Last Weekend: ‘Full Circle’ Looks Across Human Interaction With the Land Around Descanso Gardens, Days Gone By to the Present

Published on Jan 18, 2022

“Full Circle: A Return to the Land,” a special exhibition that chronicles human interaction with the land in and around Descanso Gardens from the Tongva through various cultures up to today, is on display at Descanso Gardens’ Sturt Haaga Gallery in La Cañada Flintridge up to March 13.

Descanso 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 to a 1784 land grant of 36,403 acres from the King of Spain to José María Verdugo. Even before this, the Tongva, the first peoples of Los Angeles, have managed an ecosystem that was mutually beneficial to the land and its inhabitants.

In the exhibition, each of the new cultures that arrived in Southern California – Spanish, Mexican and Anglo-American – is examined by the effect they’ve had on the existing land and 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. History, art, and ethnobotany interweave from largely unheard perspectives to foster a deeper understanding of how the Gardens 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,” Descanso Gardens says about the exhibition. “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: A Return to the Land” 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” is organized by award-winning curator Lynn LaBate, 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.

The Gardens are located at 1418 Descanso Drive in La Cañada Flintridge. Access to “Full Circle” is free with admission. Descanso Gardens members can enter without a ticket. Non-members can purchase tickets in advance in-person at the Visitor Center, or online through

The Sturt Haaga Gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

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