Black Velvet Christmas

Caren Anderson and Carl Baldwin, owners and curators of Velveteria at their A Very Tiki Christmas exhibit (photos by Judy Ornelas Sisneros)


Celebrate Christmas with a touch of kitsch culture at Velveteria’s A Very Tiki Christmas exhibition. Aficionados of velvet paintings will welcome the gallery’s presentation of previously unseen paintings, plus their new additions: two paintings by velvet painting pioneer Edgar Leeteg, the notorious womanizer and drunk who helped popularize the artform in the late 40s.

Entitled “Tahitia”, Leeteg’s rendering of a half-naked Polynesian woman—who is likely to be his wife, Jacqueline—is the quientessential WWII-era velvet painting: beautiful, lush, sexy and deeply enticing.

Co-founder and curator, Caren Anderson tells us that “Tahitia” rejoins Velveteria fresh from Tiki king, Sven Kirsten’s Tiki Pop exhibition in Paris.

‘It’s a rare and precious example of the late artist’s style,’ Anderson explains.

‘This collection is the cream of the crop. You are not going to see better quality velvet paintings of that period.’

Other paintings unveiled in the exhibition include works by Burke Tyree, Charles McPhee (Leeteg’s protege who married one of Leeteg’s models) and Cecilia Rodriguez, the self-taught, 95 year-old woman still living life large in Vegas and painting black velvet, the last of her generation to do so.

From typical South Pacific scenes of palm trees and basket-clad, busty women to exotic animals to moments captured from WWII, A Very Tiki Christmas offers insight into a once-popular but now dying fine form of art.

Forget the mass-produced, bubble-gum-ugly moonscapes and Jesus halos from the 70s, the velvet paintings on show at Velveteria are the real deal; lovingly depicted imagery crafted with skill and care. Painting on velvet is not easy!

Make sure you wander down to the back rooms and enjoy the plethora of female nudes, works by Louis Behan whose penchant for inserting himself into his pictures reveals a rich fantasy life and the deliciously tacky Elvis-head Tiki totem pole.

Long-standing exhibits: California Kings and Queens, the black light room and others are also still on display.

A Very Tiki Christmas continues daily (except Tuesdays) at Velveteria, Museum of Velvet Paintings. 711 New High Street, Los Angeles 90012 (Chinatown), Hours:  11am-6pm. $10 entry.

All images by Judy Ornelas Sisneros. All rights reserved.

Previously in The LA Beat: Offbeat LA: Velveteria

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