Earlier this week, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Los Angeles announced that it has acquired the archive for The History of California, Judith F. Baca’s epic mural cycle. More commonly known as the Great Wall of Los Angeles, Baca’s mural offers a vision of history from the perspectives of historically marginalized groups, including Indigenous, Latinx, Black, and Asian communities, as well as queer people and women.
“This monumental work by an iconic artist contributes to shaping a more inclusive view of life in the United States and California,” Sandra Jackson-Dumont, the Lucas Museum’s director, said in a statement announcing the acquisition. “This incredible repository uniquely positions the Lucas Museum to illustrate the significance of public murals to storytelling.”
The Lucas Museum’s acquisition of the archive includes more than 350 objects related to the creation of the Great Wall, from concept drawings and mural studies to blueprints and site plans to notes and correspondence. Objects from the archive will could be included in the Lucas Museum’s permanent displays, when it opens in 2023. (Originally slated to open in 2022, the museum has delayed its inauguration after the pandemic forced it to push back its construction schedule.)
Baca first developed the idea for the Great Wall in 1974, and the initial 1,000 feet was completed in 1976, with additions continuing through 1983. Its creation was administered through the muralism-focused arts nonprofit she cofounded, the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC). The process for creating the mural’s imagery was collaborative, with Baca working with scholars, historians, and community leaders to research the stories it would tell. Baca then worked with a team of artists and young people, many of whom had been considered at-risk, to produce the work in the Tujunga Wash.
For Baca, the Great Wall was a way to artistically imagine various moments in U.S. history that she found to be under-known and glaringly missing from history textbooks. This, she realized, could be a way for people from these marginalized groups to learn about their own histories, from their struggles to their triumphs. Her mural begins with images of prehistoric animals who roamed the land, moves on to California’s earliest people the Chumash, images colonization from the perspective of Indigenous people, and extends to the 1950s, with scenes depicting the Great Depression, the deportation of 500,000 Mexican Americans, the Zoot Suit Riots, Japanese internment, and protests against racially restrictive housing covenants also included.
Currently 2,700 feet long, the Great Wall will soon get an update, thanks to a $5 million grant from the Mellon Foundation that will allow Baca and her team to extend the mural’s imagery from the 1960s to the present and make it a full mile long. “It’s going to put those historical moments in the context of the time we’re living in—an interpretation of history from 2020 and 2021,” Baca told ARTnews earlier this year.
Below, a look at some of the preparatory sketches for the Great Wall that are now part of the Lucas Museum’s collection.