By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
It’s an eye-catching object, a wooden picture frame decorated with shells and stones gathered from a beach. It is also a precious piece of Mukilteo’s past. Soon, it will be back home.
It was crafted more than a century ago by Louisa Fowler Sinclair. She was born at Mukilteo in 1862.
The frame was recently discovered by Everett Museum of History volunteers as part of their effort to inventory part of a massive collection stored at the Culmback Building in downtown Everett.
By her own account, Sinclair was the first child of a settler born in Snohomish County, which was carved out of Island County in 1861. During the Depression era, she was interviewed for a Works Progress Administration project that produced books called “Told by the Pioneers.” Her story was retold in 2006, in an essay by historian David Cameron, as part of the Snohomish County Women’s Legacy Project.
According to that essay, Sinclair was of white and Native American ancestry, the daughter of Mukilteo co-founder Jacob D. Fowler, originally a New Yorker, and Mary Warren Fowler, whose father was a Skagit tribal leader and a signer of the 1855 Point Elliott Treaty.
“We have lots of artifacts from around Snohomish County, but we’re focusing on Everett. We’re going to come across items that don’t belong in Everett,” said Dave Ramstad, a volunteer with the Everett Museum of History and a member of its board of advocates.
Ann Collier, of the Mukilteo Historical Society, had been hoping to find the frame. In the Mukilteo group’s archives, she had seen a 1964 newspaper article about the picture frame. “It was then at the Snohomish County Museum,” said Collier, whose husband, John Collier, is president of the Mukilteo Historical Society.
The Everett museum, started in the 1950s as the Snohomish County Museum and Historical Association, has thousands of items in storage but is without display space. The former Snohomish County Museum closed in 2007.
Everett’s Neil Anderson, both a Mukilteo Historical Society member and an Everett museum volunteer, served as a link between the two groups. He found the old frame stored at the Culmback Building. Collier had asked him if the Everett museum had the frame.
“I explained to Ann that might be a tall order,” Anderson said. The Everett Museum of History has boxes and shelves filled with items at the Culmback Building on Colby Avenue, in a loft at the Everett Mall and in another storage area.
“We were just opening boxes like kids at Christmas. It was in a box wrapped in bubble wrap,” Anderson said.
Ramstad said the frame will technically be on loan to the historical society, “but it’s a loan in name only.” He hopes to find paperwork accompanying the old frame.
“It’s a loan of indefinite duration, a common practice for museums,” said John Collier, adding that most museums have many more items than can be displayed. “On behalf of the Mukilteo Historical Society, we are absolutely delighted. We believe in the value of knowing the past, cherishing it, and continuing to learn from it.”
In her 1930s interview, Sinclair remembered her childhood along the water: “My first recollections of life are as a small girl playing along the beach, picking up bright pebbles there.”
Before settling at Mukilteo, her father had a trading post and tavern on Whidbey Island. Her mother, Sinclair told the WPA interviewer, had refused to marry a man from her tribe chosen by her parents and had run away. Mary Warren married Fowler at Ebey’s Landing. In their new home, they opened Mukilteo’s first store and post office.
Sinclair told the interviewer about things she made from her beach finds: “I liked to pick up shells and colored pebbles, and make knickknacks and picture frames by embedding the bright-colored shells and pebbles in putty. These I sold for good prices.”
The woman known as Mukilteo’s first daughter also joked that she had reason to brag:
“I always boast that for years I was the most popular girl in Mukilteo — and I was, for there were no others.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
A picture frame of wood, shells and stone by Louisa Fowler Sinclair, the first child of a settler born in Snohomish County, will be transferred from the Everett Museum of History to the Mukilteo Historical Society at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Mukilteo Lighthouse, 608 Front St., Mukilteo. It will be displayed in the assistant lighthouse keeper’s house in a display titled “Mukilteo: The Way We Were.”