CUE the "Addams Family" theme. Now lay out that old leather-bound Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on a sturdy table, keep the Calydonian boar clear of the African elephant tusks, and step right this way to check out Charles Bukowski's crude scribbles.
Yes, from these attractions it may seem that the Ringling Bros. Library of Congress Aesthetic Pleasure Faire has come to town at last. But all of these wonders, along with reams of duller, more important scholarly items, have joined the collections of museums and libraries in greater Los Angeles this year.
The original score for the "Addams Family" theme? Composed 42 years ago by Vic Mizzy, who donated the original score to UCLA in May.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo? That's the 19th century deal that added California to the United States. After two decades of searching for a first-edition copy, a USC librarian happily paid "four figures" for one this year.
The boar -- actually, an oil painting of a boar, surrounded by hunters and nervous horses and painted by Peter Paul Rubens in about 1611 -- now belongs to the Getty Museum, which bought it in April from a London dealer, price undisclosed. Rubens drew the image from an episode in Ovid's poetry, but the alarm in the animals' eyes seems immediate enough to provoke a PETA demonstration.
The tusks -- real tusks, 8 feet long and 332 pounds together -- were removed from their central African owner in 1897 and donated to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County last month by William Cherry, a dentist in the Lake Tahoe area.
As for the Bukowski scrawls, for now let's just say the stubbled bard of San Pedro never lived in a home as nice as the one now housing his papers.
Deals like these have made 2006 a lively year for donations and purchases throughout the region, curators and librarians say, but then, most years are. It's just that the rest of the world rarely notices.
Whether they are paintings, diaries, photographs, musical scores, old clothes or correspondence, most artifacts and archives land quietly, get swaddled in acid-free paper and alphabetically shelved, all without much public notice unless there's a big celebrity involved.
While you weren't looking, the Natural History Museum added not only the tusks but a rare 14.6-foot oarfish from Catalina, the "XX" armband from Charlie Chaplin's uniform in "The Great Dictator" (1940) and sundry mineral specimens from the mines of Bisbee, Ariz.
The Museum of Contemporary Art added more than 100 works, including half a dozen small Robert Motherwell ink-on-paper works, 13 Jennifer Bornstein prints and etchings, and Fred Tomaselli's "Hang Over," a contemporary work made with leaves, pills, acrylic and resin on a 7-by-10-foot wood panel.
The Hammer Museum added more than 100 sculptures, paintings, installations, photographs and drawings
The Norton Simon Museum added a pencil-and-ink portrait by Don Bachardy of, well, Norton Simon. (Simon died in 1993; this addition ties in with the museum's celebration of Simon's centennial in 2007.)
The Southwest Museum of the American Indian (now largely closed as its parent, the Autry National Center, shores up the bedraggled Southwest building and plans expansion in Griffith Park) added 37 Pomo baskets.
Reading the material
INDIVIDUALLY, Bisbee minerals and Pomo baskets may not inspire dancing in the streets. But a year's acquisitions, surveyed at once, can reveal plenty -- not only about how culture endures, but about institutional ambitions.
For instance, the Getty -- so mired in recriminations over its past deals that it has given four works back to Greece and offered 26 more to Italy -- isn't buying so many ancient vases any more. And the Museum of the American West in Griffith Park, which was founded less than 20 years ago on the fortune and show-business artifacts of Gene Autry, hasn't been snapping up singing-cowboy memorabilia.
Instead, both institutions -- the one with roots in Western civilization and the one with roots in western serialization -- have lately turned to photography. Contemporary American photography in particular. In the last 12 months, in fact, both have bought works by living photographers John Divola and Jerry Uelsmann.
Of course, with the deepest pockets in all the museum world, the Getty could also afford the Rubens; a 14th century illustrated manuscript page by Pacino di Bonaguida; a 17th century Dutch drawing by Anthonie van Borssom; a 17th century painting by Spanish artist Juan de Valdes Leal; and a raft of further acquisitions by the Getty Research Institute.
At the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, director Michael Govan arrived in April and spent much of his first three months on the job trying to quietly raise money to buy five Gustav Klimt paintings that had been seized by the Nazis in the 1930s, held by Austria for decades, then restituted to the surviving family of owner Adele Bloch-Bauer. But while the paintings were on view at LACMA, the behind-the-scenes bidding leaped beyond the museum's means. In the end, the works were sold individually to out-of-town or anonymous buyers, together fetching more than $325 million.
Still, LACMA's registrar had 320 acquisitions to log, the list topped by Jacques-Louis David's oil portrait of Jean-Pierre Delahaye, painted in 1815. With the Ahmanson Foundation footing the bill, the museum bought the painting at auction in Paris for $2.7 million from Delahaye's descendants in June. It went on public display for the first time in October.
Among the museum's other additions: a Tiffany lamp (donated by Richard and Nancy Daly Riordan), a 17th century Buddhist priest's mantle from Japan and a 1926 Johan Hagemeyer photo of grain elevators.
Sometimes, however, acquisitions aren't a matter of curators chasing down long-sought treasures. Acquisitions are also a matter of what's for sale, what donors have to give and what new possibilities a museum or library is ready to embrace. The result, especially at university special collections libraries, is a soup-to-nuts repast of artifacts to feed hungry grad students for generations.
Apart from the "Addams Family" score and its ripe-for-analysis lyrics ("they're all together ooky"), UCLA's Charles E. Young Research Library department of special collections has taken on dozens of European Renaissance manuscripts; papers from painter R.B. Kitaj and writer Susan Sontag (who died in 2004); and some 1,500 documents, photos and scarves from modern dance pioneer Isadora Duncan (but not the scarf that fatally snapped her neck in a 1927 auto accident).
From Massachusetts neurosurgeon and pain-research pioneer William H. Sweet (who died in 2001), there's a set of gold-tipped operating instruments. From novelist and screenwriter Sidney Sheldon, who created the TV shows "I Dream of Jeannie, "The Patty Duke Show" and "Hart to Hart," there's a stack of manuscripts.
And speaking of screen work, the Mizzy contribution didn't stop with the family Addams. UCLA now also has Mizzy's scores for "Green Acres" and such films as "The Reluctant Astronaut," "The Ghost and Mister Chicken" and "The Shakiest Gun in the West." Somewhere, the late Don Knotts is smiling.
Not to be outdone, the special collections librarians at USC have acquired photos of the Hungarian uprising of 1956; correspondence of 20th century Chinese novelist Eileen Chang (a.k.a. Zhang Ai Ling); and the archives of composer Elmer Bernstein, whose five-decade career included scores for "The Great Escape," "The Magnificent Seven," "The Man With the Golden Arm," "Thoroughly Modern Millie" and "Animal House," among many others.
But the USC acquisition with the most political resonance may be its newly purchased first-edition copy of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. That war-ending 1848 document -- signed under duress by Mexican leaders with U.S. troops occupying Mexico City -- formalized American annexation of not only California but Nevada, Texas and Utah, along with parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming. For that territory, the U.S. paid about $18 million. For a first-edition copy of the document -- one of just 17 known in American libraries -- USC librarian for Iberian and Latin American studies Barbara Robinson was ready to pay up to $10,000.
"It's the document that establishes our border with Mexico," said Robinson, who began hunting for a copy for USC's Boeckmann collection almost immediately after her arrival at the university in 1985.
Alerted over the summer by a dealer to a copy coming up for auction, Robinson authorized the dealer to bid. He got it for less than Robinson's limit -- she won't say exactly how much less -- and today it rests under lock and key at USC, 55 pages, nearly mint condition, bound in leather and printed in English and Spanish.
"I think it's important for students who do a lot of online research to see what the actual documents look like, to see the artifacts themselves," Robinson said. "You see the paper, you see the print, and it transports you back to that time period."
As disparate as the additions at UCLA and USC may seem, however, the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino may have taken an even more diverse cargo aboard this year.
On one hand, there is the meticulous: the Huntington's new Burndy Library, 67,000 books on the history of science and technology over four centuries. Amassed by inventor and industrialist Bern Dibner, the collection was a gift, the library's largest single acquisition since magnate Henry Huntington founded the place in 1919.
Then there's the sublime -- the Charles Bukowski papers, from the late hard-drinking, plain-spoken poet and novelist of "Barfly" fame. His widow, Linda Lee Bukowski, donated a trove of his resolutely unrarefied writings (one manuscript poem considers farts and foghorn blasts), which now rests more or less alongside the library's Gutenberg Bible and its rare editions of Shakespeare and Chaucer and papers from Jack London and Christopher Isherwood.
"This would tickle my husband," said Linda Lee Bukowski at the June announcement of the donation. "It would crack him up."