at the Ebell of Los Angeles (April 5 - 27) by Daniel Rolnik
The faded black and white photograph [below] of people sitting in a Minnesota prairie has a lot to do with the story of an art show taking place 156 years after it was taken. The photo was shot by a college dropout named Adrian John Ebell. A young man that had come to Minnesota to document Native Americans for the purposes of their exploitation. See, Ebell was a travelling showman that needed more content for his magic lantern act. An act, which was essentially a slide show performance accompanied by live music and sound effects.
Ebell heard that thousands of Dakota tribe members were gathering in Minnesota to collect fees owed to them on behalf of a treaty with the U.S. Government. Something, however, went horribly wrong and a war broke out between the two parties just as Ebell had arrived. Ebell, wanting wisely to be outside of the skirmish, fled to a tree-covered island, which is where the above photograph was taken.
When Ebell arrived to the safety of his home in St. Louis and told others of his experience, it was suggested that he write about it. He did, and little by little his stories were published until they became a much longer piece for Harper’s Magazine, titled “The Indian Massacres and War of 1862.” A war known by many names. The Dakota War. The Sioux Uprising. Or a genocide that would last for the next thirty years and be discreetly tucked away in that file of nasty things we don’t like to share about the nation.
After the story was published and Ebell saw that it didn’t lead to the celebrity status or monetary profits he had hoped for, he returned to college and graduated from Yale with a PhD in science. Shortly afterwards, he was appointed the director of the International Academy of Natural Science. But the academy had a problem. It was failing to recruit new members and therefore lacked the necessary funds to keep afloat.
So Ebell came up with a revolutionary marketing plan to lift the sinking academy out of financial ruin. The idea was simple. If he could combine his skillset of enchanting audiences from his magic lantern days with his newfound knowledge of science, he could lure students from all over the world to join the academy and fuel it with a positive cash flow.
His plan was wildly successful, mainly due to the demographic of people he chose to unleash it upon. A demographic which had largely been ignored by academies of higher learning; a demographic comprised solely of women who had formed sororal orders in the shadows of society to enrich their learning without disruption. Ebell’s wife, Oriana, was the conduit for him to enter into this secret universe, as she had been a member of several groups herself — groups which would eventually form the Women’s Club Movement of the early 20th Century and lead to a long list of societal changes.
Ebell garnished such an influence over these groups that when he died in 1877 almost all of them renamed their clubs in his honor. Including the Ebell of Los Angeles, a group of high-society matriarchs and world renowned zither players that would eventually open a massive complex to conduct their studies and events in. A complex, where an art show by a mother and her daughter, Liv Saether and Ingrid Allen, is taking place 156 years after Ebell took his famous photograph of the Dakota War that changed his life and many others forever.
. . .
Tucked away in the heart of Ebell of Los Angeles (which is seeping to the brim with a witch’s brew of strange American history, and was also the setting of a Saigon hospital in the Oscar-winning film Forest Gump, as well as a concert hall in an episode of Gilmore Girls, and a very special scene in Ghost) is an art gallery, an art gallery which you can view from anywhere in the world by hitting play on The Addams Family and pausing it during the famous auction house scene.
If you then peruse through the websites of Ingrid Allen and her mother, Liv Saether, and use the power of your imagination to picture their oil paintings hanging on the walls of the auction house in The Addams Family, you have successfully partaken in an exercise of remote viewing and can now place yourself in their exhibit.
Like the secret sisterhood societies of the past, which came to form the backbone of the Ebell of Los Angeles, Liv taught her daughter, Ingrid, how to paint in a warehouse in the family art school housed in an industrial building in West Los Angeles. The space was known as Bruchion, named for the Bruchion section of ancient Alexandria that serves as the meeting place for artists, philosophers, musicians, poets and other sordid types. This same warehouse sits not too far from the very venue they are having their shared exhibit.
It’s an exhibit of portraits by Ingrid and landscapes by Liv. A show of seemingly random paintings, which aren’t random at all. Of magical realism. Of professional skateboarders. Of motherhood. Of daughterhood. Of no collaborations whatsoever, except for the ones made subconsciously.
To see Liv and Ingrid’s paintings hanging in the heart of a venue formed by a secret society of women that challenged conventional ideas makes perfect sense. Even if the Ebell of Los Angeles named themselves after a young man who was actually quite strange and travelled the country transfixing audiences with magic lanterns until he eventually found himself in the middle of a war.
And so, maybe, whenever you think there is no magic left — especially after the last election and general chaos of the world — maybe, you can think of a photo taken over a century ago, pause The Addams Family, and see paintings formed from cauldrons of boiled black oil and magic white* on the walls. Of faces and flowers. Of families and secrets. Of the interesting cycle of life that could come to form an exhibit named Liv-Ing with Art: A Creative Mother-Daughter Painting Duo, held in a venue that once also housed Timothy Leary, Amelia Earhart, and Judy Garland under the same roof, and yet, through it all, think that maybe you just drove past a building at Wilshire and Lucerne in Los Angeles, CA.
*Secret family recipes for oil paints and mediums created by Liv Saether.
Opening reception for Liv-Ing with Art: A Creative Mother-Daughter Painting Duo, by Ingrid Allen and Liv Saether is Thursday, April 5th, 5:30 – 8:30pm, at the Ebell of Los Angeles, 743 S Lucerne Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90005.
Featured Image: Bali Boy, by Ingrid Allen