Peregrine flight

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Jo Mora - Los Angeles, 1942 poster, early variant

Jo Mora was one of the most important artists of early twentieth century California and the American west. 

Even if you do not know his name you have probably seen his artwork somewhere along the line, like on the Byrds cover, Sweetheart of the Rodeo. 

He did many maps and illustrations that reached back into the vaquero history of early California and the Spanish land grants. 

Jo was a talented painter, graphic artist and sculptor. Some of his quixotic and far out sculptures still adorn old buildings in Los Angeles. I took these three shots on a sojourn down Broadway.

Mora was absolutely incredible! He should even have wider acclaim.

Here are a few snippets from the Wikipedia entry for the artist:

Joseph Jacinto Mora (October 22, 1876 – October 10, 1947) was a Uruguayan-born American cowboy, photographer, artist, cartoonist, illustrator, painter, muralist, sculptor, and historian who lived with the Hopi and wrote about his experiences in California. He has been called the "Renaissance Man of the West".

Mora was born on October 22, 1876 in Montevideo, Uruguay. His father was the Catalan sculptor, Domingo Mora, and his mother was Laura Gaillard Mora, an intellectual born in the Bordeaux region of France. His elder brother was F. Luis Mora, who would become an artist and the first Hispanic member of the National Academy of Design. The family entered the United States in 1880 and first settled in New York City, and then Perth Amboy, New Jersey.

Jo Mora studied art at the Art Students League of New York and the Cowles Art School in Boston. He also studied with William Merritt Chase. He worked as a cartoonist for the Boston Evening Traveller, and later, the Boston Herald.

In the spring of 1903, Mora arrived in Solvang, California. He stayed at the Donohue Ranch. He made plans to travel to the Southwest to paint and photograph the Hopi. He spent time at the Mission Santa Inés; those photographs are now maintained by the Smithsonian Institution. Mora visited many Spanish missions in California that summer by horseback. He followed the "Mission Trail", also called the "Kings Highway".

In 1904, Mora visited Yosemite. Later, in 1904, to 1906, Mora lived with the Hopi and Navajo near Oraibi, Arizona. He took photographs, painted and otherwise recorded the daily life of these Native Americans, including the Hopi Snake Dance. He learned the Native languages and made detailed drawings of what he observed.

In 1907, Mora returned to California and married Grace Needham. Their son, Joseph Needham Mora, was born on March 8, 1908. The Moras moved to San Jose, California, where Mora continued his work.

On 22 February 1911, the Native Sons of the Golden West Building, in San Francisco, with six terra cotta panels, by Domingo Mora and his son, Jo Mora, was dedicated. In 1915, he served on the International Jury of Awards at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition and displayed six sculptures.In 1915-16 two of his sculptural commissions were revealed: the bronze memorial tablet with the profile of the late Archbishop Patrick W. Riordan for the Knights of Columbus and the Cervantes Monument in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.By 1919, he was sculpting for the Bohemian Club, including the Bret Harte Memorial plaque, completed in August 1919 and mounted on the outside of the private men's club building in San Francisco.

In 1925, he designed the commemorative half dollar for the California Diamond Jubilee. During this period he also illustrated a number of books, made large murals, and published charts, maps (cartes) and diagrams of the West and Western themes. Beginning in 1937, Mora wrote and illustrated children's books about the West. In 1939, a Works Progress Administration project was completed, with Mora bas-relief sculpture adorning the King City High School Auditorium building.

In 1921 the Mora family moved their primary residence to the largest art colony on the West Coast, Carmel-by-the-Sea. Mora received a commission for the bronze and travertine Cenotaph, for Father Junípero Serra in the Memorial Chapel at the west end of Mission Carmel.He served on the board of directors of the Carmel Art Association, where his sculptures were exhibited between 1927 and 1934. He co-established Carmel's first private art gallery which was operated by resident artists.In 1931 Jo, his wife, and daughter Patricia moved to nearby Pebble Beach into a newly built home. Five years later in the adjoining large studios he completed his massive diorama, Discovery of the San Francisco Bay by Portola, for the California Pavilion at the 1939-40 Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island. At a length of almost 100 feet, with 64 sculptures of Spaniards and Indians and over 200 animals, it was said "to surpass anything of its kind at the Fair." He fashioned smaller dioramas for the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore, Oklahoma and the Sutter's Fort Museum in Sacramento, California.

The reason I am writing about the artist is that I recently purchased a rare piece of his work with a partner, an early variant of his exceedingly rare and valuable 1942 poster of Los Angeles.

I had the poster lightly conserved and placed it in an old frame that matched perfectly. I had some questions about our piece after comparing it to the other versions I had come across and ended up contacting the Jo Mora Trust In Monterey. You see, there was type missing on this that I saw on other versions. Look at the tree branch top, center. It spells out Los Angeles. What gives?

The archivist there, Peter Hiller, was exceedingly helpful. He explained that the first version was printed on butcher paper. I had a very rare second version of which less than fifty were probably printed and few ever survived. The third version added the Los Angeles type.

The back of my poster, which was originally mounted on poster board had this label affixed advertising two more new Mora maps. 
Because of this, Mr. Hiller surmised that our poster was probably used by Mora for promotional purposes. 

The poster is not perfect, like the rest of us, it is showing the effects of age and discoloration. But even with its liver spots it is a beautiful piece of California history. I have learned some minutia of the Land Grants by examining it that are definitely new to me. If you get a chance, stop by and give it a look.

I would like to sell it privately but I can always put it auction. If you love it, let's make a deal!


Anonymous said...

Hi Robert, what are you asking for this Los Angeles carte?
Thanks, Terry

Unknown said...

Nice write up Robert about Jo Mora!

Peter Hiller

Ken Seals said...

Fascinating story! Of course I have the Sweetheart of the Rodeo album :-)
Mora was really prodigious, like Monet and Picasso.