Simon Rodia’s Masterpiece-The Watts Towers- The American Sagrada Famila
In 1921, Rodia purchased the triangular-shaped lot at 1761-1765 107th Street in Los Angeles and began to construct his masterpiece, which he called “Nuestro Pueblo” (meaning “our town”). For 34 years, Rodia worked single-handedly to build his towers without benefit of machine equipment, scaffolding, bolts, rivets, welds or drawing board designs. Besides his own ingenuity, he used simple tools, pipe fitter pliers and a window-washer’s belt and buckle. Rodia adorned his towers with a diverse mosaic of broken glass, sea shells, generic pottery and tile, a rare piece of 19th-century, hand painted Canton ware and many pieces of 20th-century American ceramics.
In the October 1988, we opened Influences from the Untaught: Contemporary Drawings, a show featuring the work of nine artists selected from the four corners of the country whose work derives from primitive, folk, and naive sources. For them, images familiar since early childhood had been a constant source of inspiration, no matter how sophisticated their later education.
They cited family members, or creative but untrained individuals in the community, and even the presence of artworks from earlier cultures as influences.
Jeff Way was inspired by the ancient burial mounds of Native Americans in his native state of Ohio, and Beverly Buchanan by the folk artist Nellie Maw Rowe. The insights and foibles of his father, an untaught artist, were a major influence on Denis Gaston’s art. Scottish artist Tom Duncan drew from Celtic designs from the church of his community, and Florida-born Josette Urso was inspired by the heritage of her Sicilian-born father. Both Aminah Brenda L. Robinson and Trena Banks drew heavily on their southern roots and Black culture, Alison Saar spoke in her work about the Watts towers in Los Angeles, and Bert L. Long Jr. saw the personal visions of the untrained as a source of inspiration, citing the intensity that he felt emanates from those works.
I believe in Max Ernst, Delvaux, Dalì, Titian, Goya, Leonardo, Vermeer, Chirico, Magritte, Redon, Dürer, Tanguy, the Facteur Cheval, the Watts Towers, Boecklin, Francis Bacon, and all the invisible artists within the psychiatric institutions of the planet.
Sri Yukteswar Giri (Hindu guru)
Aleister Crowley (occultist)
Mae West (actress)
Lenny Bruce (comedian)
Karlheinz Stockhausen (composer)
W. C. Fields (comedian/actor)
Carl Gustav Jung (psychiatrist)
Edgar Allan Poe (writer)
Fred Astaire (actor/dancer)
Richard Merkin (artist)
The Vargas Girl (by artist Alberto Vargas)
Huntz Hall (actor)
Simon Rodia (designer and builder of the Watts Towers)
Bob Dylan (singer/songwriter)
Aubrey Beardsley (illustrator)
Sir Robert Peel (19th century British Prime Minister)
Aldous Huxley (writer)
Dylan Thomas (poet)
Terry Southern (writer)
Dion Dimucci (singer/songwriter)
Tony Curtis (actor)
Wallace Berman (artist)
Tommy Handley (comedian)
Marilyn Monroe (actress)
William S. Burroughs (writer)
Sri Mahavatar Babaji (Hindu guru)
Stan Laurel (actor/comedian)
Richard Lindner (artist)
Oliver Hardy (actor/comedian)
Karl Marx (political philosopher)
H. G. Wells (writer)
Sri Paramahansa Yogananda (Hindu guru)
James Joyce (Irish poet and novelist) - barely visible below Bob Dylan
Anonymous (hairdresser’s wax dummy)
Stuart Sutcliffe (artist/former Beatle)
Anonymous (hairdresser’s wax dummy)
Max Miller (comedian)
A “Petty Girl” (by artist George Petty)
Marlon Brando (actor)
Tom Mix (actor)
Oscar Wilde (writer)
Tyrone Power (actor)
Larry Bell (artist)
Dr. David Livingstone (missionary/explorer)
Johnny Weissmuller (Olympic swimmer/Tarzan actor)
Stephen Crane (writer) - barely visible between Issy Bonn’s head and raised arm
Issy Bonn (comedian)
George Bernard Shaw (playwright)
H. C. Westermann (sculptor)
Albert Stubbins (English footballer)
Sri Lahiri Mahasaya (guru)
Lewis Carroll (writer)
T. E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”)
Wax model of Sonny Liston (boxer)
A “Petty Girl” (by George Petty)
Wax model of George Harrison
Wax model of John Lennon
Shirley Temple (child actress) - barely visible behind the wax models of John and Ringo, first of three appearances on the cover
Wax model of Ringo Starr
Wax model of Paul McCartney
Albert Einstein (physicist) - largely obscured
John Lennon holding a Wagner tuba
Ringo Starr holding a trumpet
Paul McCartney holding a cor anglais
George Harrison holding a piccolo
Bobby Breen (singer)
Marlene Dietrich (actress/singer)
An American legionnaire.
Wax model of Diana Dors (actress)
Shirley Temple (child actress) - second appearance on the cover
Props on the cover
Cloth grandmother-figure by Jann Haworth
Cloth doll by Haworth of Shirley Temple wearing a sweater that reads “Welcome The Rolling Stones Good Guys”- third and last appearance on the cover
A ceramic Mexican craft known as a Tree of Life from Metepec
A 9-inch Sony television set, apparently owned by Paul McCartney - the receipt, bearing McCartney’s signature, is owned by a curator of a museum dedicated to The Beatles in Japan.
A stone figure of a girl
Another stone figure
A statue brought over from John Lennon’s house
A doll of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi
A drum skin, designed by fairground artist Joe Ephgrave
A hookah (water pipe)
A velvet snake
A Fukusuke, Japanese china figure
A stone figure of Snow White
A garden gnome
A three-stringed flower guitar
People excluded from the cover
Leo Gorcey - was modelled and originally included to the left of Huntz Hall, but was subsequently removed when a fee of $400 was requested for the use of the actor’s likeness.
Mohandas Gandhi - was modelled and originally included to the right of Lewis Carroll, but was subsequently removed. According to McCartney, “Gandhi also had to go because the head of EMI, Sir Joe Lockwood, said that in India they wouldn’t allow the record to be printed”.
Jesus Christ - was requested by Lennon, but not modelled because the LP would be released only a few months after Lennon’s Jesus statement.
Adolf Hitler - was modelled and was visible in early photographs of the montage, positioned to the right of Larry Bell, but was eventually removed.
Germán Valdés “Tin Tan”, Mexican comedian, was originally intended to appear on the cover, but at the last moment he declined and instead he gave the Metepec tree of life seen in the picture after Ringo Starr accepted the offer.