Picturing California's History

Study for Brea, Water, And Cahuenga murals shown in situ, n.d.

Sketch showing Brea, Water, and Cahuenga (Power, Water, Land) murals in situ, watercolor, ink, and graphite on board, n.d.

 

During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a government bureau that aimed to ease unemployment, funded public murals across the United States. In 1935, Lloyd became the first woman in Southern California to receive a prestigious WPA commission. The resultant mural, California’s Name, was her last major project and the only WPA mural she would complete. Several sets of unrealized mural studies in her archive, however, show her working in a style broadly associated with the WPA. These pencil and watercolor sketches picture California history in terms of land, celebrating its natural resources and colonial past. 

Power, Water, Land

In one such mural series, perhaps intended for a municipal building, Lloyd pictures the history of Los Angeles through the development  of power, water, and land. The Brea panel (Brea being the Spanish word for "tar"), portrays power through a depiction of native Californians and settlers extracting oil from the ground. Land is represented by Cahuenga, which references the Treaty of Cahuenga of 1847. This agreement ended hostilities in California during the Mexican-American War and made way for the secession from Mexico the following year. 

 

Study for Brea mural, watercolor, n.d.

Study for Brea mural, watercolor, ink, and graphite on board, n.d.

 

Study for Cahuenga mural, n.d.

Study for Cahuenga mural, watercolor, ink, and graphite on board, n.d.

 

Although many celebrated WPA murals were socially provocative, political conservatism was more the norm. Lloyd's history paintings fall into the latter category, depicting the founding of the state of California as peaceful progress, leaving out the strife and conflict that accompanied the colonization of the land. Details such as frolicking children and animals add an air of familiarity and domestic ease to the compositions, lightening the historical narrative. 

Explorers, Settlers, and Missionaries

Study for De Anza, Brea, and Viscaino mural, n.d.

Mural study, De Anza, Brea, and Viscaino, watercolor, ink, and graphite on board, n.d.

 

Study for Micheltorena, Citrus, and Smith mural, n.d.

Mural study, Micheltorena, Citrus, and Smith, watercolor, ink, and graphite on board, n.d.

 

Another set of Lloyd's unrealized designs for a mural series features historical figures from California’s colonial era. Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino mapped the state’s coastline and named many places (including Santa Barbara) along the way. Juan Batista De Anza was a Governor of New Spain who led colonizing expeditions. Jose Manuel Micheltorena was a general in the Mexican army and Governor of California. Jedediah Smith was an explorer and cartographer famous for being the first to enter and return from California via an overland route.

WPA Murals: California's Name 

"The Origin and Development of the State of California," 1938

California's Name central panel, California State Building, Los Angeles, Calif., 1935-37.

Commissioned by the WPA in 1935 for the Assembly Room in the California State Building in Los Angeles, California’s Name took Lloyd two years to research and paint with the help of two assistants. The piece is a triptych, or three-part mural.  The side panels, Flags of the Past and Flags of the Present, represent the six major California flags. The main panel, The Origin and Development of the State of California, depicts a working class couple, babe in arms, looking over the state's vast and spectacular topography. The figures are situated at the foot of an oval-shaped central motif that is headed by the mythical Amazon queen, Calafia, for whom California is named, depicted as a Mayan warrior-priestess. Calafia is approached on right and left by progressions of historical figures from the colonial era, such as the missionary, the forty-niner, and the frontiersman. The overall message is one of peaceful progress and bounty that extends to modern families as they take their place within the history of their great state.

 

"California's Name" WPA mural in progress, California State Building, Los Angeles, 1938

"California's Name," mural in progress, California State Building, Los Angeles, Calif., ca. 1937.

 

California’s Name was dedicated on October 16, 1937 and remained in situ until 1971, when an earthquake damaged the structure of the building. After the State Building was torn down in 1975, the murals were gifted to the State Senate, put in a storage facility, and forgotten.  In 1991, the Senate Rules Committee authorized a restoration project and installed the murals in the Senate Committee Room at the State Capitol in Sacramento. Lloyd’s only WPA commission, and the first to be awarded to a woman in Southern California, it was her last major project. In 1941, Lloyd committed suicide at the age of 47.

 

Picturing California's History