by Elizabeth Kryder-Reid. University of Minnesota Press, December 2016. 376 p. ill. ISBN 9780816637973 (pbk), $35.00; ISBN 9780816628391 (h/c), $122.50.

Janice Shapiro Hussain, MLIS graduate Rutgers University 2013

kryderreidUnlike historical sites that are inextricably and obviously tied to suffering, the Californian mission landscape is undoubtedly one of visual beauty and tranquility. Pleasant churches, courtyards, tiled-roofs, wall-paintings, fountains, arches, and notably gardens, have propagated the commercial and ideological consumption of missions as venerated places of nostalgia. The twenty-one missions that line the west coast have become distinct and iconic representations of Californian cultural heritage, attracting millions of visitors per year. However, this celebratory representation is one that has been constructed and curated over time. From selective renovations of the landscape, cautious school curriculums, romantic artistic depictions, and quaint souvenirs, the mission narrative has yet to fully acknowledge its darker colonial history.

California Mission Landscapes by Elizabeth Kryder-Reid deconstructs this representation and acknowledges the experiences faced by the native Californian people. As a new scholarship looking at the mission landscape from a social and cultural perspective, this text focuses on the missions’ indigenous presence which has oftentimes been diminished or ignored. Instead of a place of serenity, the mission landscape for many was a site that meant displacement from their communities and traditions. The mission layout, which later became an ideal venue for gardens, was once built specifically for control, supervision, and confinement. This is not to say the relationship between the native population and their colonizers was not complex. Indigenous traditions while discouraged and punished were at times incorporated or appropriated. Material evidence such as handiwork reveals both the native will to retain aspects of culture during colonization as well as managing their imposed identities. Both acceptance and resistance played out on the landscape as contrasting cultures, ideologies, and goals collided.

This book contains numerous relevant photographs sourced from several special collections and archive libraries across the United States. Archival drawings and plans are particularly useful for visualizing the long-gone topography and structures, such as native living quarters that were once part of an expansive mission landscape. Photographs reveal daily life at the missions throughout time, including several early twentieth-century captures.

California Mission Landscapes could easily be used as a case study for discussing the politics of memory for heritage sites worldwide, making it an appropriate addition for any art library. It should be noted this work is primarily critical theory and not a reference or survey of mission art and architecture.