Euro-American traditions of landscape art tend to work differently from those of Native peoples, often picturing the land from afar as a space to behold. James Doolin (1932 – 2002) carefully studied the landscape to create Bridges (1989), spending a week at the off-ramp from the 110 Freeway to Interstate 5 in Los Angeles. Using principles that originated in European painting, Doolin designed an expansive vista in which a vast space is seen from a single vantage point. The small figure in the foreground — intended as a stand-in for the artist or viewer — also appears in many traditional landscape paintings. By applying these motifs to 20th Century Los Angeles, Doolin refers to the power of historical images in shaping our modern experience of place.
Photographed in the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles.
This elaborately Beaded Vest (2013) was inspired by the catalogs for the Burpee Seed Company, an online purveyor of gardening supplies. Whereas much Native American beadwork features flat, abstract designs, Marcus Amerman (Choctaw, Born 1959) stitches each bead individually, alternating colors to create three-dimensional effects. The result is vivid imagery that leaps off the surface and defies our expectations of the medium.
Although the realism and commercial source of Amerman’s imagery are nontraditional, floral imagery has a long history within Native North American beadwork as an art form and a symbol of cultural resilience. Floral imagery emerged as a mainstay of beadwork during the fur trade, when beaded horse gear, bags, and clothing found a ready market among non-Native traders and settlers. As Native groups were disrupted and displaced by expansion, disease and war, floral imagery retained symbolic meaning known only to tribes, forming a visual language capable of surviving the destructive forces of empire.
Photographed in the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles, CA.
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.