Oregon native finds enjoyment in uncovering the past.
By Katherine Du Pont
A piece of rotting wood sits on display at an exhibit at the county museum. Bug and weather decay crawl up the side of the log. The etchings on the side are of a pioneer who came to the area by means of the Oregon Trail. It reads “June 12, 1867, Silas R. Condra, born July 11, 1845 . . . crossed the plains in 1853.”
To most, it is just a piece of wood from Oregon’s past, but to Heather Kliever it is what she lives and thrives for. “It’s the only piece of pioneer graffiti we have,” Kliever says.
An Oregon native, Kliever works as the registrar of artifacts at the Lane County Historical Museum. She writes grants, answers calls about the previous night’s Antique Roadshow, works on art conservation and performs assessments on the inventory.
“We are currently moving from what we have from paper to digital copies so we can further do research,” Kliever says.
Although Kliever only started working at the museum one year ago, history is not a new interest for her. From an early age she was exposed to her family’s history in the state and now is extending that interest to her family. She believes in “living what we speak” and tries to convey that message to her 8-year-old son.
“I realize history is a part of your everyday life and if you have an appreciation, kids will follow,” Kliever says. “I hope that thought continues.”
Born and raised in Jacksonville, Oregon, Kliever’s family background extends to the well-known military family on her dad’s side to Kliever’s own enrollment in the Smith River Rancheria tribe. She studied sociology and chemistry at the University of Oregon, her MS in Art Administration and worked at the Southern Oregon Historical Society in Ashland until the birth of her son in 2003.
Kliever became a stay at home mom and in order to pursue public elementary education that has a foreign language program, she relocated her family to a 1920’s historical cottage in the Eugene Fairmount Neighborhood.
“In Jacksonville, history stayed in history,” Kliever says. “Here in Eugene, there is an actual connection between history and the present.” Upon her arrival, Kliever became heavily involved with the neighborhood association and then with the historical society.
“We moved here because it is near the university to access cultural events,” she says. “We are able to walk to grocery stores, public parks and schools.”
Proximity to the ever-changing Eugene culture is not only an interest to Kliever, but to the Lane County Historical Museum. The museum is in the talking stage of relocating to the historic post office located downtown. The current location has been established since 1951 when the museum first began. The county fairgrounds grew around the museum, making it the county hub for history and special events. Counter to its small size, Kliever attests that there is “no typical day.”
Museum greeter Rich InLove agrees. “The nice thing about work here is that it is never boring,” InLove says. InLove is helping the exhibit’s curator, Mary Dole, with the latest exhibit titled “Weird and Wonderful: Lane County Highlights and Footnotes”, which spans from the early pioneer days to the contemporary. The museum plans to keep the exhibit intact for the next year, especially with the discussion of expansion.
“We need to get enough capital to move to a larger historical building,” Kliever said. “We hope this exhibit will help.”
Regardless of the move, the Condra Tree will move with the historical society. Kliever is working on a grant to preserve the original state of the piece. If all goes well, the wood would be more than just a piece of wood, but a piece of living history.