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The Autry Museum unveils new galleries with its first solo show on a Native American woman

Mabel McKay made beautiful baskets

The Autry Museum of the American West’s largest renovation to date opened Saturday, with two new galleries—and one of them might make you question every bad joke you’ve ever made about basket weaving.

The exhibition The Life and Work of Mabel McKay is the first solo show at the Autry on a Native American woman. Mabel McKay was a Long Valley Cache Creek Pomo healer, teacher and political activist, and expert basket weaver. Her artful, intricate baskets are in the Smithsonian, and many of them are also now on display at the Autry.

Videos, photos and other ephemera tell the story of her life, talent and ingenuity—she worked at an apple cannery for most of her life, and she didn’t learn to read or write until she was 60 years old. The gallery also has an entire wall of display cases with more than 50 Pomo baskets (from the Autry’s 2003 merger with the Southwest Museum) in a temporary exhibition space.

Very much in line with the Autry’s dedication to the stories of the American West, the new space, titled "California Continued," covers a lot: the nature, vistas, art, challenges, controversies and future of the region. In a massive 20,000 square feet of indoor gallery space and outdoor garden, the exhibition "Human Nature" covers California ecology, history and traditions on four themes: fire, desert, salmon, and plants as food and medicine. It covers history and current events, with plenty of nooks for reflection.

Between the two gallery spaces is an outdoor patio, called the Human Nature Garden. It’s filled with native plants, a waterfall, and some slate easels where visitors can "paint" what they see with a brush dipped in water. There’s also a long, meditative video (it runs six hours in all) called California Roadtrip that shows the range of California’s natural diversity, from the barrenness of Death Valley, Joshua Tree National Park and the summit of Mt. Whitney to the forests and trees in Northern California.

For those of you who haven’t been there yet, the Autry Museum of the American West is located in Griffith Park, across from the Los Angeles Zoo. It’s open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. Crossroads Cafe, the museum restaurant, has the same hours. The museum is closed Mondays and major holidays. Admission is free for members, $10 for adults, $6 for students and seniors, $4 for children. Additionally, the museum offers free admission every second Tuesday of the month.