Five Oaks Museum is a gathering place of vibrant art, culture, history and storytelling — a resource for all who are curious about the world around us. It’s a place for everything from learning and self-reflection to the sheer joy of making art or enjoying cultural traditions together.
Since our founding in 1956 as the Washington County Historical Society, we’ve worked to preserve the artifacts and narratives that define the Tualatin Valley’s unique place in the world. By collaborating with others to explore how art, culture and history shape the past and influence the future, we help visitors connect to a collective local history made up of community voices and the important stories they tell.
Here, everyone is part of the story.
Body First — we recognize that all bodies have the right to be safe and welcome. We strive to exceed ADA compliance and provide audio, tactile and visual display content. We provide water, food, quiet, movement and other support for well being; we respond to input about how we can welcome folks with specific bodily needs.
We believe that the land (the Earth, the ecosystem) is the beginning and end of every story. We recognize the millennia of stewardship that Native people have given — and continue to give — the land. We tell stories of the land and animals in conjunction with stories of people. What can we do to walk the walk of environmental stewardship?
We take truth to be an orientation rather than a fixed state, and we remain persistently devoted to its pursuit. We maintain a high level of rigor in supporting all of our work with research, and we highlight complexity and nuance in our content.
History and culture are tools of production; they must be used in resistance to structural inequity so as to support the possibility of justice for all. We apply an equity lens to all of our actions and products. We uplift many voices and ways of understanding the world.
The people who share their time and attention with the museum are the reason that it exists, and all of our work is approached with generosity towards them in mind. We trust the expertise and capability of the community and include community leadership and input into everything we do. We center descendant communities in all storytelling work.
“From their guest curator program to their Instagram takeovers and their learning curriculum, Five Oaks [Museum] offers a model for how a regional museum can offer platforms to diverse groups of people—particularly those that have been historically marginalized by cultural institutions and society in general—to share stories, experiences, and perspectives that broaden our understandings of place and belonging.”
– Jennifer Fang, Director of Interpretation & Community Engagement at Pittock Mansion
The Context of Our Work
As you visit our website, we encourage you to stay in your body and connect with your breath. Our bodies are a part of the land and ecosystems of the earth. Five Oaks Museum rests within a valley bounded by mountains and shaped by a slow moving river. The river bends and curves and loops around; the river does not hurry, yet the river persists. Within this valley are also wetlands, oak trees, and all of the bodies and creatures that have always lived here. This is Kalapuyan land. Since time immemorial, Kalapuyan knowledge and lifeways have embodied the truths that this land holds. Native people have always been here, are still here, and will continue to be here.
The museum, our collection, and the building that houses them were created by and for settlers and their belongings. For those of us who are guests on this land, we acknowledge that the harms of settler colonialism and extractive modes of taking are legacies which our work must account for and reckon with as we seek to enact justice.
The Five Oaks site is a grove of historic oak trees situated near the museum that has been a gathering place for over 500 years. The site holds the complex and intersectional sense of place and community identity that our work aspires to. We honor all of these things with our presence here at this time and with our shared work at Five Oaks Museum.
About Our Name
Five Oaks Museum is named for the Five Oaks Historic Site located just a few miles from the museum building. At that site, five Oregon White Oaks serve as habitat and home to native plant and animal species. The trees are essential to regional biodiversity.
Since time immemorial, Tualatin Kalapuyans return to the oaks year after year to harvest acorns and grind them in heavy mortars and pestles. In the 1800s, fur trading and pioneer celebrations took place under the Five Oaks, including the first Fourth of July asserted in Oregon Territory in 1845. Through decades of agriculture and suburbinization, local residents have helped preserve the Five Oaks site for future generations. As some oaks fell, people replanted younger trees. Today, one 500-year old Oak still stands, surrounded by family.
Over the centuries, people, plants, and animals have all come together under the Five Oaks: speaking different languages, traveling from far away, making a home here. The museum name references the way we approach history and storytelling with complexity, multiple layers, and deep roots in place.
About Our Journey
Five Oaks Museum is on a journey to becoming an ethical, anti-racist, transforming institution.
The Washington County collection originated in the 1890s with a settler descendant group, Native Sons and Daughters of Oregon. In the 1950s, the collection came under the care of the Washington County Historical Society. Washington County Museum was built at the new Portland Community College Rock Creek Campus in 1982, where our museum building is still located today. In 1987, the Museum became an independent non-profit, rather than part of the Washington County government. Over the next decades, Washington County Museum celebrated settler history and objects, and made symbolic gestures towards becoming a multicultural institution.
Our revolution began in 2019. We adopted the codirector model and softly launched the guest curator program with This IS Kalapuyan Land. In January 2020, we rebranded as Five Oaks Museum. During the ongoing pandemic, we opened our first guest curated online exhibitions, created a values-aligned budget, integrated arts into our exhibitions and learning approach, and began to restructure our organization towards our five values. We reopened the museum building in June of 2023 with an internally created exhibition, Replenish the Root: Six Centuries of Gathering Under the Oaks, that looks deeply at the historic Five Oaks site, from which we took our name.
Our journey continues, and we welcome you to join us!