Academic journal article Western Folklore

Sabato Rodia's Towers in Watts: Art, Migrations, Development

Academic journal article Western Folklore

Sabato Rodia's Towers in Watts: Art, Migrations, Development

Article excerpt

Sabato Rodia's Towers in Watts: Art, Migrations, Development. Edited by Luisa Del Giudice. (New York: Fordham University Press, 2014. Pp. xiv + 476, acknowledgements, introduction, photographs, illustrations, appendices, notes, index. $45.00 paper; $165.00 cloth.)

Seeing the Watts Towers complex for the first time is an unforgettable experience. Situated on a triangular plot of land in a nondescript suburb of South-Central Los Angeles, the complex contains seventeen different sculptural elements, including walls, fountains, a gazebo, a ship, and three soaring towers, the tallest of which rises 100 feet into the air. It is visually dazzling, but also seemingly incongruous and thus somewhat puzzling. Learning that everything was built by hand between 1921 and 1954 by Sabato (also known as Sabatino, Sam, and Simon) Rodia-who was born in 1879 in southern Italy and who died in 1965 in northern California-only enhances the mystery for many visitors.

Fortunately, this compelling collection of essays helps unravel many of the mysteries about the towers, the man, and the community. There are twenty main essays, written from a wide range of disciplines, including art and architecture, building construction and design, economics and community development, folklore and intangible cultural heritage, and a variety of historical perspectives: cultural history, immigration history, urban history, and historic preservation. In addition, an appendix titled "Conversations with Rodia" contains not only written accounts of visits with Rodia, but also transcripts of fascinating interviews with him, conducted between 1953 and 1964. Finally, an additional 165 pages of miscellaneous materials (documents, song lyrics, conference programs, interviews, and more) are available as online appendices at http://tiny.cc/TowersInWatts

The volume's editor, Luisa Del Giudice, is a folklorist and community activist who provides three key pieces: an introduction that identifies the book's salient issues; an analytic essay that explores Rodia's life and art in the context of Italian immigration to the United States; and an afterword that offers personal reflections on the Watts Towers Common Ground Initiative, which seeks in part to "promote the Watts Towers as a symbol of transformation, achievement, and generosity" (347). …

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