Monday, September 30, 2013

Canoga Metro Station Mosaic

I hardly ever go north, so let's celebrate Mosaic Monday in Canoga Park. Last year,  the Orange Line Extension Station opened and the public got to see the two 27-foot long elliptical mosaics done by Ken Gonzales-Day, titled Western Imaginary.

Gonzales-Day is an Art Professor at Scripps College out in Claremont, not far from the University of California at Irvine, which is where he matriculated. Love using that work; it sounds like water falling over stones.

He's recognized internationally, and some of his projects tackle deep and controversial themes, like lynching. He actually created two art books that deal with that topic and what it says about society through the decades, Lynching in the West: 1850–1935 (a John Hope Franklin Center Book) and Profiled (LACMA PAC Prize, 2011).  That got him interviewed on CNN--how many art professors can say that?

His shows, accolades, and projects are many, and he's relatively young. Read more about him at his website.

The pictures above hardly look like mosaics, right? So here's the close-up, just to prove that it is, in fact, a mosaic.

Probably a good time to mention that all the photographs here came from The Source, a Metro Ezine that puts up fabulous pictures and all the details of the artwork at Metro Stations and biographies of the artists who created them.

Also from The Source is the artist's statement about this piece(s):

"Inspired by the community's interest in drawing attention to the natural environment and combined with my own longstanding interest in both California history and native species, I decided to bring the natural environment into the station environment. I wanted to create artworks that would function on a number of levels and could respond to the specific needs of the site: one, to soften the stucco corridors and vast parking lots that surround it; two, to enhance the station itself; and three, I wanted to create something that would be a source of pride for local residents and of interest to those passing through."

The mosaics are of oak trees and manzanita, native to the Valley. They are accompanied by photographs on steel and enamel, up where you can see them and not embedded in the sidewalk, that show the surrounding hillsides in a nostalgic way. Westerns were filmed here up through 1960, apparently; probably a lot of them for Republic Pictures in Studio City.

A company called Perdomo fabricated the mosaics, then they were shipped and embedded in the concrete at the station, and you can see those processes at right and below. Perdomo, a family-owned firm based in Mexico, seems to be Metro's new fabricator. A couple of years ago it was Mosaica, located in Montreal, Canada.

From what I can tell, Perdomo is part of several companies making up Mosaicos Venecianos, a company founded in Cuernavaca in the 1950s by Manual Perdomo. They use the very old-fashioned methods of true craftsmen to create their smalti tiles and mosaics.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Picnic in '59, Christmas '55

It's Monday at 4:30 pm and I am just now getting through three days of emails, each with attendant tasks . . . so in lieu of shortchanging a post on mosaics, how about a couple of  feel-good photos?  One under the pepper trees (I think) and one of a pink Christmas tree?

Picnic first, courtesy of This picture is of a 1959 picnic on the grounds of the Mission San Fernando. Kodachrome gives us those nice, bright colors . . . who remembers Langendorf bread? "Grow grow grow with Lang Lang Langendor bread!:

Second, this photo has come up on a couple of my Google searches for my Baby Boomer Christmas book (out November 1!) Nothing says Christmas like a pink flocked tree, right?

 I didn't use this picture in the book because I wasn't sure who owned it, and now see that it's labeled as belonging to Charles Phoenix, who will be giving colorful and funny talks on mid-century kitsch in LA's Chinatown & in Claremont and Pasadena over the next few weeks:

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Living History & Cemetery Buffs!

Come out, come out, on September 28 to the Angelus Rosedale Cemetery in West Adams.

Hear and see the shades of:

  • Jennie Allen Bovard, USC's First Lady--the first feeemale professor there

  • Marjorie Zier Page a Mack Sennett Bathing Beauty and Jazz Baby, who became one of TWA's first in-flight hostesses

  • Ivie Anderson (right), who introduced "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing" when she sang with Duke Ellington's orchestra

  • Civil War veterans like Aurelius Hutton, who helped found Pasadena, and bugler Orion Theodore Thomas

  • Warrior Daniel DeVilliers, who also fought in the Civil War, as well as the Mexican Revolution and the 2nd Boer War. After all that, he was shot to death here in Los Angeles a century ago, by his ex-wife's husband.

  • Unlucky Merle Evans, who died in horrible train crash at age 18--100 years ago. A Pacific Electric car from Venice, carrying folks who had enjoyed a Sunday evening at the saside, collided with another smaller train, killing 15. Learn more about the July 1913 Vineyard Station crash here.

  • Dr. Oner Barker (picturesd), who testified before Senator Joe McCarthy & his House UnAmerican Activities Committee

Details at the West Adams Heritage site, Tickets are $30 in advance, $35 at the site:

Rosedale Cemetery
1831 W. Washington Blvd.

It's a walking tour.

For more infomation, call  323-735-WAHA 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Watts Towers as Mosaic Art

Are they mosaics? How could they not be? Look at these pictures!

Seventeen structures make up the Watts Towers, with three tall towers dominating. The tallest, at 30 meters (99 feet) , has the longerst reinforced concrete column in the world.

Simon (actually, Sabato) Rodia built the Watts Towers between 1921 and 1954--working on them for thirty-three years. He wasn't an engineer or a trained artist. He just plugged away with hand tools in the evenings and weekends, after putting in his time as a construction worker.

He owned the  land on the 1700 block of East 107th Street, and back in those days you could pretty much put up what you wanted on your property. Public agencies didn't involve themselves and the building codes were, well, mostly ignored by everyone.

Rodia called his work "Nuestra Pueblo" Why did he build it? He said he wanted to do something big.

He started his structures by wiring rebar or pipe together, then wrapped the joints with wire mesh. He packed them with mortar added tiles, pottery, broken bottles and glass, shells, and all sorts of found objects to make mosaics, or he used simple tools to impress hearts, spirals, vines, and other designs into the drying mortar.

And while he did all that, he hung onto the towers with a window washer's belt.

The Watts Tower US website is the source of the pictures above and to the right. That site is maintained as a labor of love and has updated information on it about the Towers. You can see videos there too.

In 1956, the Watts Towers were almost demolished. No one interfered when he built them, but when Rodia gave the triangular property to a neighbor who then sold it to someone who wanted to turn it into a commercial site, the city wanted to tear it down because of its lack of permits.

There was a public outcry. New owners proved that the Towers were stronger than any of the cranes and cables meant to test their strength, so the Towers stayed.

The grounds are now called a campus. The Watts Towers Art Center opened there in 1961 and  is still offering classes and exhibiting art; admission is free.On the last Saturday of September--which is coming up--they always host a Drum Festival, and the next Sunday, a Jazz Festival. More about that here

The Charles Mingus Youth Center opened in 2008.

Rodia moved to Martinez, CA after he gave the property away. He died in 1965.

The two men who had saved the Watts Towers by buying them and stopping their demolition--Bill Cartwright and Nicholas King--gave the property and towers to the city of Los Angeles in 1975, and the city turned them over to the state in 1978. So technically, the Watts Towers are a State Park.

But the site is run by a combination of our city's Cultural Affairs Department and LACMA--the LA County Museum of Art.

The Towers were named both a California Historic Landmark and a National Historic Monument in 1990.

You can tour the Watts Towers on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday any week from 10:30 am to 3 pm, and on Sundays from 12:30 pm to 3 pm--unless it rains. No tours in the rain!

Tours leave every half hour. The charge is a measly $7, though children and seniors get discounts.

The photo on the left was taken by friends of my friends Pol and Andy, who  stopped here on a Tuesday on their way to Popeye's (yes, Pol was craving. He worked there in high school and still has to get a fix occasionally), so I know that this is now as close as you can get when it's closed. No tours on Tuesday. It's fenced off.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Theatre Review: Hamlet

Not our usual forte, but when you see something really good, you share, right?

A new production of Hamlet the Odyssey Theatre in West Los Angeles is wonderful. I got more out of it, in terms of understanding exactly what was being said, that I have from any production of Shakespeare over the past ten years. For those of us who don't know the plays by heart, that is a big point.

But mainly, the performances were superlative. Elizabeth Swain as the ghost was riveting. Hamlet, as played with just the right intensity by Lisa Wolpe, was always half mad, half pretending. Natsuko Ohama as Polonius (lower left) was fussy and funny, exactly as he should be. Claudius (Veralyn Jones) was almost tragic--remorseful on occasion, cold and calculating other times. Minimalist set; excellent players.

The cast is entirely female, which I noticed in the first few minutes only because their voices are pitched higher than I might expect. Five minutes in, caught up in the ghost's appearance, gender became a background issue and by intermission, I had pretty much forgotten about this. It turns out that Hamlet is iconic and doing an all-female show affects the play in the same way that using Victorian clothing might: It makes you do a double-take at first, and think about context and first impressions and stereotypes a little, and then you just settle back and enjoy because the play's the thing.

2055 S. Sepulveda 

310-477-2055 box office 

Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8, Sunday at 2, Alternating Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8

General Admission $25-30, but there are pay-what-you-can events, specials for Equity members, and more--click on the Special Events box.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Pictures from the California Historical Society

They're digitizing!

The California Historical Society sent out an email connecting to their Flickr Commons page, where they're putting up pictures from their collections.

This one was taken at Rancho Santa Anita around 1890, and the only two people smiling are the two mustachioed gents lying on the ground, holding hands in front. Something is definitely going on there.

There's a photo of the 1908 Oakland Baseball Club, an 1898 art class, a daguerrotype of some early miners, over 150 pictures of soldiers of the Spanish American War, on parade and in camp (those are in San Francisco--before the earthquake), some pictures of early business catalogs and ads--including a handbill from an 1869 theatre performance--and this ad for The Hub clothing store which was just too weird not to copy, and 1890s certificates of residence for Chinese workers in the state--details on that below. And more will be added soon.

The Society says these pictures have all been determined to be in the Public Domain, though the CHS holds the physical picture. Which doesn't matter much to bloggers, but is great for anyone wanting to illustrate a book or paper. Getting rights to use pictures is a tricksy business these days!

The residency certificates, with old pictures attached, refer to an Act of Congress passed on May 5, 1892. That would be the Geary Act, passed by the US Congress, regulating one class of immigrants: the Chinese. It came ten years after the Chinese Exclusion Act, extending that earlier act for another ten years and mandating that those of Chinese descent who were here legally carry these certificates to prove themselves legal. They could be deported if caught without papers. The Geary Act also barred Chinese citizens from testifying in court.

I copied one of them--the papers of Ng Gwan, a 49 year old farmer. The youngest of these men (and they were all men) was 22; the oldest 60. What a flourish the clerk used to fill these out!

The law was protested and fought in court without success. In 1902, after 20 years, it became permanent--and it was not repealed until 1943, when the US was fully engaged in war with Japan.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Joseph Young at Belmont High School

Since the schools are closed today, let's post a tribute to artwork therein!

Belmont High School is home to a mosaic by Joseph Young (it's also the alma mater of Ricardo Montalban, Jack Webb, Anthony Quinn, Mort Sahl, and other luminaries).

This particular picture and the signature photo of comes from R. L. Swihart's Blog, Without Lifting a Finger. Since I'm lifting it from him (hope he doesn't mind) I guess I'm actually the one lifting a finger-the one poised over the keyboard.

To learn more about Joseph Young, let me point you to both his FB fan page and some previous posts: