“Men of the Red Earth”

Martine and Me at the Autry Museum

Martine and Me at the Autry Museum

Today, Martine and I stayed as far away from the Black Friday Madness as possible. Instead, we went to the Autry Museum of the American West in Griffith Park. At the #RevolutionaryVision show, we took the above picture, showing a pleasant looking woman and the strange character who photobombed her.

The Autry has been opening some new galleries and updating others. There was a nice exhibit of Mabel McKay’s Pomo Indian basketry, and the usual excellent art of the West. Below is Maynard Dixon’s “Men of the Red Earth”:

“Men of the Red Earth”

“Men of the Red Earth”

Born in Fresno, California, Maynard Dixon (1875-1946) is probably one of the best painters of the American Southwest. Although the museum was founded by Gene Autry, it attempts to present a panoramic picture of the West, including the land, the Western films, the art, the myths, and the environment.

I’ve always thought it an excellent place for travelers from other countries to visit—though I suppose they will continue to troop to Hollywood and be disappointed.

“Tears of the Lord”

Paul Pletka’s Paintings “Tears of the Lord” at the Autry National Center

Paul Pletka’s Paintings “Tears of the Lord” at the Autry National Center

One of the paintings I saw on Saturday’s visit to the Autry National Center is Paul Pletka’s “Tears of the Lord,” which depicts a bloody crucifixion on an Aztec cross, with native Americans in ceremonial garb walking by the foot of the cross.

It reminds me of the strange mix of Christianity with Andean religions that I saw in Peru in 2014. As one who has had a Catholic education through age 17, I was amazed by the beauty and ornateness of the churches in Lima, Arequipa, Puno, and Cusco. The farther I got from the larger cities, however, the more I saw signs of local religious practices alongside the Catholic images.

In the 1980s, when my brother and I visited the State of Chiapas in southern Mexico, we saw something even more extreme—so extreme, in fact, that we were made to sign statements in advance that we would not photograph inside the church or any of the religious ceremonies. The penalty for violation? Tourists had been killed for disrespect of the local customs. In the church of San Juan Chamula, the Christian statuary was decked out with corncobs and flowers. All pews had been removed, and the Mayans prayed by lying on their stomachs with their arms outstretched. The altar was de-emphasized altogether. Instead, there were various worship stations scattered around the nave.

And where was the local priest? The Catholic clergy had been kicked out more than a hundred years previously as part of a revolt. The churches they left behind were adapted to highland Mayan religion.

As I look at Pletka’s painting, I see the native peoples of the Americas incorporating all or part of Christianity, but insisting on their own brand of religious syncretism as well. At the tiny church in Corporaque, Peru, near Colca Canyon, I felt very far indeed from the Cathedral at Cusco. The only modern touch was that I was being filmed. Apparently, a nearby church was ransacked by thieves; and many of the small churches took measures to protect their ecclesiastical treasures.

Under the Bridges

James Doolin’s Painting “Bridges”

James Doolin’s Painting “Bridges”

On past visits to the Autry National Center’s exhibit of paintings of the West, I had always admired James Doolin’s “Bridges” (illustrated above). By  now, I have begun to believe that it is one of the most representative landscapes of Los Angeles, simultaneously showing the present web of freeways and, underneath all the concrete, the desert.

I could almost swear the scenes are of the Pasadena Freeway (I-110), which I drove today on the way back from visiting Bill and Kathy Korn in Altadena. It looks like the stretch as you approach downtown L.A. from the north. You can see the 1930s concrete work (in fact the year 1937 appears on the lower left abutment).