From the first inhabitants 13,000 years ago right up to the present day, Coloradans have influenced the history of our state through the objects they’ve made and used. Zooming in on the stories these objects tell gives us a deeper understanding of how the people who came before us lived, and helps us to decide who we want to be in the future.
The History Colorado Center’s newest core exhibit, Zoom In: The Centennial State in 100 Objects, features 100 artifacts that tell the story of how we became Colorado. The objects serve as portals to our shared past, connecting us to the people who used and valued them and the events that shaped their lives.
This major exhibition, housed in the brand-new Tim Schultz Gallery presented by the Boettcher Foundation, was a collaborative undertaking just over a year in the making. History Colorado’s vast collections contain more than 15 million items, including physical artifacts, photographs and moving images, and archival documents. The exhibit team wanted to showcase some of these items and provide an overview of Colorado’s rich human history.
History Colorado curator James Peterson provided an initial list of nearly 200 of the most significant, striking or illuminating objects from the museum’s collections. Then the exhibit team gathered a group of scholars and tribal representatives and consultants to narrow that selection to just 100 objects.
History Colorado chose to focus primarily on items within its own collection, but also reached out to other institutions and individuals for loans of certain items that were essential to Colorado’s rich history. The objects represent not only the incredible achievements of our state’s residents, but also their resilience in the face of difficult challenges and dark moments.
Zoom In doesn’t shy away from hard topics. Instead of focusing on tragedy or pain, however, the objects chosen reflect the ways people responded to violence or difficulty. Hand-carved wooden pins made by Japanese Americans held during World War II at Amache internment camp demonstrate the art of gaman, “to bear the unbearable with dignity and patience.”
Contemporary American Indian artifacts including a Ute Mountain Ute war veteran’s shawl and Lakota Clairmont’s Grass Dance costume worn in competition at various powwows celebrate the continuity of culture. A poignant illustrated card from a Colorado Springs third-grader expresses sympathy for the victims of the Columbine High School shooting. By telling these stories through these unique objects, the exhibition addresses hard times while maintaining a sense of hope.
In addition to these symbols of resilience, other objects will appeal to sports fans, numismatists, music lovers, railroad enthusiasts and more! Many of the stories feature well-known Coloradans—Molly Brown, John Denver, and Baby Doe Tabor, to name just a few—but visitors will also encounter significant contributions to our state’s history from people who aren’t household names.
The story of how Denver came to be known as the “Christmas capital of the world” or the innovation behind Boulder-based footwear company Crocs or an example of a license plate made by one of Denver’s first drivers before the state began issuing official plates are just some of the surprises in store on this journey through Colorado’s past.
Zoom In: The Centennial State in 100 Objects is one of the museum’s core exhibits, on display now and included in museum admission.