The Idaho State Historical Society is proud to offer a variety of permanent, rotating, virtual, and traveling exhibits across all it sites to display portions of a collection of over 50,000 artifacts, 20,000 archaeological items, 10,000 maps, and countless archival documents and photographs.
Check back often for a traveling or virtual exhibit you can access from your community!
Idaho State Museum
The Idaho State Museum features over 80,000 square feet of exhibit space with over 500 artifacts combined with immersive, innovative technology to tell the story of Idaho. From the lakes and forests of the north down to the deserts and canyons of the south, visitors can explore each space and understand the important relationship between Idaho’s land and its people and how they have shaped, and continue to shape each other over time.
The Museum’s two rotating galleries, Syringa and Treasures, provide spaces to expand on themes within the exhibits by highlighting additional artifacts from the collection and sourcing national exhibits for display.
See below for descriptions of each exhibit and current exhibits featured in the temporary gallery spaces.
The Origins gallery introduces you to Idaho’s five federally recognized tribes. The tribal theater illuminates each tribe’s Origin Story, while the rest of the gallery identifies tribal roles in contemporary land stewardship and provides an introduction to the diverse landscapes throughout Idaho.
Roots of Wisdom: Native Knowledge. Shared Science. runs through September 2023.
Overcoming centuries of environmental and cultural changes can make for unexpected partnerships with extraordinary outcomes. In Roots of Wisdom, stories from four indigenous communities are brought to life, giving visitors real world examples of how traditional knowledge and cutting-edge Western science provide complimentary solutions to ecological and health challenges.
This curated selection of clothing and accessories reveals how culture, individual values, technology, and function combine to create fashions that help to visually define our lives. Using multiple levels of detailed photography and 3D modeling, this catalog makes viewing delicate textiles possible in ways not usually accessible to the public.
Old Idaho Penitentiary
The Old Idaho Penitentiary features nearly a dozen unique exhibits and interpretive panels throughout several buildings on the four and half acre site. Smaller exhibitions focus on the daily life of penitentiary residents, young offenders, building and architectural history, and biographies of former residents and employees. Exhibits explore the human experience of those incarcerated here and how Idaho’s system of incarceration evolved over time.
The J. Curtis Earl Weapons Exhibit is an additional exhibit which highlights historic arms and armaments from the Bronze Age through the Vietnam War era. From projectile points to Thompson (“Tommy”) sub-machine guns, the displays demonstrate technological advances in weaponry, as well as military experiences throughout the world. There is no extra cost for visiting this world-class exhibition. The J. Curtis Earl Exhibit is not related to the history of the Idaho State Penitentiary.
See below for more detailed descriptions of our largest, featured exhibitions.
Discover the stories and circumstances behind the major riots and disturbances at the Idaho State Penitentiary through new, locally designed graphic novel style artwork. Featuring over 60 illustrations and thought-provoking questions that ask visitors to consider how these events shaped the current state of corrections in Idaho, guests will decide whether those involved were disturbing justice, or if the justice system itself can be disturbing.
With generous support from the Boise City Department of Arts & History, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Idaho State Archives
The temporary exhibition space and A. Lincoln: His Legacy in Idaho exhibit is located in the Merle W. Wells Research Center at the Idaho State Archives. The exhibits in this space are curated and assembled by Archives staff to showcase the unique materials within our collections and educate visitors on various topics. The temporary exhibit space is rotated approximately three times a year, with each display in place for about three months. To encourage further research on the selected topics, Archives staff also assemble a collection of related readings available in the research center.
Abraham Lincoln: His Legacy in Idaho exhibition at the Idaho State Archives features over 200 artifacts and documents that reveal the intriguing and significant connections between the 16th president and the 43rd state. The exhibition opens with a recreation of Lincoln’s Cabinet Room where the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. Galleries that follow illuminate Lincoln’s life from poverty to presidency and feature collections such as Lincoln’s signed appointments of the first territorial Chief Justice and second territorial Governor; Lincoln’s remarks to Congress in 1863 and 1864 reporting on the progress made in organizing Idaho Territory; and the Order of Procession for the President’s funeral parade in Chicago on May 1, 1865, listing the Honorable William H. Wallace of Idaho Territory as a Member of Congress in attendance.
From the stark emptiness of prison cells to the often wild and colorful stories of the 13,000 men and women who served time there, the Old Idaho Penitentiary conjures many images. Operated as a prison from 1872 to 1973, this structure now serves as an educational destination and one of the most visited historic sites in Idaho.
The 32 Cells art show began in 2016 as a collaboration between the Idaho State Historical Society and Boise’s Swell Artist Collective. The exhibition offered local artists the opportunity to interpret the site’s vast array of stories in a new visual format. As 32 Cells enters its eighth year as a core event at the Old Idaho Penitentiary, the show continues to attract new audiences.
Highlighted here are signature pieces from the show that have been collected by the Idaho State Historical Society. You can explore more of the stories behind the first five years of this signature program in the book, 32 Cells: Artistic Reflections on the Old Idaho Penitentiary, releasing Summer 2023.
This exhibit is currently unavailable.
Idaho State Capitol
The Capitol Curation Program is the product of a partnership between the Idaho State Historical Society (ISHS) and Idaho Capitol Commission. The Capitol Curator preserves and promotes the historic character of Idaho’s statehouse and manages a collection of over 1,000 artifacts and historic furnishings connected to the Idaho State Capitol. Through permanent and temporary exhibits within the capitol, the program provides context for this iconic monument and the place of government in the lives of Idahoans.
Governing Idaho: How People and Policy Shape Our State, located in the Garden Level Rotunda, is the Idaho State Capitol’s signature permanent exhibit. In 2011, the project won the American Association of State and Local History Award of Merit. Learn how the Idaho State Capitol came to be. Explore the history of state government with interactive challenges. Become inspired to actively participate in leadership and governance of the Gem State. Brochures accompanying the exhibit can be found in the Idaho State Capitol Gift Shop.
Idaho’s Capitol building is truly the “People’s House.” Temporary galleries throughout the statehouse tell the story of the many ways Idahoans shape the Gem State.
Currently in Statuary Hall:
Check back soon for updates on upcoming exhibits at the Idaho State Capitol.