One of my favorite museums to visit when I am in L.A. is the Autry Museum of The American West, located in Griffith Park, which was co-founded by singing cowboy actor Gene Autry. Autry built the museum, which opened in 1988 (ten years before his death) to exhibit and interpret the heritage of the West and show how it influenced America and the world. It’s really a fantastic place with a huge collection of Old West memorabilia, movie props and costumes, western-inspired toys, Native American artworks and artifacts, galleries full of antique fire arms, and rotating exhibits that are both fun and educational. I cannot recommend it highly enough for any tourist, and if you live California, you simply must go.
Autry became a Sergeant in the US Airforce and served as a pilot and Flight Officer during World War II. While in the service, he continued to perform and wore this Pink Silk Shirt by Rodeo Ben Western Wear (circa 1940s) at U.S. Bond rallies and as a USO performer. It’s amazing that the shirt is so well preserved and is still in excellent condition nearly eighty years after its creation.
Childhood friends Arthur Melin and Richard Knerr formed Wham-O in their Pasadena garage in 1948. They championed outdoor fun that demanded children’s energy — throwing, catching, hip-swinging, sliding — and ample space.
Wham-O jumped from fad to fad: Frisbees, Hula Hoops, Superballs, Slip ‘n Slides, Silly String and Hacky Sacks are just a few of Wham-O’s inventions.
Photographed as part of the Exhibit Play! at the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles.
The first pre-selective jukebox was the Multiphone, invented by John C. Dunton in 1905. Standing 7 feet high, it comprised a lyre-shaped, glass-fronted wooden cabinet containing an Edison spring-motor phonograph and a hand-cranked rotary-selector mechanism that gave the listener a choice of twenty-four cylinder recordings.
Coin operated amusement devices became popular in saloons by the turn of the century. For a nickel (though this machine has been altered for dime plays) the Edison Multiphone coin operated phonograph (1915) offered a choice of twenty-four cylinder recordings (visible through the glass panel). The cylinders were numbered and an accompanying chart listed the titles. By having patrons pay for their entertainment, saloon keepers saved money on hired musicians and other expenses.
Photographed in the Autry Museum of the American West, Located in Los Angeles, California.
If you haven’t yet been to the Gene Autry Museum of the American West, you need to add that to your list of cool things to do when you are in the Los Angeles area, because the place is just amazing (bonus: the museum is located directly across a shared parking lot from the LA Zoo.). I had the chance to explore this history-rich landmark in December, when I was visiting family for Christmas, and I had all kinds of crazy fun.
During my visit, I took these photos of Manchester (2014); a horse sculpture made out of random car parts, created by American sculptor Doug Owen. In a career spanning four decades, Owen is an artist whose entire oeuvre consists of sculptures of horses. And whether he is using car, tractor, or motorcycle parts, Owen’s choice of medium imbues his sculptures with a touch of humor and of irony, as his horses are constructed out of the very material that ultimately replaced them.
I think his work is super cool. You can read more about Doug Owen at this website, Doug Owen Art Dot Com.
The Indian Chief Roadmaster was designed as a handsome, comfortable rival to Harley-Davidson’s heavyweight touring bikes as Americans took to the road in the years following World War II. Indian’s top model, the Chief Roadmaster (1948) exuded power and style. Note the Indian Head on the front fender as well as the custom-fringed leatherwork. Now, imagine how it would look flying in the wind as the bike speeds toward the horizon!
Photographed in the Autry Museum pf the American West in Los Angeles, California.
Dennis Tompkins and Michael Bush, who were Michael Jackson’s longtime costume designers, were asked to create a pair of Metal Cowboy Boots (circa 1990) for Jackson. The designers found inspiration in sabatons, the part of a knight’s armor that protected the foot. The singer wore these boots to the White House in April of 1990 to received the Artist of the Decade award from President George H.W. Bush.
Photographed in the Autry National Center in Los Angeles.