Walking into the Blackhawk Museum, I tried to have an open mind. I love almost all museums so I was willing to enjoy whatever was on offer. The itinerary from the press tour operators listed it as a classic car museum. Not being a car buff, I figured I could feign some interest to be polite. Instead, this entire museum surprised and fascinated me. We did not have enough time to explore it thoroughly and I will need to return someday.
The museum sits on the top of a hill with a fountain cascading over the edge of the front plaza. A two-story-tall tusked elephant statue alerted me that I had found the Blackhawk.
The Classic Car Collection
Upon entering, sparkles of light beckoned between two curved staircases bracketing the entrance to the Classic Car Collection. The black glossy floor reflected light up onto the immaculate cars of all colors and styles.
From the 1886 two-seater Benz Motorwagon, with the engine visible behind the seat, to the sleek 2017 Lamborghini Centenario, I was enthralled. My favorite may have been the 1940 Cadillac Series 75 Town Car. The cornflower blue exterior and shiny silver hood ornament and grill drew me in. I could imagine lounging in the roomy back seat while my capped chauffeur waved at neighbors from the open-air front seat. So many I could have chosen had I lived in an earlier time period. The cars may have been big and bulky but the artistry of the shapes and details make today’s cars seem quite boring.
Ken Behring and Don Williams founded Blackhawk Museum in 1988 in Danville, California, as a showcase for unique classic cars. Having expanded into five interesting galleries, the museum today lives up to its motto, “Many Worlds. One Museum.”
The Spirit Of The Old West
After marveling at the cars and antique fuel pumps, I headed up the stairs to the Wells Fargo stagecoach. A typed list of rules for riding the stagecoach included no alcohol allowed, or if you do drink, share with your fellow travelers.
At the entrance to The Spirit of the Old West, I stopped to read the quote on the wall: “Treat the earth well, it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children.” Just inside the gallery, maps showed the decline of the land controlled by Indian tribes from everything west of the Appalachian Mountains to less than four percent of American land within 100 years. I pondered over various Indian artifacts from peace pipes to a canoe made from buffalo hide. Wild animals placed in natural poses showed what the Native Americans and westward-bound settlers lived among. Two enormous bison reminded me of my trip to Yellowstone National Park years ago.
Spanning both spacious rooms, a diorama of three-inch-tall plastic figurines demonstrated the history and people of the west during the period of westward expansion. The diorama moved from buffalo jumps and Indian encampments to wagon trails and settler log cabins. Battles were laid out meticulously with dozens of horses and men.
As I approached the life-size wagon with oxen, I spun a wheel on the wall, which would determine how I would have died on the Oregon Trail. I was quite alarmed to land on “Bit by a Rattlesnake.” Hopefully, this was not some omen for my next hike in the Arizona desert. A plaque showed how many supplies a family would have carried on the trail. Eating 120 pounds of biscuits and 400 pounds of bacon didn’t sound too bad, provided it lasted long enough.
Art Of Africa
Just outside the Art of Africa exhibit, I marveled at a six-foot-tall ebony sculpture intricately carved with animals interconnected by their lives in Africa. The artist, Vietram Vicent Dila, learned his craft from his ancestors and spent 33 years working on this project. The gallery featured sculptures, musical instruments, and talking sticks created by the indigenous people of sub-Saharan Africa. Dozens of masks demonstrated the various materials and styles used, which evoke spiritual or religious meanings.
Into China Gallery
The dim lighting of the Into China gallery imbued a sense of reverence and made the artistic pieces pop under the spot-lighting. I was enthralled by “Fortune Comes From Blooming Flowers,” a six-foot-long, three-foot-high highly detailed sculpture made from yak bones and rosewood. This was then dwarfed by Dreamland, which stretched across the entire back wall. The artists spent 11 years collecting Tuchen wood from Burma and Laos. This fossilized wood was then handcrafted into scenes of a fabled paradise as told in “The Peach Blossom Spring.”
Around every corner of the exhibit, the beauty of the pieces amazed me. A complete miniature model of the Forbidden City sat before the Golden Throne used in ceremonies. Several life-sized terra cotta warriors represented the thousands that were found at the burial place of Emperor Qin Shihuangdi, each with distinct facial expressions. The far room was filled with a set of bronze chimes from 3,000 years ago.
World Of Nature
I could have spent the entire afternoon among the animals of World of Nature. The displays of over 600 species were arranged in natural groupings and poses for a close-up view of preserved animals. All types of colorful fish surrounded an open-mouthed shark bursting from the wall. Gazelles frolicked around a tusked elephant as wildebeest forged a stream. A rhino charged across from a lion pouncing on a zebra. A male lion roared from a rock overlooking a whole pride. I gazed at gorgeous animals resting in trees and rocks while birdsong filled the air. Murals and endemic foliage gave a feeling of strolling through various regions of the world.
The Blackhawk Museum, in Danville, CA, is well worth including in any vacation to the San Francisco area. The beautiful sculptures and artifacts provided a wonderful insight into the history and culture of many places on earth. While not a large museum, every piece in it tells an interesting story and weaves a portrait of the beauty on this earth.