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Artifact of the Month: Candy Hits or Miss? Taking a Recipe out of ZaSu Pitts’ Cookbook

Posted by on December 16, 2013

ZaSu Pitts' candy recipes and life lessons

ZaSu Pitts’ candy recipes and life lessons

I’m more of a savory cook. I enjoy making dinners rather than baking something sweet. But sometimes you have to be brave, even use a candy thermometer, to see if there’s magic in an old recipe.

A couple of years ago, my daughter had to do a school project on a biographical figure. I encouraged her to find the extraordinary in a local hero. Sofia chose to research ZaSu Pitts, the local actress with the not-so-ordinary name. 

Many already know that ZaSu Pitts was an actress, known for her comedic timing and large, expressive eyes. She was born in Parsons, Kansas in 1894 but moved to Santa Cruz with her family when she was nine. ZaSu’s childhood home at 208 Lincoln Street is still there (looking fantastic thanks to recent landscaping), sandwiched between the Nickelodeon Theatre and Jack’s Hamburgers. ZaSu’s real name was Eliza Susan (named after her aunts) but she preferred to be called her nickname, the mash-up of her two monikers.

ZaSu attended Santa Cruz High School and was active in the theatre department. She left Santa Cruz in 1916 at the age of 22 for Los Angeles and was cast in The Little Princess (1917), a silent film whose leading lady was Mary Pickford. ZaSu starred in Greed (1924) and was featured in numerous movies; she was at the top of her game in 1930s B movies. ZaSu performed on Broadway and acted in T.V. shows in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Candy Hits was written by ZaSu Pitts and was published in 1963, the year she died. It’s a recipe book sprinkled with anecdotes about her life. Making candy was a life-long passion of ZaSu. It connected her to her past and kept her grounded while she pursued her career. ZaSu was known to bring her sugary concoctions to Hollywood parties and gatherings.

“Many people have asked me how I happened to choose candy-making for a hobby,” ZaSu wrote. “It really began in my childhood, and if I close my eyes, I can still see the kitchen in our Santa Cruz home, smell the fragrant odor of spice cookies baking in our iron stove and molasses candy bubbling in the iron frying pan…I stood by, all eyes, waiting for that exciting moment when my mother would give me a piece of the taffy to pull into sticky strings.”

My daughter finished her report on ZaSu Pitts, and I suggested we try one of ZaSu’s candy recipes. This would be great–Sofia could present her report and as an added bonus, treat the class to homemade candy. So in our Santa Cruz home, we attempted to make ZaSu’s chocolate fudge. Three times I tried, but it didn’t turn out quite right. I’m convinced it’s me–I think ZaSu would have made it just fine. We ended up buying Marini’s fudge and taking it to school. And yes, we told everyone it was proxy candy.

We didn’t recreate the magic that occurred in the Pitts kitchen almost a hundred years ago, but at least we tried. “You must gamble on that precise moment when your candy is about to ‘set up,’ and pour it out into a buttered shallow pan just before that critical split second arrives” ZaSu wrote.

Candy-making’s a lot like many things in life: sometimes you get it right and sometimes it ends up a sweet mess.




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Artifact of the Month: Photograph Preservation and the Paul Johnston Collection

Posted by on November 19, 2013

Last summer, MAH archives intern (and San Jose State Library Science graduate student) Greg Gardner processed the Paul Johnston Collection. He writes about his insights in tackling this photographic collection, and how we here at the Museum preserve our collections for generation to come. Thank you Greg for all your diligent work in making the archives accessible. 

By Greg Gardner

Libraries, museums and archives preserve items from the past so the community of the present and the future use can learn and enjoy them.  All of these institutions make a major commitment to preservation.  Most people when they hear preservation first think about saving paintings like the ‘Mona Lisa’ or protecting documents like the ‘Declaration of Independence.’  But because photographs are relatively new, less than 200 years old, and so commonplace, most people are carrying a camera phone, preserving them is not an immediate thought.  Photographs have had a profound impact on society.  The photos of Matthew Brady, Mark Gardner and others from the battlefields of the American Civil War provided a stark reality of death and destruction in war, this influenced public attitude towards the war and how it should be waged.  Then there are the photographs of W.H. Jackson, the first person to photograph Yellowstone.  He captured the natural beauty of this area.  Without these photographs Congress may not have created the first national park.  There are many other instances in which photographs have captured a moment that energized a community.  All institutions must take action to preserve these historic resources, historic treasures, our heritage, for the present and the future.

One of the special collections at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History archives was donated by Paul Dombey Johnston in 1986.  He was born in Vancouver, Washington in 1889.  He moved to Capitola, California with his family in 1899, finally settling down in neighboring Aptos in 1905.  He worked as a cherry and apple picker, in an apple drying shed, and sold popcorn at the Capitola Beach.  He later became a mail carrier and then an owner of a gas station and garage.  He married Christina Henrietta Jensen in 1913.  They were both avid sportspersons travelling extensively across Northern and Central California.  Another passion they both shared was photographs and photography, they collected and captured almost one hundred years of history that included the people, places and events that helped to shape Santa Cruz County.

Paul and Christina Johnston were strong community supporters.  As a mail carrier Paul travelled throughout Aptos and the surrounding region.  He probably knew every resident in the area.  Christina was an active member of the Parent Teachers Association and she supported her community by collecting for the Red Cross and even sewing clothes for those in need during the Great Depression.  This strong sense of community led to their desire to carry the history they had saved forward to future generations.  There photographs have been used to help tell stories such as the book “Forever Facing South” by David Heron or in photograph exhibitions like “I’ve Seen It All” organized by Paul Johnston himself.


The photographs in the Johnston Collection illustrate many issues faced by preservationists today.  These issues are not unique to the Johnston Collection.  For example, in Deadwood, South Dakota a professional photographer’s, Josef Fassbender, photo collection from the early 1900s was recently unearthed in 2011.  The staff and volunteers who are processing this collection are already discovering issues of photographic paper deterioration and exposure to moisture and dust.  Photograph degradation can be broken down into three categories: biological, mechanical, and chemical.  Biological degradation is most often exposure to mold but also includes bug or rodent infestation.  Fortunately, the Johnston Collection did not show any signs of biological degradation.  However, there are signs of mechanical and chemical degradation.


Mechanical Degradation

Mechanical degradation occurs when a photograph is exposed to a mechanical force that stretches, pulls, contracts, expands, tears, gouges, or scratches.  Most often this is an unintended consequence of poor storage

Paul Johnston Boardwalk, 1907This photo from the Johnston Collection is of a group of friends on the street outside the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk about 1907.  The lower left corner shows the effect of bending and flexing a photograph.  The vehicle on the left side in the background is difficult to identify due to this distortion.  Also, along the creases some of the photograph medium itself has sloughed off, these locations can also provide a pathway for other forms of degradation.

Paul Johnston woman and man by cattle gateThis photo is of two women and a man on a set of railroad tracks alongside a cattle gate.  This photograph shows a more subtle form of mechanical degradation.  Many photographs are kept in photograph albums or scrapbooks using corner tabs.  These corner tabs can over time, through constant pressure on the same spot, distort the photograph.  Looking at the corners of this photo one can see the obvious signs of flattening in comparison to the rest of the photograph.  These corners can be weakened to the point that they can easily break or tear off.

Paul Johnston Neptune Casino, c. 1905This photo shows the Neptune Casino about 1905.  In this instance, the Johnston’s saved this photograph by gluing it in a scrapbook.  At a later date he wanted to use it for some other purpose so he attempted to remove it from the scrapbook.  The process of removing the photograph resulted in corners being torn off.  This issue is still prevalent with the newer forms of albums in which the photographs are mounted on self-sticking paper.

Chemical Degradation

A photograph is created by a chemical process.  In some cases these processes may not be the most stable so they can deteriorate over time without any outside influence.  However, in most cases there needs to be an exposure to an outside source for chemical degradation to occur.  This outside source can be exposure to light or varying levels of moisture.

Paul Johnston, Rio Del Mar Beach

This photo is of the Rio Del Mar Beach near Aptos most probably from the early to mid-1950s.  This is an early Kodacolor photographic process; unfortunately this early process was not the most stable.  These earlier Kodacolor photographs over time tended to fade to magenta.  This naturally happened as they aged; they did not have to be exposed to any outside element.  A few years later Kodak perfected the process so this type of fading no longer occurs.

This photo is of a group of people, including Paul and Christina Johnston going on Paul Johnston, honeymoontheir honeymoon, outside the Aptos Train Station in August 1913.  The band across the middle of the photograph clearly demonstrates the effect of extended exposure to light.  Usually there is not a band like this but there must have been books or other objects stacked on the photograph.  Photographs will usually not show fading effects as long as there is a reasonable light intensity and a reasonable length of time.  It is the combination of light intensity and time that causes photographs to fade.

This photo is of Christina Johnston with a group of her co-workers from the Hihn Apple Packing Shed in the 1910s.  This is a good example of the silver oxidative-reductive deterioration, otherwise called silver mirroring.  In the dark portion lower right of the photo there is a bluish-silver speckling, the silver molecules are clumping together.  Photographs from about the 1890s to the 1920s can show this silver mirroring.  The mirroring will usually start on the outer edges of the photograph and work its way towards the center.

Paul Johnston, Hihn Apple Packing Shed


Preservation is the process of saving an item for as long into the future as possible.  The most important preservation step that can be taken is to control the environment.  Extreme temperatures and/or humidity, or extreme daily variations in the temperature or humidity, is a major culprit in the biological, mechanical, and chemical degradation of photographs.  For photographs the rule of thumb is colder is better.  But, there is also a practicality to photograph storage, not every organization can have a freezer storage facility.  The Library of Congress Audio Visual Conservation Center at Culpepper, Virginia is a freezer storage facility for over 1.1 million motion picture films, television and videos.  A specialized facility like this is expensive to build, to maintain and also requires very strict protocols for moving the film to and from the storage area to prevent mechanical degradation.  So, for practical purposes the optimum storage temperature is 18€ C (65€ F) with a relative humidity of 35-50%.  Proper storage temperature and humidity are the most critical components of the preservation process.

Proper storage materials are another important component of the preservation process.  Storage boxes provide the next line of defense for photograph collections.  Boxes provide protection from dust and other pollutants, accidental mechanical stress, and most importantly from exposure to light.  The last line of defense for photographs is the enclosures.  These enclosures can be made of paper or plastic, with plastic enclosures the photograph can be held and looked at through the enclosure.  Enclosures provide extra stiffening thus reducing the likelihood to bend, flex, or fold the photograph.  They also protect the photograph from dust and other particulates.  Finally they prevent handling damage, the oils from fingers are kept away from the photograph (finger oils are acidic, attract dirt and can help promote chemical reactions in the photograph).  These enclosures, since they are in direct contact with the photograph, must be non-reactive.  All storage materials used should pass ANSI IT9.16 Photographic Activity Test (PAT) to ensure they do not cause fading or staining.  This multilayer storage provides the best protection possible for photographs.

Digitization is another tool that can enhance the preservation of photographs.  Creating digital scans of photographs can increase access to these historic and artistic resources while at the same time reducing the handling of these resources and their exposure to the environment.  Digitization involves more than just taking scans of photographs.  There is also the collection of information called metadata.  The descriptive information of the photograph such as the dimensions, the condition, the photographic process, and even whether it is the original or a copy are important to maintain the identity of the photograph.  As with all photographs it is also important to collect information on the subject of the photograph – the who, what, where, when and why.  This metadata is critical to maintain the context of the photograph.  Another area in which digitization is demonstrating its usefulness is the preservation of scrapbooks and photo albums.  There is no longer the need to attempt to gently separate, or cut, the photograph from the glued or sticky pages to get access to single photographs.  The photograph can be scanned while it is still in the scrapbook and the digital copy shared.  Digitization is powerful tool that can help with the preservation of photographs.

Preserving our heritage is an important function for museums, libraries, and archives.  Preservationists have to balance the preservation of an item with the access to and exhibition of that item to promote learning.  As an individual, as a community, as a society, we will not know where we are going if we do not know where we have been.  We must learn from our past, what was done right or what was done wrong, to prevent mistakes in the future.  All of us can take some basic common sense actions to preserve out photographic heritage for many years to come.




“Care, Handling, and Storage of Photographs,” Library of Congress.  Accessed August 15, 2013,

“How should I store my photographic prints?” National Archives.  Accessed August 15, 2013,

Reilly, James M.  Care and Identification of 19th-Century Photographic Prints.  Rochester, NY: Rochester Institute of Technology, 1986.

Ritzenthaler, Mary Lynn and Dianne Vogt-O’Connor.  Photographs: Archival Care and Management.  Chicago: Society of American Archivist, 2006.


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PPAIR Reflections: Allie Cooper Looks Back on her Interactive Aerial Dance Performance

Posted by on November 6, 2013

As part of our ongoing Participatory Performing Artist-in-Residence Program (PPAIR) Allie led an immersive aerial dance performance with visitors at GLOW: A Festival of Fire & Light on the Saturday, October 19th digital art night (click here for more info). Audience-generated data channeled into a responsive display of light and sound for Allie’s performance.

by Allie Cooper

Life has somewhat returned to normal a week after our Performance at Glow. I had been working closely with my collaborators, visual artist G. Craig Hobbs and musician LoWGritt, since early summer, and last week’s participatory performance was the culmination of countless hours of rehearsals, brainstorming, and trouble-shooting. Everything came together in the final hours. The lights, sound, projections, and interactive interfaces all worked in unison to create an immersive and atmospheric setting which inspired the aerial performance. f17

Our interactive tetrahedron looked beautiful as projected shards of color were generated as the audience touched it, and the Midi Fighter was constantly being used to alter the sound-scape. Unfortunately, the sound elements weren’t always noticeable due to the ambient noise in the room, so that is something for us to consider if we repeat the project.  Overall, feedback was positive and I am very happy with the final product.

I am very grateful for my experience as an Artist in Residence at the MAH, because it allowed me to take on risks and to produce something out of my comfort zone. The technical side of this project was a challenge that I really enjoyed and one that I hope to continue exploring.  More than anything, having the opportunity to perform in Santa Cruz was the most rewarding aspect of this project. So often I travel to perform my art that it is rare that I can share what I do with my community.  It was a joy to have the support of so many friends and family in the audience. The PPAIR program is a fantastic resource for Santa Cruz and I am excited to see what other artists are able to share with their community as a result.

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Sharing the AfterGLOW

Posted by on October 21, 2013


Photo by Justin William, MAH intern

It’s Monday morning and my ears are no longer ringing. What an AMAZING weekend of GLOW. Over 100 artists and about 4,000 community members came together over two nights to celebrate the unique creativity of Santa Cruz County–cutting-edge innovation with a healthy dose of propane.

We hope that GLOW will continue to grow as an annual event for the MAH and downtown, and I wanted to open up this post as a forum for your ideas and suggestions to make it even better next year.

Here are a few of the questions and comments we’ve already received (with my responses below):

Why aren’t the exhibition galleries open during the festival? 

It would be terrific to introduce GLOW participants to our wonderful exhibitions, but we just don’t feel like it’s entirely safe during such a wild event. We have every one of our staff members and volunteers outside managing the safety around the fire sculptures, and we don’t feel like we have the capacity to spare anyone to ensure the safety of exhibitions at the same time.

Why isn’t there a kids’ price for GLOW?

We priced the tickets for GLOW this year based on concerns about safety and capacity. Last year, tickets were cheaper, and we had to shut down admissions a few times to wait for the crowd to die down. This year, while it was packed, we never went over capacity or had to turn people away. We will think about this for next year, but we’re still going to put safety first when thinking about pricing and capacity.

The dancers on Friday night were not family-friendly (or, as a brave nine year old put it on our comment wall: “Don’t hire dancers for their willingness to dance around in bikinis!”).

I agree that hyper-sexualized attire and moves don’t belong at a museum event. Because we co-produce all our events with so many partners, it’s hard to know what they will bring to the table exactly (and what they will wear doing it). While some artists do work with sexuality, the art should come first. I promise that we will be more attentive to this in the future and more willing to ask the probing questions to ensure that our programmatic partners’ values are in alignment with our mission. We won’t always be perfect–but with input from smart members and participants, we’ll keep striving for better.


What questions or ideas do you have for the future of GLOW? Snap any good photos or video? Share them all here.


Artifact of the Month: Opening the Lid on Memories–Brick from the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake

Posted by on October 17, 2013

Like most people, I enjoy celebrating birthdays and all sorts of anniversaries of happy events. I dread remembering the sad stuff. I know you’re supposed to acknowledge them so you’re grateful for the good times, but sometimes I block out bad memories–store them in a box and close the lid.

Brick salvaged in dowtown Santa Cruz, after the Loma Prieta Earthquake

Brick salvaged in dowtown Santa Cruz, after the Loma Prieta Earthquake

A couple of weeks ago my fabulous collections volunteers (aka “The White Glove Crew”) and I decided to work on a new cataloging project. I chose a box in the collection room labeled “Communication, Documentary Artifact” (nomenclature for museum cataloging is awesome). Inside we found a brick salvaged from a building in downtown Santa Cruz after the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. It looks like an ordinary brick, but of course its history is extraordinary.

The very next day, a woman named Karen visited the Museum. She donated the earthquake brick years ago, and she came to bring me another one. I told her how I had just completed a new inventory of the artifact the day before. The timing was almost spooky.

Karen smiled and said, “Well these things happen; when you acknowledge it, it makes everything better.” She went on to tell me that reclaiming these bricks had been a labor of love. The Sunflower House (once on California and Rigg Streets) had cleaned the bricks. Then volunteers with Parks and Rec attached the commemorative plaques. Karen reminded me that even in challenging times, a community can come together and that’s worth remembering.

I was just out of college in 1989, and was in downtown Santa Cruz on October 17th.  When I tell me earthquake story (many of us have them), I like to joke and say I was shopping for earrings when the quake hit. I still have my gold hoops, although I don’t wear them anymore.

That story is better to remember than envisioning people lying down on the sidewalk, some clutching their chests. I choose to block out the screams and the looks of panic on faces I immediately saw after the shaking stopped. Or forget the sight of cars with smashed hoods damaged from falling building bricks (these bricks?). Or the sound of broken glass I stepped on as I made my way down Pacific Avenue.

But sometimes you have to open the lid on bad memories to remember the good ones. I recall how I got home that night. I was about to catch a ride from one of my friends. As we made our way through the dust and rubble, my mom turned a corner, waving me over. Somehow she had managed to get downtown and find me moments before I left. These things happen.

A few weeks ago, I was assembling my daughter’s disaster survival kit for school. I packed a mini flashlight, a garbage bag to make a rain poncho, and some packages of tuna and applesauce because they’re less perishable food.

My daughter said, “I hate that stuff. What if there’s really an earthquake and I have to eat this?” I told her “Don’t worry, just when you open the lid of your applesauce container, I will be there to take you home.” Because that could actually happen; it had before.

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