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The mountain and Mohammed: 'Hidden in plain sight' and 'Amerikanuak!', two examples of successful Basque traveling exhibitions


'Amerikanuak!' and 'Hidden,'  include one of the oldest, and another of the most complete American exhibitions about the Basques (Photos: BM&CC)
'Amerikanuak!' and 'Hidden,' include one of the oldest, and another of the most complete American exhibitions about the Basques (Photos: BM&CC)

Last year was the 20th anniversary of 'Amerikanuak! Basques in the High Desert,' an exhibition created by the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon. After being showcased for several months, it was dismantled but the cultural institution also created an offshoot of the original work which is still traveling and being exhibited, sporadically. Likewise, 'Hidden in plain sight: the Basques' was created in 2010 by the Basque Museum of Boise, Idaho, and inaugurated in New York, intended to travel around the country. In a conversation with, Faith Brower, Curator of Exhibitions and Collections at the High Desert Museum, said that the importance of these exhibits lies in the fact that they “explore a cultural community that many people are still unaware of.”

Bend, OR/Boise, ID. Despite not being exhibited very often lately, Amerikanuak! Basques in the High Desert was part of the program at the Caldwell Basque Dance, celebrated on January 16. The annual charity event was a success, attracting over a thousand people that were also able to enjoy the history panels. The current curator of the High Desert Museum, Faith Brower, was not working at the cultural institution when the original exhibit was created, but she told this bulletin that, Bob Boyd, the curator at the time, “was hoping to shine some light on the diverse cultural communities of the High Desert region, a subject he had researched extensively.”

This exhibit tells the story of the Basques in the American West, discussing many of the most important aspects of their culture: from who the Basques are to when they came to the West and why. Comprised of images and interpretative texts, the exhibition is small, yet impactful. In two decades, the installation has been shown in Cheyenne and Rock Springs, Wyoming; in Grand Junction, Colorado; twice in Ontario, Oregon; in Boise, Idaho; and in Elko, Nevada.

From Ellis Island to the world

It is known that Ellis Island, in New York City, was the port of entry for most of the immigrants arriving to the US the late 1800s to the midle 1900s. For that very reason Hidden in plain sight: the Basques was inaugurated and displayed for a three-month period at that landmark, between February and May of 2010. It attracted over 300,000 visitors and, later, in September of the same year, it was installed at the Basque Museum of Boise and, a year later, in 2011, a smaller version crossed the ocean to be showcased at the World Congress of Basque Collectivities, celebrated in Donostia.

The exhibition, that in June of 2011 received an Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History, focuses on the story of Basque immigration to the States. It covers topics like the Basque Country then and now, what it was like to live in a Boarding House, Basque mythology, culture and traditions, and lives of prominent Basques, from athletes to explorers to politicians.

A miniature version of the original work is currently being exhibited, through mid-May, at the Sparks Heritage Foundation and Museum, in Nevada. During the first month, around 400 people visited it and, in the words of Executive Director Kelly Reis, “so far, the response has been really positive.”

The museum borrowed the panels from Boise and added some items and artifacts —like tree carvings by sheepherders, for instance— loaned by the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada Reno. “It's a wonderful, extensive, and very thorough exhibition,” said Reis. “There is something for everyone, sports, language, dances, music, history… Whatever your interests are, you'll find something for you. And it's very accessible, you don't need to be an expert. We're very proud to have it here.”

It is still unknown where the exhibit will go after leaving Sparks. “Ideally we will have it in another museum,” stated Annie Gavica, Education Programs Specialist of the Basque Museum of Boise. “But before taking it somewhere else, we'll probably bring it back here to make sure everything is OK.”

A great job by the Basque Museum of Boise

Not only is Hidden in plain sight an excellent exhibition for which the Boise museum should be celebrated. They also lend it to other museums for free and pay the traveling costs, as Reis remarked. “They're really wonderful over there, they do an incredible job.”

Gavica explains that “part of our mission is to educate as many communities as we can on the Basque culture.” She also points out that a portion of the money collected at their annual fundraiser (this year's will be on April 9) is invested in that. “I don't think lending exhibitions and paying for the costs is usual for museums, it is not even for us, but if we can do it we'll do it.”

*Anybody interested in showcasing either 'Amerikanuak! Basques in the High Desert' or 'Hidden in plain sight: the Basques,' should contact Annie Gavica or Patty Miller at (208) 343-2671.

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