Pacific Northwesterners who experienced Mount St. Helens’ eruption 40 years ago remember its impact without second thought. As one of the first widely documented eruptions, it impacted music, movies, art and, most importantly, our own comprehension of volcanic activity as a whole. 

In commemoration of the 40-year anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens, the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture is showcasing an exhibit to feature past memories and encourage remembrance of the eruption’s mark on the world.

The exhibit is predominantly a collection of memorabilia with various elements of interactive technology. Within the exhibit is a collection of interactive “sticky notes,” which can be selected by touch, featuring firsthand stories, videos and pictures of those impacted by the eruption. A portable seismograph can be used by viewers to monitor earthquakes and volcanic action correlation and a volcanic jukebox plays songs inspired by Mount St. Helens.

This technology not only allows viewers to recollect the impact of the eruption, but also livens the moment in history for those who may not have experienced the eruption as profoundly. 

Carol Summers, the museum’s marketing director, said her favorite pieces are jars of ash collected by those local to the eruption. Summers said most people have a jar of ash somewhere in their home, and it’s something that everybody affiliated with the tragedy seems to relate to.

Additionally, the impact of eruptions prior to Mount St. Helens on Indigenous communities are integrated within the exhibit Summers said it gives people a different frame of reference upon reflection, especially concerning volcanic impact on the surrounding community.

“I used a quote in the Mount St. Helens exhibit, Ars longa, vita brevis, to paraphrase, 'Art is eternal, and life is short,'” said Freya Liggett, curator of history and Campbell House. “Art, in its many forms, has a particular quality that can carry information through deep time.”

The new exhibit, “Pompeii: The Immortal City” opened Saturday aside the Mount St. Helens exhibit, connecting the two volcanic destructions. Both highlight the dangers of living amid an active volcano and emphasize the importance of understanding potential dangers of future volcanic eruptions. 

Within the exhibit is a memoir written about the Campbell family from the museums’ permanent “Campbell House” installation and their visit of Pompeii during their 1914 tour across European. 

"It all connects," Summers said. 

Viewers experience the weight of Mount Vesuvius as they follow the gripping story of a Pompeiian family throughout the exhibit. The collection provides insight of the natural resources cultivated by Pompeii locals and Roman operations of science and craftmanship. 

Multimedia experiences liven the reality of Mount Vesuvius’ destruction and provide the opportunity to meet civilians affected as they come back to life through an emotional, interactive experience.

“More than a set of ruins, Pompeii is also rich in art, giving character to the people who lived there," Liggett said. "This exhibit literally brings Pompeii to Spokane. I can’t make a better case for why students should take advantage of the opportunity.”

If students are interested in visiting these exhibits at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, “Pompeii: The Immortal City” is open through May 3 and “Mount St. Helens: A Critical Memory” is open through Sept.  6. 

Museum exhibit hours are Tuesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and every third Thursday of the month 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. 

Natalie Rieth is a staff writer.

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