Santa Barbara Historical Museum Celebrates Old Spanish Days


Santa Barbara Historical Museum Celebrates Old Spanish Days

New exhibition features films and costumes from decades of parties

By Charles Donelan

Credit: Fritz Olenberger

The Santa Barbara Historical Museum continues to adapt and support Old Spanish times through imaginative exhibits that take full advantage of both the museum’s extensive collection of Fiesta memorabilia and the deep knowledge around this tradition of the community of Santa Barbara. The latest version of its in progress Party Project! can be seen until August 28, and it uses a battery of new high-tech projectors to create an immersive experience of the famous El Desfile de Histórico. Larger-than-life colorful images of the horse parade dance across both walls of the main gallery, giving those who miss the pageantry of the event, which had to be canceled again this year, a chance to relive part of its former glory.

The innovative use of projectors and video also meets the museum’s ongoing commitment to sustainable, low-waste exhibition facilities, as it replaces multiple large-format printed wall texts. These are reserved for the entrance to the show and for labels that identify the fascinating painting that has been assembled in the center of the room. Here you’ll find carriages, costumes and even a pair of majestic life-size horse models, the better to showcase the intricate leather and silver work of classic Fiesta parade gear. The carriages are courtesy of the Santa Barbara Carriage and Western Art Museum, a longtime supporter of the Desfile, and the horses were loaned by the area’s Equine Assistance and Evacuation Team, which uses the scale models to train volunteers.

The inspiration for much of the fabulous Fiesta outfit on display comes from Richard Henry Dana’s gripping account of De la Guerra’s wedding to Two years before the mast. Items on display range from a reimagined white DLG wedding dress to an embossed leather jacket and a small toreador costume adorned with embroidery from its collar to its tight mid-calf cuffs. The general impression of cheerfulness and expressive license tends to overcome any overly particular concern with authenticity.

For the Historical Museum, Party Project! is just one of the impressive things accomplished during the pandemic quarantine. The permanent collection has been relocated, with wider catwalks, a large section on Flying A studios, and many never-before-seen artifacts. Deputy Director Dacia Harwood explained that the quarantine had been a remarkably fertile time for the museum in terms of collecting, as people were going through their belongings and sending in documents of historical significance more frequently than ever before during this period.

In the middle gallery of the museum, an important exhibition of images associated with the Mission is displayed under the title “Queen of the Hill”. Finally, don’t leave without paying homage to Ed Borein’s steer. This magnificent man was in the first parade of the Fiesta in 1924. Was it Borein himself who had his head stuffed? Ask the staff when you visit the Santa Barbara Historical Museum for Party Project! 2021.

136 E. De la Guerra Street; (805) 966-1601;


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Patrick F. Williams