|Famed Artist Maynard Dixon's Men of the Red Earth, worth an estimated $2 million owned by the Los Angeles Unified School District|
|Leslie Fischer views some of the collection she's in charge of.|
|LAUSD curator Leslie Fischer puts together a collection of items used to teach LAUSD students about the history of their predecessors.|
|Roman coin discovered in the collection along with the Greek Vase below.|
As she unfolded the bundles, out popped one antiquity after another, 300 in all;
Relics such as Roman coins, Greek vases, Etruscan figurines, Egyptian scarabs.
Those were just some of the gems. They all belonged to the Los Angeles Unified
“It was really flooring,” said Fischer of the antiquities find during an interview at
one school that has a vault to secure its paintings. “I wasn’t even aware of the
scope of what they had. The storage was so inappropriate. It was surprising. How
did the district get this and why is it here?”
Fischer – whose very part-time LAUSD curator job always hangs by a thread
in these severe economic times – is the only person in the entire district who
holds the golden key to Los Angeles Unified’s 100,000 piece art and artifact
kingdom. She’s on a new mission to bring the obscure collection out to the public
eye and to form several educational partnerships.
The collection boasts phenomenal pieces such as oil paintings from famous artist
Maynard Dixon and rare books as the 1602 edition of “Works of Our Ancient and
Learned English Poet, Geoffrey Chaucer.”
In addition, the works include thousands of oil paintings, murals, text book
collections, aged-video equipment, administrative reports, paintings from the
Depression era, 34,000 black-and-white negatives and scores of other items that
reflect the district’s history.
After the antiquities find, Fischer immediately cataloged the precious pieces. Her
job shape shifts itself every few years depending on the needs of the district -- an
agency that faces a $1.1 billion deficit over the next three years. Although debate has
arisen in the past about selling some of the works, school officials balk at that -- es-
pecially involving the scores of paintings donated by the student body going back
nearly a century ago.
The ownership of those paintings, they said, belong to the student body and
cannot be sold. District owned works, however, can be.
But other famed artists works landed a home with the district as well, including
Edgar Payne, Dana Bartlett, Orrin White and Maurice Braun – known for their l
andscapes using a style called California Plein-Air.
Nine years ago, when there was no curator, no one in the district was overseeing
the massive treasures trove except for in a piecemeal fashion. Many pieces were
scattered across the district, gathering dust in one building or another or remained
up at schools where few knew their stories, their value – or who even the artists were.
What was so unsettling about this was the possibility that many works might get
tossed due to school staff’s lack of knowledge as to the stature of such pieces. In
addition, poor storage meant the art work could be marred or destroyed.
As an advocate of keeping the “historical collection” intact, Fischer’s first job was to
“define the scope,” of what the district had amassed. Once that was done,
school officials wanted the works, a vast amount stored in one building, to be moved
to make way for a new school.
That’s how a large part of the compilation wound up on a climate-controlled floor
of the downtown LAUSD school police building, another one of curator’s suggestions
for security reasons.
While Fischer, a USC fine arts graduate, continues to build partnerships to pay for
costly restoration and to bring much of the unseen works to light through education,
the task is painstakingly arduous, especially with a job that has been whittled down
from 25 hours to nine hours a week.