Tracing California’s Pacific Rim Ties

An impressive exhibit in USF’s Thacher Gallery shows just how California has been tied to the Pacific Rim for centuries.

On the 400th anniversary of the death of Matteo Ricci, S.J., a pioneer and renowned scholar of Asian culture, USF has opened “Galleons and Globalization: California Mission Arts and the Pacific Rim,” an art exhibit that sheds light on California's role as a center for trade and cultural exchange dating back to the 1570s.

“From its origins, the culture of California has been a hybrid,” said Tom Lucas, S.J., university professor of art + architecture and the exhibit’s curator. “The exhibit points to a reality we often ignore, which is that, then as now, the whole world ended up in California.”

The exhibit brings together more than 125 sacred and secular artifacts, textiles, books, and manuscripts that point to the international and trans-cultural nature of early California culture before the Gold Rush. From a Philippine-made ivory crucifix to a woven Native American basket that repeats and reinterprets the Spanish Coat of Arms, the items in the exhibit demonstrate the influence of the Spanish empire's Pacific trade from Acapulco to Manila to California and south along the coast.

“Seen together, these objects—obscure treasures from sunken ships and prized selections from international museums, California's missions, and private collections—lead to surprising cross-cultural discoveries,” Fr. Lucas said. Spain traded silver from the Americas for spices and porcelain, and bees wax for candles from Asia and established outposts and missions in California to “civilize” native cultures and act as a buffer against a growing Russian presence expanding from Siberia and Alaska, he said.

“With this exhibit, I want to give our students a perspective on the world that shows how we're all interconnected,” said Fr. Lucas.

The exhibit runs through Dec. 17 in the Thacher Gallery, located inside the Gleeson Library. For more information, visit www.usfca.edu/library/thacher.

Tracing California’s Pacific Rim Tie

1. Guardian Angel, wood with polychrome, Mexico, late 18th century, Mission Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, Calif.
2. Child Jesus, wood and papiér mache with polychrome, Mexico, 18th century, Mission La Purisima State Park, Lompoc, Calif.
3. Risen Christ, wood with traces of polychrome, Paraguay, early 18th century, Mission Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, Calif.
4. Our Lady of the Galleons or Our Lady of the Golden Gate, oil on canvas, late 18th century, Mission Dolores, San Francisco.
5. Two Ship Sculptures, wood, Mexico or Philippines, 18th century, Mission San Antonio, Jolon, Calif.