Sheltering in Place: Photographs from the Autry Collection

Posted on: May 11, 2020

By Sarah Signorovitch (Registrar, Loans and Exhibitions) and Julia Tcharfas (Collections Cataloger)  

Since mid-March the Autry Museum, like many other similar institutions, has been closed to visitors and non-essential staff as we follow California state and local directives and do our part to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. Our local response in Los Angeles is called “Safer at Home” and, in addition to the extremely vital work of healthcare providers, allows for grocery stores, hardware stores and other businesses supplying essential services to stay open.  

Even though those of us who can stay home are free to leave for essentials and neighborhood walks, sheltering-in-place has eliminated much of what we associated with the hustle of our modern everyday lives. We no longer commute, sit in traffic on the freeways, fly to conferences, attend in-person meetings, welcome LAUSD students on field trips or eat lunch with our co-workers in the Crossroads Cafe. Our museum work carries on in the privacy of our homes and through Internet messaging and web-based collaborative platforms.   

What was once constant coming and going has been dialed so far down that our days have begun, curiously, to resemble those of a different era. While balancing home office with home life, our co-workers now embrace the baking of bread, sewing, gardening, keeping unusual pets, and experimenting with food. Looking through the Autry’s photograph collections we recognize a new connection with the lives of people that have come before us. These relatable images of past lives resonate with our current experience. We see in them the fantasies and realities of our isolation, and also a measure of hope and reassurance. Or, in the words of the Autry’s mission statement, these images help us connect, “the past to the present to inform our shared future.” 

Solitary Work / The Home Office:  

For many, our beds, patios, and kitchen tables have become our offices while working from home. The stacks of work papers, books, and coffee mugs are encroaching on our domestic lives. In fact, for most of us our work surfaces now resemble the desks of turn of the century poets and academics represented in the Autry photo collection.  

  • Fig 1. Photograph of the ethnologist, George Warton James in his study, Pasadena, California, circa 1900. Gift of Mr. George Wharton James; Braun Research Library Collection, Autry Museum P.35992. 
  • Fig 2.  Photograph of the poet, Joaquin Miller at work in bed, December 25, 1896. Gift of Mr. George Wharton James. Braun Research Library Collection, Autry Museum; P.36651. 
  • Fig 3. Photograph of writer and political activist, Jessie Benton Fremont at her desk, February 1892. Gift of Mr. George Wharton James. Braun Research Library Collection, Autry Museum; P.36492.  
  • Fig 4. George Wharton James working outside at Foresta with papers and books scattered on the grass. George Wharton James Collection, Braun Research Library Collection, Autry Museum; P.42515.  
  • Fig 5. Photograph of Charles Fletcher Lummis’s daughter, Turbese Lummis sewing in bed, Los Angeles, California, circa 1898. Braun Research Library Collection, Autry Museum P.33012. 

The tending of plants, pets, and home:   

Without a busy social life, art openings, lectures, and happy hours many of us have brought new life indoors. We are growing more plants and adopting new pets. Some are finishing construction and home improvements. Caring for the things close around us has brought a new purpose to our evenings and weekends.      

  • Fig 6. George Wharton James working with his pet sparrow, Scraggles on his head. Gift of Mr. George Wharton James. Braun Research Library Collection, Autry Museum; OP.477.   
  • Fig 7. Mrs. Shepherd’s begonia “Marjorie Daw” at greenhouse in Ventura, California, early 1900s. Braun Research Library Collection, Autry Museum; P.15259.  
  • Fig 8. George Wharton James’s pet sparrow, Scraggles in desk drawer. Gift of Mr. George Wharton James. Braun Research Library Collection, Autry Museum; OP.448.   
  • Fig 9. Photograph by Charles Fletcher Lummis of the Lummis family cat, Los Angeles, California, 1884-1895. Gift of Mr. Charles F. Lummis. Braun Research Library Collection, Autry Museum; A.8.13.  
  • Fig 10. Photograph of Charles Lummis and Jordan Lummis building their Los Angeles home El Alisal stone-by-stone, December 14, 1910. Gift of Mr. Charles F. Lummis. Braun Research Library Collection, Autry Museum; A.22.6.   
  • Fig 11. Photograph of Dr. Richard Lund with Panchita Amate and dog Schnigglefritz, July 1913. Braun Research Library Collection, Autry Museum; P.33098.  

Our private spaces made public:   

More and more of our private lives are seeping into work life. We are sharing images of our cooking and our childcare activities with colleagues. We get glimpses of each other’s interiors and bookshelves when we meet on video calls.  

  •  Fig 12. Marie Abeita taking bread out of an outdoor oven, 1937. Fred K. Hinchman Collection, Braun Research Library Collection, Autry Museum; P.8560.   
  • Fig 13. A bookshelf inside Idah M. Strobridge`s Home, June 1900. Gift of Mr. Charles F. Lummis. Braun Research Library Collection, Autry Museum; OP.390.   
  • Fig 14. Photograph of Charles F. Lummis boxing with son Jordan, June 30, 1910. Gift of Mrs. Vera Keppler. Braun Research Library Collection, Autry Museum; A.36.7.   
  • Fig 15. Photograph of Charles Fletcher Lummis’s children, Turbese and Amado Lummis blowing bubbles at El Alisal, Los Angeles, California, circa 1896. Gift of Charles F. Lummis. Braun Research Library Collection, Autry Museum; P.33482.   
  • Fig 16. Photograph of a bedroom in a cabin at the Great West Mine in Black Canyon, NV, May 1900. Gift of Mr. Charles F. Lummis. Braun Research Library Collection, Autry Museum; OP.398.   
  • Fig 17. Photograph of a kitchen counter at Charles Fletcher Lummis’s home, El Alisal, September 9, 1904. Braun Research Library Collection, Autry Museum; P.35541.  

Windows / looking out and looking in:  

We go for walks in our neighborhoods. We take different streets and admire the homes and gardens cared for by our neighbors. We peer into the windows and find connection. We say hello from the street.   

  • Fig 18. May Ethelyn Bourne at home, peeking out from her window behind an overgrown bush, circa 1900. Gift of Mr. Charles F. Lummis. Braun Research Library Collection, Autry Museum; P.32028.  
  • Fig 19. Photograph of several flowers sitting in a window, Kotzebue, Alaska, 1949. Gladys Knight Harris Collection, Braun Research Library Collection, Autry Museum; CS.8607.  
  • Fig 20. Doors of Charles Fletcher Lummis’ home, El Alisal, inside looking out. Braun Research Library Collection, Autry Museum; P.35540.  
  • Fig 21. Photograph of two women on the porch, one holding a dog with tents and derricks in the background, circa 1900s. Donated by Marty George. Autry Museum; 92.128.34.   
  • Fig 22. Photograph of two people relaxing on the porch of their house. They seem to be saying “hi” at a distance. Gift of Mr. Charles F. Lummis. Braun Research Library Collection, Autry Museum; P.13801.