116 eyes of second and third graders from Hamblen Elementary that drank in every inch of her Victorian design during yesterday’s field trip, thousands more will be able to explore her 13,000 square feet of 19th century time warp. She is adorned with a new cedar roof still orange with the glow of a new home. We can see Campbell house now through the eyes of Grace and Amasa Campbell as they rode up her front drive that first day in 1898 and took in their
new life in Spokane for the first time.img_0390

Campbell was from small beginnings himself. The 10th child born to a newly widowed mother struggling to make ends meet in Salem Ohio , 1845. His fortune didn’t find him until his forties. Campbell had changed his stars, investing in lumber, railroads, and the northern Idaho mines. Here they were the nouveau riche and the owners of a 32 room mansion in a neighborhood of elites. What a sight it must have been for him.


Now as we look forward to a new season as a Museum we find ourselves refreshed. While our road to cultural significance is not without bumps and bruises, we as a museum family cherish our time honoring the memories of the past and preserving the remnants left to us. Campbell House is open and thriving more than a century after its conception. As we approach the beginning of the holiday season its rooms will be alive with event after event celebrating its past and future.


The Art of Animals

Many people associate taxidermy with deer heads mounted on walls, or the hunter Gaston using antlers in all of his decorating. Maybe you yourself grew up under the glassy gaze of a mule deer or a mountain goat. But taxidermy is an art form, and a science, that held a place of honor in both disciplines. Today, this discipline is far less popular than it was.

Imagine the world before color photography, and certainly before documentaries. Imagine growing up in Spokane in the 1920’s, and going to the Campbell House to see the natural history exhibit, and coming face to face with a snarling tiger. You would see each of its whiskers, its muscles tensed, the beautiful pattern of its carefully preserved coat. Very few people in the museum would ever travel to a continent with a tiger in it, let alone see a live wild one, and certainly not up close.

Creating a taxidermy specimen requires extensive knowledge of animal anatomy. A good specimen has weight, grace, and accuracy to capture the spirit of the animal in its natural habitat.

Mourning Dove, John James Audubon. 

Again, before photography, preserved specimens were the only way for artists and scientists to get accurate references. Without them, Audubon’s carefully studied and beautifully executed paintings would not have been possible.

Carolina Parakeet, John James Audubon. This print is on display at the Fangs, Fur & Feathers exhibit!

Today, as species go extinct and focus shifts to zoos, many museums are discarding their taxidermy collections. As older specimens were generally made from a single animal, with all its imperfections, newer specimens focus on re-creating a “perfect” specimen for study.

This show is very possibly a last chance to see specimens like this, some of which are over 100 years old.