The Hippies Exhibit: Summer of Love in Sonoma County
A new multi-media exhibit in Sebastopol’s West County Museum, “The Hippies,” tells Sonoma County’s interesting 1967 Summer-of-Love history in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love.
The subject of major magazine and network news stories while it was happening, fifty years down the road the summer of 1967 has taken on a mythical aura composed of simpler times, beautiful people wearing flowers in their hair, lightshows, acid rock, and the idea that love could bring the world together.
Although that long-ago summer is usually associated with San Francisco—where nearly 100,000 young people arrived from around the world to celebrate—plenty of big-time Hippie magic was also taking place in Sonoma County.
The exhibit celebrates two back-to-the-land communities slightly west of Sebastopol—Morningstar Ranch and Wheeler Ranch—that sprang to life around that time.
“During the late ‘sixties, two open-door communal ranches existed in Sonoma County, California. Nothing quite like them had ever existed before, and young people came from all over the country to live there. Together they rediscovered a tribal, neo-primitive way of life which consumed less energy and offered more freedom than our regulated, consumption-oriented Great Society could give.”
—From the exhibit’s introduction
Eventually lawsuits and legal complications involving health and building codes caused the bulldozing of houses at both ranches, and the communities were closed.
The exhibit includes vintage film clips. In one, Morningstar’s Lou Gottlieb and Bill Wheeler of Wheeler Ranch passionately explain the philosophy that led them to open their land (Gottlieb cites the “snowballing cybernation and industrialization” of the larger culture). Another fascinating video is an approximately 10-minute NBC news segment about Wheeler Ranch, wherein a news reporter buttoned up in a suit and tie peers, mystified, into rustic hippie dwellings with no running water or toilet facilities.
The exhibit also includes photographs, hand-made clothing, everyday items of the time, a wall-sized timeline, and popular music album covers of the day. A selection of books includes those written by Hippies (Living on the Earth, Morning Star Scrapbook) and those about Hippies (Flashing on the Sixties, We Are as Gods). You can purchase some of the books, as well as other exhibit items, in the museum’s small shop.
“The Hippies” is the most well-attended exhibit in the museum’s history. Its run has been extended to Labor Day.