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Upstart California museum acquires mythic ad characters

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- The Valley Relics Museum of Van Nuys, California, has acquired a collection of 3,000 advertising characters once housed in the galleries of the Museum of Modern Mythology in San Francisco, founder Tommy Gelinas announced today.

The unique collection, featuring display versions of the Jolly Green Giant, Mr. Clean, Elsie the Cow, Tony the Tiger, Cap'n Crunch and Mr. Peanut, promoted the idea that such figures were modern manifestations of mythic archetypes. The Museum of Modern Mythology operated in downtown San Francisco from 1982 through 1989, focusing on the curation and display of twentieth century advertising artifacts. The entire collection was moved to storage in 1989 after the gallery's closure in the wake of the Loma Prieta earthquake.

"Every culture has its own mythology," Ellen Havre Weis, the Museum's founding director, was quoted as saying. "Regardless of where they came from, these images exist, they're part of our culture and they must be dealt with in some serious light." Ms. Weis passed away earlier this year from cancer. Gordon Whiting and Benjamin Whiting, Ms. Weis's husband and son, negotiated the agreement to move the collection to its new home at the Valley Relics Museum in the months before she died.

Such luminaries as film historian Leonard Maltin and mythologist Joseph Campbell joined the board of the Museum of Modern Mythology, validating the significance of the collection and its underlying thesis.

The Valley Relics Museum is home to a pop culture pantheon of neon signs, pinball and video arcades, life-size Jack in the Box clowns, and television artifacts from the home of "Dragnet" star Jack Webb, among other memorabilia from post-war California culture.

"We see this as a natural extension of our mission, to preserve and make available the many expressions of popular culture that surround us and become part of our lives," said Mr. Gelinas, who founded Valley Relics in Chatsworth, California, in 2013. He relocated the gallery to its present location near the Van Nuys airport in 2018.

"The idea that these figures have some deeper resonance seemed obvious to us. We're thrilled to carry on the work that Ellen started, and to share these colorful and beloved characters with the public."

Mr. Gelinas estimates the first exhibit of the new collection will launch early next year. "The Museum of Modern Mythology will open at the Valley Relics Museum in Spring 2022, in a new gallery annex adjacent to the main rooms."

The Valley Relics Museum is located at 7900 Balboa Blvd, Hangars C3 & 4, Lake Balboa, CA, 91406, (818) 616-4083.

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*PHOTO link for media:

*Photo Caption: Tommy Gelinas of Valley Relics Museum, Benjamin Whiting of Ellen Weis Archive, Donna Knott of, Eva Kisevalter of Stella Neptune, and Gordon Whiting of Ellen Weis Archive, showing off some of the treasures of the Museum of Modern Mythology collection, now part of Valley Relics Museum in Van Nuys, California. (Photo courtesy of The Ellen Weis Archive/Los Angeles.)


Tommy Gelinas
Valley Relics Museum
Phone (818) 521-5646

Gordon Whiting
The Ellen Weis Archive
(310) 448-3660

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Ellen Havre Weis, founder of San Francisco pop culture museum, dies at 64

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- Ellen Havre Weis, founder of San Francisco's Museum of Modern Mythology, died Tuesday, July 27. The cause was brain cancer, her husband, Gordon Whiting, announced today. Weis was sixty-four.

Born in Trenton, New Jersey, on May 14, 1957, Weis was raised in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, where she attended public schools. Her father was a product engineer. Her mother was a community college librarian.

Enrolling at the University of Iowa in 1975 to study writing, she quickly fell in with a group of intellectuals known as the Actualists, led by poet Anselm Hollo and small press publisher Allan Kornblum. Mentored by writer Jayne Anne Phillips, she published her first short fiction in North American Review.

In 1982 Weis moved to San Francisco where she founded the Museum of Modern Mythology with Matthew Cohen and Jeff Errick. The museum featured a collection of American advertising characters such as Mr. Clean and Jolly Green Giant, presented in a way to show their relation to mythic images and archetypes. The small museum quickly found wide acclaim, with feature stories in the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, People and the New York Times. Prominent mythologist Joseph Campbell, film historian Leonard Maltin, and marketing historian Trudy Kehret-Ward served on the board.

"Ellen sensed there was more than nostalgia at work in people's response to these images," said Gordon Whiting, Weis's husband. "They seemed familiar on a deep level, part of an ongoing story."

Weis and her husband formed WeisPR in 1994 in Berkeley, California. The firm represented media and industrial arts innovators such as special effects pioneer Phil Tippett, sound designer-film director Jim LeBrecht, designer Fu-Tung Cheng, and woodworking studio Berkeley Mills.

She later continued her writing pursuits, joining the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, where she studied with James D. Houston and Al Young. Her book "Berkeley: the Life and Spirit of a Remarkable Town" was published in 2004. For the past ten years she served as director of advertising for Bay Nature magazine.

After collapsing in January in the kitchen of her home in Altadena, California, tests revealed the presence of the glioblastoma multiforme, a form of brain cancer. Despite aggressive treatment, her condition deteriorated. She died at home in Altadena on July 27, 2021, in the arms of husband Gordon and son Benjamin. She is survived by them, and by her mother Aimee L. Weis, sister Margaret Chase, both of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and brother Fred Weis, of Arcata, California.

An agreement was reached last month putting the Museum of Modern Mythology's complete archive, some 3000 objects and manuscripts, into the collection of the Valley Relics Museum, Van Nuys, California, for continuing study and display.


*PHOTO link for media:

*Caption: Ellen Weis, director of the Museum of Modern Mythology, giving a slide lecture about Michelin Man and ad characters, Billings, Montana, 1991. Photo: Gordon Whiting.

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