Stevenson’s Napa – Part 1

Photo taken in the Fall of 2008 just outside the Stevenson Museum in St. Helena.

I’ve lived in the Napa Valley for more than a year now and sometimes I still can’t believe I managed to make it happen. I’ve always loved Napa and made frequent visits while growing up in the Bay Area, hoping that someday I’d end up finding a way to live in this amazingly beautiful place. It all came together when an incredible job opportunity landed in my lap in January 2009. And here I am.

Before moving here, I dated a man who lived in St. Helena, in the northern portion of the Valley. While traveling back and forth from my house in the East Bay to his, I noticed signs referencing the Treasure Island writer Robert Louis Stevenson. In downtown St. Helena, I was always intrigued by a sign pointing the way to the Robert Louis Stevenson Silverado Museum. Finally one hot summer day (now that I think about it, exactly two years ago this month), I wandered over to the museum and took a look around.

The small museum consists of one main room filled with photographs, books, artifacts, statues and a miniature replica of the cottage where he and his new wife stayed on Mount St. Helena for a few months while on their “honeymoon” in 1880.  I admired the original letters and manuscripts in glass cases, paintings of places he visited and lived, the desk where he wrote Treasure Island and so much more.

I made my way over to the curator of the museum, a sweet Scotswoman named Dorothy. I introduced myself and told her that I was a graduate student and planned on writing about Stevenson as part of my masters thesis project (a notion solidified by my visit to this quaint museum). Dorothy and I chatted for a time and I shared with her my desire to help the museum with its marketing materials and website. I had worked with a few other small organizations like this and knew they could use my assistance. I hoped they would take me up on my offer. They soon did and so began a project that continues to this day.

Through the next few weeks, I burrowed my way in to the organization’s long-defunct website and began a major redesign and overhaul. The site launched that Fall and is still one of my portfolio favorites: www.stevensonmuseum.org

The work I did for the website redesign kicked off the massive research project that would ultimately help form my thesis. And it set in motion a genuine interest in learning more about the passion that drove the famous adventure writer to the Napa Valley.

He traveled by train through the Valley in 1880, when the very first vineyards were finding their feet, when the land and its people were wild and now-legendary characters and settings were just beginning to take shape. From a tiny cabin on the rugged slopes of Mount St. Helena, Stevenson captured his thoughts and observations in a memoir titled The Silverado Squatters, a book which, 130 years later, would serve as the perfect guidebook to follow this Napa Valley literary legacy. More about my travels with Stevenson in my next entry . . .

“We look timidly forward, with a spark of hope, to where the new lands, already weary of producing gold, begin to green with vineyards . . . Those lodes and pockets of earth, more precious than the precious ores, that yield inimitable fragrance and soft fire; whose virtuous Bonanzas, where the soil has sublimated under sun and stars to something finer, and the wine is bottled poetry. . .” – Silverado Squatters

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