Written by one of our docents, Victoria on the art exhibit It’s Personal! Tales Visualized by Asian American Women Artists.

the secret handshake

I got to see something very cool happen this past Saturday.

The current show at the museum where I’m a docent is so much fun. It’s full of color and out-of-the-box creativity: a funky diorama with a secret peephole, glass kimonos and hanging, bejeweled sailing ships. One artist, who had been cheered up by the “fortune” on her tea bag one morning while she was very depressed, created a border of hundreds of tea bag fortunes that form a ring around the gallery space.

The show is called It’s Personal!  because so much of the art deals with identity, family and memories of childhood. Any art is personal because it’s self expression. An artist invests her skills and vision to put something out there in a vulnerable way, with no guarantee that people will like it or even give it the time of day.

The artistic personality is a paradox:  artists are often the most sensitive of all people, yet their calling requires that they dredge up the treasures of their deepest selves and bare them with guts and perseverance. To a tired and jaded world.

Yeah. This is me. Look at this thing I did. Do your worst. 

So this past Saturday, I was privileged to see a very intimate connection happen. A museum visitor came in and was enjoying the show. She came in to the room where one of the artists, Cynthia Tom, was fine-tuning her pieces for that evening’s reception. The visitor was so moved by one of Cynthia’s paintings that touched on childhood and another piece on human trafficking, that she started crying. Sobbing. She apologized. “I’m sorry! This moves me. You’ve captured just how I feel.”

The artist hugged her and said, “This means so much to me. Do you know how much what you’ve said means to me?”

I ‘ve loved art all my life, and my dad is an artist. I have friends who are artists. I’ve been to numerous galleries and museums throughout the world. But I can’t remember when I have seen anything quite as direct and visceral as this connection between artist and audience. It was sweet. And it affirmed to me that art provides an amazing and deep way for people to connect and share.

Author Michael Chabon talks about art as being one half of a secret handshake, “a challenge that seeks the password, a heliograph flashed from a tower window, an act of hopeless optimism in the service of a bottomless longing.”  I think artists must be optimists. Or is the desire to create so strong that the artist would do it anyway, even if it no one ever saw or understood the work?

Maybe. But there can be nothing quite like the satisfaction of thrusting yourself out there, just to have your handshake returned, with a knowing look.

Follow Victoria here.

NapaStyle Fundraising Event

Fundraising Event!

32 N Santa Cruz Avenue | Los Gatos, CA
Saturday, December 1, 1-5pm

NapaStyle is donating 10% of all sales purchased on Saturday, December 1 between 1-5pm! After the Holiday Parade, do your Christmas shopping and support your local Art & History Museums all at once! Holiday Spirit indeed!

Founded by Napa Valley chef, vintner, tv host and author, Michael Chiarello, NapaStyle showcases an eclectic mix of handcrafted and exclusive home goods and artisanal specialty foods that celebrate all things cooking, entertaining, wine, garden and home. Michael expresses his passion for seasonal and sustainable living through his television shows and cookbooks, and his uniquely designed NapaStyle products, such as his artisan-made salami, salts & spreads, reclaimed barnwood furniture, vintage flatware & antiques, and specialty barware & tabletop. Check out this gorgeous Los Gatos location!

History’s Mysteries Winners!

Congratulations to our History’s Mysteries Winner!

The Museums of Los Gatos has been participating weekly at the Los Gatos Jazz on the Plazz.

This week on August 15 we showed an image of unknown origins. Those who stopped by were asked to write down what they thought this image represented:

Here are some of those answers:

John L.: Pagent party time by the Secret society of elvish teachers in their cover.

Denise A.: Eleven bustled busty carpetbag-carrying women lining up to audition for the role of “cone-head” wife for a “Saturday Night Live” broadcast – and their chaperone!

Emily M.: A bunch of people were going to school and it was bird day so they brought bird cages on a rainy day so they brought umbrellas and had to wear funny hats.

Sally F.: The conehat trend made for a comical prom line-up.

Image courtesy of The Hooked on Los Gatos: Library and History Museum Project.


This week on August 8 we asked “What year was The Los Gatos Museum Association founded”? The correct answer is 1965!

Congratulations to both Mary Kairis and Jo An Smith for knowing the correct year! Stop by our table next week to pick up your prize!


This week on August 1 we showed two kaleidoscopes and asked our visitors to guess what year they were from. The correct answers were:

Large Kaleidoscope: 1890-1910
Small Kaleidoscope: 1920

Michael Coiner provided the closest guesses of the Large Kaleidoscope being from 1910 and the Small Kaleidoscope from 1920! Congratulations, Michael! Stop by our table next week to pick up your prize!


This week on July 18, we set up a contest by asking everyone who visited us to guess what this item is:

We had a lot of great guesses including grape press, cherry pitter, marble maker and a device to make bullets for muskets. But, only one got it right!

Congratulations to DARLENE CRUZ on her guess of “candy maker”! Come by The Art Museum to pick up your prize!

Bear In Mind: The Story of the California Grizzly Bear

All bears evolved from a family of small carnivorous mammals some 30 to 40 million years ago. The origins of this brown bear can be traced back to a small, dog-like animal that lived in Europe. The first brown bears appeared in North America during the late Miocene period, more than 5 million years ago. The genera Ursus includes the Asiatic black bear, the American black bear, the polar bear, the Malaysian sun bear, the sloth bear and the grizzly or brown bear. The grizzly bear diverged from this lineage approximately 300,000 to 400,000 years ago.

In the contiguous western United States, there may have been as many as 100,000 grizzly bears during the early 1800s. Today, there are probably fewer than 1,000 grizzly bears. The last grizzly bear in California was shot in 1922 in Tulare County.

The California grizzly (Ursus arctos californicus) was a special case among the many brown bears roaming North America. With abundant year-round food sources, a mild climate and no predators, the California grizzly flourished. They reached heights of 9 feet and weights in excess of 1700 pounds. The breeding stock was strong and healthy with as many as 10,000 grizzlies roaming the state before the arrival of the Spanish.

The indigenous peoples of California – who had arrived on the scene a mere 10,000 years ago – both feared and revered the grizzly bear. The bear was an omnivore. Ninety percent of the grizzly’s diet consisted of roots, grubs and small mammals such as the pocket gopher. Occasionally the bear would take down small game and feasted on the salmon runs throughout the delta. The native people would come into conflict with the bear when attempting to share these resources and the grizzly was not above raiding the open air granaries where acorns and nuts were stored in their villages.

Although the bear was generally peaceful and lived without fear, it was fierce and deadly when provoked. Oral histories describe attempts by the indigenous people to hunt the grizzly bear. Five men would line a path at intervals with their weapons – simple stone age spears – the first would provoke the bear to chase him by injuring the bear, sure to produce a response. As the man was chased by the bear, he ran by the first of his hidden comrades, who would jump out and injure the bear as well. So on it would go until the last man had attempted to bring down the bear. If the five of them were not a match for the bear, chances were very good that they would be injured or killed.

Needless to say, prior to the arrival of Europeans in the 1700s, the grizzly bear had free range of the hills and valleys of California with no fear.