A Portal to the Past: Introducing OHS’s Online Museum Collection Portal

January 25, 2022

By Nicole Yasuhara

This photograph shows a detail of a quilt that Oregon suffragist Abigail Scott Duniway pieced and sewed in 1900 to enter into a national suffrage bazaar. This quilt is one of over 75,000 objects preserved in OHS’s museum collection, 10,000 of which are now available to explore in the newly launched OHS Museum Collection Portal. OHS Museum, 1721.

The Oregon Historical Society (OHS) is thrilled to announce the launch of the OHS Museum Collection Portal — a public, online database highlighting the incredible objects in the museum’s care! The launch of this exciting new tool aligns with OHS’s mission to make history accessible to everyone and also supports the pillars of our current strategic plan. The culmination of a decade of preparation and hard work, the Portal brings the power of history to curious individuals around the world through the invaluable objects we preserve.

OHS’s museum cares for over 75,000 objects that document the history of the region — clothing and textiles, Native American belongings, artworks, vehicles, equipment, and everyday items. The Portal provides access to the records for over 10,000 of these objects, with new records being added regularly. Users can search for objects by name, description, maker, or date(s), among other search fields, as well as browse the museum collection by type or subject.

(OHS also stewards archival and audiovisual materials through its research library, which users can access through separate databases — the research library catalog and the OHS Digital Collections website.)

Within each record on the Portal, users will find details about an object including a physical description, dimensions, the maker/manufacturer and inscription when available, and an image. A provenance field is also included, which explains the known history of ownership along with information about why the object is pertinent to Oregon.

Object record for a concertina (OHS Museum, 3094) on the OHS Museum Collection Portal.
Each object in the Portal has a record with details including a physical description, dimensions, an image, and provenance. In this record, the provenance field reveals that this concertina (OHS Museum, 3094) belonged to Rev. John Spencer and his family, who came to Oregon in 1852 on the Oregon Trail.

The Browse search options highlight why this public portal is such a valuable tool to researchers. Like most museums, OHS’s collection is far larger than we can ever possibly physically display in our museum galleries. We have popular items that the public rarely gets to see, such as the Ivan Collins Historic Vehicles in Miniature, and unique objects, including the carvings of Hallie Heacock, that many people may not even know that OHS holds. We can now highlight these objects on the Portal through our Browse by Subject search options, allowing far greater access to information about our museum collection than has ever previously been possible.

Browse by Subject landing page on the OHS Museum Collection Portal.
The Browse by Subject search options on the Portal help guide researchers as they explore OHS’s museum collections online, currently dividing objects into categories that include Art, Clothing and Textiles, Native North American, General, and Military.

Objects that are currently on exhibit are also enhanced by the portal. There is a subject search for our 7,000-square-foot permanent exhibition, Experience Oregon, which features all of the objects that are on display but with far more information on each object than was possible to include on the exhibit labels. Popular topics for researchers such as the Oregon Trail, the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition, and quilts are also available as pre-filtered subjects to explore. We anticipate adding more Browse by Subject searches in the future.

We hope that through the OHS Museum Collection Portal, more people will discover the stories from Oregon’s past told through the objects in our collection. Whether you are researching your family history, a museum professional searching for objects to borrow for an exhibition, an author conducting research on a new historical fiction, a teacher looking for ways to engage your students with primary source materials, or a person hoping to learn more about Oregon’s history, you will find something of interest on the Portal.

Be sure to look for an upcoming blog by Curator of Collections Helen Fedchak on the behind-the-scenes work that went into the Portal’s creation. For now, we hope you enjoy this slideshow of some of the museum collections staff members’ favorite objects featured on the Portal!

OHS Museum 2019-27_46_1_2

“I really enjoy the entire collection of fifty-five Robert Bruce Horsfall bird illustrations donated to OHS by the Portland Audubon. The illustrations are lovely, and the color palette of the entire collection is very calming. Choosing one as a favorite is difficult so I picked a painting of a bird that always makes me smile when I see it in person.”

– Kim Buergel, Registrar

OHS Museum, 2019-27.46.1,.2

Oregon Trail quilt made by Mary S. Garrison, 1838. OHS Museum, 749.

“This lovely sampler has it all: beautiful embroidery, women’s history, and a tragic Oregon Trail story. It was featured in our sampler exhibit a few years ago, but now it and other delicate textiles are accessible on the Portal all the time.”

– Helen Fedchak, Curator of Collections

OHS Museum, 749

OHS Museum 91-97_88

“I love this bread box because it is an example of an object being completely transformed by the addition of its story to the record. Before we added Homer Yasui’s recollection of playing in it as a child, it seemed unremarkable, but now it is my favorite part of the Yasui collection.”

– Helen Fedchak, Curator of Collections

OHS Museum, 91-97.88

Dress made by M & A Shogren, ca. 1900. OHS Museum, 86-181.1.1,.2.

“This dress, along with others in the museum collection by M & A Shogren, is breathtaking. The amount of work and skill it took to create such a beautiful dress is astounding. This dress was on view in Experience Oregon, but for preservation purposes was replaced after one year. Now people can enjoy it on the portal and learn more about May and Ann Shogren and their Portland-based fashion house.”

– Nicole Yasuhara, Deputy Museum Director

OHS Museum, 86-181.1.1,.2

OHS Museum 2005-49

“I have admired this quilt since it arrived at OHS. The strong contrasting colors and flashing minnows pattern are striking and beautiful. And, of course, the provenance is compelling. I am a knitter but have always wished to have the patience to quilt, especially hand-quilting. I am in awe of each stitch and can’t imagine creating this quilt in 2022, let alone in the 1800s.”

– Kim Buergel, Registrar

OHS Museum, 2005-49

Chair belonging to Captain Robert Gray. OHS Museum, 66-331.2.

“While a chair may not seem that exciting — this one is! It belonged to Captain Robert Gray (of the Columbia Rediviva). To me, it is especially important because it was rediscovered early in our project to fully document and photograph the museum collection in preparation for launching the Portal.”

– Nicole Yasuhara, Deputy Museum Director

OHS Museum, 66-331.2

Nicole Yasuhara’s Other Posts

The views expressed in user comments do not reflect the views of OHS. The Oregon Historical Society does not participate in political campaigns, nor do we support or oppose candidates.