Charting History: La Jolla Map Museum hosts special California collection by Jacinto ‘Jo’ Mora
By Linda Hutchison
California’s colorful history and geography are alive and well-illustrated (and on display for all to enjoy) thanks to a new exhibit at the Map & Atlas Museum of La Jolla.
The museum has gathered 14 maps created by California artist Jacinto “Jo” Mora from 1927 to 1949 and will display them through early December 2013. The maps — or cartes — as Mora called them, are vibrant and light-hearted. They reflect Mora’s love of California and his background as a book illustrator and cartoonist. The majority of Mora’s maps in the collection depict California, including the entire state, the Monterey Peninsula, Yosemite, Catalina, Los Angeles, and San Diego.
The San Diego map was commissioned in 1928 by city philanthropist George Marston to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his department store, which first opened at Fifth Avenue and State Street (and was sold to The Broadway in 1961). Visitors to the exhibit can purchase a reproduction of the San Diego map.
The idea for the Mora exhibit was developed by museum founder Michael Stone and museum director
Richard Cloward. Both retired U.S. Naval officers and avid cartography collectors, they have worked together since the museum opened two years ago.
“We already had five Mora works, which people were very drawn to,” explained Cloward. “Mike wanted to complete the collection.
“People are comfortable with Mora’s maps because they are user-friendly, welcoming and whimsical. They appeal to people of all ages, adults and children. They are about California and San Diego and tell a whole history … and Mora was an interesting person.”
The son of a South American artist father and a French intellectual mother, Mora was born in Uruguay in 1876. The family immigrated to the United States and Mora grew up in New York and New Jersey. His brother Luis became a well-known artist and teacher on the East Coast. Mora worked as book illustrator and newspaper cartoonist in New York and Boston.
But something about the West called to Mora and he moved to the central coast of California in 1903. He spent two years living with the Hopi and Navajo Indians in Arizona, photographing and drawing them, learning their language, and working as an interpreter for the U.S. Army. He traveled up and down California on horseback, retracing the route of the Spanish missionaries on the King’s Highway, visiting the missions and writing about and illustrating the history of the early Spanish settlers (Californios) and the Spanish cow herders (vaqueros), who were the forerunners of the American cowboys.
Mora is sometimes called the “Renaissance Man of the West” because, in addition to drawing maps, writing and illustrating, he also created many murals and public works and was a well-known sculptor, who worked in wood, stone and bronze. In 1925, he designed the commemorative half dollar for the California Diamond Jubilee.
In San Francisco, he created the Cervantes sculpture in Golden Gate Park and the Bret Hart Memorial on the wall of the Bohemian Club. He painted wall murals for Julia Morgan’s Los Angeles Examiner building and created a WPA bas-relief sculpture for a King City high school building. He died in 1947 just before his 71st birthday in Monterey, where many of his works are now on permanent display at the Maritime Museum.
Here in La Jolla, his current exhibit also includes two pieces of sculpture with a Western theme, “Twister” and “Straight Up and Scratching,” a children’s book he wrote and illustrated, and a poster called “Evolution of the Cowboy,” which was used as cover art for The Byrds’ “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” album in 1968.
According to Cloward, Mora was meticulous about keeping records, so that has made the job of collecting and curating his works easier. “We know where every copy is,” he said.
The Map & Atlas Museum of La Jolla is the only one of its kind west of the Mississippi that is free and open to the public. In addition to offering regular viewing hours, the museum offers group tours and welcomes students. Assistant Director Rosalind Gibson handles the educational side of running the museum. Recently, the San Diego French American school visited and were so inspired they are creating their own carte — in French, of course.
IF YOU GO
• What: Map works of Jacinto “Jo” Mora
• When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday, Thursday and the first and third Saturday of each month through Dec. 1, 2013. Group tours by appointment.
• Where: Map & Atlas Museum of La Jolla, 7835 Fay St., Suite LL-A in La Jolla. (Merrill Lynch Building, lower courtyard level)
• Admission: Free
• Contact: (855) 653-6277
• Website: lajollamapmuseum.org
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