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The Panama-California Exposition
It must be confessed that the congenital penchant for hyperbole which obtains west of the Mississippi led one to be cautious, not alone of the Grand Cañon, but of the eloquently exploited expositions at San Diego and San Francisco. Superlatives not unwarrantably make for suspicion, yet in none of these instances was there occasion for undue conservatism. Like the thumb-print of God pressed into the surface of the earth so that man may forever identify His handiwork, the Cañon transcends the possibilities of verbal or pictorial expression. Although by no means so ambitious as its competitor, or rather its complement, farther northward along the historic Camino Real, the Panama-California Exposition had scant reason to fear comparison with the Panama-Pacific, of which it was both the logical and chronological prologue. Restricted in area though rich in suggestion, the San Diego Exposition was a synthesis of the spacious Southwest. It seemed to have sprung spontaneously from the soil and the vivid race consciousness of those who inhabit this vast and fecund hinterland. Regional, in the sense that the recent Baltic Exposition at Malmö, and the Valencian Exposition of 1909 were regional, it was at once more concentrated and more characteristic than either of those memorable displays. Though you may have seen many expositions you have encountered none like this blue-tiled, white-walled city, set amid luxuriant semi-tropical vegetation and flanked on one side by a deeply incised arroyo, and on the other by the azure expanse of the sea. On crossing the majestic Puente Cabrillo you entered the Plaza de California, or California Quadrangle, the architecture of which furnished the keynote of the exposition. To the left was the California Building which exemplified the cathedral type, to the right was the Fine Arts Building which conformed to the better-known mission style. These latter structures are permanent, and are not only a credit to the exposition and municipal authorities, but reveal in new and congenial light the varied talent of their designer, Mr. Bertram G. Goodhue. At San Diego you had in brief something that at once struck a picturesque and appropriate note. The remaining buildings, which were of composite authorship, all continued the Spanish-Colonial motive with conspicuous success. None of them was in the least out of harmony with the general scheme, and there was not one that did not display uncommon capacity for the assimilation and adaptation of this ornate and effective architectural style.
It was impossible not to respond to the seductive flavour and opulent fancy of such an offering as confronted one at Balboa Park, a large measure of the success of which was due to the creative energy and vision of the director of works, Mr. Frank P. Allen, Jr. Climatic conditions and lavish planting effects here royally concur in assisting the architect. Almost every conceivable flower, shrub, and tree attains unwonted magnificence. The sun is brilliant but does not burn, and the close proximity of the sea softens and freshens the atmosphere without undue preponderance of moisture. Proceed along the acacia-lined Prado which constitutes the main axis of the permanent plan, stroll under the cloisters, linger in the patios, or follow one of the countless calcadas, or pathways, skirting the crest of the hill, and you will experience the sensation of being in the gardens of a typical Mexican mission. The mind indeed travels farther back-back to the Alcázar of Sevilla, the Generalife, and to remote and colourful Byzantium. Unlike most of its predecessors, the San Diego Exposition did not convey an impression of impermanency. The luxuriance of the floral and arboreal accompaniments effectually dispelled any such feeling. Yet behind this was a distinct sense of inevitability which derived from the fact that here was something which was at one with the land and its people - a visible expression of the collective soul of the Southwest.
It need scarcely be assumed, however, that this radiant city which smiled down from its green-capped acropolis came into being over night, as it were. Behind this symphony of beauty was a background of solid endeavour and serious research along widely divergent lines. Mr. Goodhue's California Building is a successful adaptation to exposition exigencies of the impressively ornate cathedral at Oaxaca, Mexico. The New Mexico State Building, with its more severe silhouette and massive weathered beams protruding from the exterior walls, was a free amplification of the famous adobe mission of the Indian pueblo of Acoma, the "sky city," dating from 1699. The fundamentally composite parentage of Spanish architecture has never been better illustrated than in these various structures where you were confronted by turns with details Roman and Rococo, Late Gothic and Renaissance, Classic and Churrigueresque. Still, despite this manifest complexity of origin and inspiration, the ensemble achieved the effect of complete unity. The very flexibility of the style employed proved its greatest asset when it carne to solving problems of such a nature. You in short witnessed at San Diego the veritable revival of Spanish-Colonial architecture, and you will scarcely fail to concede that as a medium it is as perfectly adapted to the physical and social conditions of the Southwest as is the English-Colonial, or Georgian, to the needs of the East. Had the Panama-California Exposition accomplished nothing else, this rehabilitation of our Spanish-Colonial heritage would have amply justified its existence.
The same consistency of aim and idea which characterized the architectural features of the exposition obtained in other fields of activity. It was the intention of those in charge to show processes rather than products, and nowhere was this more significantly set forth than in the California Building, which enshrined examples of the stupendous plastic legacy of the Maya civilization, and in the Indian Arts Building, which was devoted to displays of the craftsmanship of the present-day Indian of the Southwest. To begin with the deep-rooted substratum of primitive effort that stretches back into dim antiquity, and to follow its development down to modern days, entails no small amount of labour and scholarship. For this task the exposition authorities were fortunate in securing the services of Dr. Edgar L. Hewett and a corps of competent assistants from the Smithsonian Institution, Washington. Dr. Hewett is one of that rapidly increasing number of scientists who feel the indissoluble connexion between ethnology and aesthetics. Nothing finer has thus far been accomplished than his installation of the several exhibits in this particular section. The collections of pottery, rugs, baskets, and domestic utensils, and the detailed series of drawings illustrating that graphic symbolism which is an inherent element in all aboriginal artistic expression, were as extensive as they were stimulating. On comparing these latter with the canvases devoted to native type and scene in the Fine Arts Building, one was forced to conclude that the capacity for pictorial representation has diminished rather than increased with the advent of our latterday art schools and academies.
You can scarcely expect perfection, even in such an exposition as that at San Diego, and it is in the choice of paintings for this same Fine Arts Building that one may point to a certain lapse from an otherwise consistently maintained standard. It is not that the exhibitors in question are not admirable artists. It is simply that their particular contribution did not fit into what in other respects seemed a carefully matured programme. San Diego is so rich in the fundamental sources of beauty and feeling, that, had there been no paintings whatever on view, one would have had scant cause for complaint. The welcome absence of the customary flatulent and dropsical statuary, which was such a happy feature of the exterior arrangements, might well have been supplemented by the exclusion of the sophisticated canvas.
Intensive rather than extensive in appeal, basing itself frankly upon local interest and tradition, conscious of its inheritance and looking with confidence toward the future, the Panama-California Exposition proved a model of its kind. If this gleaming little city perched upon its green-crested mesa taught anything, it taught that the most precious things in life and art are those which lie nearest the great, eloquent heart of nature. The subtle process of interaction that forever goes silently on between man and his surroundings, and the identity between that which one sees and feeds upon and that which one produces, are facts which you found convincingly vindicated by the San Diego Exposition. It was more than a mere show-window of the Southwest. Alike in its architecture and its specific offerings it typified the richness and romance not alone of New Spain but of immemorial America.
There is every reason to hope that the expositions of the future may, consciously or unconsciously, pattern themselves upon that of San Diego. We have for generations been surfeited with ambitious international and universal undertakings which invariably leave in their wake a sense of physical fatigue and mental confusion, not to say chaos. The scramble for cosmopolitanism is in itself one of the surest indications of provinciality. It behoves us in matters aesthetic to foster individual, independent initiative, as well as to familiarize ourselves with the achievement of our neighbours from overseas. The lesson which may be learned from the simple, silent craftsman of the Southwest - the native weaver or potter - is one that may well be taken to heart.