Finding aid to the Elizabeth Mason Papers MS.205

Finding aid prepared by Maritxu de Alaiza; Anna Liza Posas
Autry National Center, Braun Research Library
234 Museum Drive
Los Angeles, CA, 90065-5030

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 or contact library staff at

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.)


Southwest Museum diorama correspondence, notes, and sketches Series 1:  circa 1925-1942

Scope and contents

Most of the sketches in this series were created by Mason, however there are three pen sketches created in 1939, signed by Myrtle G. McIntyre. Although most of the sketches and notes are undated, they were presumably created or collected between the years Mason worked on the dioramas, circa 1925 to 1942.
Box 1, folders 1-2

Notes and sketches undated

Box 1, Folder 3

Notes on Native basketweavers undated

Box 1, Folder 4

Correspondence related to dioramas in the Southwest Museum Poole Wing 1939-1942

Administrative History note

The Caroline Boeing Poole Basketry Wing of the Southwest Museum opened in 1942 October 27.
Box 1, Folder 7

"An Archaeological Artist" by Anna Belle Rood Ittner circa 1931

Existence and Location of Originals note

Clipping of article in Folder 52 of this collection.

Scope and contents

This is a typed transcription of an article about Mason's dioramas. The article was published in the Los Angeles Times magazine, 1931 January 1.
Box 5, folders 49-51

John Peabody Harrington correspondence 1923-1928

Scope and contents

This group of folders includes 32 letters from John Peabody Harrington to Elizabeth Mason. Also included in Folder 50 are three copies of the poem "The Turquoise Vender," and in Folder 51, one untitled poem that begins "Foolish the mind which thinks to be."
Box 6, Folder 53

Correspondence related to dioramas 1939-1942

Scope and contents

Most of the correspondence is between Mark Raymond Harrington and Mason. This folder also includes notes by Mason and three pen sketches created in 1939 and signed by Myrtle G. McIntyre.

Personal papers Series 2:  1893-1953

Box 1, Folder 5

Correspondence and newspaper clippings regarding Hoffman Loggia plaque 1926-1932

Box 1, Folder 6

Correspondence, poems, and other material circa 1935-1953

Scope and contents

This folders also includes Mason's "Work Assignment Card" for the Emergency Education Program, dated 1935. One of the letters is dated 1933 and another 1949. The rest of the material is undated, but was most likely created some time between the 1930s and 1953.
Box 2, Folder 21

Notes on the Portola Expedition undated

Scope and contents

This is a compilation of Mason's research notes about the Portola Expedition that includes passages from published work, a bibliography, timeline, and list of subject headings.
Box 3, Folder 34

Historical and geological data on California undated

Box 3, Folder 35

Documents for "Eighteen Years Alone" by Emma Chamberlain Hardacre 1950

Publication note

"Eighteen years alone : a tale of the Pacific," by Emma C. Hardacre was first published in Scribner's Magazine, 1880. The story was reprinted in 1950 by Schauer Printing Studio, Incorporated in Santa Barbara, California. Copyright was retained by Elizabeth Mason in 1950.

Scope and contents

This folder relates to Mason's request to obtain copyright for this publication. It also includes a copy of the publication, image clipping of Hardacre, and oral interviews related to the "Lost Woman of San Nicolas Island," which is the topic of Hardacre's book.

Biographical note

Emma Chamberlain Hardacre was the aunt of Elizabeth Mason.
Box 3, Folder 36

Pencil sketches undated

Box 6, Folder 52

Newspaper clippings related to Mason's artwork 1930-1935

Scope and contents

This folder also includes a sketch related to the plaque located at the Los Angeles Harbor Breakwater.
Box 6, Folder 54

Correspondence, image clippings, and other material 1909-1953

Scope and contents

This folder also includes financial documents and ephemera pieces.
Box 6

Scrapbook 1893-1953

Scope and contents

This scrapbook consist of newspaper clippings from the Santa Barbara News-Press. The articles, some of which are illustrated with images originally from the Santa Barbara Historical Society files, are written by Mason and relate to Santa Barbara history. Correspondence sent to Mason from family members and friends are also included in this scrapbook.
Box 6

Notary Public embosser undated

Language of Material: English

Scope and contents

Imprint on embosser: "Elizabeth Mason, Notary Public, Santa Barbar Co. Cal."

Manuscripts by Mason Series 3:  circa 1920s to 1953

Scope and contents

This series includes non-fictional and fictional manuscripts by Elizabeth Mason. Manuscripts are undated. Most of the titles are supplied by Mason. Untitled stories include a brief description of the subject.
Box 1, Folder 8

"Coasting Down California"

Box 1, Folder 9

"Camping at Cost"

Box 1, Folder 10

"The Bor-es"

Box 1, Folder 11


Scope and contents

This story is about the La Fiesta de Los Angeles parade and is accompanied with photographs.
Box MS.OS.1, Folder 22

Untitled story about a ranch


This folder is located in oversize manuscript Box 1.
Box 3, Folder 23

Untitled story about a priest

Box 3, Folder 24

"Talking Smoke"

Box 3, Folder 25

"Terry's Hope String"

Box 3, Folder 26

"Giddap Betsy"

Box 3, Folder 27


Box 3, Folder 28

"Bearskin Tommy of Used-to-be Land"

Box 3, Folder 29

"Just Ma"

Scope and contents

Also includes a synopsis of the story.
Box 3, Folder 30

Untitled story about an elderly woman during the Depression

Box 3, Folder 31

Untitled story about a wounded man in World War II.

Box 3, Folder 37

"Origin and History of the Names of the streets in the city of Santa Barbara, California"


Transcriptions or manuscripts by other authors Series 4:  circa 1920s to 1953

Scope and contents

The material included in this series predominately consists of typed transcriptions of published works by different authors. The transcriptions were created by Mason and some include her handwritten notes. Compiled excerpts pertaining to a particular subject are also included. The dates of creation for the transcriptions are unknown. The original publication date of the works transcribed range from the late 1800s to the 1920s.
Also included in this series are manuscripts by other authors created some time during the 20th Century.
The date of creation for the transcriptions and manuscripts are undated unless otherwise notes.
Box 1, Folder 12

Manuscripts by other authors

Scope and contents

This folder includes nine manuscripts, most of which are undated.
Dated documents consist of one handwritten lecture on John C. Fremont presented to the California Historical Society Vroman's Club, 1908 April 11 and a lecture read to the Santa Barbara City Club, 1934 May 7 by Jennie Kimberly.
Other manuscripts in this folder relate to Santa Barbara history, the Aztec Calendar, the Santa Ynez Range, and World War II efforts among Native American communities.
Box 2, folders 13-15

Miscellaneous excerpts

creator: Mason, Elizabeth, 1880-1953

Scope and contents

These excerpts relate to published works about early Spanish explorers and California history. Also included are excerpts on Native American tribes, especially California Indians; "aboriginal cooking;" and ethnobotany.

Subjects and Indexing Terms

Harrington, John Peabody
Southwest Museum (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Indians of North America -- Social life and customs
Indians of North America -- Study and teaching
Pencil sketches
Santa Barbara (Calif.)
Box 2, Folder 16

"The Origins of Cultivated Plants; Foods indigenous to the Americas" 1940 July - August

Scope and contents

This includes material compiled in 1940 from July to August and consists of works originally published from 1859 to 1931.
Box 2, Folder 17

Pedro Fages "A Historical, Political & Natural Description of California"

Scope and contents

This folder includes two copies hand bound in cardboard. The copies were made from a document originally created in 1770.
Box 2, folders 18-20

Excerpts from Pathfinders by Robert Glass Cleland

Scope and contents

Includes excepts related to the accounts of Spanish explorers Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, Sebastian Rodriguez Cermeno, and Pedro de Unamuno.
Box 3, Folder 22

Typed copy of excerpt "The Flora of Prehistoric California"

Box 3, Folder 33

"Prehistoric California" undated

Box 3, Folder 38

Excerpts from the North American Indian by Edward S. Curtis

Scope and contents

These excerpts only relate to the Taos "character and history."
Box 3, Folder 39

Excerpts related to Taos

Box 3, Folder 40

"Felt" by Eleanor M. Rugh undated

Scope and contents

This publication is about felt fabric and was written for the Industrial Arts Coop Services in New York City, New York. It is undated, however, the bibliography at the end of this publication list works no later than 1932.
Box 3, Folder 41

Excepts related to California history

Scope and contents

Original title of folder "California Historical Memoranda and Loose Leaves from Articles."
Box 3, Folder 42

Excerpts from The Early Days of Santa Barbara, California by Walter A. Hawley

Box 4, Folder 43

Indianology of California by Alex S. Taylor

Physical Description: 5.0 notebooks
Box 4, Folder 44

"An Outline of the History of Communication"

Box 5, folders 45-46

"An Examination of Some of the Early Voyages of Discover & Exploration on the Northwest Coast of America from 1539 - 1603"

Box 5, Folder 47

Spanish and Indian Place Names of California by Nellie Van de Grift Sanchez

Box 5, Folder 48

"The Indian Woman of San Nicolas" by George Nidever