Thursday, May 17, 2012

The foundation of California design

I've had the luxury of time to travel lately, so while wine tasting in Southern California's Santa Ynez Valley last weekend, we finally made it to the Santa Inés mission. Founded in 1804, it's the nineteenth of twenty-one churches built by the Spanish between 1769 and 1823.

Santa Inés has a long history—it's survived wars, natural disasters, and even boasts a pirate tale—so I'm going to cheat and link you to the mission's Web site for all the details, and I'll let the pictures give you a sense of the site's beauty, both man-made and natural. I must admit that I wrestle with the grace of California's missions and the darker corners of their history (in this case with the Chumash), but we were the first visitors of the day and the stillness of the chapel, along with the birdsong in the garden, I won't soon forget. 

The front colonnade of Santa Inés, or Saint Agnes in English. The town and surrounding valley became Santa Ynez. Ah, anglicization...

One column was left unstuccoed during the restoration and shows the original materials and techniques.

The view to the southeast.

I didn't really know what to expect of Santa Inés's art collection, but I never imagined we'd find such a startlingly huge collection of early paintings, like Mariano Borja's Virgin of Guadalupe, painted in Mexico in 1841.

Most of the frescoes at the mission date to about 1820; they were restored and repainted in the 1970s.

A stunning example of Baroque sculpture, the mid-18th century Our Lady of the Rosary. Their robes are worked in a technique called estofado, where one layer of paint is scratched to reveal another of contrasting color.

A garden has always existed behind the mission but its present layout, which takes the form of a Celtic cross, was created by the Capuchin Franciscans in 1926. 

You'd never know there was a bee problem by the buzzing of the garden. The rose arbor was their biggest attractormore so than the citrus blossoms that perfumed the entire area.

The graveyard stretches the entire length of the mission and well to the back of the property. The first burial was recorded in January of 1805, and there are many, many more graves than markers. The original bell tower was destroyed by an earthquake in 1911, but rebuilt in the 1950s based on early photographs and paintings.

Want to learn more about the history of the missions? Try the Getty's 2009 publication The California Missions: History, Art, and Preservation by Edna E. Kimbro and Julia G. Costello, with Tevvy Ball:

Want to see how the Spanish Colonial style evolved in the hands of architects like Wallace Neff, Lilian Rice, and Paul Williams, and pick up a little interior design inspiration as well? Try Rizzoli's 2007 California Romantica by D.J. Waldie and Diane Keaton, with photographs by Hester + Hardaway:

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