In my career, public art has been only half the fun! The City of Santa Ana employed me to create a traveling museum containing an exhibit on Orange County history in a 40 foot trailer. The mobile museum was a marketing tool to build awareness of the Bowers Museum. Thousands of students visited on week days. On weekends it was opened at shopping centers. This project segued into a decade of incredible jobs such as creating a children's museum and operating a cultural center housed in a 1925 mansion. Over time, I created numerous exhibits, programs and policies for the cultural landmarks owned by the cities of Santa Ana, La Habra and Fullerton. I gained valuable skills in the areas of restoration of buildings and artifacts, as well as the ability to forge partnerships with private collectors and government agencies.
Carriage Barn Museum
The City of Santa Fe Springs embarked on an ambitious project to restore an elegant 1880s ranch in the midst of an industrial park. My responsibility was to transform the Carriage Barn into a user friendly history exhibit. The Carriage Barn had been the center of a once elegant ranch, now an eight acre parcel choked by weeds, metal sheds and the charred ruins of Victorian buildings. Once the pride of its wealthy owner, it had been the largest building on the site. I organized a large collection of artifacts that told the story of life during the period 1880 to 1920. The exhibit was organized in groups that featured categories including labor, home, childhood, education, transportation and technology. At the center of the Carriage Barn exhibit is a meticulously restored surrey ca. 1890.
Inside the Carriage Barn. Parts of this surrey
were restored in Pennsylvania by the Amish.
Creating this building and others that were part of the estate was an arduous process. Using the tools of redevelopment and a cache of photos taken around 1880, the city began restoring this parcel back to its 1880s grandeur. Archeologists found the footings of the buildings and gardens. The Carpenter Gothic styled structures popular in the late 1800s was recreated with amazing attention to detail on their original sites by architects who specialized in historic architecture. Along with the Carriage Barn, a greenhouse, formal garden, windmill/tank house building and even a bird aviary were rebuilt. A dedicated group of archeologists observed all excavations needed for construction. They were astounded by the array of objects and artifacts unearthed with little effort and began their own independent digs. One of these excavations resulted in the discovery of a cobble stone foundation of a large adobe home constructed around 1800 by a prominent Mexican official. Even after most of the core building was complete, more projects emerged in Santa Fe Springs. The enchanting site, known as Heritage Park added another acre to its perimeter to hold a railroad exhibit.
A year long nationwide search concluded with acquisition of a rare 1920 AT&SF steam locomotive discovered in ruins on a mountainside in New Mexico. Since this exhibit was closely tied to the City's railroad history, it drew the support and attention of railroad historians in the region. Working closely with these knowledgeable aficionados, the locomotive and its coal car were restored. Much collaboration later, a box car, caboose, track house, pumper car, and a resurrected depot were put into place. The depot was a carefully executed copy of the original on the exterior, a simple freight depot. However, the interior was designed to be different. The room holds a collection of railroad artifacts and comfortable furnishings that transform it from a frugal freight depot to a very popular meeting room with seating for 25 people.
Native American Exhibit
Detail of the exhibit showing sweat lodge
and water feature. Both features were
driven by tribal input to the City.
Heritage Park was thought to be the approximate location of a Native American village that thrived for thousands of years before the arrival of the Spanish. The tribal group, the Tongva people probably like the area because its proximity to a river and hot springs. Indigenous artifacts found by archeologists a dozen years earlier became objects of great interest. Reflecting the belief about the existence of indigenous village, the park had become one the locations of the City's largest special events, a Native American Powwow. This annual event planted the lead to the concept that idea a secluded, seldom used portion of the park might be a great site for an exhibit on the City's native heritage. After five years of planning, outdoor exhibit opened with great fanfare.
Tribal groups had significant input in everyway. Under the shade of 200 year oaks, native plants, a stream, a sweat lodge, arena and a granary became part of the exhibit. Many of the building materials were gathered near forests around the San Gabriel River by tribal members with me in tow. At the center of it all was a Tongva home; a domed, tule covered home 32 feet in diameter; large enough for a family of five. It had been lovingly crafted by the indigenous descendants of the Tongva Gabrieleno people.
Tule canoe replicated by David Elder.
For each exhibit I developed school curriculum for teachers and tour training for staff and volunteers. In addition, the exhibits needed maintenance and security plans. The City invested heavily in creating explanatory signage that allowed me to provide a greater depth of understanding of the exhibits history and their significance. This was also true of the City's public art collection so I have included some examples of permanent low maintenance signs created in a method known as baked enamel.