'Layered Histories' tells the story of a neighborhood along LA Metro's new transit line

Art department lecturer Jaime Scholnick returns to Leimert Park with some serious history.

The neighborhood was a beloved refuge during her grad school days. It was also there that she met and cultivated a mentorship under artist/community organizer Alonzo Davis, who co-founded with his brother Dale Brockman Davis the Brockman Gallery – the first gallery in Los Angeles dedicated African-American art. Now she gets to depict the community’s complex, colorful and cultural heritage as one of 14 artists whose larger-than-life murals will adorn the eight stations along the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (Metro) highly anticipated LAX/Crenshaw Line.

Scholnick’s mural was installed in January at the Expo/Crenshaw Station, the first stop along the 8.5-mile transit line. Measuring 400 feet, “Layered Histories” is an intricate collage of porcelain-glaze-on-steel comprised of 70 panels, based on “tens of thousands of images” of the neighborhood captured by photographer Sally Coates when the duo spent a year walking the community around the station and interviewing residents.

“When I was asked to submit for this station I was thrilled that I had a profound history with this area,” Scholnick said. “I went with my photographer Sally Coates to the area surrounding the station. We walked around photographing and asking people we met on the street, in the parks, in the cafes, ‘What do you want to see on your Metro Station?’

“My idea was to seam all of these places and architecture, people, foliage, the significant history of the place into panels going from dawn to nighttime, weaving the scenes together like a quilt,” Scholnick continued. “I wanted to convey how meaningful an area this has been to me, to the myriad ethnicities that had taken up residence in this area throughout the years, of the pride people felt about this area, and now the changes taking place in the area with the introduction of this new station.”

Construction of the Crenshaw/LAX project began in 2014 and is slated for completion at the end of this year. One of 12 transit projects funded by Measure R – the half-cent sales tax approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008 – the line will extend from the Metro Exposition Line at Crenshaw and Exposition boulevards and connect to the Metro Green Line. It will serve the cities of Los Angeles, Inglewood and El Segundo, and unincorporated portions of the county.

Offering a transportation alternative to the area’s congested roadways, the LAX/Crenshaw Line was also an opportunity for public art. The artwork featured at each of the stations is different and tailored to the surrounding community, said Metro Arts and Design Director Zipporah Yamamoto.

“Everything we do as an art program within LA Metro is meant to further the agency’s mission and vision,” she said. “While projects like these take time, it’s worth it and the reward is our customers who experience this [art] every day. The artwork is what so many people remember. These artworks are active landmarks.”

Metro received more than 1,200 applications when the national call for artists went out in 2015, Yamamoto said. Scholnick’s proposal and personal connection to Leimert Park made her a standout.

“I think that’s why Jaime’s work is so intriguing,” Yamamoto said. “She recognizes that rich history, that vibrant community in that area. To highlight the culture-specific nature of that area, it’s very important for artists to the look at this as a learning experience. It’s a collaborative effort with the community.”

Scholnick said she cut back on her teaching load to focus on the project. It took nearly a year for her to identify which of Coates’ photographs should be adapted as digital images for each of the mural’s panels, complete color corrections to match her porcelain enamel pigments, and to work with a Santa Rosa-based fabricator to produce the 70 panels that were ultimately installed at the Expo/Crenshaw Station.

“I was also really aware that this piece of mine was going out in the public and I wanted to honor the area with as much reverence as I had for it,” she said. “When I make art, for me, I never worry about how it will be perceived by the world outside my studio. But with this piece, I was aware that it wasn’t mine alone and that I did care that it was well perceived. A big difference than in previous work. I have also met so many wonderful people creating this piece and have so many stories about encounters that have been so meaningful.”