Title of Work
John Ehn Old Trapper's Lodge and Claude Bell's Dinosaurs
Date of Work
Super 8 film
Art & Design Study Collection: James Smith Pierce Film Collection
Stored: JSP.FAST.FILM BOX 1
UND Art Collections Repository
Born in Brooklyn, New York, James Smith Pierce received his PhD in art history from Harvard University. During his career as a professor, Pierce also became an accomplished artist, whose artworks were included in important exhibitions (including a show on land art at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC) and books on contemporary earthworks and site-specific sculpture. Pierce was also a photographer, exhibition curator, and art collector.
This film features two separate artists.
About John Ehn:
Johan Henry “John” Ehn was born in Violet, a temporary lodging camp outside of Gould City, Michigan, in 1897. He married in 1921 and worked as a game warden for the Michigan Field and Game Department for several years before moving to Florida. Ehn worked as a trapper in Florida for five years and wrote a series of correspondence courses titled The Best Kept Secrets of Trapper John. In 1940, Ehn suffered from spinal inflammation and was forced to give up trapping. Ehn and his family then relocated to Roscoe, in southern California, where they opened a western themed hotel.
After seeing Claude Bell’s work at Knotts Berry Farm, a theme park in Buena Park, Ehn hired Bell to depict his a trapper in the form of a large sculpture on the property. After witnessing Bell work, Ehn began to construct his own sculptures around the motel. Ehn would construct a base armature from wire before covering them in concrete and painting them. His first works were a series of sculptures around the front of his motel recreating a mock pioneer graveyard called “Boothill Cemetery”. Tombstones contained an epitaph describing how each character supposedly died. Several tombstones contained busts of the deceased character, modeled after life masks that Ehn took of his family members. He also went on to create another series of sculptures he called the “Old West Museum” as well as various other works.
In 1981 Ehn passed away at the age of 84. In the same year the lodge was named a California Historical Landmark. In the mid 1980s several pieces were relocated to the grounds of Pierce in Woodland Hills where they are available for public viewing. An additional 70 art objects were conserved by the Kohler Foundation.
About Claude K. Bell:
Claude K. Bell was born in the year 1987. As a child he visited Lucy, a large elephant sculpture in Atlantic City New Jersey and was inspired. As a teenager he worked along one of Atlantic City’s boardwalk drawing figures of people in the sand. His father also worked on the boardwalk as a glass-blower. Bell later moved to California where he was hired by the theme park Knott’s Berry Farm to build statues in their Ghost Town Attraction. He would continue to work their as a sculptor and in their Portrait Studio until his retirement. One of his more prominent works from his time at Knott’s is the large Minutemen statue that stands outside of Independence Hall in the theme park.
Bell’s most notable works are the Cabazon Dinosaurs, two large dinosaur statues he constructed after his retirement from Knott’s Berry Farm. The statues were originally built to attract customers to Bells Wheel Inn Restaurant. The first of the dinosaurs, a brontosaurus nicknamed “Dinny”, was begun in 1964 and took eleven years to construct. Bell began by constructing a steel frame and then adding to it an expanded metal grid, this was then covered with layers of shotcrete and painted. It was made out of salvaged material from the construction of a nearby interstate. The material for Dinny alone would cost around $300,000. The sculpture was 45ft high and 150 ft long when completed and contained a room in its hollowed out interior.
The second dinosaur sculpture was of a T-rex nicked “Mr. Rex” and was built nearby in 1981. Mr. Rex also contained a room within. Plans for additional statues including a wooly mammoth and saber tooth tiger were drafted along with those for a prehistoric garden. These were never completed due to the death of Bell in 1988. In the mid 1990s the sculptures and surrounding property was sold by the Bell family and would become part of a roadside attraction. Despite their interiors containing frescos supporting evolutionary theory, the dinosaurs are now currently a creationist museum and gift shop.
Digitally preserved 2021.
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