Tag Archives: Mission Monday

Mission San Antonio de Padua sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Mountain mission

This is the twelfth installment of my Mission Mondays series, exploring all 21 Spanish Missions along the California coast. You can read more about this series, and see a sketch map of all the missions, at this post.

Note: At the time of my visit, the façade of the building was ensconced in scaffolding. I was so sad at the idea of including it in my sketches that I just…didn’t. I drew around it, and sketched as if it weren’t there. So know that if you go, you might not find it looking like this. I’m not sure how long the current restoration project will go on.

Today we’ll visit a mission that stands out among its brothers and sisters. While some details might bring to mind places like La Purisima or San Juan Capistrano, there’s simply nowhere quite like Mission San Antonio de Padua.

Detail of California Missions map sketch by Chandler O'Leary

As you head north out of San Luis Obispo along the Salinas Valley, you’ll pass three missions before you reach Monterey Bay. Each one is more remote than the one before, so make sure you have food, water and plenty of petrol if you decide to make the trek.

Mission San Antonio de Padua sketch by Chandler O'Leary

San Antonio, the second of the Salinas Valley three, is one of the oldest missions in the entire chain. And it has all kinds of features and details that you won’t find at any of the others—like the subtly contrasting archways. Or the campanile situated in front of the main entrance, instead of off to the side or around the corner.

Mission San Antonio de Padua sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The interior of the church is also really unusual, with its squared-off arches and wooden planking.

Mission San Antonio de Padua sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The overall look of the place is different, too—like this might be a Texas or New Mexico mission instead (or perhaps Italy, like San Antonio himself).

Mission San Antonio de Padua sketch by Chandler O'Leary

It’s certainly located in the most mountainous stretch of the Royal Road—and since you actually have to enter and cross a military installation (which buffers the place even further from modern civilization) to get here, the trip really feels like an old-fashioned expedition.

Maybe that’s what I liked best of all: this feeling of stepping back in time and seeing the one mission that is perhaps the closest to how it has always been.

Mission San Miguel Arcángel sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Village sanctuary

This is the eleventh installment of my Mission Mondays series, exploring all 21 Spanish Missions along the California coast. You can read more about this series, and see a sketch map of all the missions, at this post.

I’m not entirely certain why, but this place also makes the list of my favorite missions. Mission San Migue Arcángel doesn’t exactly have a lot of bells and whistles (well, it does have bells…), so it’s yet another mission that gets overlooked by the hordes of tourists. But I dunno—I just really, really liked it here.

Detail of California Missions map sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Mission San Miguel sits on the edge of a tiny town of the same name (are you sensing a pattern here?)—from the grounds you can look out across the Salinas Valley to the San Andreas Fault. And you can hear the birds, and the breeze, and not a whole lot else. Maybe that’s why I liked it so much.

Mission San Miguel Arcángel sketch by Chandler O'Leary

It also helps that the place comes with a crazy tale of pirates and buried treasure (click the image above to embiggen and read the story). Forget Zorro—at San Miguel, the truth is stranger than fiction.

Mission San Miguel Arcángel sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Perhaps best of all, I loved being able to make a return visit. I first came here almost precisely two years earlier, on the trip that first gave me the idea to visit all 21 missions. On both trips I had to visit multiple missions on the same day—which made it hard to sketch everything I’d have liked.

Mission San Miguel Arcángel sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Coming back a second time gave me the chance to delve a little deeper, and discover details that had escaped my notice the first time.

Mission San Miguel Arcángel sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Or to zoom in and redraw something from a different angle—

Mission San Miguel Arcángel sketch by Chandler O'Leary

—or in a different format.

Mission San Miguel Arcángel sketch by Chandler O'Leary

On both visits, I was awfully sad to have to pack up and hit the road again. But at least I have proof that I can and will return someday.

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The jewel of SLO

This is the tenth installment of my Mission Mondays series, exploring all 21 Spanish Missions along the California coast. You can read more about this series, and see a sketch map of all the missions, at this post.

Unlike last week, where we were smack in the middle of the California countryside, this week’s mission is right in the center of it all.

Detail of California Missions map sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, the origin and focal point for the town that takes its name, is another of the painstakingly well-cared-for missions in the chain.

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa sketch by Chandler O'Leary

And that’s because like Santa Barbara, the town of San Luis Obispo is a tidy, picturesque, wealthy community. So while the mission itself might not be as exciting as La Purisima or San Juan Capistrano (though Mission San Luis Obispo was involved in a brief skirmish during the Mexican-American war, so there!) ,it’s so beautifully situated and restored that it just draws you in (no pun intended).

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa sketch by Chandler O'Leary

There’s not a whole lot here anymore that’s original—at least on the surface. But I think they did a great job of merging a period aesthetic with modern touches. I only managed this one sketch of the interior, but if you’re ever there, prepare to spend some time inside the church itself. They took such care with approximating the hand-painted decor that the finished result is breathtaking.

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Actually, I’m glad the place isn’t quite as action-packed as La Purisima. Since I did the two on the same day, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed by the time I pulled into SLO. But as soon as I stepped foot inside the mission, the place did its job as a retreat and sanctuary. Suddenly it was easy to pull out the old sketchbook again, and start letting the images flow.

Mission La Purisima sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Rural retreat

This is the ninth installment of my Mission Mondays series, exploring all 21 Spanish Missions along the California coast. You can read more about this series, and see a sketch map of all the missions, at this post.

Mission La Purisima Concepción was probably the one for which I did the least amount of research—the mission I knew the least about. I’m so glad I showed up there without doing my homework first, because it ended up being both a complete surprise and my very favorite mission.

Detail of California Missions map sketch by Chandler O'Leary

La Purisima is unique in a couple of ways: in the first place, it’s one of only two in the chain that have been deconsecrated. Now that it’s no longer an active church, it’s now operated as a California state park.

Mission La Purisima sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The other unique thing is that La Purisima is the only mission in the chain to still include the entire mission complex. Most of the missions are down to just the church and gardens, but this one still encompasses the adjacent monastery, workshops, cemetery, and remnants of the mission village.

Mission La Purisima sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Much of what’s there today was reconstructed by the CCC in the 1930s (like most of the missions, it was badly damaged in a long-ago earthquake), and currently maintained by the state park system.

Mission La Purisima sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I think I arrived not long after a recent restoration, because the place was in fine fettle.

Mission La Purisima sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Best of all, I had almost the whole place to myself—which, combined with its remote location, made it feel like I’d stumbled upon a bit of hidden treasure.

Mission La Purisima sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I could have stayed there all day, basking in sunshine, birdsong and the sweet spring breeze.

Mission La Purisima sketch by Chandler O'Leary

But what really bowled me over was that gorgeous pink stucco.

Mission La Purisima sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Instead of a historic shell, inhabited only by ghosts, that pink made the place feel very much alive.

Mission Santa Inés sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Mixed-metaphor mission

This is the eighth installment of my Mission Mondays series, exploring all 21 Spanish Missions along the California coast. You can read more about this series, and see a sketch map of all the missions, at this post.

For most of the missions along El Camino Real, the mission itself is the main feature (and tourist draw) for each mission town along the way. That’s especially true for places like San Juan Capistrano, where the mission provided not only the origin of the town, but also the model for all architecture and tourist themes to follow.

Detail of California Missions map sketch by Chandler O'Leary

That may once have been the case for Mission Santa Inés as well, but you’d never know it these days. That’s because the mission is located in the town of Solvang—a tourist draw all by itself, and a town inspired by a completely different aesthetic than that of the Spanish mission (as you’ll see in the next post—I don’t want any spoilers to detract from the, er, mission of this one).

Mission Santa Inés sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Still, if you knew nothing of Solvang itself—or if you happened to approach the mission from the east, and hadn’t yet seen any sign of the town’s dominant architecture—you’d think Santa Inés were the best and only reason to visit. It certainly makes for an incredibly picturesque vista, perched above its namesake valley as it is.

Mission Santa Inés sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Solvang is famous in its own right, however, so it’s more likely you’d be there to see the town itself—and then you’d be surprised to discover there’s also a Spanish mission there.

Mission Santa Inés sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Still, while the mission feels a little out of place in Solvang, the whole area is a bit of a mish-mash of cultural influences. Even the mission itself was founded by Spanish colonists, named for an Italian saint represented by a Latin pun, established to convert local Indian tribes, adorned with a garden laid out in a Celtic cross pattern, and today an active center for the local Mexican-American community. It’s all just one big mixed metaphor now… and all the more endearing for it.

Mission Santa Barbara sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Pastel parish

This is the seventh installment of my Mission Mondays series, exploring all 21 Spanish Missions along the California coast. You can read more about this series, and see a sketch map of all the missions, at this post.

Now, here’s a lovely thing. Mission Santa Barbara is one of the most well-known and beloved in the chain, and it shows. And it almost seems to be the companion piece to San Luis Rey de Francia: for one thing, while San Luis Rey is often called the “King of the Missions,” Santa Barbara’s been crowned the Queen by her fans. For another, both have beautiful pastel accents—Santa Barbara in feminine pink, San Luis Rey in baby blue.

Mission Santa Barbara sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Even the cemetery of Santa Barbara matches that of San Luis Rey, with its trio of skull-and-crossbones (though unlike San Luis Rey’s Hollywood touches, Santa Barbara’s are original).

chandler_oleary_california_missions_map_santabarbara

Santa Barbara also stands out because it is so lovingly cared for. Located in the affluent town that owes it name to the mission, Santa Barbara has been painstakingly restored and maintained–unlike her somewhat more inner-city brother San Gabriel.

Mission Santa Barbara sketch by Chandler O'Leary

At first I was a little overwhelmed by the sheer size and scale of the place, and worried I’d never be able to pick a vantage point for my sketchbook.

Mission Santa Barbara sketch by Chandler O'Leary

But in the end, it was the details that really had me smitten. Between the pink accents (I’m a sucker for pink), the careful stonework and the magic-hour light, the compositions really chose themselves.

Mission San Buenaventura sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Reconnaissance mission

This is the sixth installment of my Mission Mondays series, exploring all 21 Spanish Missions along the California coast. You can read more about this series, and see a sketch map of all the missions, at this post.

Well, I don’t have much to report this week—because this was pretty much all I was able to see of Mission Buenaventura.

Detail of California Missions map sketch by Chandler O'Leary

By the time I got there (fighting fierce L.A. traffic and a mass exodus to the beach all the way), the place was already closed for the day.

Mission San Buenaventura sketch by Chandler O'Leary

So what little I was able to see of this place was what I managed to glimpse through the fence, craning my neck to make out the details of the beautiful Mexican tilework on the fountain (that tilework is also placed around downtown Ventura, so at least I got a good eyefull of it there!).

Mission San Buenaventura sketch by Chandler O'Leary

But hey—all the more reason to return, yes? And thanks to what I like to think of as a first “reconaissance mission” to Ventura, I’ll know exactly where to pick up where I left off.

Mission San Fernando Rey de España sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Splendor and sequins

This is the fifth installment of my Mission Mondays series, exploring all 21 Spanish Missions along the California coast. You can read more about this series, and see a sketch map of all the missions, at this post.

Last week we visited one of the more unassuming missions in the chain. Just over in the next valley is another complex seemingly forgotten by your average mission tourist: Mission San Fernando Rey de España.

Detail of California Missions map sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Mission San Fernando is also part of the greater Los Angeles area, tucked away in a residential neighborhood in the northern end of the San Fernando Valely. Compared with its brother on the other side of the city, Mission San Fernando is a little better looked after, with tidier grounds and neatly restored buildings. Most of San Gabriel’s architecture is original—crumbling, but authentic. San Fernando’s is pristine, but largely modern (at least on the surface). The restoration seems to have made it lose something: that feel of great age, of venerable history.

Mission San Fernando Rey de España sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Still, the property is gorgeous. And when I saw what was going on inside the grounds, I couldn’t help but smile. I was there on a busy Saturday, which I only remembered was Valentine’s Day when I arrived and saw teenage girls everywhere in frilly dresses, waiting for their quinceañeras to start. There were a bunch of brides milling around as well, but next to the teens in their bright pink confections they were positively drab. Some of the quinceañera gowns reminded me of puffed-up peacock feathers…

Mission San Fernando Rey de España sketch by Chandler O'Leary

…until I rounded a corner and came upon an actual peacock.

I guess this is the perfect illustration of why I went on this trek to visit all 21 missions. I came to see the architecture, but what really charmed me were the slices of real life going on within the walls. And actually taking the time to explore each mission showed me that even the most unassuming of them had plenty of surprises in store for me.

Mission San Gabriel Arcángel sketch by Chandler O'Leary

City of archangels

This is the fourth installment of my Mission Mondays series, exploring all 21 Spanish Missions along the California coast. You can read more about this series, and see a sketch map of all the missions, at this post.

Last week we visited one of the most famous, most visited and most photographed missions in the California chain. Mission San Gabriel is…well…less well known.

Detail of California Missions map sketch by Chandler O'Leary

In fact, if I hadn’t specifically been on a mission to see all the missions, I would have breezed right by this one, without ever knowing it was here. Mission San Gabriel is not a state park (many missions are), not a tourist destination, not something I’d ever even heard mentioned before, not even in context with El Camino Real as a whole. It’s not even in Los Angeles proper, but tucked away in the enclave of San Gabriel—which is thought of as the birthplace of Los Angeles itself.

Mission San Gabriel Arcángel sketch by Chandler O'Leary

To the folks for whom this is their neighborhood church, I’m sure Mission San Gabriel is beloved—it is the oldest surviving brick-and-mortar building in Southern California, after all, and a beautiful example of a rare Moorish style of architecture. But this where the lack of an overall system for preserving the missions is really obvious—and sorely lacking. While places like San Carlos Borromeo and San Juan Capistrano get all the attention and money for upkeep, the smaller missions like San Gabriel are scraping to get by, and it shows. Maintaining an historic building is a constant battle anyway, but when you add in things like the baking sun, an active earthquake zone, and a much more modest neighborhood (as opposed to the wealthy towns like Santa Barbara and Carmel) every tourist dollar really counts. So I’d love to see some sort of connected system for the preservation and management of the missions—something like the California state park system or, more grandly, the National Park Service. I know that increased tourism would be a headache for an active church like this one, but spreading the wealth and visitors more equally among all 21 missions would be worth it, if you ask me.

Mission San Gabriel Arcángel sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Still, while San Gabriel might not have the flash and splendor of some of the more well-known missions, there’s a lot to love here. The details, in particular, had me enchanted—as did the fact that I was the only tourist there. Everyone else was a parishioner, and obviously intimately familiar with the place: to them, Mission San Gabriel is not a vacation spot—it’s home.

Mission San Juan Capistrano sketch by Chandler O'Leary

American ruins

This is the third installment of my Mission Mondays series, exploring all 21 Spanish Missions along the California coast. You can read more about this series, and see a sketch map of all the missions, at this post.

San Juan Capistrano is the jewel of the missions—seriously, it’s hard to think of a more beautiful place in all of California. I ended up finishing off the whole rest of my sketchbook there, because every time I blocked out a rough composition, I’d look in another direction and see something else I just had to draw.

Detail of California Missions map sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Founded in 1776, Mission San Juan Capistrano contains the oldest building in California still in use. But the thing everyone comes to see is the large portion of the complex that lies in ruin.

Mission San Juan Capistrano sketch by Chandler O'Leary

If you come to the mission from the north, the first thing you’ll see is the relatively brand-new mission basilica. The building is gorgeous, but was only built in 1986. Still, it follows the design of the original mission church—

Mission San Juan Capistrano sketch by Chandler O'Leary

—which is on the the other end of the property, and looks like this. The church was built in 1806, and flattened six years later by an earthquake. The ruins are where the famous swallows nest and return each year—though these days, that’s not so true anymore. I was there a month too soon anyway, so I saw a grand total of one swallow. But thanks to recent factors like increased development in the town and possibly climate change, the huge flocks just aren’t coming anymore. In the past 20 years or so, only a few birds have been coming home to roost each spring.

Mission San Juan Capistrano sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Hearing about the swallows was certainly a disappointment, but I was too enamored of the buildings themselves to be sad for long. What they most reminded me of was my time living in Italy. The cloister archways were one thing, but seeing the ruined stone church transported me right back to the Roman Forum.

Mission San Juan Capistrano sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The other thing that reminded me of Rome was the light—it was the kind of place where the “magic hour” seemed to last all afternoon.

Mission San Juan Capistrano sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I picked a good day to visit, too—despite the perfect weather, I was there in the off-season.

Mission San Juan Capistrano sketch by Chandler O'Leary

So even though I’m sure the place is packed to the gills during swallow season, there were only a handful of visitors there with me that day.

Mission San Juan Capistrano sketch by Chandler O'Leary

So that allowed me to choose whatever vantage point I wanted, and spent plenty of uninterrupted time sketching—just me, the mission, and all that Mediterranean light.