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SPACES News 28 Items

A Letter from Emily Smith, director at Philadelphia's Magic Gardens

Posted in Preservation News, SPACES News, Threatened Environments

Hi everyone, 

 

I’m assuming most of you know by now that we lost our bid to historically designate the Painted Bride. There was over three hours of very passionate testimony from both sides and the vote was dramatic: a 5-5 vote then 5-4 for the re-vote. It was a long and shocking afternoon, extra thanks to those of you that attended the meeting. It was intense. I needed a few days of space before reaching back out to all of you. Here’s a link to the WHYY coverage: https://whyy.org/segments/painted-bride-denied-historic-status-removing-roadblock-to-iconic-buildings-sale/  

 

What is frustrating about the outcome is that almost everyone in the room (even the Bride) seemed to agree with the historic criteria and that the building is an icon. Though hardship should have been dismissed for a second meeting, the final call was based on the Bride’s argument that designation would stifle their ability to move forward unencumbered. 

 

It was a disappointing day and if the building is demolished, I do believe in just a few years the city will be deeply regretting this decision. 

 

When I woke up on Saturday, I felt so proud of us. I know there was nothing we could have done differently: we were thoughtful, articulate, organized, and full of integrity. Fighting for art and for strange spaces will always be an uphill battle.  Every single person on this email took time from their busy schedules to voice their opinion. Our communities will never understand what these places mean to us unless we continue to push back. Even facing loss, it is so important to try. 

 

So thank you. Reading your letters of support, getting fired up during phone conversations, the handshakes of respect after we lost- those were invaluable moments. I hope that you will continue to talk about the building and tell this story. Maybe next time it can be different for someone else. 

 

In terms of next steps, there are not many options. We will not be appealing or suing, it doesn’t make sense in this situation. I think it is time to focus our efforts on encouraging the Bride to find a sympathetic buyer. I’d love any suggestions you may have in terms of rallying the community to petition the Bride in this way. 

 

Warm hugs from the Gardens, 

 

Final Hearing for Watts Towers Art Center Director on September 13

Posted in SPACES News, Take Action

 

 

FINAL HEARING SEPTEMBER 13th ON SUSPENSION OF WATTS TOWERS

ARTS CENTER DIRECTOR, FOLLOWS EVIDENCE OF FALSE STATEMENT

BY CULTURAL AFFAIRS OFFICIAL AT PREVIOUS HEARING

 

The L.A. Civil Service Commission will consider its final decision Thursday, September 13, on Watts Towers Arts Center Campus Director Rosie Lee Hooks’ appeal against the three-week suspension imposed upon her by the Department of Cultural Affairs. The final hearing will be at 10:00 a.m. in Room 350 of the L.A. Personnel Department Building, 700 East Temple Street.

 

After a July 31 hearing, Ms. Hooks was found not guilty of insubordination, but guilty of not adhering to the public art approval process to paint a mural of Watts native son and jazz giant Charles Mingus, last September, on the Charles Mingus Youth Arts Center on campus.    

 

This finding has been called into question by substantial documentation proving that Ms. Hooks was unaware of this process, contradicting Community Arts Director Leslie Thomas’ testimony. Mr. Thomas admitted that he had approved Ms. Hooks’ vacation for the month of May, 2016, but insisted that she was definitely in attendance at the May 5, 2016, meeting where she was informed of the Public Arts Ordinance approval process.

 

Lawyer Adam Stern, representing Ms. Hooks for her union, the Engineers & Architects Association (EAA), has submitted to the Commission an airline check-in confirmation and Ms. Hooks’ passport with a dated visa stamp for additional consideration. This material proves that, at the very time of the May 5 meeting, Ms. Hooks was in transit to Johannesburg, South Africa. 

 

An internationally-honored community arts administrator and educator, Ms. Hooks has served twice as interim Director of the Watts Towers Arts Center, and was appointed Director in 2002. She was previously Director of Festivals for the City’s Cultural Affairs Department and produced the first Central Avenue Jazz Festival and many others. She also established, with Buddy Collette, the prestigious Watts Towers Arts Center Jazz Mentorship Program. 

 

When the Cultural Affairs Department put Ms. Hooks on suspension without pay in April, the community support groups for the campus expressed concern that the action against her was an act of retribution for her continuing efforts to advocate for the Watts community.

 

Community support group members and campus staff have, over the years, developed a long-range vision for the campus, its arts and educational programs and the presentation to the public of Sabato Rodia’s Watts Towers, a world-renowned masterpiece of architectural sculpture. As Watts Neighborhood Council Chair Jacquelyn Badejo attests, “For years, the community groups have asked the city for appropriate resources to support our vision, getting very little in response from the Cultural Affairs Department, the Mayor’s Office or the 15th Council District, and they have never shared with us their own long-range plans for the campus or the Watts community.” 

 

Affirming the union’s advocacy for Ms. Hooks, Labor Representative Geoffrey Garfield of the EAA states, “We offer any assistance the Watts community needs to end the blatant harassment of an adored arts educator.” 

 

watts-towers-Watts Towers. Billy Reed, 2015.

Click here to learn more about the Watts Towers, built from 1921 to 1954 by Italian immigrant Sabato Rodia. 

Kohler Foundation + SPACES Archives Transfer Update

Posted in SPACES News

 

books-for-kfi-spaces-updateMany of the archive materials are only available in person - the archive boasts many books, publications, and other resources about sites around the world.

 

Kohler Foundation archivist Ann Gappmayer has been hard at work, plugging away to inventory and rehouse recently received documents and other SPACES archival materials so that they will be easily searchable. The SPACES archive, currently located in a secure warehouse in Sheboygan, Wis, is now open for researchers by appointment. While the SPACES website is growing and becoming more robust every day, thanks to our legions of supporters, many of the resources included within the archive, like library books and journals, are only available in person. Ann shared that one of the goals is to add all the books in the archive to WorldCAT, the world’s largest library catalog, so that researchers and interested parties can discover the assets in the archive more easily.  

 

fullsizeoutputa5-g43Ann double checks all files to remove staples and paperclips, which can rust. She then transfers everything into archival folders.

 

Ann has been delving into the vast amount of materials that lie within the “Art” Harold Beal collection. Art Beal created Nit Witt Ridge in Cambria Pines, California and SPACES Founder Seymour Rosen and includes an incredible depth of resources: extensive letters, photographs, and even Beal’s birth certificate.

 

manila archiveThe effects of newsprint and other non-archival materials are seen here in this manila folder.nat-geoVolume 122, Number 4 Issue of National Geographic from October 1962 that features an article with the Watts Towers.

SPACES Archives welcomes new Social Media and Communications Coordinator

Posted in SPACES News
spark-paintings-imageJen Balge leads a SPARK! Group at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center

SPACES Archives is pleased to announce the hiring of Jen Balge as our New Media and Communications Coordinator. Jen is taking over from Jennifer Joy Jameson, who has transitioned to the Alliance for California Traditional Arts as Programs and Media Director. She will focus on SPACES’ ongoing mission and goals as we continue to work to engage those familiar with our work as well as attract new audiences. 

 

Jen has worked at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center as Education Specialist since 2013, planning public programs and education components around works featured in their exhibitions and collections, many of which include art environments. With access to the JMKAC collection as well as SPACES’ physical archives – as it continues to transfer to the Kohler Foundation, Inc. – she is looking forward to exploring a range of topics to broaden our reach and impact. Among her short-term goals are to feature contemporary artists whose work has been influenced by art environments and to offer resources for educators. She also hopes to continue to build partnerships with other academic and general organizations who work in this field.

 

Jen holds degrees in art and education from Cardinal Stritch University (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), and strives to use points of universal accessibility of artist-built environments to engage people of all ages and abilities. In addition to her position at JMKAC, she serves as the museum representative on the Wisconsin Art Education Association board and is currently president-elect for the Dementia Care Network of Sheboygan County.

 

Be sure to follow SPACES Archives on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to stay up-to-date on our latest happenings. You can reach Jen with any new media and communications inquiries, suggestions, or comments at communications@spacesarchives.org. 

 

SPACES and Kohler Foundation Celebrate New Partnership at the Road Less Traveled

Posted in SPACES News

 

dsc9775L to R: Susan Kelly, Senior Preservation Coordinator, KFI; Bill Swislow, SPACES Board; Ann Gappmayer, JMKAC; Stacy Mueller, SPACES Archivist; Terri Yoho, KFI Executive Director; John Foster, SPACES Board; Christine Taylor, Incoming KFI Executive Director; Jo Farb Hernández, SPACES Executive Director. Missing: Lisa Stone, SPACES Board; Dan Smith, Senior Preservation Coordinator, KFI

The recent Road Less Traveled conference in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, hosted by a consortium that included the Kohler Foundation, Inc., the John Michael Kohler Art Center, and the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, was the venue for the “official” announcement and celebration of SPACES archives partnership with, and move to, the Kohler Foundation, Inc.

 

screen-shot-2017-10-09-at-114503-amScenes from the In Celebration of Ourselves exhibition co-curated by SPACES Archives, including the works of Sanford Darling, from his House of 1,000 Paintings + figure from Calvin and Ruby Black's Possum Trot.

In conjunction with the conference, SPACES Director Jo Farb Hernández worked with JMKAC curator Karen Patterson on two complementary exhibitions that drew from the archive’s resources – one focused on the Watts Towers and one that presented components of the groundbreaking In Celebration of Ourselves exhibition organized by SPACES founder Seymour Rosen for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1978. Hernández, along with all current members of the SPACES Board of Trustees – including John Foster, Lisa Stone, and Bill Swislow – as well as SPACES archivist Stacy Mueller, also participated in a panel discussion describing the work of SPACES archives, its development and evolution, and its plans for the future.

 

wattstowerexcel20170002rosenwattsMore scenes from the exhibition, including early images from Watts Towers. Photo courtesy JMKAC.

As this partnership with KFI develops and the physical archives are transferred to Sheboygan, SPACES staff and Board will continue to fulfill our mission of identifying, documenting, collecting information about, and advocating for the preservation of art environments all over the world. And as we continue to do so, we encourage all of you to continue to send us your photos, your texts, and any information you can uncover about art environments. This site has truly become a crowd-sourced resource, and we couldn’t do it without you! Thanks to everyone for your support!

 

img1930-brightenedSPACES Director Jo Farb Hernández with SPACES Board Member Lisa Stone at the celebration honoring the transfer of SPACES to KFI. Photo by John Foster.

Read more about the week’s events + the accomplishments of SPACES in this new piece by Hyperallergic

 

To see a video tour of the exhibition, view more on our Instagram feed

 

SPACES IS HIRING: New Media and Communications Coordinator

Posted in SPACES News

spacesishiring



Today, we say farewell to our friend and former New Media and Communications Coordinator, Jennifer Joy Jameson, as she dives further into her responsibilities at the Alliance for California Traditional Arts. We’re glad to be able to continue Jennifer’s work by bringing a new person onto the SPACES staff to aid in accessibility and visibility for the organization as it transfers operations to the Kohler Foundation.

 

SPACES - Saving and Preserving Art and Cultural Environments, a 501(c)(3)public benefit organization, is looking for an individual who can combine digital media skills and an understanding of SPACES’s mission and goals to help us build new audiences for our organization. Familiarity with the genre of art environments and the fields of folk and self-taught art are preferred but not required.

 

We seek a self-starter with experience in communications and digital media content development who can successfully promote and build awareness for the unique sites and environments that SPACES represents. With the new national and international audiences you build, we will expect to see significantly increased page views on our website (www.spacesarchives.org).

 

This position is defined as an “independent contractor” and is expected to require the equivalent of approximately ten hours weekly; compensation will be negotiated commensurate with experience. The successful candidate will be reviewed after the first month, with a second review after six months. The New Media and Communications Coordinator will report directly to SPACES’s Director.

 

The New Media and Communications Coordinator may work remotely from their home or business.

 

> > > Click here to review and download the attached PDF for the full job description.

 

There is a short window of opportunity to apply: Applications are due by Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017.

SPACES, Inc. Moving to Wisconsin's Kohler Foundation, Inc.

Posted in SPACES News

 (L) Sign by the late NC artist James Harold Jennings, from the collection of Seymour Rosen;
 (R) Executive Director Jo Farb Hernández at SPACES. Photos by Jennifer Joy Jameson, 2017.

SPACES was informally organized in 1959 and has operated as a formal nonprofit organization since 1978. After some 5 1/2 decades, it is now time for us to take a new step that will enable us to put our collections and resources to even greater use. We are thus truly excited to announce that SPACES has decided to partner with Kohler Foundation, Inc., and will transfer SPACES’ archives and the operation of the website to the only foundation in the country dedicated to the preservation of art environments. KFI is committing extensive resources to the present and future of SPACES mission and archives, and we will look forward, through this anticipated partnership, to maintaining the resources to continue to support SPACES’ mission for generations to come.

screen-shot-2017-06-07-at-44702-pm

 (L) Library view of the Aptos, California Archive

 (R) Archivist Stacy Mueller and Executive Director Jo Farb Hernández at SPACES. 

Find out more about this exciting transition in the upcoming months. Please note that due to the move, SPACES is no longer able to welcome scholars and researchers to our Aptos offices. We will notify our supporters when the archival materials once again become accessible for study, but in the meantime, keep up with SPACES online!

SPACES Director interviewed for upcoming documentary on David Hoffman’s Last Resort

Posted in SPACES News, Threatened Environments

The Last Resort Lagunitas has a special place in the cultural landscape of the area of Marin County, California, as it exemplifies many of the traditions that originated and evolved in this rural area north of San Francisco, including the inception of the local environmental movement, the birth of a unique style of Arts and Crafts/Pacific Rim architecture, and the formation of alternative artistic currents growing from the counter-culture of the 1960s-‘70s.

David Hoffman began to create this unique art site in 1973 when important cultural fermentations were taking place, drawing on the experience of his extended travels in Nepal, Bhutan, India, and China. In a unique and thoughtful way, he merged the ideologies and societal values of contemporary California with his own interest in the timeless Asian philosophies of life perpetuation and renewal, popularized at that time by the teaching of British philosopher Alan Watts. Hoffman fused these ideals within an array of structures that comprises the site; while reminding visitors of a multitude of world places and cultures, these structures are not copies of actual buildings but are rather the product of his memory, drawing from images of Buddhist temples, traditional rural housings, ancient hearth structures, and from an array of elements of the world’s traditions of tribal and folk art. Hoffman has intermingled all these influences while conducting personal research in order to transform this into “a totally sustainable site,” where the reuse of materials and the recycling of waste are central concepts for the design and construction of all structures. Hoffman has been working on the construction, updating, and maintenance of the site without interruption since its beginnings in 1973.

This site, however, is threatened, as the County of Marin has appointed a receiver in order to force compliance with literally hundreds of what they see as code violations, without taking into consideration the special importance or significance of this site. In an effort to more broadly publicize the concerns about the local government’s trajectory and to garner additional public support to save the site, freelance filmmaker A.J. Marson is producing a documentary on Hoffman and the Last Resort Lagunitas. He and his crew came to SPACES on February 15, 2017 in order to interview SPACES Director Jo Farb Hernández, who provided comprehensive background information on the genre of art environments and discussed specific efforts that are being made to advocate for the preservation of Hoffman’s site.

interviewPhoto courtesy A.J. Marson Films



Remembering Laurent Danchin (1946–2017)

Posted in SPACES News



1597272810154449237209702324019292387402065oImage via Raw Vision.

SPACES sorrowfully announces the death of Board member Laurent Danchin, who passed away on January 10, 2017. Laurent served on the Board of SPACES since 2015, and was crucial in helping us expand our international reach to those interested in studying, documenting, and advocating for art environments.

World-renowned for thoughtful and careful writings and curated exhibitions on a variety of art and artists, Laurent was particularly interested in the subject of art brut and art environments. He worked with the Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland; the Halle Saint Pierre in Paris; the International Museum of “Arts Modèstes” in Sète, France; and other institutions across Europe to curate a series of exhibitions on the field, annotating them with numerous articles, essays, and introductions. He published several books on art brut and post-contemporary arts, and his works appeared in more than a dozen countries. He was particularly instrumental in the preservation and advocacy for Chomo’s Village d’art préludien environment in France, organizing conservation efforts and thoroughly documenting the various stages of the artist’s expressions. The French editor for Raw Vision, a former journalist and radio/TV announcer, and perceptive interview for a range of creative people, he was also co-author of the website www.mycelium-fr.com.

Laurent was such a bright light in my life, personally, and so thoughtful and warm and funny. Although we usually saw each other only once a year, we corresponded regularly and intellectually jousted with each other to really think through all the ramifications of our analyses of the artists that we loved and studied. The world has truly lost a great thinker and a wonderful soul.

We already miss Laurent’s perception, thoughtfulness, and charm; donations in his name may be made to SPACES by contacting Director Jo Farb Hernández.

 

- Jo Farb Hernández, SPACES Director

 

SPACES Honors Watts Towers Committee Founding Member Jeanne Smith Morgan on her 90th Birthday!

Posted in Preservation News, SPACES News
fabulous-foursome-croppedSPACES Director Jo Farb Hernández, Luisa Del Giudice, Jeanne Morgan, Rosie Lee Hooks – Watts Towers Art Center. Photo by Paul Harris, courtesy Luisa Del Giudice

Born on September 20, 1926, Jeanne Smith Morgan was primarily raised by her grandmother, a Nebraska pioneer and one-room schoolteacher who was born in a sod house on the prairie. She learned early about perseverance, hard work, and to focus on what was important; she never used a mirror (it was hung too high for her to see into it as a child), nor a flush toilet or an electric light until she went to first grade. But she learned how to read and write from her grandfather, a house carpenter and farmer whose mother was a full-blooded Kentucky Cherokee, and how to make willow whistles, wren houses, and much more. Her grandparents were born only two decades after the end of the Civil War, so the Northern anti-slavery culture and its songs filled their home; she was taught about equality and equity and grew up to be a strong leftist thinker, sympathetic to those less fortunate than herself. But she also, from the very beginning, had an “eye,” and, after having received accolades for a picture of The Night that she drew with her Christmas Crayolas, her grandmother believed that she was born to be an artist. 

 

In 1940, when Morgan was in 8th grade, her grandmother died, and she moved to Denver with her mother and stepfather. Based on her art work, at age 14 she won a summer art scholarship to Denver University, an award that was granted to her in subsequent years as well. Thanks to her “dysfunctional family,” however, she became a ward of the court two years later; to overcompensate, she became VP of her class, All-School Show Producer, and more. She won a scholarship to Colorado College, but after one semester, with hopes for better art teachers, she scraped together $70 for train fare to New York to “study in the museums and find the socialists.” She married soon after her arrival, and she and her husband became “anti-Stalin social revolutionaries.”

 

p1070504Jeanne Morgan, photo by Jo Farb Hernández.

Morgan moved to Los Angeles in 1948, where she continued to be involved in the art scene on many levels, including painting a large public mural of Emiliano Zapata. Soon she received yet another scholarship, this one to attend the Otis Art Institute to obtain her MFA. Several years later, as a young art student and “trusted socialist,” she was invited to a civil rights meeting in South Central Los Angeles – Watts. The civil rights revolution was boiling, and with her friends traveling to the South to register voters, Morgan had been feeling like a renegade nonparticipant, focused on art school instead of being on the front lines of major social change. She never made it to that meeting, however, because she became lost and hit the eastern dead end of 107th street. Suddenly, she forgot all about the meeting, as she was confronted with one of the most spectacular and monumental works of art ever created by a single human: the Towers of Sabato Rodia.

 

Even awash in trash, the Towers indeed changed Morgan’s life. She vowed to do everything she could to salvage and bring further visibility to this marvelous achievement by this then-unknown artist. She brought other students to Watts with her, organizing Art Students for Watts Towers; even knowing they shouldn’t, they all climbed the Towers anyway, unable to resist. Toward the end of 1958, she learned from her artist friend Mae Babitz that there was a group of older Los Angeles professionals – architects, actors, designers, artists, and teachers who also wanted to support the Towers – and together, at that first December meeting at Hollyhock House, they founded the Committee for the Preservation of Simon Rodia’s Towers in Watts (CSRTW), the original name of the group that would eventually be incorporated as a nonprofit corporation. Film editor Bill Cartwright and actor Nick King, who had just purchased the Towers from Rodia’s neighbor for $3000, urged the new Committee to work to defeat the City’s recently discovered Demolition Order, an order the neighbor had neglected to disclose when he happily sold them the property. The Committee’s success in doing so – after a gut-wrenching “stress test” in October, 1959 designed by aeronautical engineer Bud Goldstone – was the first step toward preservation, and, indeed, to ultimate worldwide recognition for this spectacular site. 

 

img0357City of Los Angeles Proclamation

But those early years weren’t easy – indeed, none of them were. Morgan describes herself as a “foot soldier” for the CSRTW, drawing up petitions and learning to stand up to the macho anti-cultural city authorities who only saw a pile of junk where she saw a masterpiece. In 1961 she and Mae Babitz traveled to Northern California to meet Rodia, carrying small gifts and telling him of their awe about what he had created. “We intended to amaze and cheer him,” she writes, “and we did.” This was the first of many trips for Morgan, and other CSRTW members followed; during one of those visits, it was arranged for Rodia to speak to students at the nearby Berkeley campus of the University of California in conjunction with a showing of the 1953 William Hale film; there, documented by SPACES founder Seymour Rosen, the artist received a standing ovation. 

 

In 1962 Morgan finished her MFA at Otis, with her thesis concentrating on contemporary methods in stained glass, a project inspired by the Towers and one that, ultimately, provided her with the chemical and technical knowledge to demonstrate varied rates of molecular movement in heat, the exact problem suffered by the Towers. Because Rodia had used a variety of materials with distinct and incompatible molecular structures, they compressed each other as they each uniquely reacted to the sun and heat; this differential movement created cracks that allowed moisture to seep into the metal cores and rust the armatures, thus endangering the structures’ stability. Morgan, therefore, knew on a much more technical level what was necessary for their durability over the long term, knowledge some of the people entrusted with preserving the Towers did not share.

 

As civil rights actions were heating up, members of the CSRTW knew that they could not, in good conscience, ignore the community in which the Towers were located. It had earlier been a diverse and multicultural neighborhood, but by the early 1960s it had become primarily African-American, as the earlier Japanese and Mexican residents had moved on. It was clear to Morgan that the broader philosophical, political, and sociological impact of the sculptures was as profound as their aesthetic power: “The relation of art and success arose. We couldn’t believe that a work of such great value and noble achievement could be so lost, so unknown. It was a shocking testimony to the plight of Watts’ people, who were certainly as ignored as were Rodia’s mighty sculptures. The Towers were like a jewel in a wound.” 

 

So, in 1965, now as Executive Director of the CSRTW, she was sent by her Board to staff an office in a little white house near the Towers that had been purchased two years earlier in order to provide a safe space in which they could offer free art classes to local children. Lucille Krasne, the children’s art instructor at the Pasadena Museum, had volunteered to teach classes near the Towers beginning in 1961, and once the office was established the untrained children ran in and out while their parents, thinking that this was a new social service agency, came in with pleas to help release a son from jail or provide food for a daughter’s baby. Yet while peace was mostly made with members of the community, Morgan recalls a self-styled “Mao Revolutionary” wearing khaki fatigues and a cap emblazoned with a large red star, wearing dark pancake makeup so as to blend in better with the local community, who yelled at her with great hostility: “You gettcher white ass out of here!” Of course, she didn’t. 

img0360City of Los Angeles Proclamation

 

The trust and appreciation of the community has waxed and waned over the years for those mostly white pioneers who, driven by their marvel at Rodia’s constructions, also became involved in trying to improve lives in Watts. After the Watts rebellion in 1965 – from which the Towers emerged unscathed – the neighborhood was no longer seen as safe for white visitors, and the Committee’s only income, derived from tours of the Towers, dried up. Nevertheless, the CSRTW continued working, and through volunteer labor and fundraising – including the “One Square Inch” campaign that sold miniscule portions of the Towers to supporters – succeeded in expanding those art classes, the earliest ones taught outdoors, into a permanent and handsome space, the Watts Towers Art Center. Inaugurated in 1970, it has become one of L.A.’s most dynamic cultural centers, with an ongoing series of exhibitions, performances, and festivals that draw thousands of visitors each year. 

 

By 1975, however, the Committee had no further funds, and some members were aging and/or moving away. Because the City of Los Angeles promised a complete restoration, touting Rodia’s work as a monumental aesthetic achievement, the decision was made to gift them the property. Relieved and reassured, the CSRTW signed a contract that included a clause requiring the City to solicit and receive the Committee’s approval for any matters impacting the Towers. However, the City ignored the contract, and, shortly thereafter, formally sold the Towers to the State of California for $207,000, with a lease-back to operate the Towers for fifty years. The City then transferred management of the Towers from the Department of Cultural Affairs to the Department of Public Works, more commonly in charge of LA’s sewers and streets than of works of art. DPW Director Warren Hollier then contracted with his friend Ralph Vaughn to manage the restoration process. An unlicensed and unscrupulous contractor who hired local youth and directed them to pry off anything that was loose on the Towers, Vaughn’s intent was to reinstall the “rubble” later according to his own designs, rather than those of Rodia. “It’s folk art,” he cried, “and we’re folks! Better than Rodia!”

 

Thanks to pro bono legal help from Carlyle Hall’s Center for Laws in the Public Interest, the CSRTW sued the City, and in 1979 ultimately won case C259603 in Superior Court, cancelling Vaughn’s contract. Further, a complementary Los Angeles Times investigation exposed kickbacks to the head of the DPW, forcing his resignation. Other local officials, including the mayor’s daughter, were also implicated in the illicit purchase of supplies and other materials. But despite this hard-won victory, ill-informed and unethical attempts to conserve the Towers continued in subsequent years; as late as 2006, Morgan and others helped prevent another City-sponsored crew from shoddy and inexpert repair. But they were too late to stop a crew member who destroyed Rodia’s signature – his right handprint placed in the wet mortar just west of the exterior north wall gate. A poor reproduction has now replaced it.

p1070462Rosie Lee Hooks, Jeanne Morgan, and Jack Jones III from the City of Los Angeles, photo by Jo Farb Hernández

Morgan has worked for almost sixty years with the Towers as Executive Director and/or Curator of the CSRTW, and the more involved she became, the more complex and challenging the work became. Nevertheless, she concurrently prolifically continued to produce her own art, and explore the work of those other artists whose works she finds of particular interest. Also a compelling writer, she served as Managing Editor of the Los Angeles Free Press, and both her creative work and her writings analyzing the Towers have appeared in national and international publications. Her most recent publication is An Interpretation of Goya’s Caprichos: With 80 Interpretive Line Drawings. 


Morgan, at 90, now rarely visits the Towers, partly due to her move, around 1981, to Santa Barbara, some two hours north. Nevertheless, she continues to draw them, and to brainstorm and write about them, as she sends out regular missives advocating for their safety and preservation – an increasingly lonely job, as most of her original CSRTW compatriots have passed on or have grown tired of the fight. She is relieved and delighted that now, with trained conservators from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art having undertaking the task of conservation, basing their design on the meticulous vintage photographs taken of the Towersand their hands-on work on real science, new technology may help to better preserve Rodia’s masterpiece for the long term.  

 

unesco-lunchInterested parties and stakeholders in the bid to have the Watts Towers honored as a cultural heritage site through UNESCO. Photo courtesy Luisa Del Giudice

On September 25, Morgan’s 90th birthday was celebrated at the Towers. Joined by new and old friends – including some she had never met in person but with whom she had corresponded over the decades – SPACES hosted a luncheon to celebrate the proclamations of service and gratitude granted her by the City of Los Angeles, her longtime opponent. Rosie Lee Hooks, Director of the Watts Towers Art Center, and Luisa Del Giudice, prime mover behind the Watts Common Ground Initiative and the initiative to place the Towers on UNESCO’s list for consideration for cultural heritage status, joined SPACES Director Jo Farb Hernández and others in feting Morgan’s achievements. Her long and productive life, working in a variety of ways on a variety of levels, has been spent trying to expand artistic horizons and appreciation for artworks often unknown or underappreciated, and to right often egregious wrongs that others often shrank from challenging. She is an inspiration to all of us to continue this struggle.

 

- Jo Farb Hernández, based on personal emails from Morgan to author, July through September, 2016. Excerpts from this text will be published in the December 2016 issue of Folk Art Messenger.

Browse Blog Archives by Month
Highlights

Nitt Witt Ridge Enters the Real Estate Market!
Take Action, Threatened Environments

Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park Celebrates 1 Year!
Preservation News, Take Action

A Letter from Emily Smith, director at Philadelphia's Magic Gardens
Preservation News, SPACES News, Threatened Environments

Hoffman's The Last Resort in California to Form Non-Profit
Preservation News, Take Action, Threatened Environments

Dispatch from the Field: Singular Spaces, Volume 2 in progress!

Kohler Foundation seeks Preservation Coordinator
job opportunities, Preservation News

UPDATE! Save Nashville artist William Edmondson's homesite!
Preservation News, Self-Taught Arts in the News, Take Action, Threatened Environments

Save Nashville artist William Edmondson's homesite!
Preservation News, Take Action, Threatened Environments

Upcoming Hearing on Historically Designating the Painted Bride Arts Center
Gardens, Preservation News, Take Action

Sign petition to save Justo Gallego's Cathedral!
Religious, Devotional & Spiritual, Take Action, Threatened Environments

The SPACES website allows you to save your favorite art environments and share them with your friends or colleagues. Create your own portfolio of your favorites from environments in the online collection.

Send them to your friends, post them on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter and tag #spacesarchives 

Look for this button on pages that can be saved:

Add Page to my spaces