New Americans Museum exhibit tells San Diego’s stories — one keepsake at a time

Artist-in-residence Kerianne Quick at her exhibit, "A Portrait of People in Motion," at the New Americans Museum at Liberty Station.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

In ‘A Portrait of People in Motion,’ artist Kerianne Quick looks at what we collect on our journeys to San Diego


The teddy bear came here from San Francisco by way of Indiana, a gift to help a new college student ward off homesickness. The handbag came from Nigeria, handed down to a daughter from a mother she would never see again. The family photo was from Laos. The quilt came from Iowa. The wooden pendant came from Serbia, carved by a father for a daughter who carries it with her everywhere she goes.

These are just a few of the objects featured in “(A) Portrait of People in Motion: Kerianne Quick,” a new exhibit at the New Americans Museum in Point Loma. The things themselves — the priceless family heirlooms, the loved-to-death toys, the practical kitchen tools — tell the story of San Diego through objects that are dear to San Diegans’ hearts. They were collected by Quick during the artist’s year-long residency at the museum. Each one came from a local resident with a deeply personal story to tell. But the story Quick wants to tell is about all of us.

“Ultimately, my goal was to redefine the way we think about migration,” said Quick, an assistant professor of jewelry and metalwork at San Diego State University’s School of Art and Design. “When they hear the word ‘immigration,’ people always think about international migration. But even if you are just moving across town, it’s a move. And there are things you miss. I want those of us who are not immigrants or refugees to be more thoughtful about those who are. You can remember your ancestors and think, ‘That could be my grandmother at the border.’ Immigration is not just about ‘the other.’ We have all experienced it in some way.”

When she began collecting objects and stories, Quick cast a wide net. She went to local retirement communities, high schools and junior colleges. She collected items during 12 public events at the museum. The object’s journey to San Diego could have started in a foreign country or in a California city just a few miles away. The objects could be things participants brought with them when they came here. They could also be memories or photos of objects they left behind, objects from an ancestor, or the first thing they would grab if they had to leave their home today.

Quick took photos of the keepsakes, made 3D scans of them, then remade and re-imagined the objects —the vintage typewriter, the rosewater cruet, the knife block carved from a redwood telephone pole — in clear resin. She also interviewed the participants to get the stories behind the objects. The photos of the original items, along with the stories, are printed in the exhibition catalog, which can be downloaded off Quick’s website ( You can also hear extended audio versions of Quick’s interviews by calling (619) 483-3758 and punching in the number of the item.

Everything about “(A) Portrait of People in Motion” was designed to make the objects and the stories behind them as accessible as possible, even as they remain deeply embedded in the fabric of someone else’s life. When making the resin versions of the keepsakes, Quick would usually reproduce just part of an object. The Olympia typewriter was flattened. The figures in the Laos family photograph became shadows. A bag of dirt meant to represent a Mesa College student’s South Korea ancestors could be holding anything.

“By producing something that doesn’t have a lot of detail, it can help people imagine that this is their object,” Quick said during a tour of the spare, all-white gallery in Liberty Station, where “People in Motion” will be on display through Nov. 17. “They can imagine themselves in a family photo. They can look at an object and see that they probably have something similar or the memory of something similar. It all goes back to being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.”

New Americans Museum galleries attendant Tim Allnutt does not have to put himself in the shoes of the person behind Item No. 051 because he is the person behind Item No. 051. Allnutt purchased the Fuzz Factory Guitar Effects Pedal during a visit to Hollywood more than a decade ago, and it was one of the few things he didn’t sell to finance his move to San Diego from the United Kingdom.

The pedal reminds him of friends and the communal joys of playing music together. But in the context of the exhibit, where Quick has re-imagined it as one of more than 100 translucent shards of indelible memory, this tool for making noise speaks volumes about the place he now calls home.

The place we all call home.

“This museum is set up to be a safe space for immigrants to show their experiences, their hopes, their dreams, what their contributions are and what we can learn from them,” Allnutt said. “It asks questions about what it means to be an American. This exhibit is a portrait of all of the people who make up San Diego.”

“A Portrait of People in Motion: Kerianne Quick”

When: Through Nov. 17. Museum hours: Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: The New Americans Museum, Liberty Station, 2825 Dewey Road, Suite 102, Point Loma

Admission: Free

Phone: (619) 756-7707