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Board at the Exhibit: Skateboards As Art: Who Knew?

Who would have ever dreamed that skateboards would be an art form? The California Heritage Museum has made the dream come true with its exhibit SKATEBOARD: Evolution and ART in California, created by curator Michael Trotter in collaboration with Nathan Pratt of the legendary “Z-Boys” and with the input of several other leading figures of the skate world.

The quaint setting of the Museum’s interior abounds with boards of all eras displayed on the walls. A downstairs room features the earliest attempts to put wheels below human feet. From a century ago, these metal scooters, soap box scooters, and primitive skate boards made from roller skate wheels attached to rough boards are the equivalent of the Edison gramophone–creaky to look at but look at what they evolved into!

Upstairs, one enters the 1960s, the era in which the skateboard became a sports fixture. The first manufactured skateboards appeared in 1959 and were made with clay wheels. The ‘60s boards shown here include the first “pro” boards from Makaha, manufactured by Larry Stevenson, publisher of Surf Guide. There are also photos of an early skate team, the Hobie Team, in 1966.

­­With the 1970s came a significant change in materials. Skateboards had suffered a setback in popularity due to many accidents. Clay wheels did not have enough “grip” for the streets and many cities even banned skateboarding. The change came with the invention of urethane wheels. With the introduction of the Cadillac Wheel in 1973, boarders became more daring and developed styles of skating influenced by the unlikely places where they skated.

Former Z-Boy Paul Constantineau chatted with guests at the exhibit’s opening. He recalled that in the early ‘70s, he and his friends skated “at the school yard banks–Paul Revere Junior High, Bellagio, St. Clement’s. We also skated in empty swimming pools at people’s homes in Santa Monica.”

The exhibit becomes colorful with the display of the fancifully designed boards from the “Dogtown” era, including those manufactured with the Dogtown logo. Photos show the wild stunts performed by the Z-Boys and other stars of the skate circuit.

Closer to the present day, one sees skateboards with complex art designs, caricatures, and odd variations in shape.

Curator Trotter told The Mirror that the 300 boards on exhibit were narrowed down from a much larger number of boards. Contributors include surf shops, manufacturers, and private collectors, including Skatelab, South Bay Skates, Santa Barbara Surf Museum, Ray Flores, Steve Slayer and Dale Smith.

Events are planned in conjunction with SKATEBOARD. At the Museum, one can see continuous screenings of the short prize-winning 1965 film Skater Dater, while screenings of other skate films such as Dogtown and Z-Boys are scheduled to be shown at the Santa Monica Library. There will also be lectures, special guests, and autograph sessions.

SKATEBOARD runs through May 30, 2010. Sidewalk’s up!

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