Autry Museum of the American West Review - California Continued Opens

AUTRY MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN WEST has made its most ambitious expansion in the 30 years of its existence. CALIFORNIA CONTINUED opened its doors to the general public on Sunday, October 9, 2016. And are you in for a treat. A joint project of the Autry Museum and KCET, the planning for this 20,000 square foot addition has been in the works for over five years. On October 6, 2016, the press were invited to a preview of the changes.  W. Richard West, Jr. - Arapaho Nation of Oklahoma, Peace Chief of the Southern Cheyenne, and CEO of the AUTRY MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN WEST - opened the program with fascinating observations on the behind-the-scenes work which went into this expansion.

CEO W. Richard West at the opening ceremony of California Continued - Photo by Elaine L. Mura

The expansion is devoted to two new exhibitions, the first a permanent gallery called HUMAN NATURE. The permanent exhibit looks at four key environmental issues – fire, salmon, desert, and plants as food and medicine – all at the heart of Native cultures. Lead Curator Paige Bardolph planned HUMAN NATURE as a fluid study of the environment which will be altered to keep pace with changes in our day-to-day surroundings. Part of the exhibition features stunning examples of contemporary works by Native American artists.

Maidu Fire Spirits by Judith A. Lowry (Maidu/Hamowi Pit River), Dao Lulelek 2012 - acrylic on canvas - Photo by Elaine L. Mura

Reflecting the partnership of the Autry Museum with the Southwest Museum is the amazing diversity of basketry on display. Available materials in different geographic areas of California helped create this brilliant juxtaposition of environment and culture.

Basketry - Mabel McKay exhibit - Photo by Elaine L. Mura

Just outside the door of the new galleries is a HUMAN NATURE GARDEN featuring over 60 native plants, a pond, and huge graphics depicting the diversity of California ecology. Landscape architect Matthew Kennedy (Ponca tribe of Nebraska) formulated the garden layout, while selection and plantings were supervised by Native American educators Nicholas Hummingbird (Cahuilla/Apache) and Tima Lotah Link (Shmuwich Chumash).

Nicholas Hummingbird (Cahuilla/Apache) fields questions - Photo by Elaine L. Mura

How to Cure a Headache - Photo by Elaine L. Mura

Clever displays show some of the medicinal uses of native plants for common ailments including headaches and foot rash. There are no random plants here, and even the huge oak tree hovering above the garden is a major contributor to Native American tradition.

The Mighty Oak - Tima Lotah Link (Shmuwich Chumash) - Photo by Elaine L. Mura

In addition to culinary and medicinal uses of plants and herbs, Tima Link, who hails from the Chumash tribe of Santa Barbara, also formulated a huge map which outlines names and locations of the multiple Native American tribes in California.

California Tribal Map - Photo by Elaine L. Mura

CALIFORNIA ROADTRIP offers a dual projection virtual trip through California’s multiple landscapes from sunrise to sunset. Filmmakers travelled North and South, East and West for a month to photograph the many breathtaking views, including California’s highest and lowest points, deserts, forests, mountains, and coastline. The CALIFORNIA ROADTRIP exhibit is also planned as a place to relax and contemplate the diversity of a state with such spectacular landscapes. To add to the ambiance, the sounds typical of each of these scenes have been captured. At the same time, people have not been overlooked. Into each moment, the human touch has been added.

Continuum Basket Flora, 2016, by Gerald Clarke (Cahuilla) with aluminum cans, metal satellite dish - Photo by Elaine L. Mura

KCET provides dynamic video footage and interviews which are part of an hour-long documentary, “Tending the Wild,” which will air in February 2017. KCET representatives Juan Devis, Senior Vice President of Content Development and Production, and Chris Clark, Educational Editor, were on hand to share information about their goals in the project.

Human Nature Garden - Photo by Elaine L. Mura

The second new gallery will feature a rotating exhibition. At this time, this exhibition is about the LIFE AND WORKS OF MABEL MCKAY (1907-1993), a twentieth century Long Valley Cache Creek Pomo Tribe master basket-weaver who was also a healer, teacher, cannery worker, and advocate for Native Americans. She was reportedly the last “Dreamer” of the Pomo people, the last speaker of the Pomo language, and a self-taught basket-making prodigy. Even though Mabel was buried in an iconic buckskin dress, this was really “pan-Indian” garb – a Plains Indian style of dress and not traditional for her tribe.

Pan-Indian buckskin - Photo by Elaine L. Mura

Curators and Native garden planners and educators are on hand to give tours and answer questions for the public. At the same time as CALIFORNIA CONTINUED tells the tales of the past, the new exhibits also focus on contemporary relevance. For example, salmon were an important part of Indian life in the past; but many of the changes brought about by modernization have led to the dramatic decrease of salmon in our current waters. Exhibits reveal how changes are happenings right now which may alter this loss and bring salmon back for future generations.

Milky Way Basket by Juana Apapas (Soboba), late 1800's (George Wharton James Collection) - Photo by Elaine L. Mura

AUTRY MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN WEST is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays through Fridays and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays (closed Mondays). The Autry Museum is located at 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles, CA 90027. Ticket are $10 (adults), $6 (students and seniors), and $4 (children 3-12). For information, call 323-667-2000 or go online.

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