In 2003 the Autry Museum of Western Heritage and the Southwest Museum of the American Indian merged to become the Autry National Center. Although I have been to both museums in the past, yesterday was my first visit since the museum was renamed. (Yikes, I didn’t realize it had been that long!) The merger seems to have been successful as the whole experience was delightful.
The art and science of museum display has certainly improved in recent years. I remember as a child walking through vast halls of glass showcases filled with rows of artifacts completely out of context. After the third or fourth showcase it was just plain boring.
Today the better museums show off their treasures with the panache of a Hollywood set. Vignettes and backdrops give the viewer the sense that they are actually in the location and era when the items were used instead of looking at musty relics that have no meaning.
Videos give us a glimpse into how an item was made and the people who made it. For instance, videos in the Native American Basketry gallery show how the basket makers collect the grasses they use and their thoughts about the processes.
There are also some “touchy feely” exhibits, allowing hands-on experience with (as an example) baskets and hides, providing a much deeper appreciation than merely looking at a display.
Walking through the well-laid out gallery spaces I learned a lot about what life was like in the wild, or maybe not so wild west. And there is a nostalgic presentation of western movies, TV shows and cowboy stars. After all, Gene Autry was the king of that genre.
From February 4 (the day of our visit) through March 18, the Autry is presenting a not-to-be-missed exhibit, Masters of the American West Fine Art Exhibition and Sale. It is billed as the country’s most important Western art show with 75 nationally recognized, contemporary artists exhibiting their best work. Even if you wouldn’t choose western art for your living room, the artwork (paintings and sculptures) are magnificent and well worth seeing.
There is a nice café with some agreeable lunch choices. I opted for the organic turkey burger. I could have lived without all those fries, but they came with the meal and they were on my plate, so what could I do but eat every last one?
After exploring every square inch of the museum, my friend headed towards the freeway and the Valley. I decided to take the road less traveled through the bucolic scenery. As I drove all the way south through Griffith Park, my mind was free to sort through all the information it had soaked up in the past four hours… until I met up with all that grisly Saturday afternoon traffic on Los Feliz Boulevard…
(photos copyright roslyn m wilkins)