In Celebration of Angels
by Chris BarnettAbout the 1980 art exhibition where Garth Hudson wrote the music that became known as Our Lady Queen of the Angels. From the Los Angeles Times, Dec. 14, 1980. The text is copyrighted, please do not copy or redistribute.
They came from the barrio and from Bel Air - 150 volunteers who were neither artists nor sculptors nor painters nor designers. But under the watchful eye of Tony Duquette, who is all of the above, they helped complete this mind-boggling gift to Los Angeles a 10,000-square-foot creation that he calls a "Celebrational Environment."
Daily for nearly two years, 10 to 20 people arrived at Duquette's home /salon/ workshop in West Hollywood, which was once Norma Talmadge's motion picture studio. Often the site of gala parties and grand balls, the space resembles a 17th century baronial hall.
Against this splendid backdrop, skilled but untrained hands worked side by side with mater welders, expert electricians and carpenters. Working eight hours a day, they transformed Duquette's sketches and fantasies into beautifully bizarre archangels and richly detailed madonna's, infants and abstract heavenly hosts.
The results of their labors-the efforts of what Duquette terms "300 loving hands"- are on display at the Armory of the California Museum of Science and Industry in Exposition Park. It will remain there through September 1981, in conjunction with the celebration of Los Angeles' 200th birthday. Inspired by the pueblo that became the City of Our Lady Queen of the Angels, Duquette's imagination was fired by Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles. "The description of the people he found on Mars - skeletal, jeweled people - turned me on," says the artist. "Bradbury's view of outer space planted the seed for what I call the Cathedral of Space."
The "cathedral" is designed for people of all religions, faiths, nationalities. Duquette's goal is to involve the viewers, "young and old, poor and rich, black and white, Latino and Anglo." The angels, he says are skeletal to the eye, to be fleshed out in the mind of the viewer where they fan become whatever he or she envisions and angel to be.
Inviting Los Angelenos to join in the celebration, his advice is to enter the environment totally relaxed. "The space is vast. The things it holds are colossal and dreamlike. But they will not make you small. You will feel them as well as see them. Your consciousness will be expanded. There's poetry composed by Ray Bradbury and narrated by Charlton Heston. The mood is heightened by the music composed by Garth Hudson of The Band. Hudson used a Moog synthesizer to develop an appropriate sound."
Duquette and company have certainly created a dramatic setting. In the center stands the patroness of the city, Our Lady Queen of the Angels, 14-feet-tall. In a suggestion of brotherhood, her face shimmers, electronically changing to represent four racial groups. She wears a crown of beaded flowers-the lily of virginity, the violet of humility. Her dress, trimmed with silver lace and adorned with bouquets of pearls and jewels, is woven to represent the four seasons. High overhead glows her gossamer winged halo.
"Trees" of flickering votive candles and 28-foot-tall archangels surround the central figure. Archangel Michael appears as a crimson rouge ready to don armor, unsheathe his shining sword and triumph over his arch foe, Satan. Angel tapestries hand amid porcelain madonnas, antique altars and other weavings that embellish the space. More than eight miles of fabric, cut into 826,440 pieces, went into the 24 tapestries in this exhibit.
Duquette sometimes feels that pieces of his persona went into this gift to the city. But he had plenty of moral support. His artist wife, Elizabeth, nicknamed Beegie ("she has the industry of the bee and the soaring poetry of the eagle," he says), did everything but sew. West Hollywood interior designer Hutton Wilkinson donated two years of time between assignments. Ann Mudd of Pasadena worked tirelessly. From a plea on television came Peggy Moffitt and Shirley Sheldenham, skilled seamstresses who took charge of the tapestries. A close friend, Patricia Hastings Graham, niece-by-marriage of Elizabeth Arden, flew from Paris to assist.
But the financial support that Duquette had hoped would come from corporate Los Angeles or the Bicentennial Commission never materialized. Not a dime. Not a square foot of display space. It wasn't that he was looking for a fee - Duquette's talents were part of his gift to the city - but the materials, metals, paints, fabrics had to be purchased.
The $356,000 that was finally raised came mainly from private sources. Duquette and his wife contributed $139,000. They also loaned treasures from their own collection.
The money was quickly drained. Duquette, known to friends as "hold father of the found object," scavenged much of the material. For instance, Archangel Michael is made largely of hundreds of spent shotgun shells. Plumes and feathers and pieces of steel were corralled and collected from charitable and unsuspecting sources. Actually, the recyclist spirit in Duquette enjoys working in the medium of junk. "There isn't anything that can't be turned to good use," he says.
What happens when the celebration is over? Duquette, an artist who strikes one as an absentminded friar, get suddenly grim. "I guess I can always have a flea market sale," he says half-jesting. Them, more optimistically, "Perhaps a corporate sponsor will appear with a permanent home. I'd be happy knowing it will endure." --