Spaniards Claim This Land



The first Europeans to arrive on the West Coast of North America were from Spain. Here the gallery chronicles the arrival of Spanish explorers and their settlement of California through to Mexico's declaration of independence from their former master.


Spanish is the primary language in this section, with English titles relegated to a supporting role. This offered interesting typographic opportunities. My approach was to combine calligraphic script from the period with early printing press type, which created both visual tension and historical harmony.

 P22 supplied the appropriate script, Operina, and a set of Fell type was used for the printed letters.

A variety of substrates were explored, including direct printing on fabric and wood.

Using vernacular forms, such as this manuscript, gave expression to what the curators call "embedded text." Rather than only speak to the visitor on traditional panels, this narrative device allows for particular depth of visual storytelling.

In some instances, to suggest the proper religious connotation, text was embedded in illustrated manuscript form. 

For this section, I produced my own digital typeface based on historical samples. A distressed inline face, CURSIVA is caps italic and only contains basic punctuation glyphs in addition to the letterforms. You may download the typeface for free.

The centerpiece of SPANIARDS CLAIM THIS LAND is a map of the empire's reach at the time, including both North and South America. While I designed this map digitally, the final art was hand-painted onto a large piece of canvas by local artisan Gil Flores.

I provided numerous printouts at the same scale, which he tiled together and projected onto the fabric as the basis for his work. The finished trim of the map was burned with a blowtorch.

The central structure of the section is a massive wooden boat. Inside, the casework suggested early Natural History collections by Europeans. They were known to meticulously catalog samples of flora, fauna, and native artifacts, even if they were unsure of the origin or purpose. The artifact tagging utilized the same overall typography as the maps and other ephemera designed for the section, again using my custom typeface, CURSIVA.

To demonstrate the extent to which the Spaniards affected local culture, the subsection WHAT THE SPANIARDS BROUGHT WITH THEM presents the most significant European imports as "discovery trunks," as if these concepts were physical goods carried ashore and opened on the beach.

This  represents the introduction of a major visual language in the gallery, which the core team called the "collaged universe."

It was important to the curator that an institutional, omniscient voice be minimal, and that first person voices from the past be dominant. To make these individual actors come alive, different historical typographic styles were used in concert.

Throughout the gallery, we developed "living illustrations" which were neither artifacts nor props, but rather a sort of abstraction of forms. This oxcart is one such example; it is neither real nor unreal.

A map of the Spanish Missions of Alta California, noting major Presidios and Pueblos.

This was the most controversial graphic element of the entire History Gallery project. We debated at length about the blood splotch and the visceral, almost serial killer-like scrawl of the type treatment, but in the end, it represented what the curator wanted to convey.

At the exhibit's grand opening, I endured the loud remarks from one particular visitor who felt that this display "justified" letting Mexicans "take over" California in the present day and that it was just "disgusting." My own views aside, museums and their exhibits succeed when they stimulate dialog of all kinds. Strong reactions mean the public is engaging with the content in a very authentic fashion.