Gateway: Living

Exhibit explores Gig Harbor’s fishing industry origins

A few of the many Gig Harbor area artists that have their work on display for the Harbor History Museum’s “Arts and Artifacts – Gig Harbor Netsheds” get together for a photo.
A few of the many Gig Harbor area artists that have their work on display for the Harbor History Museum’s “Arts and Artifacts – Gig Harbor Netsheds” get together for a photo. lgiles@gateline.com

The current exhibit at the Harbor History Museum — “Arts and Artifacts - Gig Harbor Netsheds” — is a collaborative creation between museum volunteers, local artists and community historians that showcases Gig Harbor’s fishing town origins.

Exhibit coordinator Joann Hale was at the center of the project and lead a committee of volunteers to put together the exhibit, which features artwork and the history of the 17 Gig Harbor netsheds and the families who owned them, all with little administrative oversight, since the museum was between directors at the time.

“I’ve never curated before, I’ve never done anything like that,” Hale said. “I just thought I’d hang some art.”

Hanging art was familiar to Hale, who is retired after years working in various art galleries in California.

She started on the project after John Ross — interim director at the time — asked for a volunteer to help with an temporary exhibit.

The exhibit evolved, on Ross’s suggestion, into an exhibit featuring the history of Gig Harbor’s netsheds.

There are 17 remaining Gig Harbor netsheds, which were used by Gig Harbor’s founding fishermen to hang their nets to dry and store their equipment through the winter.

When you’re dealing with people’s history — especially with families and especially in Gig Harbor — you want to make sure it’s accurate.

Joann Hale, exhibit coordinator

As museum volunteers — lead by Nate Slater, the museum’s shipwright — looked through the museum’s storage for artifacts to place in the exhibit, Hale contacted Peninsula Art League member Anne Knapp about an art show the league had done previously featuring the netsheds.

Knapp said the league’s previous art show, held at the Gig Harbor Civic Center, had garnered community interest, but viewing was limited because of the operational hours of the Civic Center.

She liked Hale’s concept of an “Arts and Artifacts” show and contacted other league artists for a total of 70 pieces of artwork — including 13 of her own pieces.

“It was a beautiful collaboration. Just beautiful. I couldn’t ask for more,” Knapp said of working with Hale and the museum. “(Joann’s) a real asset. And I think her Arts and Artifacts concept was brilliant.”

Knapp is the co-lead of the league’s plein air group, whose members challenged themselves to paint as many of the netsheds as they could. This work has increased interaction between the artists and the Gig Harbor community as people walking past would ask the artists about their work.

“We artists have really enjoyed both painting the netsheds and having the interaction with the community,” she said. “It’s been a very good thing.”

Historical accuracy, Hale said, was important to her and the other volunteers, and — with the help of Lita Dawn Stanton, who was part of the committee — they worked hard to make sure their information was accurate.

Stanton contacted each of the 15 families to make sure the histories they had were correct, Hale said.

We artists have really enjoyed both painting the net sheds and having the interaction with the community.

Anne Knapp, artist

“When you’re dealing with people’s history — especially with families and especially in Gig Harbor — you want to make sure it’s accurate,” she said.

The exhibit features sections for each netshed, with a brief history of the family surrounded by artwork of the netshed.

The museum administration is thrilled with Hale’s exhibit, according to Marketing and Events coordinator Alphild Dick.

“We’re so pleased with the exhibit and how Joann was able to bring different elements together so cohesively to speak to the community’s history,” Dick said. “I think Joann did a fabulous job coordinating. She put a lot of time and effort into (the exhibit).”

Hale has enjoyed the positive community response and engagement with the exhibit, which she hears about firsthand in her other museum position, in guest services.

“It makes me feel so much closer to the community than before,” she said. “We’ve gotten so much from it.”

Hale is currently working on the museum’s next exhibit, titled ‘“An Excellent Little Bay – The early years of the Gig Harbor Peninsula,” which is based on a book of the same title that is sold in the museum’s gift shop.

This upcoming exhibit is the first in a series and will explore the early settlers of the Gig Harbor area and the small communities that formed, beginning in the 1800s and ending in 1920.

“We’ve discovered that the community wants to learn about their history,” Hale said. “It’s an amazing community we live in.”

The “Arts and Artifacts - Gig Harbor Netsheds” exhibit runs through Feb. 14 at the Harbor History Museum, 4121 Harborview Drive.

Museum hours and information can be found online at www.harborhistorymuseum.org or by calling (253) 858-6722.

Andrea Haffly: 253-358-4155, @gateway_andrea

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