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Bonita museum takes new direction Richard Pena | Sat, May 07 2011 12:00 PM

I went over to the Bonita Museum the other day to speak with Julie Gay, the new museum director. She had, in the past month, taken over the assignment which had been vacant for a while.

Although Gay is new to the Bonita Museum she certainly is no novice in the business. The bulk of her career she spent in San Diego's Balboa Park area, 22 of those years at the Museum of Man. She tells me that she started there as an intern and worked her way up the ladder to where she ended up curating shows.

Actually we might say that Gay has been in the profession all her life. From the time she was a little girl she had this unique interest in those things that pass most of us by.

Her young girl days were filled with adventure. She was born in Mexico City and then her family wended their way northward, stopping off in El Paso for a couple of years. Then when she was six years old they landed in Imperial Beach which became, and still is, her permanent home.

She attended the local schools, Mar Vista High, a stint at Southwestern College and then got her degree in anthropology from the University of San Diego. She is married, her husband being a contractor, and they have three children ranging in age from 16 to 6.

From our conversation I would surmise that a major love of Julie's is the arts. She showed me a collection of some of her work, examples that included paintings and sculptures, and, though I have an untrained eye, I thought them to be excellent. I have found that with her kind of background one is more able to effectively show and exhibit those pieces that are part of the museum's permanent collection.

On top of that she is a voracious reader and frequently signs up for courses - that is, the kind that are simply for self-improvement but that, nevertheless, add to the individual's contribution to others.

It seems that most folks who have succeeded in any specific profession owe a great deal of their success to some particular person, a guidance counselor for example, or mentor. Gay is no exception. The majority of the information that she has learned in the workings of a museum she owes to a mentor, Rose Tyson, with whom she was associated at the Museum of Man. She says that Rose, and Rose's husband, have been very supportive of her education and career.

In the past 25 years we have seen the Bonita Museum grow from an almost hidden storefront to a positive statement in the community. This has not been by accident.

Over the years the personnel at the museum have offered the community presentations that have been of an educational nature, as well as entertaining. All of these have been tasteful.

The upcoming events at the museum are no different. The newest exhibit that will open tomorrow, May 7, is titled "Pimans: A bountiful life in a harsh environment."

The artifacts, photographs and the text panels, as exhibited by Gay and her staff, will take the visitor on a journey to discover the life of Pimans who lived in the deserts and mountains of Arizona and the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua.

It will demonstrate how a community of people, once enjoying the healthy living of eating sensibly found themselves at the other end.

What was once the staple of the land - mesquite pods, various wild greens gathered almost year round and abundant fish and wild game - gave way to the excesses of a non-thinking or, worse yet, a greedy population.

The excessive beaver trapping, timber harvesting and livestock grazing of their lands led to devastation.

Today the Pimans are recognized for having the highest known incidence of diabetes of any ethnic group in the world. This was explained by ethnobiologist Amadeo M. Rea who curated the exhibit and who worked with the Pimans for more than 45 years. The exhibit provides a cautionary tale for the rest of society.

The exhibit is on loan to the museum by Rea, the curator and by the University of San Diego. It was obtained through the efforts of the Bonita Museum Director Julie Gay.

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