Gateway to the Past

Happy Labor Day! This holiday signals the end of summer for many of us; time to put our boogey boards and sun hats away and begin the routines of Fall. As Fall is a time of change, I had decided to move some of the wall art in my home, and had begun thinking about what to do. I considered taking some pieces to our home in the mountains. Last night, however, I awoke in the middle of the night out of sorts. The mere thought of moving a certain piece distressed me. It is an oversized canvas, painted by my son, Rick, when he was five years. I realized in the dark of night, that the painting has comforted me since 1970! It has captured a moment in time for me. It reminds me of a long ago past when my little kindergartner son, Rick, passed his time flying his kite while his two and a-half year old sister rode her plastic Big Wheel nearby, a time before my last child was born. I realized that I cannot bear to move it.

"Flying Kites" by Ricky, age 5

     That got me thinking about art and its ability to freeze time. Perhaps that is the most heady aspect of art, including film and photography; its ability to stop time. My thoughts raced ahead of me to my docent training at the Mission San Juan Capistrano. That, too, has been an adventure in stopping time; in sifting through history, as we tell the mission's 250 year story.

     A while back, I was in a training session where the Mission's plein air exhibit was being curated for us docents. During the lecture, my eyes wandered to the eastern wall of the adobe room. I gasped as my eyes landed on the lovely oil painting of silent film star Mary Pickford's wedding done by renowned impressionist Charles Percy Austin over a 

Mary's Wedding Vowel Renewal

hundred years ago. As I gazed at the charming work, my brain took me back to a sleepy San Juan of a century past. I knew about silent film star Mary Pickford. I could not help but smile at the temerity it must have taken for her to ask the resident priest, Father O'Sullivan, to perform the renewal of her wedding vows!! 

     The setting for the painting is at the Mission between the colonnades. The portrait captures the couple as they emerge from the Sala after the ceremony. Flowers and musicians embellish the scene. It is a lovely piece gifted to Father O'Sullivan by the artist.

     This painting, too, offers a gateway to the past. It reminds me of when tempers were running hot in the tiny village of San Juan. Mary Pickford, a darling of the silent movie era, arrived in San Juan in 1910 as a part of the entourage of pioneer filmmaker G. W. Griffith's big movie making crew. I could imagine the scene in town when Griffith pulled up to the depot with three rail cars full of actors and equipment prepared to film the first every movie made in Orange County. The film, Two 

Mary Pickford

 Brothers, was a period piece where the outlaw scenes were to be filmed in the local foothills. That portion of the filming came off without any problems, but trouble started when the locals observed the filming on the downtown streets. As the actors moved in a mock processional toward the Mission a crowd gathered to watch. Before very long, however, some of the townsfolk got the idea that Griffith was belittling a funeral procession that had taken place the day before. The observers became hostile to the point of throwing rocks at the actors!

     The situation was growing uglier by the minute. It was only after some cajoling and quick negotiations by the town's hotel proprietor that the angry crowd settled down. Griffith suggested a peace offering of holding a rodeo and roping show to be performed by the cowboys in his troupe. That did the trick and the filming was allowed to continue. Whew!

     Across her life, the Canadian born actress made 40 movies for Griffith's company, plus some 160 films for others. Her contribution to the art of film is undisputed. She co-founded United Artists Studio with Charlie Chaplin and her second husband, Douglas Fairbanks. She was also a founder of the famous Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, known today as The Academy. She was known as "America's Sweetheart" decades before Shirley Temple usurped the title.

Young Artist: Ricky, age 5

     To think that something as simple as a painting or photograph has the power to transport a person backward in time is awe inspiring. Recalling Rick (who was Ricky back in 1970) as he flies his kite and his baby sister wheels by on her plastic trike, somehow takes me to a different world. Thinking of Miss Pickford and her love for the mission allows me to appreciate history in a different way. What power these items can have! Clearly, I have learned a lesson. I will not be moving my son's painting!