Vashon History Museum aims to re-open by July

The museum will feature a reimagined main space taking visitors through the island’s long history.

Today, it’s a workspace pocked with ladders, waste bins and exhibits that haven’t yet found their space — but by this summer, the Vashon Heritage Museum is set to be transformed.

When finished — which the museum’s special projects director (and former executive director) Elsa Croonquist said should be by July — the museum will feature a reimagined main space taking visitors through an interactive journey of the island’s long history, galleries featuring local artists and space for special exhibits.

The renovation and opening of the new museum galleries are a multi-year project funded in large part by the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities, The Royal Little Family Foundation, The Beardsley Family Foundation, 4Culture, and Vashon islanders.

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

The museum’s foyer will feature the earliest history of the island, covering its geological formation, said Elisa Law, project manager at the Vashon Heritage Museum. The museum has hired a muralist to paint a Columbian mammoth in that entrance area, Law said, harkening back to the Ice Age many thousands of years ago in which a towering glacier carved Puget Sound out of the earth, leaving behind Vashon and Maury islands.

The central area of the museum will feature a permanent exhibit of the history and culture of the island — organized around a giant, interactive, virtual centerpiece map visitors will see as they walk in.

That map will allow visitors to travel through time on the island, viewing stories and photos of various locations on the island. As the museum collects more information and exhibits, they’ll be able to add more to the map, Law said.

Five map layers will take visitors through its history — from the presence of the Swiftwater people on the island since time immemorial, to contact by settlers and more recent eras of life on Vashon-Maury island.

The display’s other side will feature the maritime history of the island.

Galleries in the central area will explore individual timespans of the island, featuring artifacts, photos, and interactive elements informed by local experts, Law said.

“We’re trying to be a conduit for people to tell their own stories rather than us telling their stories for them,” Law said.

One gallery will include a language station, for example, where young people are invited to match a Lushootseed word with what it represents. Another map will draw visitors through the various names given to places on the island — from Indigenous people, to European-descended explorers, to settlers and finally to the modern era.

“It’s an opportunity to understand how naming conventions are different, depending on who’s in power, and how you relate to the land,” Law said.

Behind that central area will live special exhibits at the museum — the next of which will be a political exhibit, opening just in time for the presidential election season. Deeper into the museum will be a gallery dedicated to the works of 20th century island photographer Norman Edson, with room for more rotating artists to share that space.

While the museum building is under renovation, The Vashon Heritage Museum is showing a special exhibit at The Hardware Store Restaurant.