The Velaslavasay Panorama
“Located in University Park in the West Adams Historic District, The Velaslavasay Panorama presents to the community an art form that has been nearly lost due to the technological advancements of our time and the multitudinous variety of ways in which the public consumes mass entertainment.
In addition to serving as a showcase for panoramic works and living garden wonders, The Velaslavasay Panorama also creates immersive ephemeral programs. The Panorama’s past events include illustrated lectures on a variety of artistic and scientific subjects; film screenings; and presentations that vary from toy theatre productions and silent film programs to crafting meetings and other experimentations.”
Sara Velas established the Velaslavasay Panorama in 2000 at the Tswuun-Tswuun Rotunda on Hollywood Boulevard. The museum’s name combines Velas’ last name with her mother’s maiden name, Asay. In 2004, its original venue threatened with demolition, the Panorama moved to its present location at the Union Theatre.
Sara has traveled around the world to investigate the panoramic art form and for over the past decade has been focused on researching the contemporary creation of panoramas in Asia. In June of 2019 she unveiled Shengjing Panorama — the first ever US><China Collaborative 360-degree panorama.
When interviewed in 2016 for the journal Museum Futures, Velas noted that: “A few times, I suppose I’ve not been the ideal interviewee because folks would ask me ‘Now that you’ve done this, what would you like to have happen?’ Getting at a higher pinpointed truth or ‘secret meaning.’ My genuine answer is that I want to keep working on it, tending to it and aligning its growth - similar to a garden (and also literally a garden).”
Ruby Carlson is a writer and cinematographer who first got involved as a volunteer in 2009 and quickly became a consistent artistic collaborator. She played a major role on the Grand Moving Mirror of California project which debuted in full capacity at their site in summer 2010. For the general thrust of the project she was involved in research, project management, creative writing, corresponding with other collaborators — and like Sara, also does a lot of the nuts-and-bolts things.
A research trip to China in 2017 with Sara became an integral part of bringing the Shengjing Panorama project to Los Angeles. Their 2018 article, “Shengjing Panorama: A Landmark 360° Collaboration between the Velaslavasay Panorama and Experts of Chinese Panorama Painting,” was published in the International Panorama Council Journal Vol. 2.
Oswaldo Gonzales (center) has been heavily involved as a technical collaborator, designer, and idea person since the 2004 relocation to the Union Theater.
The Nova Tuskhut is an Arctic Trading Post complete with a mini diorama of the tundra, polar artifacts including snowshoes from the Peary Expedition, and the flying goggles of an Arctic Bush-Pilot.
Guan Rong (right) first became involved at the Velaslavasay in 2007 and was a lead collaborator/painter for the Grand Moving Mirror of California project. She is an artist and runs OneHouse Arts museum which offers art classes for kids and does experimental projects.
A scrolling panorama advanced by the hand crank you see to the left, the canvas measures 270 feet and was painted over the course of 2 years by Guan Rong, engineered by Erik Newman, Rosco Posada, and others. When formally presented live, a narrator reads from a script “depicting the early history of California and referencing elements of the landscape and culture as it exists today. On the voyage we encounter the rough seas at Cape Horn, early versions of today’s California cities and famous natural treasures, and the people, landscapes and ports-of-call the original ‘49ers encountered on their journey to find their fortunes.”
Bridget Marrin is a model maker who created the train station dioramas connected to Shengjing Panorama and is in the process of completing the Shenyang, China counterpart to the Los Angeles train station you see here. Originally on 2nd and Sante Fe in downtown L.A., La Grande Station was built in the 1890s and demolished in 1946, which was the city’s main train station before Union Station. Bridget built this diorama from historical photographs and materials including copper, styrene, wood and feathers.
The Pavilion of the Verdant Dream is a mist and meditation grotto which guests can enclose themselves in on scorching LA afternoons. The Pavilion’s design draws inspiration from garden scenes described in traditional Chinese Opera, which the Velaslavasay held a series of in 2011, entitled Pursuing the Verdant Dream.
Lastly, the Isle of Penglai is a central waterfall reminiscent of the island home of the Eight Immortals from Chinese folklore. With exotic banana tress and a collection of fine succulents, the grounds are a calmative pleasure for the sense as well as a delight to behold.
Around the time of Halloween in 2020, the foyer was transformed into a life size diorama of its own, allowing masked viewers to witness a live circus performance inside.