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Museum gotta see 'um
January 19, 2013, 05:00 AM By Susan Cohn Daily Journal Senior Correspondent

SOUVENIRS: TOKENS OF TRAVEL. As long as people have visited distant places, they have collected tokens of their travels—from shells, rocks or leaves, to postcards and handcrafted or mass-produced souvenirs. Souvenirs: Tokens of Travel, at the San Francisco Airport Museum, highlights a variety of these mementos from the 19th century to the present. Sailors' valentines, transfer ware, ruby-stained glass, heraldic china and even ashtrays, are a few of the many souvenirs on display, some of which viewers may recall collecting during their own excursions.

Travel souvenirs have existed as long as people have traveled. Since at least the 14th century, peddlers have sold souvenirs at popular sites. Travelers on religious pilgrimages purchased trinkets and collected found items to keep a record of the journeys they made to holy places. In the late 1600s to the 1800s, for vacationers wealthy enough to travel for extended periods of time, the Grand Tour was the ultimate European excursion. The itinerary, which typically lasted one year or more, included lengthy stops in England, France and Italy, and travelers returned with paintings, prints and miniature monuments to proudly display in their homes.

For those who could not afford the extravagant trip, international fairs and expositions brought the world to them. Since the first World's Fair, held in London in 1851, hundreds of millions of people have flocked from all over the world to attend these exciting urban events, which introduce new technologies and arts. Spectators enjoy acquiring a variety of keepsakes to remember fairs, such as glassware and souvenir spoons.

With the advent of steamships and railroads, travel became more affordable. During the late 1800s, a burgeoning middle class began to take vacations. In the United States, the establishment of national parks and renewed interest in American history following the nation's Centennial in 1876 further encouraged domestic travel. Tourists traveled to cities, lakes, seaside resorts, mountains and deserts, where they acquired a host of trinkets from indigenous crafts to ashtrays and matchbooks acquired from hotels. In later decades, the automobile encouraged road trips, and the airplane allowed greater access to remote areas.

From the late 1800s to the 1930s, transfer-printed souvenir ceramics, which displayed an infinite number of destinations, historic sites and commemorative events, enjoyed a golden age. Small paintings, souvenir picture books and stereographs also served to remind travelers of their excursions. The picture postcard became popular in the 1890s. This universal souvenir could be kept as a visual record of one's trip or mailed home to friends and relatives. After World War II, taking photographs while on vacation became commonplace, and, like postcards, photos have long served as the quintessential souvenir. Additionally, during the postwar period, snow globes, floaty pens and other mass-produced items became ubiquitous at souvenir stands. No matter what type of souvenir, these objects allow travelers to reminisce about experiences long after the trips end.

Souvenirs: Tokens of Travel is located pre-security in the International Terminal Main Hall Departures Lobby, San Francisco International Airport. There is no charge to view the exhibit. For more information, visit Souvenirs: Tokens of Travel is on view through July 14.


CITY BENEATH THE CITY@STANFORD ARCHAEOLOGY CENTER. City Beneath the City at the Stanford Archaeology Center, Stanford University, presents artistic displays of artifacts from San Jose's first Chinese community, the Market Street Chinatown, which was destroyed in an arson fire on May 4, 1887. City Beneath the City, which explores the historical tensions that underlie today's Silicon Valley, was originally organized by the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art in conjunction with the ZER01 art and technology biennial thematic, Seeking Silicon Valley. This new installation at the Stanford Archaeology Center brings the artwork out of the gallery and into the public learning and research spaces of the university. Through April 30.


CLAY IN THE BAY. The de Saisset Museum at Santa Clara University opens its winter season with Clay in the Bay, an exhibition that speaks to the legacy of ceramics in Northern California by bringing together 12 contemporary artists from around the Bay Area who work with clay in diverse ways. The museum celebrates the opening of Clay in the Bay with a reception on Thursday, Jan. 24 from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Many of the artists in the exhibition will be present and available to discuss their work. The de Saisset Museum at Santa Clara University is located at 500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara. Clay in the Bay is on view through March 17.

Susan Cohn can be reached at or

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