Art@Site Sheila Levrant de Bretteville Biddy Mason:  Time and Place

Sheila Levrant de Bretteville


Biddy Mason: Time and Place

Biddy Mason Park
Located in the pleasant outdoor courtyard area mid-block between the Bradbury Building and 331 S. Spring St., Sheila Levrant De Bretteville's "Biddy Mason: Time and Place" is a long black concrete wall divided into segments. Each segment, representing a decade between the years 1810 and 1890 that mark the life span of Biddy Mason, contains a sentence in raised lettering that mark the significant events of its decade. Evocative of an intangible past, haunting imprints also appear on the wall, including wagon wheels, a fence, a medical bag, and shrubbery. Photographs and documents appear throughout the wall as well.
Born in New York City, artist Sheila Levrant de Bretteville is recognized as the first graphic designer to pioneer a form of public art that engages local communities by weaving site-specific visual and verbal narratives permanently into the fabric of public places. Sheila Levrant de Bretteville attended Barnard College, Columbia University for her BA in History of Art and then continued her studies at Yale University for her MFA in Graphic Design. In 1971, as the only woman on the faculty of the School of Design at the California Institute of the Arts, the artist created the Women’s Design Program and co-founded the Woman’s Building in Los Angeles in 1973. In 1981, she initiated and chaired the Department of Communication Design at the Otis College of Art and Design. In 1990, Levrant de Bretteville was the first woman appointed full professorship at Yale University of Art where she continues to teach today.
A long black concrete wall of a parking garage, divided into segments. Each segment represents a decade between 1810 and 1890, the life span of Biddy Mason. Each segment contains a sentence in raised lettering which indicates the significant events of its decade. Incised images appear throughout, including wagon wheels, a fence, a medical bag and supplies, and shrubbery. Photographs and documents appear throughout as well.
A memorial in downtown Los Angeles, situated between Broadway and Spring streets at 3rd street (Biddy Mason Park). It is dedicated to Biddy Mason, a Black midwife, who was a leading citizen of Los Angeles, and lived at 331 Spring Street from 1866-1891. The mural includes inscriptions, images of deeds and maps, and a photograph of Biddy Mason. This is a project of The Power of Place, a non-profit corporation dedicated to celebrating Los Angeles's multicultural history. Members include: Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Donna Graves, Dolores Hayden, Susan King, and Betye Saar.
Part of a paper on Biddy Mason, written for a course at UCLA, 1984:
Section Four: Biddy Mason’s Development as a Freewoman
Of the early black settlers in Los Angeles, Robert Owens was a prominent figure, whose grandson was enlisted in the Los Angeles Times of 1909 as the wealthiest Negro in Los Angeles39. Upon her arrival to Los Angeles, Biddy Mason first stayed with the Owens family, and two years later her daughter married the son of Robert, Charles Owen40. Robert Owens came to Los Angeles in 1852, from Texas, with his wife Winnie Owens, and two daughters and one son: Sarah Jane, Martha and Charles respectively. Owens first made money by government contracts and general trade and later bought lots on San Pedro Street, where he opened a livery stable 41.