A couple of years ago, I blogged about the mid-century mosaic walls at the terminals at LAX. Five long mosaics were installed in 1961. One thing I got right was that the mosaics have a geographic theme:
The blue as you start down the tunnel represent the sea, and the gold and brown tones are our nation's heartland. Apparently there is one vertical line of red right in the middle (I don't remember that), then at the other end, blue again: Sea to shining sea.
Compare that to this description by the artist: "I started with the blue on one side, then the earth colors, then, in the middle, I had one red element, then the colors reverse. My idea was that you'd see the same colors going from the ocean to the middle of the country, over the prairie, then back to the ocean"
What I got wrong, it seems, was attributing the mosaics to Charles Kratka. He was indeed the head of Interior Design when the airport was being modernized, but the mosaics were designed and installed by artist Janet Bennett, currently of New York. At the time she worked for Pereira and Luckman, who designed most of the airport we know now.
There's a very informative and engaging article about Janet Bennett and the LAX walls in Modwall's Liveyourcolors blog. The quoted description above came from there.
Bennett is trying to set the record straight. She first saw Kratka given credit for her work when she read his obituary. As she wrote to me: "I gritted my teeth so hard that I cracked a tooth when I read the obit eight years after it was written."
Perhaps, Bennett speculated, his daughter was responsible for the claim that appeared in Kratka's obituary--which is where I found it. Bennett says that two other architects had taken credit for the mosaics as well--but not in print.
The story has spread--Google LAX mosaics or tunnels, and you'll find many pictures labeled with Kratka's name.
In blogs and articles, too, I'm not the only one who got it wrong. Alison Martino's article on the mosaics in Los Angeles Magazine last year also attributes Kratka as the artist. Martino focused more on the movie and TV show use of the mosaics, especially Mad Men, so maybe I'll have to watch that show. Eventually.
As Bennett states in the Liveyourcolors piece, she wouldn't have minded if the architectural firm had gotten credit--but not another artist. Now, so much time has passed that proving her word is difficult.
I wonder if any architectural history students could take this up as a thesis project, documenting the interior design of the airport. The official records are probably still around, right?