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Finding aid to the Elizabeth Mason Papers MS.205
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Collection Details
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  • Preferred citation
  • Access
  • Processing history
  • Arrangement
  • Biographical note
  • Scope and Contents note
  • Use

  • Title: Elizabeth Mason Papers
    Identifier/Call Number: MS.205
    Contributing Institution: Autry National Center, Braun Research Library
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 3.0 Linear feet (6 boxes)
    Date (inclusive): 1893-1953
    Abstract: Elizabeth Mason (1880-1953) was a sculptor, writer, jewelry maker, and Santa Barbara historian. At the Southwest Museum, Mason created 28 dioramas of Native American life which adorned the Museum’s entrance hall and Poole Wing. This collection consists of correspondence, sketches, research notes, transcriptions of published material, manuscripts, and personal documents collected or created by Elizabeth Mason. The material in this collection was created between 1893 to 1953.
    creator: Mason, Elizabeth, 1880-1953

    Preferred citation

    Elizabeth Mason Papers, 1893-1953, Braun Research Library Collection, Autry National Center, Los Angeles; MS.205; [folder number] [folder title][date].


    Collection is open for research. Appointments to view materials are required. To make an appointment please visit http://theautry.org/research/research-rules-and-application or contact library staff at rroom@theautry.org.

    Processing history

    Inventory and initial processing completed by Glenna Schroeder, circa 1977-1981. Biographical note created by Maritxu de Alaiza, 2012 April 12. Finding aid completed by Anna Liza Posas, 2013. Final processing of collection and publication of finding aid made possible by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).


    • Series 1: Southwest Museum diorama correspondence, notes, and sketches, circa 1925-1942
    • Series 2: Personal papers, 1893-1953
    • Series 3: Manuscripts by Mason, circa 1920s to 1953
    • Series 4: Transcriptions or manuscripts by other authors, circa 1920s to 1953

    Biographical note

    Elizabeth Mason (1880-1953) was born in Jacksonville, Illinois in 1880 June 8. She was a sculptor, writer, jewelry maker, and Santa Barbara historian. Mason created 28 dioramas of Native American life for the Southwest Museum’s tunnel entrance and Poole Wing.
    After Mason’s birth, her family spent a year in Santa Barbara, California due to her mother's poor health before moving to Denver, Colorado. In 1921, the family returned to Santa Barbara.
    Mason studied at both the New York School of Design and the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. After her schooling she worked in Colorado overseeing the Craftwood Shops in Manitou and the Mahon Jewelry Store in Colorado Springs. She also studied automobile mechanics during World War I.
    Following the war she was sent to Fitzsimmons General Hospital in Denver where she oversaw the craft shop and worked as a vocational therapist for two years.
    At one point she moved back to Santa Barbara where she worked as an educator for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Art Project; an office worker at the Santa Barbara College Hospital; and curator of the Santa Barbara Historical Society. She also became known as a historian of the Santa Barbara area. Mason was a writer of both fiction and non-fiction works. She is credited for writing the essay “Origin and History of Names of the Streets in the City of Santa Barbara, California.”
    Circa 1925, Mason was hired to create dioramas for the Southwest Museum’s entrance tunnel and the Poole Wing. Of the 37 dioramas that were on permanent display in the Museum, 28 were created by Mason. The other dioramas, all created before Mason’s tenure, were done by Adelaide Chamberlain, Assistant Curator in Archaeology and Ethnology, and Margaret Rose Tew, who was hired as the Museum’s sculptor.
    Per the 1925 Southwest Museum Annual Report, “it was deemed advisable, in the interests of economy, to negotiate for additional groups on the contract basis.” Therefore Mason was eventually hired to replace Tew and complete the work on the dioramas for the price of $175 each.
    The first of Mason’s dioramas was completed in 1929 and the final one was finished in 1942. To render accurate scenes for her dioramas, Mason consulted exhaustively with John Peabody Harrington, an ethnographer and linguist at the Southwest Museum, and Mark Raymond Harrington (no relation to JP Harrington), the Museum’s curator.
    John Peabody Harrington went so far as to pose- adorned only in a grass skirt- for photographs in various positions, such as lunging with a spear. Some of the background paintings Mason used in her dioramas are also based on the photographs of Walter McClintock, noted Blackfoot ethnologist and photographer.
    In addition to the Southwest Museum, Mason created works for the National Park Service and the Santa Barbara Historical Society. Her sculptures and bronze plaques can also be found in other parts of California such as the Los Angeles Harbor Breakwater, John C. Fremont Marker, Old Mission Dam in the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, and Old Grist Mill, which was dedicated by the Daughters of the American Colonists. Mason's works also includes a series of Native American athletic figures that were displayed at the Olympic Art show in Los Angeles in 1932.
    Mason died in Santa Barbara on 1953 June 13. Her enduring affection for the Southwest Museum is shown in the fact that she bequeathed most of her estate to the Southwest Museum.
    Elizabeth Mason (Obituary). (1953). The Masterkey, 27(3). 134-136.
    Schroeder, G. R. (1980). Thirty-seven little dioramas and how they grew. The Masterkey, 54(1). 5-16.
    Southwest Museum Annual Report. (1925). p.25.

    Scope and Contents note

    This collection consists of correspondence, sketches, research notes, transcriptions of published material, manuscripts and personal documents collected or created by Elizabeth Mason. Mason's transcriptions are primarily published works of other authors. These materials consist of typed pages bound together and some times include Mason's handwritten notes in the margins.


    Copyright has not been assigned to the Autry National Center. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Autry Archivist. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Autry National Center as the custodian of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Harrington, John Peabody
    Juana Marie, d. 1853
    Southwest Museum (Los Angeles, Calif.)
    California -- Description and travel
    California -- History
    Indians of North America -- Social life and customs
    Indians of North America -- Study and teaching
    Pencil sketches
    Santa Barbara (Calif.)