[EASTSIDE EYE] Exploring So. Cal’s Cultural History on Catalina Island

Mille Fiori, 2016 Blown glass and steel sculpture by Dale Chihuly at the Catalina Island Museum on display through mid-December.

Clear water, pebbly beaches and Avalon’s charming resort town vibe are Santa Catalina Island’s main attractions.

Although the Catalina’s pleasurable pursuits are reason enough to visit, the island’s long cultural history—beginning with human habitation approximately 8,000 years ago—is worth exploring at the Catalina Island Museum.

For decades, its galleries were found within Avalon’s famed Casino building. The year-old, 18,000 square foot Ada Blanche Wrigley Schreiner building—with outdoor decks and a 100-seat amphitheater—now houses the museum’s permanent collections, which range from thousands of Tongva-Gabrielino Indian artifacts to richly hued Catalina Island pottery to exhibits chronicling Catalina’s long association with Hollywood films and its stars.

The island’s last 100 years are closely tied with the Wrigley family as candy magnate William Wrigley, Jr. bought the island in 1919.

At the museum, there are several exhibitions on Wrigley’s vision for the locale including architectural details on the Casino and its—still open—grand first-run movie theater.

Hollywood movie stars of the 1930s and 1940s often frequented the island, finding it a discreet offshore playground. Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable and Errol Flynn were well-known visitors. And numerous films like 1935’s Mutiny on the Bounty and Chinatown have utilized the island’s scenic backdrops. Marilyn Monroe once lived in Avalon. Her connection is also chronicled.

Wrigley also owned the Chicago Cubs and the pro baseball team spent spring training on Catalina for three decades.

The museum’s exterior recalls Chicago’s Wrigley Field’s marquee but also fits into Avalon’s Spanish Colonial Revival-style architecture. Prime examples of colorful Catalina Island Pottery are artfully displayed. Once made exclusively on the island, the molds and glaze formulas were sold to Gladding, McBean & Company and manufactured on their former site on Los Feliz Boulevard until the line was discontinued. The museum’s collection includes rare hand-painted pieces, colorful tiles, tableware and oversized ceramic jars.

Through December 11th the Chihuly at the Catalina Island Museum temporary exhibition features the intricate glass compositions of Seattle-based artist Dale Chihuly.

Chihuly’s blown glass art works are recognizable for their complexity. Among the dramatic pieces are two chandeliers of wild natural forms, one cobalt yellow, glass baskets that recall Native American basket weaving techniques and a stand of his iconic red reeds set in an outdoor gallery.

Visitors can get quite close to much of the art as some is displayed on glass-topped stands to better expose their remarkable translucency and craft.

Catalina Island Museum, 217 Metropole Ave., Avalon, catalinamuseum.org

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