Nichols’ Ag Museum Gallery Talk to explore ‘The Vernacular Bestiary’

March 12, 2014
Santa Paula News

By Peggy Kelly Santa Paula Times You’ll be able to hear a noted photographer, curator, collector and dealer shoot the breeze, or perhaps better stated shoot the bull, Thursday in a chat to explore “The Vernacular Bestiary: Animal Snapshots from A to Z.”

The March 13 Gallery Talk, 2 p.m. at the Ventura County Agriculture Museum will feature John Nichols who will explain how casual snapshots-especially the exhibit’s vintage shots featuring animals-can be much like casual conversation, not polished and perfect but rather expressive and charming.

Nichols has collected vernacular photographs for many decades and gathered a special collection of animal snapshots he calls “The Vernacular Bestiary” debuted at the museum.

Arranged in an abecedarian manner, the snapshots include photographs that are more than one hundred years old and the exhibit has something else unusual-a call for poetry about the animals pictured that will be the focus of a separate event.

Why animals, at least why creatures other than the cats that Nichols has an acknowledged fondness for?

Said Nichols, “Because they can represent so many different things, from cute kittens to taxidermy, they run the range of human emotions. And sometimes animals are more human than humans in the range of their diversity.”

Vernacular, he noted, “Means of the common people, talking in everyday slang... and when you apply it to photography it means amateur snapshots, before formal training, taken with no intention of art.”

Such photographs are Nichols’ favorites to collect, “A frivolous sideline but also a major compulsion that does not impinge on my business life. Some of the most exciting photographs I come across-and are completely unexpected-are amateur snapshots.”

From amateurs’ that were quick on the trigger: “The very definition of snapshot comes from hunting, you snap a shot and you hope you get it,” said Nichols.

The animals in the exhibit photos were the crosshairs of those holding the camera that had no idea of what-or perhaps didn’t even care-the result might be.

“When you snap a little masterpiece it’s not from the photographer but from a place of mystery, it almost flows to the photographer and gets created... and you look for something that is tapping the universal,” as a matter of interest.

And people do love animals, although Nichols is quick to point out that selecting snapshots for every letter of the alphabet as well as those “that are interesting and not flawed in some way,” due to age was a challenge. 

Then again, “The occasional accidental masterpiece does pop-up,” perfect for display.

The exhibit features snapshots of creatures that have met a taxidermist, another of a dead vulture to “A cuddly kitten... it runs the gamut from shock and awe to tears of joy.”

As do Nichols’ musings, or as he describes it, “Stream of consciousness or in my case puddle of consciousness... “

An adjacent reading and exhibit area is for children, who are especially delighted by the animal photos where they are encouraged to read and write poems, as well as draw to take home or display their own responses to the animal-themed exhibition.

Writers are invited to preview selections from “The Vernacular Bestiary” online at or see the original snapshots at the Agriculture Museum, so they may submit up to three original poems of up to 25 lines each inspired by any of the snapshots. 

Poems must be submitted to by March 29.

A panel of judges will select poems to be shared at the “An Afternoon of Animal Verse” to take place in April. 

The exhibit will be shown through June 15. 

The museum is located at 926 Railroad Ave., Santa Paula.

Call (805) 525-3100 for information or visit:     Museum hours are Tuesday - Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

Admission is free for members, $5 Adults (18 years & older), $3.00 Seniors, Students & AAA members with ID; $1 Children (17-6 years old) and those 5 years old and younger are free.  

The Gallery Talk is included with regular admission for the general public and no reservations are necessary. 

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