From the 110 Freeway, the Southwest Museum looks impressive. Charles Fletcher Lummis, once the Los Angeles city librarian who edited the forerunner of Westways Magazine, founded it and began construction in 1913, supported by a "Southwest Society."
Lummis was a character and a half, in love with the romance of this area. This picture of him at age 24 (from the Autry website) was taken after he'd walked to California from Cincinnati, about 3500 miles.
Back to the Museum, though.
The Southwest Museum holds a quarter million artifacts of Native American origin--but has only enough room to display 2% of them. One of the reasons the Museum was up for grabs 4 years ago (The Autry now owns it) was that the museum building itself, physically run-down, put those artifacts at risk.
The Museum has been closed pending renovations, and that's expected to last till 2010--according to the website, which gives an overview of the damages done by flooding and insect infestation. The problems with the building and the preservation of the artifacts concerns everyone, but the Autry's responsibility and it's handling (not to mention placement) of the collection raises hackles in some circles.
That's all confusing enough. But newspapers now announce the birth of a new "Southwest Society" to raise money for renovations and expanded display space in the Southwest Museum. Huh? Wasn't that what the Autry was supposed to do? And weren't there grants and . . . all that stuff to pay for it? Definitely confusing.
Mayor Villaraigosa, Assembly Speaker Fabio Nunez are on board with the new Southwest Society, along with City Councilman Jose Huizar, Supervisor Gloria Molina, and others (the list is unofficially published at the Yahoo Group NELA). The Autry will provide staff for their fundraising activities.
Hopefully, they will issue a statement on the Autry site explaining what's going on, so that museum-lovers in Los Angeles will understand.Here are some websites o' interest about Lummis and his museum:
- CharlesLummis.com, promoting a prize-winning biography of Lummis, with lots of pictures and data
- A 2005 article from LA Weekly about the Autry-Southwest agreement, exploring the question of cultural piracy.
- Friends of the Southwest Museum wants expanded space in a rennovated Southwest Museum. They are not mentioned in the new Southwest Society blurbs.