Thursday, February 16, 2012

Street Folk Art

ON MY hour-long commute to my internship on Mondays, I come across an array of different sights, each replacing the next in terms of oddity and shock-value, especially considering the strange juxtaposition of a shop selling alligator meat next to a trendy fitness gym. On La Cienega boulevard, I see advertisements for "freezing the fat," wine companies, and for the annual adult video convention, featuring a girl who looks no older than sixteen in a provocative pose. As I inch along closer to my destination on Wilshire boulevard, the sights become less eccentric and more commercialized--Coffee Beans, Starbucks, chain restaurants, and big corporate buildings line the roads. By the time I reach the iconic light installation at LACMA and see the dozens of food trucks beginning to set up for the rush hour at lunch, things appear fairly "normal." Normal, that is, for L.A.

Less than a minute away from work, there are a few stop lights and lampposts that are decorated in what I can only describe as wool coasters, knitted into colorful and circular designs, and then connected together to encase the lamp posts in some sort of decorative cloak. At first, I thought maybe these were set up by bored locals or maybe were some sort of strange political or artistic statement. My curiosity led me to investigate further. I found that the lamp posts were not the only pieces of everyday city landmarks that we so often use but forget the meaning or significance of that were decorated in the same way. I walked farther along the street and found items even more useful yet ugly than a stop light lamp post, such as a stop sign pole and a water drain, both of which were dressed in the same wool fabric, intricately weaved with designs and different colors. Even a small tree was encased in wool and had little feet, as if it was supposed to be some tree creature with a body but no head. We forget that these items are even there or even what purpose they serve because they have become so commonplace. When you live in a city, or anywhere for that matter, do you ever stop to look at the post attached to the button that you are anxiously pushing to cross the street? I certainly never do. And why would I? But these decorated pieces were so eccentric and beautiful in their own unique way. It's as if someone was trying to appreciate the stop lights and water drains for their practicality by making them more attractive. I had never seen anything like them, and I know that there was a story here.

Anxious to discover the meaning behind these decorated every day objects, I took a second to observe my surroundings and found a Los Angeles Folk Art and Craft store nearby. A quick gaze inside the store, (which was closed on Mondays), confirmed that these coverings were undoubtedly created by its owners, as the inside featured wool trees and hangings in the same style as the lamp post.

For some reason, I was disappointed. I suppose I was hoping for some interesting story to be attached to these decorations, for them to have more meaning than their existence as a way to lure people into a store. Yes, it was a good business tactic and I still think they are enjoyable to look at and appreciate them (and will probably have

to go into the store sometime when it is open), but I was hoping for an interesting anecdote, perhaps one that varied with each nearby store owner that I talked to. I imagined myself going into the store across the street and asking those inside why their lamp posts and stop sign poles were so decorated? What was the story behind that? And they would say something equally vague, mysterious and fascinating like, "I don't know, one day we just came to work and they were decorated," that would send my imagination reeling.

Alas, I have high expectations. I want everything to have a story. And maybe I am being too close-minded. Maybe there is a story there. I suppose the only way to settle this is to come to the shop on a day other than Monday and inquire about their existence. Who knows what kind of answer I will get, but I hope it's an interesting story that tells me something about the history of this unique and busy part of Los Angeles. Whatever the exact story may be, I am happy that these lamp posts, stop sign poles, and city water drains are lucky enough to be adorned with colorful fabric. I hope that other busy Angelenos notice them as I did and question their existence, even if they do not have time to follow up such inquiries with an investigation.

-- Caroline Queen

photo credit: Caroline Queen

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