Oral Histories

Interview of Claire Falkenstein

Sculptor, painter, printmaker, jewelry designer, and teacher.
Los Angeles Art Community: Group Portrait, Claire Falkenstein
Los Angeles Art Community - Group Portrait
Biographical Note:
Sculptor, painter, printmaker, jewelry designer, and teacher.
Rogers, Marjorie J.
Falkenstein, Claire
Persons Present:
Falkenstein, Rogers, Nancy Rogers, Nancy Olexo, and Sally Shapiro.
Place Conducted:
Falkenstein' s studio and home in Venice, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center of Orla History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Marjorie Rogers, editor-interviewer, Oral History Program; B.A., Art, UCLA.
Processing of Interview:
Editing was done by Lawrence Weschler, assistant editor, Oral History Program. He checked the verbatim transcript against the original tape recordings and edited for spelling, punctuation, and paragraphing. He also verified all proper nouns. Words and phrases inserted by the editor have been bracketed.The final transcript remains in the order of the original taped material, but there are some deletions. The program grants to all of its interviewees the privilege of restricting portions of the transcript. Material that would have appeared on pages 32 and 193 have been deleted and is so indicated explicitly on those pages. Other, generally shorter deletions are indicated throughout the text by this symbol: [##]. All of Tape IX, Side One has been restricted at the interviewee's request.George Goodwin wrote the introduction. Other front matter and the index were prepared by Program staff.
13.5 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
This series includes interviews with prominent Los Angeles-based visual artists and other members of the art establishment whose careers span the period from the 1920s through the 1970s. It documents the art community of the pre-World War II period and the rise of Los Angeles as a nationally recognized art center in the postwar period. Funding for this series was provided by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Ancestors and parents--An Oregon childhood--Mother's sense of spatial design--Family tree--First exposure to art--Early creative projects--Mother's influence on Falkenstein's interests--School--High school art teachers--First exhibition--Promotion of works by Florence Minard--Contacts at Mills College--Teaching at Anna Head School in Berkeley--Finding inner strength--Philosophy of teaching.
Success as teacher--Marriage and need for independence--Instructor at various art schools--Contrast between Los Angeles and San Francisco art scenes--Writing for Arts and Architecture--Leaving San Francisco for Europe (1950)--San Francisco art community--Grace Morley--Prominent San Francisco artists--Clyfford Still--From drawing to sculpture--Studying under Archipenko--Imogen Cunningham and her circle--Friendship among artists--Interest in anthropology--Influence of primitive art styles--Northwest Coast region--Avid reader.
Need for independent livelihood--Covering worldwide events for Arts and Architecture--First art studio--Learning to use power tools--Nature, unity, and space in Falkenstein's art--Transformation from idea to object via material--Sculpturing with wood--First commissioned work--Innovative work in ceramics--Affinity with Italian futurists--Topology versus geometry in art--Decoration using murals and wallpaper--International prize--Wood sculpture and aluminum painting.
Clyfford Still--Art and business--Women in art--Criticism of formal education--Inspiration from George Lusk--Berkeley art department--Evolving interest in architecture--Suspended sculpture--Concentration on small wire jewelry--Early work with fire and welding--Use of "sign" as metaphor--Continuity and change in Point as a Set--International display of jewelry--Role of drawing in Falkenstein's sculpture--Working with plastics--Avenues for continuing creativity--Clay as models for art--Decision to move to Paris.
Last months in San Francisco (1949-50)--Laurel Hills Cemetery monument--To Europe via New York--Letters of introduction from Sibyl Moholy-Nagy--London contacts: Henry Moore, Herbert Read, and Ashley Havenden--Then to Cologne, Venice, Paris--Illness in Paris--Arduous search for lodging--Exodus of San Francisco artists to Paris--Securing living quarters--Home becomes center for artists--Strained marriage--Return visits to America--Leading San Francisco Museum of Art tour to Europe (1959).
More on San Francisco Museum tour--Los Angeles commissions--Meteoric success in Europe--On art movements--Early large metal pieces--Early bronze casting--Finding studio space in Paris--A large mahogany sculpture--Developing nonconventional styles of printing--Shows in Germany and London--Total commitment to art--Trial and error in art projects--Brancusi, Moore, and Read--Role of base in sculpture--On nature and art--Evaluation of fountains--Wire structure in the Sign of Leda.
Michel Tapie and Sign of Leda--Developing techniques with iron wire--Technical challenge of Sun series--Contrast between Points and Sun series--Success of Leda--Stairs for Spazio Gallery, Rome--Incorporation of glass into sculpture--Homage to Gaudi in Barcelona competition--Gates for Princess Pignatelli (1957)--Introduction of "U" concept--Freedom to experiment.
Use of glass in sculpture--Working with architects--International Design Conference--Return to San Francisco (1958)--One-man shows--Examples of paintings--Rodolphe Stadler and his gallery--Reasons for leaving San Francisco--Evaluation of San Francisco art community--The art collecting experience--Trading art pieces--Official and unofficial reception of Falkenstein works--Role of Los Angeles County Museum of Art--Discrimination against women artists--Femininity in art--Beginning of Point series--Need to be noncompromising--Interaction with French male artists.
Relationships with French sculptors--Friendship and competition among artists--Exhibitions for UNESCO--Contrast to Giacometti's philosophy--Ideas of expanding space--Structure of never ending screen--Mobility in universe--Attitudes toward Oriental art--Use of space in Sun series--Early fountains--Water as an element in design--Formulation of Structure and Flow series--Controversial fountains--Disposition of California Federal Savings and Loan fountain--Reactions to Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
San Francisco Museum tour to Italy (1960)--Garden gates for Peggy Guggenheim in Venice--Acceptance by Venice historical committee--Doors for St. Basil's Church--Entrance Sculpture for Dallas Conklin--Meeting Esther Robles--Stage setting (Suspension) for May O'Donnell--Illness in Milan--Introduction of copper tubing.
Shipping Suspension from Europe--Avid interest in film--Film as an avant-garde graphic medium--Technical innovation in Recharging the Image--Touching the Quick and other films--Structures and People: documentary of her own work--Sketchbooks and diaries--Concepts of "moving point" and "field structure"--Euclidean versus Einsteinian perspective--Relationships between idea, model, and final work--Expanding possibilities of natural materials--Decision to return to America--Place of Southern California in world art scene--Away from parochialism in art--Reciprocal influences between Falkenstein and environment--Los Angeles as frontier city--Southern California art journals--Windows for St. Basil's Church.
Techniques used in designing windows for St. Basil's Church--Fusion of color and form in St. Basil's windows--Implicit religious meaning in window structure--Game Wall for California State University at Fullerton (1965)--"U" as a Set for the First International Sculpture Symposium--Three Fires for Fresno Mall (1966).