The Anna S. C. Blake Manual Training School: The Remarkable Antecedent of UC Santa Barbara on Display at Casa de la Guerra through late May

by Kevin McGarry

In celebration of the opening of a special temporary exhibit on loan from the UC Santa Barbara Library, The Anna S. C. Blake Manual Training School: The Remarkable Antecedent of UC Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP) offered the community two free educational programs in early March at Casa de la Guerra.

In 1892, Anna S. C. Blake opened a sloyd school at 814 Santa Barbara St. (near De la Guerra St.) on the site of what is today Anacapa School, located in El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park. Sloyd schools emphasized manual training and were closely linked to European folk art traditions and the Arts and Crafts movement. Renamed the Anna Blake Manual Training School after Blake’s death in 1899, the school remained grounded in the Progressive-era belief that all students should have access to a holistic education emphasizing both intellectual and practical knowledge in order to develop educated citizens.

Visitors gather in the exhibit gallery during First Thursday. Photo by Anne Petersen.

The exhibition focuses on the school’s early years and explores how Santa Barbara reformers thought about the intersection of education, the manual arts, and social mobility in the 1890s, and the implications of those beliefs on higher education today. All exhibit photos are from UCSB Library’s University Archives Photographs collection.

The exhibit opening during March 1st Thursday. Photo by Anne Petersen.

Our first opening event for the exhibition was a free 1st Thursday program (co-sponsored by Downtown Santa Barbara) on March 7th, from 5:00 to 8:00pm. Guests were welcomed in the Casa courtyard by SBTHP staff and volunteers and enjoyed free refreshments and some of the beautiful music of early California performed by local guitarist and vocalist Luis Moreno. Many visitors also had the opportunity to meet and learn from the scholars who researched the history of the School and curated the special exhibition, Dr. Sarah Case (Managing Editor, The Public Historian, and Continuing Lecturer at UCSB) and Nora Kassner (graduate student in History at UCSB).

Sarah Case presents the history of the Anna Blake School. Photo by Anne Petersen.

On Sunday, March 10th at 2:00pm SBTHP staff and UCSB History Associates organized a special lecture by Dr. Sara Case and Nora Kassner at Casa de la Guerra. Approximately 25 people attended the lecture and learned about the history of the Anna S. C. Blake Manual Training School. The lecture was followed by a reception and an exhibit showing.

Nora Kassner presents profiles of some of the Blake School students. Photo by Anne Petersen.

To learn more about the history of the Anna S. C. Blake School and its important ties to the Presidio Neighborhood and to UC Santa Barbara read Sara and Nora’s piece in our Winter 2019 issue of La Campana (available for sale for $5 at our Presidio or Casa de la Guerra gift shops) and/or come visit Casa de la Guerra before the end of May to see the exhibit in person!

Kevin McGarry is the associate director for public engagement at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation. 

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