Antelope Valley Indian Museum
I once read an incredible story, about how a man, his wife, and son spent years building a house, in the middle of nowhere. This man would also spend decades amassing a large collection of Native American artifacts, and that house, his house, was eventually turned into a museum. But who was this man and where was this house/museum?
His name was Howard Arden Edwards a self taught artist, a playwright, a novelist, poet and naturalist. He was also a set design instructor at the Pasadena Playhouse and was even on the staff at the Southwest Museum as a artist, and he taught art at Pomona College and Lincoln High School in Los Angeles. He lived at 1203 Kipling Ave, and the house’s Swiss chalet architecture has a striking similarity to the museum, a place he named “Happy Camp“. In many ways he was very similar to another desert rat of the same time period. Harry Oliver was an academy nominated set designer who also built a whimsical home. His was known as the Spadena house, or “Witches House” and both of these home are still there today.
In 1928 Howard decided to homestead 160 acres out in wilds of Antelope Valley. He found a great location nested near the hills of Paiute Butte and soon began to build his home. But being an artist, he wasn’t satisfied with just your standard four walls and a ceiling, he wanted to bring the beauty of the desert inside.
Scouring the local area, he found an abundance of fallen Joshua Trees and these soon became the support as well as the founding character of his new home. Another important element of his design, was that he did not build the complete home at once, rather, he built each room one at a time. Which proved to have some challenges, for example, when he came back from Pasadena to start the next room, he noticed that a large amount of sand had blown in. So instead of spending hours removing it, he simply laid the concrete on top. By the way, if you do go to the museum make sure you look closely just below the last step. You will be able to make out a couple of handprints and maybe a footprint made by Howard.
The museum was open to the public in 1931 and Howard wanted to make sure that there was a story behind the artifacts. In fact he was quoted as saying: ” Long rows containing Indian beads and such relics mean nothing, unless they record the lives and loves and emotion of human beings.” This is why you will see more than simply a scientific explanation, my favorite was the cowry shell necklace. Where in handmade print it states ” this was his massive necklace of cowry shells probably worn only in a dance, or when he went awooing”. 98% of what he displayed, was collected by himself and and his wife. He also had a loathing for ” pot hunters ‘, people that only collected complete artifacts.
In 1939 Howard sold his museum to Grace Wilcox Oliver, and passed away in 1953, leaving am exquisite legacy. Grace continually added her own collection and operated the museum until the 1970’s. In 1979 the State of California purchased the museum property and Grace willfully donated all the collections.
There are several rooms within the museum, starting with the Great basin and Antelope Valley rooms. Then dropping down into the huge Kachina room, and finally through a semi hidden path upstairs to the California room. They host a variety of collections, some dating back 8000 years or more. From pottery, to textiles, artifacts and tools, this museum has everything for a great day whether you are by yourself, or with the kids.
Admission Fee$3.00 Adults, $1.50 children
Seasons/HoursOpen 11 AM to 4 PM weekends only. Closed July and August
LocationAntelope Valley Indian Museum is north of Hwy 138 just past the city of Lake Los Angeles
15701 E. Avenue M
Lancaster, California 93534
For more information: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=632