History museum

Artist Tiburon’s Unnatural History Museum Embraces an Eco-Friendly Message with a Whimsy

  • Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal

    “Everything here is whimsical, it draws people in because it’s a heavy message. So it’s a lighthearted look,” says sculptor Cynthia Jensen of her Unnatural History Museum in her San Rafael studio.

  • SAN RAFAEL CA – MARCH 17: Mandrill Mayhem, Ensnared and Orangutan Tangle animal sculptures hang below a pair of ladybug sculptures, all by artist Cynthia Jensen at her ‘Unnatural History Museum‘ in San Rafael, California on Thursday March 17, 2022 (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

  • SAN RAFAEL CA – MARCH 17: An insect by sculptor Cynthia Jensen hangs on the wall of her ‘Unnatural History Museum‘ in her studio in San Rafael, Calif. on Thursday, March 17, 2022. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

  • SAN RAFAEL CA – MARCH 17: Sculptor Cynthia Jensen with one of her steel nest sculptures at her ‘Unnatural History Museum’ in San Rafael, Calif. on Thursday, March 17, 2022. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

  • SAN RAFAEL CA – MARCH 17: ‘Dragonfly’, made of steel, clay and wire, is one of sculptor Cynthia Jensen’s pieces on display at her ‘Unnatural History Museum’ in San Rafael, California on Thursday, March 17, 2022. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

  • SAN RAFAEL CA – MARCH 17: Steel nest sculptures by artist Cynthia Jensen are displayed at her ‘Unnatural History Museum’ in San Rafael, Calif. on Thursday, March 17, 2022. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

  • SAN RAFAEL CA – MARCH 17: Sculptor Cynthia Jensen discusses some of her Steel Nests in her ‘Unnatural History Museum’ at her studio in San Rafael, Calif. on Thursday, March 17, 2022. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal )

  • SAN RAFAEL CA – MARCH 17: An insect by sculptor Cynthia Jensen hangs on the wall of her ‘Unnatural History Museum’ in her studio in San Rafael, Calif. on Thursday, March 17, 2022. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

  • SAN RAFAEL CA – MARCH 17: An insect by sculptor Cynthia Jensen hangs on the wall of her ‘Unnatural History Museum’ in her studio in San Rafael, Calif. on Thursday, March 17, 2022. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

  • (Alan Dep/Independent Mariner

    Sculptor Cynthia Jensen sticks to a hoard of found objects that she uses to create her sculptures in her studio in San Rafael.

  • SAN RAFAEL CA – MARCH 17: Steel nest sculptures by artist Cynthia Jensen are displayed at her ‘Unnatural History Museum’ in San Rafael, Calif. on Thursday, March 17, 2022. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

  • SAN RAFAEL CA – MARCH 17: Sculptor Cynthia Jensen stands by a stash of found objects she uses to create her sculptures at her studio in San Rafael, Calif. on Thursday, March 17, 2022. Much of the material comes from ancient tools or devices, which she then uses to make animal-like sculptures. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

  • SAN RAFAEL CA – MARCH 17: Steel nest sculptures by artist Cynthia Jensen are displayed at her ‘Unnatural History Museum’ in San Rafael, Calif. on Thursday, March 17, 2022. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

  • SAN RAFAEL CA – MARCH 17: Sculptures by artist Cynthia Jensen are displayed at her ‘Unnatural History Museum’ in San Rafael, Calif. on Thursday, March 17, 2022. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

  • SAN RAFAEL CA – MARCH 17: Sculptor Cynthia Jensen stands by a stash of found objects she uses to create her sculptures at her studio in San Rafael, Calif. on Thursday, March 17, 2022. Much of the material comes from ancient tools or devices, which she then uses to make animal-like sculptures. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

Cynthia Jensen has long been in love with natural history museums. It would therefore not be surprising if she founded her own natural history museum, or rather a non-natural history museum.

Artist Tiburon, who has long created environmental art focusing on issues such as water conservation, fracking, GMOs, pollution and other ecological issues, quietly opened the museum of unnatural history of San Rafael about a year and a half before COVID-19 shut everything down. But now, she’s cautiously reopening space in hopes that she can educate people about the plight of animals in our industrial age.

The Unnatural History Museum, usually open by appointment only, will be open on Earth Day weekend.

“I was reading that conservation is an emotion and it comes from the heart. And that’s what I want people to feel. It’s so important and it’s something we can’t ignore anymore,” says Jensen, who was a former educator in San Francisco and Marin. “Everything here is whimsical, people like it because it’s a heavy message. So it’s a light look.

Jensen has been creating exclusively environmental art for two decades, addressing topics such as water conservation, fracking, GMOs and pollution. She started creating the animals about six years ago, inspired by the work of journalist Richard Heinberg, who has written extensively on energy, economics and ecological issues.

“I was reading his perspective on the interconnectedness of life and its impact on all of us,” she says.

His passion

Once she started making endangered animals out of recycled materials, she couldn’t stop.

“It just grew and grew. It became my passion,” she says.

The museum features around 40 animals made from recycled manufactured items, nests created from welded steel rods, cast bronze, aluminum and tin eggs, and around 30 large fantastic insects.

“Bugs are fun. Everyone loves bugs,” she says. “It added a lighter element. Aesthetically, it’s brighter colors and different patterns.

The space isn’t quite a traditional museum, says Jensen, but more of an expanded studio. Space in a building that her husband had bought 30 years ago for his video business has suddenly become available. It lent itself beautifully to his vision of educating people.

Before it had to close due to the pandemic, Jensen hosted students and small groups strictly by word of mouth.

“Kids love it”

“Kids love it, even from the age of 3. I also brought in high school students and they understand the importance of it,” she says. “People love trying to figure out what they’re made of. They are all made from different manufactured items, all from the 30s and 40s, old tools, buckets and pipes. People are really drawn to this and I hope they will be drawn to the message as well.

Work takes time. Jensen bleaches, melts, burns, drills, cuts, scratches and tears his materials; deconstructs found objects, then reconstructs them by weaving, sewing, molding, nailing, screwing and welding. She scavenges and spends a lot of time at flea markets, estate sales, and online, but people also give her abandoned items.

“And they get bigger,” she says. “I recently did a dragonfly with a wingspan of about 3ft and a giant cockroach and I’m working on a 7ft iguana to hang from the ceiling. Who knows where this will go; this could last forever.”

Jensen stopped making art for sale so he could focus on his animals and his mission.

“I devote myself totally to this museum. It’s really more for education and hopefully changing mindsets,” she says. “I want it to be as much of a natural history museum as possible.”

IF YOU ARE GOING TO

When: 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. from April 22 to 24 and by appointment

Or: 1292-4 Lincoln Ave San Rafael

Admission: Free

Information: museum.cynthiajensen.com, [email protected]