Celebrating ten years of 'Western Heritage'

Staff Writer
Photo courtesy of the Autry Museum of Western Heritage
Pictured: 1998 marks the 10th anniversary of the Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage in Los Angeles.

The last time you visited the Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage was probably during a grade school field trip. But, if you have nothing to do or are looking for somewhere to go with family and friends over the weekend, visit the Autry Museum and encounter various treasures ranging from spurs and saddles to artistic tools and clothing.
The museum's "Inventing the Southwest: Fred Harvey Company and Native American Art," is the current special exhibit worth seeing.
The Harvey exhibit is a collection of the articles collected by the company, as well as pieces made by Native Americans as tourist trade items.
A deck of railroad playing cards containing 52 different photographs of Native Americans, as well as white china place settings containing red Native American animal images, were on display.
Also on exhibit were small hand-woven Hopi baskets with fine patterns, Arapaho moccasins and Apache pottery.
Frederick Henry Harvey promoted the West as a tourist attraction in the late 1800s and early 1900s, offering the safety and comfortable services given on his train boxcars to Southwest vacation sites. Here, Harvey used romanticized Native American images and sites to add excitement to his advertisements, promoting the Southwest in souvenirs and symbols.
Southwest relic collectors Jenghis Jarvel and his wife Peggy, of Northridge, visited the museum for the first time Sunday.
"I now appreciate [the museum relics] more because they were done by hand," Jenghis Jarvel, in reference to the Casa Grande pottery on display, said.
According to Jenghis Jarvel, Casa Grande pottery is hand crafted, covered in cow or horse dung which is then set on fire instead of using a kiln.
Peggy Jarvel was particularly fascinated with the woven textiles in the next room, carefully analyzing the tight weaves of the crazy weave herringbone patterns of the blankets.
History majors should definitely visit the museum's Los Angeles Times Children's Discovery Gallery where children have the opportunity to dress up and learn what it was like to live the life of a Mexican-American ranching family.
Education aide Stacey Canon said many children see an old-fashioned clothes pin and do not know what it is. She explains to them what it was like to wash clothes by hand, how the family got water and did other chores.
"It needs to be explained to children that there was not a 7-11 to get water from [in 1906]," Canon said.
Special pre-visit teaching packages are available to teachers who are interested in bringing their class to the exhibit. A short lecture is given and then students are allowed to play with and look through the period items and journals.
For gunslingers, there's a room dedicated to the evolution of the Colt pistol. A special edition engraved, gold and silver plated John Wayne Colt pistol is in a gift presentation box, of which only 90 were made.

In another room, you have the opportunity to listen to a shoot-out with Wyatt Earp with the push of a button or visit the wall of badges from the growing law enforcement since the late 1800s and the decorative show gear of modern cowboys.

When the museum opened to the public in November 1988, its creators had been focused for several years on the institutional mission to explore the broad temporal, topical, and geographical elements of the history and peoples of the West. At the same time, they were not surprised that some members of the public would expect the museum to be a monument to the life and personal memorabilia of recording, broadcasting, film, and performing legend Gene Autry.





As a philanthropist, the Singing Cowboy had long wanted to create a museum as a way to leave something enduring behind. Perhaps the result of his dream goes beyond what he originally imagined. Certainly, the American West presented within the boundaries of the museum galleries is broader and more comprehensive than the original plans called for. In 1985 and 1986 there was room to dream in creating the museum. Just as with a book, the exhibits were conceived as ways to tell a story. Objects and artworks would be the central features describing the region we think of as the West, from its prehistoric roots to the present. The impact of art, performance, and advertising in manipulating perceptions of the West would be contrasted with elements of real experience. There was no preexisting collection, so research and design set about filling more than 50,000 square feet of exhibit space—at first on paper— with ideal artifacts for telling the story. The challenge, then, was to go out and find art and artifacts to fulfill specific roles.

The museum located off the Interstate 5 and Highway 134 junction. 4700 Western Heritage Way (in Griffith Park adjacent to L.A. Zoo), Los Angeles 90027  Tues.-Sun., 10am-5pm; Thurs., 10am-8pm

For more information, call (213) 677-2000. FAX (323) 660-5721
Web site, http://www.autry-museum.org  Director: John L. Gray

Special Events:
The museum hosts a regular program of demonstrations (free with museum entry), films and concerts (admission runs $1-$5, depending on the program), and art classes for adults and children (cost varies). Please call the museum for details. Admission to the museum is free on the second Tuesday of every month.