Offbeat L.A.: Some Velvet Morning… A Museum Dedicated to the Art of Black Velvet

Unicorns and silhouettes of  people in love... Pure Black Velvet mastery (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Unicorns and silhouettes of people in love… Pure Black Velvet mastery (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

The owners and visionaries of Velveteria, Carl Baldwin and Caren Anderson (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

The owners and visionaries of Velveteria, Carl Baldwin and Caren Anderson (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

A new temple of eccentric offbeat worship landed in L.A.’s Chinatown last month with the opening of Velveteria, a museum dedicated to the deliciously eclectic art of Black Velvet Painting. Originally established in Portland, Oregon in 2005, where it stayed until 2010, the museum garnered national attention and appearances on TV shows such as Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and The Tonight Show. Its founders, Carl Baldwin and Caren Anderson are Southern California natives who grew up together and attended high school just outside of Pasadena in San Marino, the location of Huntington Gardens. Their unique love story found them reconnecting 27 years after they had left high school and embarking on what they now call The Velvet Trail, a trajectory that led them to beginning their incredible black velvet painting collection. This path is where the “unexpected always happens” and where they continuously “meet the nicest people with the craziest stories.”

Come worship at the shrine of Velvet Jesus (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Come worship at the shrine of Velvet Jesus (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

“It’s accesible art. There’s something that makes you feel you can talk in front of it. I just want to show the world how fun this is. You don’t have to be a snob about art. Share the joy of it. Hear the laughter.” – owner Carl Baldwin

Caren and Carl purchased their first velvet painting, a depiction of a woman with a large purple afro, in 1998 while on a road trip through Brisbee, Arizona. “After that,” says Caren, “We started looking for more velvet paintings. At that point we’d collect anything that was velvet, even if it was terrible.” During a dinner party at their house a few years later, some friends got to view about 50 of the couple’s acquisitions and the idea for the museum was formed.

Part of the Black Power wall at Velveteria (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Part of the Black Power wall at Velveteria (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

“I still think they’re laughing at us, but I really don’t care, because people love it. They can’t help it.” – owner Caren Anderson

Gathered from thrift stores, flea markets, garage sales, estate sales and other private collectors, it did not take long before a mighty stockpile was compiled. Although Velveteria holds about 400 rotating items, the entire glorious kitschy collection amassed by Carl and Caren is somewhere between 2,000-3,000 pieces. In fact it took 5 moving trucks to bring it all down from Oregon. From Japanese silk velvet art created in the early 1900’s to velvet religious scenes popular in the 1920’s-’30’s, from respected mid-century Polynesian artists to pop art weirdness of the 1960’s-’70’s this collection is cohesive and touches on every genre.

The Wall of Velvet Rockstars (photo buy Nikki Kreuzer)

The Wall of Velvet Rock Stars (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

The museum itself is divided into themes, some of which are iconic in the classic black velvet narrative- Rock Stars (preferably those who died tragically young), Black Power (big afros and nudity a plus), the almighty savior Jesus (here a black power “Last Supper” scores points in two categories) and the Hall of Elvis, dedicated to the King himself. A Black Light Room features glow-in-the-dark trip-inducing sad clowns, devils and the omni present Alfred E. Neuman, while the Unicorn Garden of Good and Evil pays tribute to the favorite mythical flying horse of the 1970’s. There is a back room dedicated to the lost Vietnamese art of black velvet Playboy centerfold painting. Each painting here has a matching nude photograph ripped straight from its pages. These were a favorite of late ’60’s American troops on tour of Vietnam and the outdated hairstyles immortalized on these nude women give the paintings even more of a punch. Also, make a point to use the rest room here. The black velvet big-headed children on toilets make the visit a necessity.

The trip-worthy Black Light Room even has a bean bag chair in the corner (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

The trip-worthy Black Light Room even has a bean bag chair in the corner (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

“We’ve had people come in here and start weeping. That’s the thing about these paintings- they’re so accessible to people. They just start telling us stories.” – Carl Baldwin

Los Angeles is extremely fortunate that Carl and Caren decided to make our lovely city the new home of their strange and surreal bit of specialness. Check out the new Velveteria digs in Chinatown, a few blocks away from Olvera Street and Union Station. Make an afternoon exploring some of the our city’s historical treasures and get your black velvet fix in the same trip.

Visit Velveteria, you won'y be sorry! (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Visit Velveteria! (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

 

Velveteria: 711 New High Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012; (503) 309-9299. Thursday-Sunday 11am-6pm.  www.velveteria.com

 

 

 

Nikki Kreuzer

About Nikki Kreuzer

Nikki Kreuzer has been a Los Angeles resident for over 30 years. When not working her day job in the film & TV industry, she spends her time over many obsessions, mainly music, art and exploring & photographing the oddities of the city she adores. So far she has written 110 Offbeat L.A. articles, published at the Los Angeles Beat. As a journalist she contributes regularly to LA Weekly, Blurred Culture and has also been published by Oddee.com, Twist Magazine, Strobe and Not For Hire. Nikki is also a mosaic artist, radio DJ and published photographer. Her photography has been featured in exhibit at the Museum of Neon Art, in print at the LA Weekly and in exhibit at the Neutra Museum in Los Angeles. She has recorded with the band Nikki & Candy as bassist, vocalist and songwriter, directing and appearing in the 'Sunshine Sunshine Santa Claus' music video for the band. She co-hosted the monthly radio show Bubblegum & Other Delights on Dublab.com for over two years. Her acting credits include a recent role in the ABC-TV show 'For The People', 'Incident at Guilt Ridge', 'Two and a Half Men', the film 'Minority Report' and 'Offbeat L.A.', a web series, written and hosted by Nikki Kreuzer. Her writing, radio and video portfolio can be found at OffbeatLA.com, her photography work @Lunabeat on Instagram and her music history posts @NikkiKreuzer on Twitter. Find Nikki & Candy music on iTunes, Amazon or at NikkiandCandy.com.
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1 Response to Offbeat L.A.: Some Velvet Morning… A Museum Dedicated to the Art of Black Velvet

  1. Chris says:

    Love it! I want to go!

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