Old Trapper's Lodge Statues
Woodland Hills, California
They stand, silent and spooky: Goggle-eyed sculptures of California pioneers and unhappy Native Americans, in a rarely-visited corner of a college campus just down the street from the Encino Mall. Who made them? And what are they doing here?
The statues were built by an aged visionary named John Ehn. Proud of his pioneer ancestry, he called himself "The Old Trapper" and spent the last thirty years of his life crafting his masterworks, using his family and himself as models, a classic victim of dementia concretia. He displayed the finished sculptures at his motel near Burbank Airport, which he named The Old Trapper's Lodge.
Ehn was 84 when he died in 1981. His creations were declared a California state cultural landmark four years later. Culture, however, rarely stops progress in Southern California. Bulldozers arrived to level The Old Trappers Lodge in the late 1980s. The statues were imperiled. And here's where the story gets murky.
Apparently, an unknown fan of The Old Trapper made a phone call to nearby Pierce College. Somehow, he or she persuaded a decision-maker at the school to "adopt" the statues. Before anyone else knew what had happened, the Trapper's Lodge statues had a new home in Cleveland Park -- an out-of-the-way patch of land behind the Animal Sciences Building. What was said to seal the deal, and what was the fallout for the decision-maker, no one will say.
An even greater mystery surrounds the continued upkeep of the Old Trapper's creations. According to a Pierce official, "Every few years we get a letter saying that someone's coming down to repaint the statues." The folks at Pierce never bother to ask who; all they care about is that someone else pays the bill. "Last time the statues got painted, the trail around the Park needed work as well." The college couldn't afford it -- so the mysterious caretakers did it themselves. "Did a good job, too."
The brightly-colored figures are arranged near a large barbeque grill. A Mormon does battle with one Indian, while another carries away a scantily clad woman in a scene titled "Kidnap." Bizarre faces poke up from the ground. A Miner and two Gold Rush gals relax on a rough wooden bench.
John Ehn would be pleased that his statues have been kept so well, though he'd be frustrated that no one comes to admire the maintenance. Most Pierce staffers don't even know that they exist. Pierce is a commuter school, so its students are even more oblivious -- the statues are ignored, and have never been draped with toilet paper or disrespectfully dressed in holiday-theme outerwear. Perhaps the young people instinctively sense the Dark Force that surrounds these scary totems, and give them a wide berth.
After The Old Trapper's Lodge statues took up residence at Pierce, the college had fallen on hard financial times. Like a parasite draining its host, John Ehn's work remained fresh-as-a-daisy while the college slowly wasted away. (As of 2008 apparently those problems have passed, and the college just completed an expansion.)
Perhaps, in the not-too-distant future, Pierce College will again falter and close its gates for good. If that happens, the Old Trapper's Lodge statues will no doubt stay as they are, forever young, lovingly maintained amid the ruin that surrounds them, by persons unknown, for reasons unknown, in complete isolation.