Heritage Museum announces hire of new director

The museum has announced the appointment of Gretta Stimson as its new executive director.

Vashon Heritage Museum has announced the appointment of Gretta Stimson as its new executive director, effective June 1.

Stimson’s appointment follows the tenure of Elsa Croonquist, who stepped down from the role in January to oversee a major renovation of its permanent exhibit space — now scheduled to reopen to the public in July.

“I personally and professionally am very excited to have Gretta leading the museum into this new phase of reopening and development,” said Croonquist. “She brings strength in museum and collections management, as well as program development, that will strengthen our organization and our service to our community.”

As executive director, Stimson said she aims to build upon Vashon Heritage Museum’s legacy — envisioning a museum that not only celebrates the island’s rich history but also engages with contemporary issues, fostering dialogue and understanding. Her previous work in the field, including her leadership of Cultural Connections — a Bay Area non-profit for museum professionals — will also shape the museum’s trajectory.

“We have an opportunity to weave together the threads of our past, present, and future,” said Stimson, describing museums as “bridges that connect generations.”

Stimson brings a wealth of experience and enthusiasm to her new role, said Vashon Maury Island Heritage Association President Bruce Haulman.

“Gretta [has] a set of skills and passion for history that is a perfect fit for the museum, and for Vashon, and our whole team is looking forward to working with her,” said Haulman.

Stimson’s journey in the museum world began during her undergraduate years at the University of Hawaii, where she studied anthropology. She received a master’s degree in museum studies from the University of Leicester, in the United Kingdom.

Over the past decade, Stimson has made significant contributions to the museum field. Her work with collections and historic properties at the Hayward Area Historical Society showcased her dedication to preserving cultural heritage. Most recently, she served as part of the team at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, exploring the intersection of technology and human history.

Stimson’s return to Washington State is a homecoming; she grew up in Ballard and Shoreline. Now settled on Vashon Island, she said she is excited to raise her daughter in the community.

One of Stimson’s first tasks will be to welcome islanders to the grand reopening of the museum’s permanent exhibit in July — a major renovation long in the making.

In 2022, the museum received a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) award of $287,000 to fund the update and renovation of its exhibit space.

The museum was one of only five organizations in the state to receive the prestigious award — and by far the smallest organization of the five to win the grant. Other Washington organizations that received NEH funding that year were Evergreen State College, the University of Washington, the Museum of Flight Foundation, and the Wing Luke Memorial Foundation.

The new exhibit, according to the museum, will give visitors an understanding and appreciation for the diverse groups who have called Vashon home, weaving together many stories of cultural and social aspects of the island and its people.

In its evaluation, the NEH praised the museum’s plan to create a new exhibit that connects island history with broader national and global themes.

“This is a well-thought-out and designed exhibit that identifies five key ‘turning points’ in the island’s history that are both self-reflective and analytical,” the grant panel wrote. “Although it is essentially the local history of a small, somewhat remote place, the applicant clearly connects its history to broader national and global themes.”

The museum has a strong portfolio of special exhibits throughout recent years — including “Natural Wonder: An Island Shaped by Water” and “In and Out: Being LGBTQ on Vashon Island” — which the museum developed in close partnership with community nonprofits and partners.

Find out more about the museum at vashonheritagemuseum.org.