Night at the Museum

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The Blackhawk Museums of Danville, known for their premier classic world class automobile exhibition International Automotive Treasures, has recently launched two new exhibitions; Art of Africa and Into China with a third Wonders of Natural History opening later in the fall. The Spirit of the Old West exhibition that was launched in 2014 illustrates the visual history of the American West through the journeys of Plains Indians, settlers and pioneers which has already attracted large numbers of visitors and thousands of Bay Area schoolchildren.

The popular exhibition takes viewers through the past with a collection of historic artifacts that depict the varied American cultures and how people lived in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the ways the American Indians and the pioneering newcomers interacted during America’s greatest westward migrations. Western History is portrayed through an unrivaled scope of antique and historic artifacts including eagle feather war bonnets, weaponry, apparel, peace pipes, a tipi, and an ox-drawn covered wagon.

Among the attractions and interactive exhibitions that excite children the most are the animal mount specimens such as buffalo, bear, moose, wolf, beaver, and an American eagle. The exhibition is anchored by a 140-foot long topographical diorama with 9,000 hand-painted figures portraying the lives of the West’s settlements, Plains Indians, the Gold Rush, the Iron Horse railroad, and other events  that affected the course of history,

The member-supported Blackhawk Museums, founded in 1988, is one of the Bay Area’s must-see museums offering several diverse attractions on three floors that are continuously evolving with new exhibitions that span four continents with the Art of Africa, Into China, and this fall the Wonders of Natural History that will explore the creatures of the highest mountains to the deepest oceans.  

Ken Behring, philanthropist extraordinaire, is realizing his longtime dream of bringing history and culture to the Bay Area communities through educational state-of-the-art exhibitions.  His longtime connections to China, and several countries in Africa, have led to his involvement in the founding of over 40 Museums of Natural History.  In addition to his expertise in founding museums, his Wheelchair Foundation, a subsidiary of Global Health and Education Foundation, has also delivered over one million wheelchairs to those in need of mobility, has provided fresh drinking water in drought-impacted areas, and also sponsors eye surgeries bringing the gift of sight to many. 

The Blackhawk Museums, in addition to the on-site exhibitions, offer several outreach programs that include the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, ongoing lecture series, and educational and entertaining special events such as Cars & Coffee which attracts car club enthusiasts and as many as 1,200 vintage automobiles that gather the first Sunday of every month. In addition to regular activities for the membership, the museum also sponsors open-to-the-public fund raising events.  

One of the largest annual fund raising events, sponsored by the Friends of the Blackhawk Museums, aptly titled Night at The Museum , offers a live auction, dinner, dancing to live music, costume prizes, and historic reenactments featuring Jesse James, General George Custer, a Buffalo Soldier, and other iconic western characters. Costumed reenactments will carry guests through the portals of time into the Spirit of the Old West exhibition where the Plains Indians and pioneers are recreated amid authentic artifacts in the ambiance of “Cowboy and Indian” Western history.

One of the most exciting aspects of the third annual Night at the Museum live auction is the opportunity to bid on once-in-a-lifetime experiences; a Photo Safari at the Ezulwini Game Reserve in South Africa; Behind-the-Scenes Museum Experience in Washington D.C.; Monaco Historic Mille Miglia Races 2018; Indianapolis 500 Paddock Box Experience for Two; Vintage Land Rover Old Ghost Towns off-road Excursion, and the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance VIP Experience.

The state-of-the-art Blackhawk Museums exhibit various collections where visitors can stroll, not only through the past, but across continents. Besides the American Indian and Cowboy experience the visitor can enjoy the stunning Art of Africa featuring Massai and Makonde cultural examples of village  handicrafts of hand-carved ebony, blackwood, and rosewood sculptures, musical instruments, ceremonial masks, apparel and animal paintings representing Sub-Saharan Africa; Tanzania, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nigeria.  

Further down the museum’s West Wing the visitor passes through the Moon Gate and enters Into China pavilion to view a vast collection showcasing Chinese sculptures, porcelains, jade carvings, mother-of-pearl inlaid boxes, silk embroidered lantern screens, Tang Dynasty horses, silken embroidered robes, a Buddhist Shrine altar proscenium, a Forbidden City Golden Throne replica, and artifacts that explore the impact of Chinese aesthetics on Western Culture.

The anchor piece in the vast pavilion is a massive carving known as “The Dream”, a monumental work of art inspired by the “Peach Blossom Spring” fable and immortalized in the novel Shangri-La.  The expansive “Shanshiu-style” sculpture is fashioned from 1000 year old fossilized tuchen root wood found only in Burma and Laos. The hand-carved scene of mountain spires, rivers, lakes and seas is where fishermen and contented village dwellers live within a 4th century fantasy Utopian fable.

Mr. Zhang, the art work’s designer and master carver, told me it took four craftsmen five years to carve and who were guided by the fossil’s natural forms that dictated the flow of the art work. In addition to carving the intricate masterpiece it took a decade to remove and transport the subterranean fossilized root wood from a forest in Burma.

The Into China collection represents the cultural embodiment of China through this unique trove of art and utilitarian objects of great beauty. Ken Behring maintains that museums have a special way of uniting people of all cultures and, in addition to donating to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington D.C., his vision has come to fruition by introducing the exhibitions  to the Blackhawk Museums showcasing the International Automobile Treasures, and history of the American West, Sub-Saharan Africa, and China.  

The Friends of Blackhawk Museums is the fund raising volunteer auxiliary arm of the member-supported museums that sponsor several events each year to benefit the Children’s Education and Transportation Fund. No large institution can function without the indefatigable services of their dedicated volunteers, therefore Friends of the Blackhawk Museums is accepting applications for interested volunteer docents and guides who wish to share their knowledge on guided tours for adults and children visitors.  Since the program’s inception in 1991, with children’s education as its primary mission, about 190,500 students have visited the museums. The Blackhawk Museums is a not-for-profit corporation with IRS 501 (3) status. As always, museum members attend the exhibitions and lecture series free of charge.

The Night at the Museum fund raising event will be held on Sunday October 15th at 5:30 pm. Guests are encouraged to wear “Spirit of the Old West” attire. The dinner and Live Auction starts at 7:30. Tickets are $90.00 per person. Call: 925.736.2277 x234, or email           

Blackhawk Museums, 3700 Blackhawk Plaza Circle, Danville, CA 94506




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