The following comes from a March 26 release from the Huntington Library.

The life of Junípero Serra (1713-1784)—and his impact on Indian life and California culture through his founding of missions—is the subject of a comprehensive, international loan exhibition this fall at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. The show runs from Aug. 17, 2013, to Jan. 6, 2014, in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art.

“Junípero Serra and the Legacies of the California Missions” examines Serra’s early life and career in Mallorca, Spain; his mission work in Mexico and California; the diversity and complexity of California Indian cultures; and the experiences of the missionaries and Indians who lived in the missions.

The exhibition also delves into the preservation and reconstruction of the missions as physical structures; the persistence of Indian culture from before the mission period to the present; the missions’ enduring place in California culture today; and a wide variety of perspectives—some of them irreconcilable—on Serra and the meaning of his life.

“Junípero Serra” coincides with the 300th anniversary of Serra’s birth and will include nearly 250 objects from 60 lenders in the United States, Mexico, and Spain.

“It’s a rich, complex, and multi-faceted story and one that has not been told before in an exhibition of this magnitude,” said Steven Hackel, co-curator of the exhibition, professor of history at the University of California, Riverside, and Serra biographer (Junípero Serra: California’s Founding Father, 2013). “Serra was 55 years old and had had a very full life by the time he came to California in 1769. In this show we are working to move beyond the standard polemic that often surrounds Serra and the missions. We present a picture that is equally rich in its portrayal of not only Serra’s life but the meaning of the missions for a range of California Indians.” The general tendency is to think that Serra’s life work began with the California missions, Hackel added, and that Indian culture disappeared with the onset of those missions. “The exhibition challenges both of these assumptions.”

Among key items in the exhibition are a host of rare paintings and illustrations documenting the history of Mallorca, Serra’s life, 18th-century Catholic liturgical art, New Spain, as well as several sketches and watercolors that are among the first visual representations of California and California Indians by Europeans. “These images are not only beautiful,” says Hackel, “but they are among the most important ethnographic representations of California Indian life at the onset of the missions and of Indian life in the missions.”

Also on view will be Serra’s baptismal record from the Spanish island of Mallorca; his Bible and lecture notes from Mallorca; and the diary he composed as he traveled from Baja California to San Diego in 1769. Notable and unique items documenting Indian culture in California include a textile fragment, thousands of years old, woven by California Indians from seaweed and fiber, as well as beads, tools, baskets, and written documents from the colonial period. “Like the Spaniards, these were people who had a significant history and culture well before the Europeans showed up, and it was a history and culture that would persevere, although not without huge changes, in and after the missions,” said Gudis….

“Junípero Serra” will also include displays based on the Early California Population Project, a database of sacramental records recorded by the Franciscans, compiled by The Huntington and overseen by Hackel. The database contains the baptism, marriage, and burial records of many of the more than 80,000 Indians who lived in the California missions. Using the database, Hackel and Gudis have created two displays: one shows how Indians moved from their villages to the missions, and how their villages eventually disappeared; the other presents the original native names and the Spanish given names of the tens of thousands of California Indians who lived and died in the missions, or came to the missions for baptism. The database itself is an online research tool for tracking Indian genealogy, connecting California Indians today to their ancestors….

By the time Serra died in Mission San Carlos (Carmel) in 1784, he had shepherded the building of nine missions. Another 12 would be built before the missions were secularized and the mission effort abandoned in the 1830s under Mexico. At the same time the missions were dismantled, the status of the Indians was becoming increasingly imperiled, says Gudis. “With the conclusion of the Mexican-American War, the advent of the Gold Rush, and the incorporation of California into the Union in 1850, the Indian population was decimated and dispossessed, forced onto the most unproductive land and into the most exploitative wage labor,” she says. “With the rapid desire of Americans to claim the land, Indians were essentially stripped of any rights they had retained under Spanish and then Mexican rule.”

“Yet,” Gudis says, “the stripping of their civil rights in the American era was not what we saw depicted by artists in later decades.” Landscape painters Jules Tavernier (1844–1889) and Edward Deakin (1838–1923) and photographer Carleton Watkins (1829–1916) were among those who visited the mission ruins and depicted them, for the most part, devoid of the people who had had a hand in their construction. Decades later, through the efforts of local boosters and promoters, the missions would become tourist attractions and a defining architectural motif for California, influencing the look of commercial, religious, and residential structures. “From red tile roofs to the mission plays and the story of Ramona, missions took on a different, and highly romanticized, meaning—creating a Spanish fantasy past for the state,” she added. Tourist souvenirs, family photographs—including Ektachrome color slides from the 1950s and 1960s—and other mementos are on view in the exhibition….


To read the entire press release, click here.