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Ever drive down a street and wonder how it got its name? Do you even know why Los Angeles is named Los Angeles or, more importantly, what it means? Many of us carry on without a thought about how our cities came to be. The idea of bombarding our minds with historical dates and events seems like a waste of time for those of us who are not required to do so. However, for those students who are calculating mathematical equations, studying biology terms or reading Shakespeare, a fun and intriguing way to explore California’s history can be through the world of art.
From Sept. 29 to Jan. 29, the Irvine Museum is showcasing ‘Romance of the Bells: The California Missions in Art.’ The exhibit displays paintings of the 21 missions throughout California. Executive director of the Irvine Museum Jean Stern describes the collection of paintings as a ‘progressive look at how the missions have changed over the years.’ The paintings express a mystery and romance in the missions that is often not showcased.
This is the second time that this exhibit has been displayed at the Irvine Museum. According to Stern, the Museum decided to showcase the paintings again due to the fact that they received ‘numerous requests,’ as well as have new material to present.
The paintings date from the 1880s to around the 1930s, and showcase impressionist works, as well as different artistic styles that reflect the time period. What makes this exhibit worthwhile is that it displays numerous artistic pieces of missions from different points of view. Onlookers are able to see how the missions looked in the early 20th century and how they are presented today. Stern said that the artists ‘wanted to keep the missions as ruins. They were interested in preserving them, not restoring them.’ Therefore, the audience is able to gain a clear insight into what California really looked like a century ago.
The exhibit focuses more on San Juan Capistrano, which is known as the ‘Jewel of the Missions.’ San Juan Capistrano is the most popular, and, some believe, the most beautiful mission within California, and has attracted numerous tourists and artists over the years.
In 1910, the mission was rebuilt and restored, with new architecture and gardens. Due to its carefully structured arches and picturesque landscape, San Juan Capistrano has become a sanctuary for artists. To this day, groups of artists gather together in San Juan Capistrano where they paint in front of viewing tourists. San Juan Capistrano soon became a popular tourist attraction after the building of railroads, which made it easy for people to visit.
Today, tourists visit San Juan Capistrano, as well as other missions for their eclectic scenery and landscape. However, the missions were originally built as teaching institutions for Native Americans who were taught by priests as a means to convert the Native-Americans to Christianity. After 1821, when Mexico declared independence, the missions closed and weren’t restored for another 50 years, when they served as tourist attractions.
Granted, it is understandable that many of you don’t see visiting the Irvine Museum as a fun pastime (unless you are a history major and, in that case, you’ve probably already attended the showcase this past weekend). However, this exhibit is more than just a history lesson. It’s a portrayal of what California was like when there weren’t busy freeways, endless traffic and cramped housing communities. ‘Romance of the Bells: The California Missions in Art’ displays the true beauty of California, which we often overlook in our busy schedules.
In case that wasn’t enough to intrigue you to visit the exhibit, keep in mind that it’s free and you get a free note card that displays an image of artwork from the exhibit. So for you guys out there with no money, this is a perfect place to take your date. She’ll think you’re creative and insightful. Plus, it’ll surprise your parents so much to hear that you attended an event other than a party that you might be able to squeeze more money out of them in their state of shock.
Whatever motivates you, be sure to visit ‘Romance of the Bells: The California Missions in Art’ by Jan. 29 at The Irvine Museum, which is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

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