By Crystal Harrell
Many Coachella Valley history buffs would be surprised to know that tucked away next to the Big Lots of Cathedral City is a museum that houses treasures from the past. Nestled between Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage, the location at Cathedral Gateway Plaza on the corner of HWY 111 and Date Palm Drive in Cathedral City’s Arts and Entertainment District is a wonderful beginning for an ambitious start-up museum with a rich inventory of popular exhibitions to display.
The Museum of Ancient Wonders opened to the public on October 26 of 2019 and was shuttered on March 13, 2020 when COVID-19 hit. Before the closure, the museum was scheduling tours for students and senior citizens from retirement communities, along with events, conventions, weddings, and birthdays. The museum has since then reopened on March17 of this year. The museum was closed for one full year practically to the day—shuttered on March 13, 2020 to March 17, 2021 with two brief re-openings in between.
Joseph McCabe, the museum’s Director of Development, has been working hard during the pandemic to raise funds from Riverside County, local, and national foundations, and the federal government. Shuttering a new museum venue for a year could have resulted in permanent closure, but with the generous support of the owners of Cathedral Gateway Plaza, and the financial support of a handful of Coachella Valley residents, the museum continues to strive to bring the ancient world to the Valley’s doorstep.
“We all have an invisible thread that connects us to the past. The Museum of Ancient Wonders provides access and a rare opportunity for visitors to immerse themselves into the ancient and prehistoric worlds of life on Earth, rarely seen outside of major museums in much bigger cities.
With or without travel restrictions, visiting the museum is like traveling to the great museums of the world without having to leave your own backyard,” stated Executive Director and Chief Curator Alberto Acosta.
While traveling these collections to more than 50 museum destinations throughout the U.S. and Canada, Taiwan, and Puerto Rico over the last 21 years, Acosta kept his eyes open for a region that would benefit from the permanent establishment of these exhibits to leave as a potential legacy for future generations. After visiting the Greater Palm Springs area in 2018 and discovering its passion for modernism and contemporary art, Acosta decided a museum of exhibitions with a focus on the worlds of ancient civilization and prehistoric life could give context to how we live our lives today.
Designed to enhance universal curriculum development for local and surrounding school districts, colleges, and universities, these unique collections also provide tourist incentive for a burgeoning hospitality industry. With access to replicated artifact treasures and important laboratory cast fossil discoveries, these fully curated museum quality exhibitions supply educational, cultural, and economic engines for those who may not have access to the originals.
“I decided to welcome visitors with a lobby dressed in African masks of antiquity representing tribal communities in existence more than 3,500 years ago. To see the originals, you would have to travel to the Louvre Museum in Paris, the British Museum in London, and all the great museums of Europe. We installed the famous Australopithecus afarensis skeleton, commonly known as Lucy, named after the Beatles song, ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ from the National Museum of Ethiopia located in Addis Ababa courtesy of Donald Johanson, the paleoanthropolist who found her in 1973 and who is responsible for the establishment of the Institute of Human Origins at the University of Arizona, Tempe,” said Acosta.
Lucy is one of more than 50 fossil displays in their collection that tell the story of human origins. The main 5,000 sq. ft. gallery displays reproductions from the tomb of Tutankhamun, commonly referred to as King Tut. With introductions to the history of ancient Egypt and King Tut’s parents, the center island depicts what Howard Carter and his aristocratic benefactor Lord Carnarvon saw upon entering the tomb. The next chamber of the main gallery focuses on the private life of the pharaoh by displaying his most intimate objects: his bed, sandals, dressing mannequin, jewelry, and gameboard, to mention a few.
The last gallery is devoted to the Mesozoic Era: The Age of Dinosaurs. Displayed in geological chronological order it begins in the Triassic period more than 250 million years ago, progressing through the Jurassic, and finally ending in the Cretaceous period. The artifact and fossil specimens were commissioned and acquired with the help of experts in the field of anthropology, archaeology, Egyptology, and paleontology. The list includes the Egyptian Art Center in Cairo, and the Pharaonic Village in Giza, which employs artisans with access to the originals along with replicas from Artisans Guild International.
The Museum of Ancient Wonders will be hosting an art exhibition titled Ancient Reflections in Contemporary Art on view May 7 and 8 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. These paintings and sculptures will be available for sale and admission to the museum is free during these hours with a request for donations. This exhibition of works by six artists juxtapose contemporary paintings and sculpture against a background of 18th Dynasty Egyptian artifacts and is curated by Darrick Lackey of Fine Art Consulting. The museum is planning lectures from experts in the fields of Egyptology, anthropology, paleontology, and geology as well as guest curators, poets, musicians and artists to fill a slate of monthly activities. “With more families moving to the Valley, and tourists looking for things to do, I think the museum’s presence is timely and worthy of our attention and broad support. It is vital to our success that every resident of the nine ‘pearl cities’ that make up the necklace of the Coachella Valley utilize and promote our efforts to establish this museum permanently for now and future generations. Our current acquisition list is long and filled with iconic paleontological and archaeological treasures from worldwide locations, including original antiquities to augment replica displays. With support from our local communities, the Museum of Ancient Wonders is slated to become one of the Valley’s most prominent, popular, and diverse museums,” exclaimed Acosta.
For ticket prices and more information, visit https://www.moaw.org.