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Freeway Lady: Torn from the Headlines

Through archival newspaper clippings, the LAVC Library traces the history of a public art icon

LADY ON THE MOVE

Kent Twitchell's beloved mural, "The Old Woman of the Freeway," loomed large over Highway 101 near Echo Park until her contentious disappearance in 1986. Thirty years later, the mural, which became affectionately known as "The Freeway Lady," finds a permanent home at Los Angeles Valley College. Through Los Angeles Times clippings, the Library traces the battle surrounding this important work of public art, and celebrates her April 14, 2016 ribbon-cutting at LAVC.

1. AN ARTIST CREATES AN ICON

From a 1980 LA Times profile of artist Kent Twitchell, focusing on the "Freeway Lady":

 

2. DISAPPEARING ACT

For 12 years, the omnipresent Freeway Lady watched cars fly up and down Highway 101 from her perch on the Angeles Prince Hotel. A tribute to the artist's grandmother, and featuring character actress Lillian Bronson as the model, the beloved landmark vanished in 1986. Plans to paint a billboard in her place surfaced, infuriating the artist and LA residents. 

 

3. A CITY GRIEVES

Following public outcry, parties negotiate to restore the Freeway Lady mural.

 

Less than two weeks after the Freeway Lady's erasure, Twitchell attempts restoration.

 

4. LADY IN WAITING

Without a legally binding commitment to protect the "Freeway Lady" mural, Twitchell's restoration stalls. Legislators from Los Angeles and other cities consider laws regarding public art.

 

 

Following a defacement of the newly uncovered eyes,Twitchell reconsiders the viability of his restoration attempt.

 

5. FAR-REACHING IMPACT

Twitchell ultimately sued for restoration costs. A separate lawsuit, also concerned with the preservation of public art, resulted in application of the 1980 "California Art Preservation Act" (California Civil Code § 987), which is now widely enforced. Under the Act, property owners must provide sufficient notification to artists preceding any changes or destruction to their work. In light of the Preservation Act, a settlement was reached in the "Freeway Lady" case, awarding Twitchell the funds to restore the Lady to her former glory.

Sadly, the restored Freeway Lady was short-lived.

6. LADY LOST

On January 23, 2000, this comment from Nancy MacCoon appeared in the LA Times:

Today, I was stunned to see a wave of silver and black graffiti across the whole bottom of the mural. The lady's eyes just peep over the edge of this disfiguration. What can be said? What can be done? Such desecration! Such a total disregard for artist Kent Twitchell's work and his audience.

Indeed, the mural had been defaced once again, and Twitchell finally abandoned the Angeles Prince Hotel as the Lady's home.

And so began the quest for a permanent residence. In 2004, plans were hatched to recreate the mural at the Valley Institute of Visual Arts (VIVA), but the project hit continuous roadblocks. VIVA was closed in 2011, which left the Freeway Lady wandering Los Angeles still in search of a home.

MacCoon, Nancy. "Graffiti on Mural." Los Angeles Times: 4. Jan 23 2000. ProQuest. Web. 13 Apr. 2016.

HOMECOMING

In 2016, the Freeway Lady officially arrived at Los Angeles Valley College. Her new 30 x 22 foot incarnation features some enhancements, including a technicolor afghan designed by members of the Crochet Guild of Sacramento, and a flying afghan streamer by Long Beach resident Peggy Baxter. A true community endeavor, LAVC students and local residents assisted in the mural's installation.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Daily News, Twitchell described LA Valley College as the perfect place for the Freeway Lady to rest. 

“I think the Valley is a great place for her to retire,” he said. “When I was growing up, it’s where all the movie stars lived."

The Freeway Lady's forever home on the northwest corner of the Student Services building is a stone's throw from another iconic mural: the "Great Wall" in the Tujunga Wash. With the arrival of the Freeway Lady, our pocket of the San Fernando Valley continues to grow as a destination for appreciation of public art.

Twitchell's commitment to the Freeway Lady resulted in his co-founding the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles (MCLA), which aims "to restore, preserve, and document the murals of Los Angeles." According to its mission statement, MCLA works to protect the legal rights of artists and to prevent the loss of significant works of public art. The organization is "committed to preserving the artists heritage of Los Angeles as one of the mural capitals of the world."

Of his mural restoration work, Twitchell said to the LA Times: 

"It's just so satisfying to know that you've contributed to the environment of the town that you live in -- to provide something positive. I still believe in art that uplifts, in art that reflects the better part of us. I still believe in heroes."  

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