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Capturing the Heart of Los Angeles

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Monday, January 28, 2008, at 04:30PM
El Pueblo de Los Angeles Ed Fuentes

"El Pueblo de Los Angeles" Courtesy of the Leo Politi Family.

Leo Politi’s children's books foretold the deeper story of a city’s ethnicity as seen in neighborhoods connected by trolleys––without stepping away from religious and cultural traditions. His book "Pedro, the Angel of Olvera Street" gives historical Olvera Street an identity beyond the 1930s commercial recreation of a Mexican village, and showed how Los Angeles didn't always need to make up an image for itself. His depictions of Little Tokyo, Chinatown, Bunker Hill, Watts Towers, the Red Cars and all of Los Angeles are affectionate and sincere.

This past Saturday evening at The Pico House in El Pueblo, a one day exhibition brought together witnesses to the storyteller who found the simple grace of the city. “He saw things people couldn't see, the soul of people,” said son Paul. “He taught us when there is something precious, don't pass it up.”

'Moy Moy' Mary Yan Joe, the orginal "Moy Moy," at the Leo Politi exhibition at the Pico House.

Nearby, Chinatown still treasures "Moy Moy" as the story of a real child from a real neighborhood. The story is based on Mary Yan Joe, and she recalls Leo visiting her home in Chinatown to sketch her and her brothers when they were children.

Sometimes the story is even told by Moy Moy herself. Mary Yan Joe will be reading “Moy Moy” at the the Chinatown Branch Library February 13, (Leo Politi’s artwork of Chinatown will be exhibited on Friday, February 8 and Saturday, February 9). It was after his death in 1996, she said, “that you saw how important the stories are to people.”

Politi treated Bunker Hill like a dignified lady, even at the end of her reign. In June, the first floor Gallery at LAPL will exhibit the most complete to date collection of Politi's watercolors and sketches of Bunker Hill, many that were not used in his 1964 book "Bunker Hill, Los Angeles.”

Leo Leo Politi during the painting of his "The Blessing of the Animals" mural at the Biscailuz Building, Olvera St. Courtesy of Jose Luis Sedano.

It’s all part of a year long celebration of a man who would have been 100 years old this year. He spent his life witnessing Los Angeles and left behind his stories in paintings and murals. Also in Saturday's exhibit were adult works with brooding cubism or intimate images of indigenous families that rival any artist of his time.

Paul Politi says that his father loved Los Angeles "with penmanship and art." Today his family and friends -- and even the subjects found by the "Artist of Olvera Street" -- continue that legacy by passing on Politi's vision of this city's charm to a new generation.

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