Oral Histories

Interview of Michelle Arens

Craft and Folk Art Museum Research Library Administrative Assistant and Registrar’s Assistant in eighties and early nineties. Craft and Folk Art Museum Shop Assistant and Co-Manager 1989-90.
Craft and Folk Art Museum Oral History Project
Biographical Note:
Craft and Folk Art Museum Research Library Administrative Assistant and Registrar’s Assistant in eighties and early nineties. Craft and Folk Art Museum Shop Assistant and Co-Manager 1989-90.
Benedetti, Joan
Arens, Michelle
Persons Present:
Arens and Benedetti.
Place Conducted:
Benedetti’s home in Santa Monica.
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 timeline she had prepared and also the relevant documents in the CAFAM Records at UCLA. Benedetti has also remained in touch with Arens since she moved to Australia in 1992.
Processing of Interview:
Arens was given the opportunity to review the transcript to supply missing or misspelled names and to verify the accuracy of the contents. Benedetti also reviewed the transcript for misspellings and accuracy and added relevant CAFAM information in brackets. 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.
2 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 in Kansas City--Move to Austin, Minnesota--Beloit College, Wisconsin--1976 move to Los Angeles--Box office at Roxy nightclub--1978-1986, UCLA Publications Services--Extension courses--5:00 August 1986 decides to volunteer at a museum, leading to staff position--Looks at L.A. County Museum of Art (LACMA), then Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM)--Aileen Colton, volunteer coordinator--Begins with registrar, Marcia Page, and museum librarian, Joan Benedetti--10:00 Exhibition installation and de-installation, condition reports, packing and unpacking objects--Living close by--Impressions of LACMA--15:00 CAFAM volunteer program better--Marcie's resistance--20:00 Permanent collection--Reminiscing about exhibitions--Alvar Aalto furniture and glass--Openings--Saudi Arabian costume, Korean folk art-- 25:00 CAFAM supporters, members--Openings again--Learning about folk art, crafts--30:00 Emphasis on people making art as well as culture of folk artists--Mingei Museum in San Diego--How it's different--Edith Wyle and cultural context--Museums changing--35:00 Research on exhibitions in library--Janet Marcus and docents' use of library--Importance of cultural context--CAFAM an art museum--40:00 Same objects as ethnographic but displayed as art--How getting elevator made difference--45:00 All staff help in final hours--Working as a library volunteer, cataloging exhibition slides--50:00 Work on first personal computers--Sadness at leaving cottage to go to May Company--55:00 Full-time job in library--Before that full-time in shop and one day volunteering in library--Moving shop from 5814 to 5800--Moving library to May Company--1:00:00 Timoteo and library shelving--More about Timoteo--Making May Company comfortable--“Pleasant place to work”--1:05:00 Preparing for Center for the Study of Art and Culture (CSAC) meeting--Goes to England--Goes to Australia, where husband has job--Other jobs--Michelle's work in CAFAM shop--Helping with puzzle show--Packing puzzles for travel to Japan--1:10:00 Working in back of shop--Shop hires Michelle--Electronic cash register, training shop volunteers--Becoming book buyer--1:15:00 All original work in shop--A gallery, not gift shop--Shop shows--Getting to know artists--Working with John Browse--Festival of Masks--1:20:00 Sharing the library cottage space with Festival of Masks staff--Festival huge effort--Maskerade Ball--Edith Wyle in the shop--Christmas in the shop--1:25:00 Frank Wyle--John Browse retirement party--Christmas parties at Wyle house--CAFAM staff all got along--Volunteers in library (Judy Clark & Lorraine Rudoff)--1:30:00 Judy Clark--Volunteers in shop (Thelma, Callie, Mary)--Staff (Lorraine Trippett and Shari--Denise Wakeman, Janet Marcus, Janet Lubkin)--1:35:00 Restaurant--Ian Barrington--Annual clambake--John, Ian, and Carol especially close--Ian gets sick and dies--Ian played bagpipes--Food was fantastic--1:40:00 No restaurant in renovated museum--Restaurant, shop, gallery "all goes together"--Restaurant very special place--Life in Australia--New England Regional Art Museum--Writing grant proposals--1:45:00 Museum of Printing--Museum Collection Manager--Museum consulting business--Art Collections Manager, University of New England--Content of University Art Collection--1:50:00 CAFAM experiences prepared her for current job 1:52:23.