Masterpiece at the Mausoleum
One of LA’s most historic cemeteries is the unexpected showplace of world-class art.
Written byHadley Hall Meares
When Ana Pescador tells people where she works, their first reaction is usually surprise. “Many people don’t know that there’s a museum at Forest Lawn,” the director says. “Then they come and visit and are amazed at what they find!”
While it may initially seem strange that there is an art gallery in the midst of Forest Lawn’s sprawling Glendale grounds, it is part of the famed memorial park’s unique mission. Founder Dr. Hubert Eaton sought to revolutionize the cemetery model—from a gloomy place of sadness and solitude—to a beautiful, welcoming space featuring gardens and inspirational art. Dr. Eaton strove to create “a place where artists study and sketch; where schoolteachers bring happy children to see the things they read of in books.”
In 1952, the Forest Lawn Museum opened, furthering Dr. Eaton’s holistic vision for his memorial park. The facility oversees a large permanent collection—both within the structure and throughout the grounds at all Forest Lawn parks. “The objects in Forest Lawn’s permanent collection are very eclectic, although the majority of the works are European. There are Western bronze sculptures, American historical paintings and artifacts, and one of the Easter Island statues,” Ana says. “The most famous and my personal favorite is Jan Styka’s The Crucifixion painting, which Dr. Eaton purchased and had to construct a building to house it because it’s so large—195 feet long by 45 feet high. It’s the largest religious painting in the Western hemisphere.”
The permanent collection also includes one of the most extensive and well respected stained glass collections in North America. There are more than 1,000 pieces, primarily from France and Germany, and dating from 1200 A.D. Most notable is the stunning stained glass recreation of Leonardo da Vinci’s immortal masterpiece, The Last Supper. Created by master craftswoman Rosa Caselli-Moretti, it is housed in the park’s Great Mausoleum and on view to the public.
In addition to its permanent collection, the museum hosts rotating special exhibitions with a world-centric, globetrotting focus. Recent shows have included David Bowie: Among the Mexican Masters and a retrospective of the Chinese-American artist Cao Yong’s work. Currently on view is the exhibition, Pigskin Peanuts, an homage to the late illustrator Charles M. Schulz, which runs through March 15. It features 50 comic strips, as well as Peanuts objects and ephemera. “Following that,” Ana says, “we are working with the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), highlighting the best moments in soccer history.”
While it may seem odd at first glance, Ana views a visit to the grounds and museum as a joyful, cultural experience—for all ages. “It is a destination for families,” Ana explains. “My favorite thing about Forest Lawn Museum is knowing that people can learn and connect with art in a new, exciting and unexpected way.” ■
Visitors can use a free mobile app for guidance through the art and architecture. It includes images, audio and video. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday; admission is free. More at forestlawn.com
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