Sunday, June 17 , 2018, 7:47 pm | Mostly Cloudy 63º


Rare 400-Year-Old Tile Preserved on Museum of Natural History Courtyard Fountain

Conservator Katie Thoma works painstakingly to restore the historic tile surrounding the Museum of Natural History’s courtyard fountain. Click to view larger
Conservator Katie Thoma works painstakingly to restore the historic tile surrounding the Museum of Natural History’s courtyard fountain. (Courtesy photo)

Thanks to generous and thoughtful donations by the Pearl Chase Foundation and the Museum League, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History’s courtyard fountain was conserved to its original glory. 

Conservator-in-Residence Amy Green supervised the restoration project over a period of two weeks in July 2016 as visitors and staff viewed the progress.

The project entailed conserving İznik tiles made in Turkey during the mid-16th century. According to Katie Thoma, one of the conservators who worked on the project, the tiles suffered from considerable exposure to water and weather.

The tiles were painstakingly cleaned, filled and repainted where losses occurred, and they now continue to be a delight of blue design for all to see.

The tiles were initially collected by Lockwood de Forest Sr. in the 1880s and were installed as part of contracted work with Lockwood de Forest Jr. in 1925. Similar tiles, along with many others, were later donated to the Museum in 1983 by Elizabeth de Forest.

A public, illustrated talk and tour about the fountain, the tiles and restoration project was held July 15. Museum Librarian Terri Sheridan described the fountain’s historical significance, including Lockwood de Forest Jr. and his affiliation with the museum as well as the contributions of the Hazard family and why the early museum and fountain were dedicated to Rowland Gibson Hazard.

In 1917 a recent Santa Barbara transplant, Rowland Gibson Hazard, was hired as the museum’s first curator. Hazard was an avid egg collector and his extensive collections were added to the museum. He died in 1918 and his widow, Mary, along with his sister, Caroline, stepped into his shoes to help curate the eggs and then to serve on the museum’s board of trustees.

The two women were not always happy with the direction the museum was taking and began to plan. With the support of others on the board they donated land and funded a new building at the present site of the Museum of Natural History on Puesta del Sol Avenue behind the Mission.

The museum was officially founded in 1916. In April of 1922 a new building was unveiled as a memorial to Rowland Gibson Hazard. Hazard’s contribution is acknowledged in words carved into the marble plaque in the center of the 1922 tiled fountain wall.

“In abiding memory of Rowland Gibson Hazard, man of affairs man of letter, lifelong student of ornithology, this building and this wood are dedicated. Oh all ye fowls of the air bless ye the Lord.”

The historic fountain no longer uses water, and the former water basin may be repurposed with drought-tolerant plants and succulents.

Green, the project’s conservation supervisor, is a founding partner of Silverlake Conservation in Los Angeles, a firm that specializes in the treatment of sculpture and architectural finishes.

The company was established in 2001 and works on wide variety of materials including metal, cast stone and concrete but has gravitated towards historic tile and architectural terra cotta.

She holds a certificate in historic preservation from the University of Southern California and a master’s in tile conservation from Antioch University. She is a professional associate with the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Work.

A reception and photo opportunity recognizing the Pearl Chase Foundation for its grant donation to help restore the fountain will be held Thursday, Sept. 1, at 3:30 p.m. in the museum courtyard.

Founded in 1916 with a collection of bird eggs as the “Museum of Comparative Oology,” the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History has grown steadily to interpret other aspects of natural history.

Throughout the years, it has established major collections in anthropology, earth sciences and zoology, producing major scientific works and offering educational programs to school children and adults.

From the 1960s to the 1980s the museum played a leadership role in the emerging field of environmental action when museum scientists helped establish the Marine Mammal Stranding Network and participated in the California Condor Project.

With a focus to “inspire a thirst for discovery and a passion for the natural world,” the Museum has increased its strengths in research and public education by establishing a significant collection of 3.5 million specimens and artifacts in anthropology, earth sciences and zoology, ranking high among its peers nationally and internationally.

Additionally, the museum added the Sea Center on Stearns Wharf in 1987 as an off-campus facility focused specifically on the coastal and ocean environment.

For more information on the historic renovation or the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, contact Director of Marketing Sherri Frazer at 805.682.4711 x117 or [email protected]. More information may also be obtained at

Rochelle Rose represents the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.


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