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Nuestro Pueblo

Since I’m on NewsVac duty this weekend (and no, that’s not a euphemism; that’s actually what it‘s called), I am going to be near a computer for a lot of time anyway, so I thought it a good opportunity to polish up some photos and make better use of Flickr.Watts Towers SR

Take Nuestro Pueblo, for example. That’s the official name of Watts Towers, which my brother Adam and I drove out to see when I was in Los Angeles last month.

It’s the single-handed work of Sabato Rodia; seventeen independent structures built out of steel and mortar, inlaid with mosaics made from tile, glass, ceramic pottery, stone, and all other manner of found objects — and carved, impressed, and everything else.

Rodia signed the pieces with an SR in numerous places, many (like the one at left) also sporting impressions of his tools.

He built the towers after work and on his days off, over an astounding thirty year timespan, starting in the 1920s.

Watts Towers skylineThe tallest of the towers reach about one hundred feet into the air, which is impressive for a structure built by hand no matter where you find it, but is even more unusual given that Rodia built the entire collection of spires, stairs, alcoves, and fountains in his own yard.

Somehow I suspect that you couldn’t get away with that today. At least, not any place I’ve lived.

Rodia gets a pass because he’s considered an “outsider” artist; mostly meaning that the didn’t market himself commercially (sure, I know people will disagree about the definition here, but that’s what it boils down to). Allegedly in the early Fifties when he decided the sculpture was completed, he deeded his property over to one of his neighbors and moved away, never to return.

Automatic for the artistWe headed out to Watts about 10:00am — which is quite a drive from West Hollywood on a weekday in a vehicle with no A/C — without real exact directions. Luckily, finding the site is not difficult, since Watts is still an almost entirely residential neighborhood with mostly single and two-story dwellings.

Unluckily, as with every place in the greater LA area, there is no place to park, so we stashed the car and walked a couple of blocks to the spires. There we discovered a full-fledged (if small) art museum, an outdoor amphitheater, and a uniformed police officer encouraging us to take the tour. We decided we didn’t have time (half an hour until the next tour, and another for the tour itself) and went self-educated.

Watts Towers doorwayThe downside here is that the sculpture is surrounded by a security fence only paying tour members are allowed inside. On the other hand, the sheer size of the installation makes it nearly impossible to photograph in its entirety from outside the fence — you have to come close to standing in other people’s yards — so being inside the fence would not have solved that problem.

In this case, I opted for a few “normal” shots of the tall spires that will have to be stitched together with Hugin, and then switched over to the Lensbaby to bring out the raw peculiarities of the site.

Supposedly they have concerts at Watts Towers a couple times each year; no idea if they feature “outsider” musicians.

All in all, easily one of the most unique* sites I’ve seen in California, even if it’s not on the star maps or bus tours. It’s hot and you have to walk. When you see it, it seems to have neither rhyme nor reason. If you don’t get that, I guess that makes you an insider artist.

Watts Towers inside

* – You heard me. It’s more unique than many of the other unique things in California. Some of them are very unique in their own way, just not as unique.

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