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Huntington to host show on Junipero Serra and California missions

March 26, 2013|By Jamie Wetherbe
  • "Carmel Mission on San Carlos Day, 1875" by Julies Tavernier, which is part of the Huntington's exhibition.
"Carmel Mission on San Carlos Day, 1875" by Julies Tavernier,…

The 21 Spanish missions stretching from San Diego to Sonoma have been emblematic of early California for centuries -- and have been the subject of reports for generations of grade schoolers.

The Huntington Library announced Tuesday it will host an expansive exhibition of mission-related artifacts, featuring nearly 250 objects from 60 lenders across the United States, Mexico and Spain.

"Junípero Serra and the Legacies of the California Missions," which will run Aug. 17 to Jan. 6, coincides with the 300th anniversary of Serra’s birth.

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The Spanish priest has been seen as both a villain and a saint for spreading Christianity throughout the state’s indigenous population.

“We wanted to move away from this bipolar view [of Serra] and show the complexity of the period,” said co-curator Steven Hackel, a professor of history at UC Riverside who has written a biography of Serra. “Spanish and Indian culture blended in the missions and that, I think, is a very important story that’s often drowned out.”

The exhibition traces Serra’s early life in Mallorca, Spain, through his mission work in Mexico and California, with rare paintings and illustrations documenting the history of 18th-century Catholicism, as well as watercolors that are among the first visual representations of California and California Indians by Europeans.

The exhibit isn’t solely about Serra. Handmade Native American baskets, which Hackel calls “showstoppers,” will be on display, as well as a database of the 100,000 people, including 60,000 Native Americans, who Hackel says were "baptized, buried or married" at the missions.

"The missions were really about missionaries and California Indians," said Hackel, adding that Native Americans “aren’t typically part of the story."

The exhibition, 2 1/2 years in the making, will also have an educational component that is still coming together, including a website with classroom curriculum, as well as cooking and crafting lessons so children learn about life inside the mission walls.

Each year, Hackel said, "300,000 fourth graders in some way shape or form study California missions. This [exhibition] is like a super mission they can visit to really understand what it was like in the 18th century."

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