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Historical Portraits Project

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In partnership with StandardVision, we've produced a series of digital art pieces for the Central Library Video Wall. This project involved creating cinematic moving "portraits" of Los Angeles historical figures, portrayed by library patrons and community members.

The Historic Portraits are on view daily on the Central Library Video Wall.

There are six historical figures for this project (scroll down for detailed information):


The Figures

Biddy Mason (1818-1891)

Starring Lorinda Hawkins Smith

Bridget "Biddy" Mason was a nurse, real estate entrepreneur, philanthropist and founder of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church. Born into slavery, Mason successfully petitioned a court for her freedom in Los Angeles in 1856. Mason worked as a midwife and nurse, and saved money which allowed her to buy property in early Los Angeles. She eventually amassed a small fortune and devoted herself to supporting various philanthropic causes.

Toyo Miyatake (1895-1975)

Starring Darrell Kunitomi

Toyo Miyatake is a photographer best known for his photography of both the Japanese American community and the internment of Japanese American people during World War II at Manzanar. Born in Japan, he moved to Los Angeles in 1909 and opened a photography studio in 1923. During World War II, Miyatake and his family were incarcerated at the Manzanar camp in the Owens Valley. Initially photographing the camp in secret, he eventually became the Manzanar’s official photographer. During this period he met and became friends with Ansel Adams, and the two produced a book together documenting the camp. Upon his return to Los Angeles, Miyatake continued to work as a photographer for most of his life.

Jefferson Edmonds (1852-1914)

Starring Paul Edmonds

Prominent African American newspaper editor and political activist in late 19th Century Los Angeles. Edmonds was born a slave in Mississippi and was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. Educated in a series of “freedmen’s schools,” Edmonds eventually chose to move to California because of the conditions in the South. Edmonds was the founder and editor of The Liberator, a newspaper which served the African American community in Los Angeles. He eventually became a major force in promoting Los Angeles as a destination for African Americans fleeing racist violence and discrimination in the American South.

Pio Pico (1801-1894)

Starring Esteban Martinez

Pio de Jesus Pico was a rancher and the last governor of Mexican California. Of African, Indian, and Spanish ancestry, Pico rose to prominence in the period after Mexican independence as he oversaw the secularization of the California missions. After becoming a wealthy landowner, Pico became governor in 1845, and oversaw a tumultuous period which culminated in the loss of California to the United States several years later. Pico lives on in part through his name, which graces streets, parks, and buildings throughout present-day Los Angeles.

Tessa Kelso (1863-1933)

Starring Victoria Bernal

The sixth City Librarian of Los Angeles, Kelso was a maverick leader who oversaw dramatic expansion of the library’s collections and advocated for then-radical ideas like open collections and abolishing membership fees. She was a vocal advocate for women’s rights and refused to adhere to the expected gender roles of the time: Kelso rode a bicycle to work, refused to wear a hat, and kept her hair short. Kelso oversaw a growth in circulation from 12,000 to 330,000, and established the first systematic training of any type for library employees.

Dolores del Río (1904-1983)

Starring Beatriz Vasquez

Dolores del Río, born María de los Dolores Asúnsolo López-Negrete, was a Mexican actress whose career spanned more than fifty years. Del Río made her film debut in 1925, and went on to star in dozens of films in both the U.S. and Mexico. The first major female Latin American crossover star in Hollywood, she appeared in a number of silent and sound films over several decades, rising to great prominence before later returning to Mexico to participate in the Mexican “Golden Era” of film.

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