Kendra Dillard, Museum Curator

Kendra Dillard

Museum Curator III

Governor's Mansion State Historic Park
1526 "H" Street
Sacramento, CA 95814

Phone: (916) 997-7779

Pictured: Kendra Dillard holding a piece of original Governor’s Mansion 1877 carpet,
found by restoration specialists, underneath the floorboards on the Mansion’s third floor.

Biographic Information:

I grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina where my ancestors settled many generations before. As a child I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandmother who taught me how to quilt, sew, crochet, embroider and knit from a very young age. The few items that were handed down in the family were pieces of needlework and quilts that piqued my interest in how there is history in everyday things.

History was always my favorite subject and most of my favorite teachers taught history or English. When I went to college in the early 1970s I pursued an undergraduate degree in American History with a minor in Secondary Education. However, during my student teaching, at age 21, I simply was not equipped to deal with the discipline problems that came along with teenagers in high school. Bitterly disappointed I was determined to find a job using my degree when I happened upon a job at a small local museum in Florida where I could pursue my interests in history and education without being in the classroom.

I was hooked! The job was a one year grant funded position but that was enough to change my career path. I worked for two years at a community college to save up some money and started applying to graduate schools. I was awarded a fellowship to attend the University of Minnesota where I earned my MA in history and museum studies.

I wrote my thesis on the topic of urban fringe farming where I used agricultural and population census data to compare the farming methods and family structures of two Minnesota townships near St. Paul from 1860 to 1900.One of the chapters was a case study of a farm in one of the townships that had later become a museum, Gibbs Farm Museum. The experience of the Gibbs family and their farm’s transition from subsistence agriculture in the 1850s to market garden farming growing fruits and vegetables for the city of St. Paul in 1880 to a farm growing ornamentals by 1900 was typical of thousands of farms on the fringes of growing cities in the Midwest in the last half of the 19th century.

Career Information:

Luckily for me the job of museum manager at Gibbs Farm Museum was open just as I finished graduate school and I was hired. I was able to apply my thesis research to update the museum’s interpretive time period from the pioneer era to focus on 1885 when market gardening was in full swing. This was an amazing opportunity for me to experience how scholarly research could be translated into entertaining and educational public tours and programs.

After three and a half years in this position I was hired by the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul as the Curator of Historic Sites Collections. For eleven years I was the sole curator in charge of 20 historic sites all around the state where I oversaw the collections management, served on exhibit teams and researched and implemented furnishings and interpretive plans. The sites ranged from Splitrock Lighthouse on the north shore of Lake Superior to Jeffers Petroglyphs in the southwest, to Mille Lacs Indian Museum in the center of the state. Others included the James J. Hill House in St. Paul, Meighen Store in Forestville State Park and Historic Fort Snelling at the confluence of the Minnesota and the Mississippi Rivers.

While I hated to leave this position, I moved with my husband and two sons to the Bay Area of California in 1998. (Between us we have four boys who are all in college this year!) Here I worked for a year with the Oakland Museum of California and for four years at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology at UC Berkeley where I managed a project to move 9,500 Native American baskets and 6,000 textiles into a new storage facility.

I was hired at California State Parks as a Curator II for the Governor’s Mansion and the Leland Stanford State Historic Parks in October 2006. Since April of 2007 I have worked full-time at the Historic Governor’s Mansion where we are completing a $1.2 million Deferred Maintenance Project. Shroud-covered scaffolding obscured the Mansion from sight while the exterior of the wooden 1877 Second Empire Italianate residence and carriage house received extensive repairs and wood replacement for the first time in its 130 year history.

One of the most exciting discoveries in the process of stabilizing some interior walls and ceilings on the third floor of the Mansion is the existence of incredible hand painted murals and decorations underneath decades and layers of paint. With this find and a postcard sized piece of the original carpeting we have the evidence we need to begin the research of the Gallatin family who first built the house as a private residence. Our goal is to conserve some and recreate the rest of the decorative painting and furnish the area to open it to the public for the first time ever – a curator’s dream. It doesn’t get any better than this!