Whatcom Magazine

Whatcom County museums explore art, history and creativity

Building Facilities Manager Patrick Dowling takes a cell phone photo of the wall and art at the  Whatcom Museum Lightcatcher Building in downtown Bellingham on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2009.
Building Facilities Manager Patrick Dowling takes a cell phone photo of the wall and art at the Whatcom Museum Lightcatcher Building in downtown Bellingham on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2009. WHATCOM MAGAZINE

From American quilts to Israeli ceramics, warbird flyovers to a pioneer homestead, there's plenty for lovers of history and art to see and do at museums in Whatcom County.

Here's a look at museums sure to please family and visitors of all ages.


Lightcatcher, 250 Flora St., and Old City Hall, 121 Prospect St., downtown Bellingham.

At a glance: The museum attracts community and regional visitors for cultural experiences rooted in art, nature and Northwest history. In the Lightcatcher's art galleries, visitors can expect a range of rotating exhibits, along with a full calendar of workshops, lectures, after-hours events and other activities. Old City Hall is open for select programs.

Upcoming: From contemporary and conceptual to historic and handcrafted, exhibits in 2012 promise a little something for all museum-goers.

See a collection of contemporary Israeli ceramics in "From the Melting Pot into the Fire," which opens March 25.

Summer brings the compelling portraits of California painter Ray Turner, whose "Population" exhibit will feature dozens of Bellingham faces. Turner's contemplation of identity opens June 16.

Quilt lovers won't want to miss "American Quilts: the Democratic Art," which opens Aug. 4 and explores the art and history of quilts.

And museumgoers should check out the Mezzanine Gallery, with displays drawn from the museum's famed photo archives.

Something extra: Whatcom Museum is mounting an exhibit on climate change in 2013 with support from the National Endowment for the Arts. "Vanishing Ice: Alpine and Polar Landscapes in Art, 1775-2012," will open Nov. 2, 2013.

Child's play: During school tours, children in Bellingham get to see permanent historical displays such as "This Was Logging" and the museum's legendary bird collection, both in the Syre Education Center. Outside of school, the Family Interactive Gallery in the Lightcatcher has activities designed to build creativity.

Hours: The Lightcatcher is open noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Old City Hall is open noon to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday for select programs.

Admission: $10 general; $4.50 children; $5 on Thursdays. Discounts for seniors, students and veterans. Members get in free. Annual memberships start at $30.

Contact: 360-778-8930 and whatcommuseum.org.


4165 Mitchell Way, by Bellingham International Airport.

At a glance: The museum works to bring history alive through its exhibits and its fly days of World War II, Korean War and Vietnam-era aircraft.

Bill Anders, who founded the museum along with wife Valerie, was one of the first people to orbit the moon as one of three astronauts on the Apollo 8 mission in December 1968. The retired major general with the U.S. Air Force founded the museum soon after acquiring a P-51 Mustang, named "Val-Halla," which is the museum's flagship. The Anders family established the museum in 1996 to teach the public about the contributions of iconic military aircraft and the people who flew them.

Upcoming: The museum hosts several annual events, including the Warbird Weekend dinner, dance and auction the first weekend in June, and Props & Ponies on Aug. 17-18. Check the museum for details.

Something extra: The museum's pilots and airplanes can be hired to fly at airshows.

Child's play: A Future Flyers program features aviation-related activities for kids during monthly fly days, and includes a kids' area, although plenty of children just seem excited to hear the warbirds roaring down the runway and flying overhead.

Hours: Noon to 4 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, except for holidays. The museum has a fly day the third Saturday of each month at which visitors can watch pilots fly the museum's warbirds.

Admission: By donation, with a suggested amount of $5 per person. Annual memberships start at $25.

Contact: 360-733-4422 and heritageflight.org.


217 Front St., downtown Lynden.

At a glance: The museum aims to bring to life the history of Lynden and northern Whatcom County via its five galleries:

Homestead and Settlement presents a life-size homestead with a look inside a home, a barnyard, a milk-and-poultry barn and a natural history forest area that focuses on the Nooksack River ecosystem.

Historic Front Street recreates a block of Front Street from 1888 to 1928.

Buggy and Tack Room showcases 30 horse-drawn vehicles, a tack room and wagonwrights as it tracks the development of transportation from horse to horsepower.

Washington Auto Transportation houses 20 buggies, two cars, one fire truck, a 1948 Indian motorcycle, a life-size gas station and repair shop, and other exhibits that look at America's fascination with the automobile.

Agricultural Development focuses on a 1911 Advance Steam tractor and a 1913 Aultman Taylor wooden threshing machine, and traces the development of agricultural tools from hand-held to machine-driven.

In addition to the galleries, there are displays of 40 motion lamps from the early 1900s through the 1970s, more than 100 antique cameras and a Native American collection.

Upcoming: Liberty Theatre, a new permanent exhibit to be unveiled this summer in the museum's Historic Front Street gallery, will explore how movies have changed our culture, says Troy Luginbill, museum director.

Something extra: The museum has a 150-year-old pickle in a jar.

"It is a blue, hand-blown glass jar with a sealed wax stopper, and in it is a pickle, but it looks more like a big white slug," says Luginbill, chuckling.

A note on the outside dates the pickle inside from 1861 or 1864; a small tear in the middle makes it difficult to determine the exact date.

Child's play: Interactive exhibits for youngsters include the Nooksack River display as well as a treasure hunt and stamp pads.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Admission: $7 adults; $4 seniors and students; and free for children 5 and younger, veterans and active military, and museum members. Annual memberships start at $25.

Contact: 360- 354-3675; lyndenpioneermuseum.com.


Spark Museum of Electrical Invention, 1312 Bay St., downtown Bellingham.

At a glance: Formerly known as the American Museum of Radio and Electricity, Spark underwent a name change in December to reflect the wonder and magic of electricity. The museum also underwent a remodel to return the building to its original brick façade, with interior upgrades to follow.

Upcoming: Beginning in spring, there will be a 30-minute electricity show that features a 9-foot-tall Tesla coil called the Mega Zapper, which generates a miniature lightning storm. There will be an additional fee for the show.

Something extra: The museum has an authentic reproduction of the radio room on the doomed Titanic, with an original Marconi wireless set.

Child's play: Young people can enjoy hands-on experiences with quirky devices such as the Van de Graaff generator, which makes people's hair stand on end. Students can tour the museum, or learn via a traveling science show that goes to schools. There also are science sessions Saturdays at the museum, or they can be scheduled for weekdays. For details, email anne@sparkmuseum.org.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; noon to 4 p.m. Sunday; and by appointment.

Admission: $6 adults, $3 for children 11 and younger, and free for members. Annual memberships start at $35.

Contact: 360-738-3886 and amre.us.


1320 Commercial St., downtown Bellingham.

At a glance: You'll find railroad lanterns, Lionel and tinplate trains, scale models of antique logging equipment and a train simulator dedicated to people who love railroad models and railroad history. On the history end, the museum's Centennial Exhibit features photographs, artifacts, timetables and other items that delve into the history of railroading in Whatcom and Skagit counties.

Upcoming: Visit the museum's website to learn about events and exhibits.

Something extra: Check out the Little Caboose Story Hours, and rides in Bellingham on a piece of vintage railroad equipment known as a "speeder," which is a motorized cart used by railway workers from the 1920s to the 1980s.

Child's play: Kids of all ages will love the model train layouts, the largest of which is the G gauge depiction of logging and mining railroads.

Hours: Noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and by appointment for groups or special events.

Admission: $4 adults; $2 for youths 2 to 16; free for kids under 2; and $9 for a family of up to four people. Memberships start at $50.

Contact: 360-393-7540 and bellinghamrailwaymuseum.org.

Other attractions in Whatcom County for art and history lovers include:

Alaska Packers Association Museum, Semiahmoo Park, Blaine. Delve into Semiahmoo's fish cannery history dating back to 1894, including the impact of Alaska Packers Association. The museum usually opens for the season from the Friday of Memorial Day weekend in May to Labor Day in September. 360-371-3558 and draytonharbormaritime.org.

Bellingham International Maritime Museum, 800 Cornwall Ave. Learn about Whatcom County's maritime history and see exhibits of military boats and models. 360-592-4112 and bimm.us.

Black Mountain Forestry Center, Maple Falls. Located near Silver Lake Park, the center offers forestry-related information and tours and is the home of Gerdrum Museum and an annual World of Wood festival. Open noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, Memorial Day to Labor Day. 360-599-1738.

Deming Logging Show grounds, 3295 Cedarville Road. People are welcome to stroll the grounds to look at antique logging equipment on display outdoors. Free. 360-592-3051 and demingloggingshow.com.

Outdoor sculpture collection, Western Washington University. Study the renowned collection as you stroll campus. Visit Western Gallery, too. 360-650-3900 and westerngallery.wwu.edu.

The Pickett House, 910 Bancroft St., Bellingham. The wooden house was built in 1856 by Capt. George Pickett, who served on Bellingham Bay with the U.S. Army in the mid-1800s and later led a famous Confederate charge at Gettysburg during the Civil War. The house is open to the public 1 to 4 p.m. the second Sunday of the month, September through June, with admission by donation. For private tours, call 360-733-5873 or 366-3045.

Pioneer Park, 2004 Cherry St., Ferndale. The park is home to more than a dozen historic cabins, including a school, church, store, print shop and jail, with tours mid-May through mid-September. 360-384-6461 and ferndaleheritagesociety.com.

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