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A colorful mural of Los Angeles history, with the face of a brown-skinned woman at left and pictures from various time periods portrayed in her flowing tresses.
Barbara Carrasco's dazzling mural of L.A. history. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

L.A. As You’ve (Probably) Never Seen It

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— This is a guest post by Katherine Blood, a librarian in the Prints and Photographs Division. This story also appears in the May-June issue of the Library of Congress Magazine. 

To retell the history of Los Angeles, artist Barbara Carrasco wove vignette scenes through the flowing tresses of “la Reina de los Ángeles,” based on a portrait of her sister.

Commissioned by the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, the mural concept stretched from prehistory (the La Brea Tar Pits) to the imagined future (Los Angeles International Airport’s Space Age Theme Building) with subjects ranging from the inspiring to grievous.

Carrasco included such notable figures as folk hero Joaquin Murrieta Carrillo; Juan Francisco Reyes, the city’s first Hispanic and first Black mayor; Bridget “Biddie” Mason, who founded the First African Methodist Episcopal Church; slain journalist Ruben Salazar; and United Farm Workers founders César Chávez and Dolores Huerta.

Historical events included Depression-era breadlines, the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II and the Zoot Suit Riots.

“This was my chance to show what I wish was in the history books,” Carrasco said.

One scene references the whitewashing of David Alfaro Siqueiros’s 1932 mural “América Tropical.” For her own mural, Carrasco was asked to remove elements the CRA deemed controversial. She refused. After decades in storage, the 80-foot mural is now celebrated, and it was displayed in an exhibition, “Sin Censura: A Mural Remembers L.A.,” at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in 2018–2019 before being acquired for the museum’s permanent collection in 2020. Carrasco’s original graphite design, depicting L.A. history flowing through long tresses of hair, now has a home in the Library.

A pencil sketch on a small grid pattern, showing what the finished mural will look likel
The original graphite design for the Carrasco’s finished painting. Prints and Photographs Division.

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Comments (5)

  1. Such a beautiful and profound storytelling piece.

  2. What are the dimensions ?

    • The finished version is 80 feet long, as story says; checking on other dimensions for you. Will post here as soon as I hear from the custodians.

    • The finished mural is 16 feet high and 80 feet wide.

  3. Fascinating from an artistic, cultural, and and storytelling prspective! Thank you.

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