Although Spain had been colonising America since Cortez in the early sixteenth century the remote province of Alta California had been little touched until after the Seven Years war, when increased efforts were made to assert control over the region. In 1769 the first in a series of Franciscan missions was established at San Diego, to instruct the natives on the lifestyle expected in the Empire and of course to convert them to Catholicism. Over the following years more missions were built, gradually spreading north up the coast, until by 1828 there were 21 of them, reaching to just north of San Francisco bay. In 1834 the now Mexican government began confiscating them, and they quickly declined and were abandoned. Their history is an important subject in Californian schools today, and this set is designed to complement that teaching by illustrating something of their activity and providing a suitable element for model-making and other teaching aids.
As can be seen from the pictures, this set is made up not only of natives but also the Franciscan monks that ran the missions. The natives are engaged in a wide variety of activities that they had been taught by the Spanish, including agriculture and crafts. Some of the figures look better when correctly posed rather than lined up as in our picture. For example, the last figure in row 2 is actually holding the sheaf of straw seen in row 4, and the woman next to that is actually using the loom seen on the bottom row. One man is standing on a cart (carreta) drawn by oxen, while another team are pulling a plough. The monks are clearly more concerned with spiritual than physical labour. The poses are a very nice bunch, and many cry out to be placed together in mini-dioramas such as the kneeling native praying while a Franciscan stands over him holding a crucifix.
When reviewing any figures there is always the danger that the review will be based on the same sources that were used to design them and for this reason we obtain as much information from as many sources as possible. In this case such an obscure subject does not have many pictorial sources, so it is very possible that much the same were used by both producer and reviewer. One of the most important sources is a series of drawings by A.B.Dodge and Alexander Harmer, neither of whom were contemporary with this period of the missions, but both are seen as accurate and reliable. Comparing these figures with the Dodge and Harmer illustrations, plus other lesser sources, shows that they are a very faithful recreation of the people shown. The natives are certainly appropriately dressed for the period and region, and of course the dress of the monks has not really changed for centuries. The cart is also to be found in these sources and again has been accurately reproduced in plastic. In short, the set is entirely accurate and authentic.
Pegasus have established a reputation for very high quality, and this set is no exception. The sculpting is excellent with proportions, detail and posture all being faultless. We found no flash at all, but as the box warns, there is some assembly required. Apart from the obvious items such as the cart this is mostly separate arms for some of the natives, but this is always to obtain a more natural pose. Happily the set is done in a plastic that takes glue easily, and all the parts are well engineered so the assembly process has been made as painless as possible. Additionally, while it is evident that none of the monks have bases (they stand perfectly well without them), all the natives have been given separate bases. Each has a peg under one foot and each has a base which, despite not being thick, takes the peg very well. This allows the figures to be either stood on their own or easily attached to a constructed diorama base. Many of the bases are different from each other, and particular figures only match certain bases, so some pairing up is required. Even the man standing on the cart has an extra spare base (indeed some of the other figures could just as easily be placed on the cart in his stead).
While some may begrudge the effort required to assemble all these figures there is no disputing the result is excellent and well worth it. This is a very attractive set, and one that seems to capture the day-to-day life of the missions with considerable charm. The monks in particular could have uses for many other periods and locations, but this set is well worth getting hold of just for its own sake.