Old Trapper's Lodge
John Ehn, Sculptor
Old Trapper's Lodge is a singular collection of western folk art sculptures located in Alvin Cleveland Park on campus, and the subject of much curiosity and interest.
It has been featured on television in Huell Howser's KCET human interest shows and ABC Channel 7's Eye on L.A. It has been shown at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Oakland Museum, and the Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara. It has been written up in Los Angeles Magazine, in books, and in numerous other magazine and newspaper articles. It is listed as California State Historic Landmark No. 939.
The collection is the sum of the experiences, imagination and life work of artist John Ehn (1897-1981), an animal trapper in Michigan's Upper Peninsula who came to California in 1941. He brought with him myths, folk songs and tales of the Old West, and when he opened a motel in Sun Valley in 1945, he wanted to make a grand statement to promote his Old Trapper's Lodge. He hired sculptor Claude Bell, whom he had seen working on sculptures at Knott's Berry Farm, to make a statue of himself, the "Old Trapper."
After observing the artist, Ehn was inspired to begin creating his own sculptures, using his family as models and his memories and souvenirs of the Old West. For the next thirty years, until his death at age 84, he forged the large-scale, brightly painted statues made of concrete, glass and wood at his Old Trapper's Lodge, including a mock "Boot Hill" cemetery complete with headstones inscribed with humorous epitaphs.
Each of the sculptures, some as tall as 14 feet, consists of a strong wire armature covered with cement. Several of the figures are portraits of the artist's children. Found in the park are two women in brightly colored dresses sitting on a bench, a bearded cowboy, a pirate-like figure with a bright red coat, a woman being kidnapped by an Indian, two men fighting with blood running down their shoulders and a man in blue shirt and brown trousers lying dead in a grave.
On March 25, 1985, the Lodge was named California Registered Historical Landmark No. 939 and a plaque was placed by the State Department of Parks and Recreation.
Nevertheless, a few years later the motel was slated to be demolished to make way for an expansion of the Burbank Airport. The Ehn family enlisted the help of SPACES, a nonprofit organization focused on the preservation of art and self-taught artistic activity (www.spacesarchives.org). A far-reaching search was conducted to find a new site where the public could view the folk art environment intact and as John Ehn intended.
Finally, an agreement was reached to relocate the largest pieces of Old Trapper's Lodge to Pierce College in Woodland Hills. On July 6, 1988, Trustees of the Los Angeles Community College Board voted to accept the donation of the art owned by the Ehn Family Trust. A number of Ehn's smaller sculptural works can be seen at the Oakland Museum of California.
The collection was moved to Pierce College in 1988, where it remains open to the public for viewing. It is installed in a park of tall trees surrounding a center grassy hollow, edged by picnic tables. As part of the agreement, SPACES maintains the installation, and the statues have been revitalized a few times over the years, including a renovation in 1994 by Jose Castenada.
Old Trapper's Lodge in Alvin Cleveland Park can be found on the west side of campus, just north of El Rancho Drive and northwest of the old Agriculture Building 4100 on the farm at Pierce College (behind the red hen house). It is open for free public viewing during campus hours, 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. It is wheelchair accessible, includes hand rails, and features picnic tables and a drinking fountain.
Old Trapper's Lodge at Pierce College was approved by Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees July 7, 1988.
The plaque at the right of the entrance reads:
Old Trapper's Lodge is one of California's remarkable twentieth century folk art environments. It represents the life work of John Ehn (1897-1981), a self-taught artist who wished to pass on a sense of the Old West. Derived from personal experiences, myths and tall tales from 1951 to 1981, using his family as models, and incorporating memorabilia, the "Old Trapper" followed his dreams and visions to create the Lodge and its "Boot Hill." California Registered Historical Landmark No. 939. Plaque placed by the State Department of Parks and Recreation in cooperation with Saving and Preservation Arts and Cultural Environments, a non-profit educational corporation, March 25, 1985.