Oral Histories

Interview of Ruth Bowman

Founding member of Craft and Folk Art Museum Board of Trustees, 1975 – 1983.
Craft and Folk Art Museum Oral History Project
Biographical Note:
Founding member of Craft and Folk Art Museum Board of Trustees, 1975 – 1983.
Benedetti, Joan
Bowman, Ruth
Persons Present:
Bowman and Benedetti.
Place Conducted:
Benedetti's home in Santa Monica, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research. Researchers can also access the Craft and Folk Art Museum records, ca. 1965-1997 (collection no. 1835) in the UCLA Library's Department of Special Collections.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Joan M. Benedetti. B.A., Theater; M.A., Library Science, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. Related Experience: Milwaukee Public Library Decorative Arts Librarian, 1967 – 1968; CAFAM Museum Librarian 1976 – 1997. From 1998 – 2012, Benedetti worked to process the CAFAM Records, 1965 – 1997, which are now part of Special Collections at the UCLA Young Research Library. She is the author of several articles on folk art terminology and small art museum libraries and the editor of Art Museum Libraries and Librarianship, Lanham, MD: ARLIS/NA and Scarecrow Press, 2007.Benedetti prepared for the interview by reviewing the relevant documents in the CAFAM Records collection at UCLA Special Collections. When she was finishing the editing of the transcript in early 2015, Benedetti consulted with Bowman's son, Mark Finkel. Although Benedetti guided the interview in a chronological direction, Bowman frequently interjected comments on earlier or later events.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript was edited by Benedetti and by Bowman with the assistance of her son, Mark Finkel, for spelling of names and some family history. Benedetti added full names and opening dates of CAFAM exhibitions where appropriate. She also added in brackets further information for clarification and deleted with ellipses some back-and-forth comments that did not add to the reader's understanding of the narrative. Time stamps have been added to both the table of contents and the transcript at five-minute intervals; the time stamps make it easier to locate the topics in the transcript that are mentioned in the table of contents.
1.75 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
The Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM), founded in Los Angeles by Edith and Frank Wyle, grew out of The Egg and The Eye, a commercial art gallery/restaurant devoted to international contemporary craft and folk art—and (in the restaurant) omelettes. The gallery opened November 1, 1965 at 5814 Wilshire Blvd. and transitioned in 1973 to a 501(c) (3) non-profit, the Craft and Folk Art Museum, in the same location. From 1973 to 1984, Edith Wyle served as program director; in 1975 Patrick Ela was hired as administrative director. Wyle retired in 1984, going on the board, and taking the title of founder/director emeritus. Ela was then appointed executive director, and he added design to the museum's program. The restaurant closed in 1989, but the museum is still operating in the same place.The CAFAM Oral History Project was conceived by former CAFAM museum librarian (1976 -1997) Joan M. Benedetti, during her processing of the CAFAM institutional archives (Craft and Folk Art Museum Records: ca. 1965 – 1997), donated to UCLA Special Collections when CAFAM closed temporarily at the end of 1997. At the time, it was thought to be a permanent closure: all staff files including papers, catalogs, ephemera, clippings, press releases, photos, posters, videos, audiotapes, films, and some non-accessioned objects were given to UCLA Special Collections; the permanent object collection was sold at auction; the library collection was given to LACMA. While working on the archives, Benedetti determined to further document CAFAM's history through interviews with persons who had participated in that history. She conducted seventeen of the eighteen oral history interviews and transcribed seven of them. The rest were professionally transcribed with financial support from Frank Wyle. All transcripts were edited by Benedetti and then reviewed and edited by each interviewee. When the recordings and transcripts were completed, they were donated (with the interviewees' permission) to UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.The interviewees were selected by Benedetti based on what she knew of their involvement with CAFAM. These persons are by no means the only ones associated significantly with CAFAM's history. Quite simply, they were both significant and available during the time Benedetti had to work on the project as a volunteer.Of the seventeen people Benedetti interviewed over twenty-seven months (January 2008 – March 2010), ten are former staff and six are former board members, including co-founder and board chair Frank Wyle. Wyle's daughter, Nancy Romero, who had worked on several CAFAM exhibitions, was also interviewed. (Edith Wyle had been interviewed for the Archives of American Art in 1993.) When Benedetti completed the CAFAM Records processing in 2012, an interview with her was recorded by Joyce Lovelace, contributing editor for American Craft magazine. As the topic is CAFAM during roughly the same time period, the Benedetti-Lovelace interview is included here.
Birth, childhood in Denver and Washington, D.C.--Early art, museum experiences--5:00 National Gallery of Art--Interest in architecture, models--Sidwell School in D.C.--Bryn Mawr--10:00 Architecture at night at Columbia University--Three marriages--Marriage to Wallace Bowman, his job at Tosco--Back to childhood in D.C.--Bryn Mawr--San Francisco in World War II--Back to New York City--Jewish Museum--15:00 1963: Curator at New York University (NYU)--Meeting Joseph Cornell--Cornell exhibition--20:00 More about Cornell--Giving objects back--More about NYU--H.W. Janson interview--Opening of new Museum of Modern Art (MOMA )building--Lady Bird Johnson--Lunchtime lecture job at MOMA-- 25:00 11 years at WNYC (radio and TV) while on NYU faculty--Balancing jobs with motherhood--H.W. Janson and Sunrise Semester--30:00 Discovery of Gorky murals--Gorky exhibition--35:00 More about WNYC interview show--Interview of Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) director--Curator of Education at LACMA--40:00 American Association of Museums (AAM) Vice-President--Travel related to museum education--45:00 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Council for the Arts--Meeting the Wyles at MIT--Wyles ask her to join Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) board--Friendship with Wyles--50:00 More about Wyles--Introduction of Patrick Ela--Early CAFAM experiences--Museum of Art and Design--Teaching with Paul Smith--Meeting Seattle Art Museum director in early sixties-- 55:00 Thinking about art vs. craft--Feelings in art world about craft--CAFAM restaurant--Edith's concept of feeding many senses--More about Edith Wyle--Relationship of Frank Wyle to Edith Wyle--Incident with Melina Mercouri--1:00:00 Japan, Scandinavia, Egypt Today--Karen Copeland, CAFAM Educator--Importance of CAFAM library--Bowman's support of library--1:05:00 Problems with "folk art"-- Museum of American Folk Art in New York City--CAFAM library computerization --Benedetti and ARLIS--Art museum libraries book--Bowman gives book to Archives of American Art staff--Bowman's knowledge of professional museum work-- 1:10:00 Awareness of museum ethics--Accreditation process--Difficulties of museum finances--CAFAM Executive Finance Committee--Mort Winston, board chair, 1976 – 1987--Board responsibilities--Frank Wyle as major contributor, influence on other donations--Early board members: Anna Bing Arnold--1:15:00 CAFAM Associates--Trips to south--Bowman "seduced by folk art"--Other early board members--Major influence of Edith Wyle--Assumption Frank Wyle would pay for Edith's vision--Problems of "personal museums"-- Frank after Edith's death--CAFAM after re-opening with city--1:20:00 Many small museums exhibit craft and folk art--Partisans of folk art vs. contemporary craft--Permanent collection--Expense of collection maintenance--1:25:00 CAFAM's name--Confusion with The Egg and The Eye--Restaurant takes name--More on meeting Wyles at MIT--1:30:00 Could CAFAM have learned from comparable museums?--Edith Wyle's attitude about other museums--Edith's ability to garner interest in CAFAM--Ruth's contributions: Patrick Ela and Mort Winston--More about Winston--1986: Ruth leaves L.A after Wally Bowman's stroke--Ruth keeps New York City apartment--1:35:00 Wally Marks--Ruth remembers physical experience of CAFAM--Memorial for Edith Wyle--Ruth's reaction to renovated museum--Problem of "telling CAFAM story"--1:40:00 Competing with ethnically focused museums--L.A. museum educators--Role of Museum Educators of Southern California (MESC)--"Maternal role" of CAFAM--More about Wyle memorial--Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones--Bowman hopes book will be written about CAFAM--1:45:00 Ruth misses Edith 1:45:55