Full Circle: A Return to the Land

Categories: Sturt Haaga Gallery

November 13, 2021 – March 13, 2022

Full Circle: A Return to the Land, on display at the Sturt Haaga Gallery from Nov 13, 2021 to March 13, 2022, chronicles human interaction with the land including and surrounding Descanso Gardens.

The gardens grew out of a purchase of 165 acres of undeveloped land by Los Angeles newspaper publisher Elias Manchester Boddy in the late 1930s. The title to the land can be traced back to a 1784 land grant of 36,403 acres from the King of Spain to José María Verdugo. But even before this the Tongva, the first peoples of Los Angeles, managed an ecosystem that was mutually beneficial to the land and its inhabitants and is necessary to give a full history of the land.

In the exhibition, each of the new cultures that arrived in Southern California, Spanish, Mexican and Anglo-American, will be examined by the effect they have had on the existing land and/or culture. History can be seen in the history of Toypurina, a Tongva woman who took a leadership role in the 1785 revolt against the San Gabriel Mission. The interweaving of history, art, and ethnobotany from largely unheard perspectives fosters a deeper understanding of how Descanso Gardens and much of Southern California evolved from pre-European contact to the present time.

By comparing the Descanso Gardens landscape with contemporary urban Los Angeles, our detachment from nature could hardly be more dramatic. Looking to traditional Tongva ecological knowledge, we find models of how to realign with nature to achieve a reciprocal relationship with the land on a personal, cultural and societal level. In coming full circle, we return to the awareness of the land that has existed before us and that we want to leave intact and improved for future generations.

Full Circle consists of photographs, maps, works of art, contemporary Tongva artifacts, landscape plans and video components. Artists featured in the exhibition include Judith F. Baca, Jesus Barraza, Maynard Dixon, Mercedes Dorame, River Garza, Graham I. Hayes, Nancypili Hernandez, iris yirei hu, William Henry Jackson, Sandra de la Loza, Sheila Pinkel, Craig Torres, J. Michael Walker, and Carleton Watkins.

Full Circle: A Return to the Land is organized by Lynn LaBate, an award-winning curator whose multi-disciplinary exhibitions have included The Virgin of Guadalupe: Interpreting Devotion; Siqueiros in Los Angeles: Censorship Defied; and Breaking Ground: 20th Century Latin American Art from the Norton Simon Collection.

Full Circle: A Return to the Land is funded in part by Heather and Paul Haaga.


The Sturt Haaga Gallery is open from 10am to 4pm daily. Free with admission.

Top image: River Garza, What the City Gave Us, detail, painting on canvas, 2019