Oral Histories

Interview of Tomi Kuwayama

Craft and Folk Art Museum Board Member, 1976 – 1981, 1991 – 1997, 2003 – 1010. Founding Member, Folk Art Council, 1979 – 1997; Chair, Folk Art Market, 1983 – 1997; Associates Member, 1986 – 1996.
Craft and Folk Art Museum Oral History Project
Biographical Note:
Craft and Folk Art Museum Board Member, 1976 – 1981, 1991 – 1997, 2003 – 1010. Founding Member, Folk Art Council, 1979 – 1997; Chair, Folk Art Market, 1983 – 1997; Associates Member, 1986 – 1996.
Benedetti, Joan
Kuwayama, Tomi
Persons Present:
Kuwayama and Benedetti.
Place Conducted:
Kuwayama’s home in Los Angeles, 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, particularly those of the Board of Trustees, the Folk Art Council, and the Associates support group. She also studied some of the history of Japanese Americans, especially during World War II. The interview follows a roughly chronological outline.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript was edited by Benedetti and Kuwayama for spelling of names and Joan added full names and opening dates of CAFAM exhibitions where appropriate. Both Tomi and Joan also added further information in brackets 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.
5.25 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.
Kuwayama’s birth and family; siblings--The family’s Miyako Restaurant in Manhattan--[05:00] Miyako’s neighborhood--Her father starts an import-export business; the family lives over the store--Artists in neighborhood--Japanese language at home, English outside--[10:00] Mothers and Japanese mission church encourage learning of Japanese language and culture--Public grade school and high school--Mostly Italians, no Japanese, in neighborhood--Importance of Japanese church for newcomers--[15:00] Father encourages assimilation--“A completely Caucasion, Christian, English schooling”--High school was Julia Richman High School for Girls--Comparison to West Coast Nisei--More aware of racism in high school, related to dating--[20:00] Japanese American students and students from Japan; latter had annual conference, where she could “meet young male students without commitment.” Even before war, relations between U.S. and Japan were strained--Older brother Yeiichi drafted into army; after Pearl Harbor, sent to Ft. Ethan Allan in Vermont, a place for “misfits”--Brother transferred to Japanese American unit, the 442nd--[25:00] Through Yeiichi, Kuwayama’s family met Daniel Inouye, who later was U.S. Senator from Hawaii, 1963 – 2012--Japanese students she befriended shipped back after Pearl Harbor--[35:00] Sons of wealthy Japanese families in U.S., e.g., Hiroshi Mitsui--At work as intern at Bellevue Hospital on morning of Pearl Harbor-- All Japanese nationals (or anyone who looked Japanese) had to stay in their homes--[40:00] Her sister worked for Mitsubishi; knew many Japanese nationals rounded up and sent back to Japan--Kuwayama hired by City of New York Department of Hospitals--When she told fellow workers Japanese Americans on West Coast were being put into camps, they didn’t believe her--[45:00] Kuwayama’s job as a public health nutritionist--She took visual art and performing arts courses in college; went to a lot of dance concerts growing up--[50:00] Saved all her programs from New York City concerts; gave them to the UCLA performing arts library--The import-export business was lost, but Miyako stayed open; many soldiers went there during the war--[55:00] The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, almost entirely American soldiers of Japanese ancestry, mostly from Hawaii-- Miyako closed at end of seventies--[1:00:00] Not many eligible young men to date--At end of war a young Caucasian man, Howard Hibbett, a scholar of Japanese culture, came looking for her father; they married in 1946--He was a student at Harvard; they went to live in Cambridge--[1:05:00] Kuwayama works as nutritionist in Boston--When Howard graduated he got a Junior Fellowship to go to Japan in 1950--Japan was still in bad shape but Kuwayama’s relatives helped--[1:10:00] Kuwayama got important job in Japan working with the Korean relief program after Korean War broke out--[1:15:00] Kuwayama’s father, who visited the 442nd and Japan after the war--They knew the Sumitomos and could “penetrate parts of Japanese society”--[1:20:00] In 1952, at end of Hibbett’s Junior Fellowship, he got a job at UCLA--[1:20:44]
First awareness of The Egg and The Eye gallery, first contact with Edith Wyle-- Kuwayama divorces Hibbett, remarries Robert Haas, head, UCLA Extension Arts & Humanities--Life in West Los Angeles--Milton Zolotow--[5:00] Edith Wyle drawn to ’Kuwayama's Japanese heritage--Learning about Japanese “folk craft.” Openings at gallery and museum--Edith asks her to form Folk Art Council (FAC)--Kuwayama, Jane Ullman, and Joyce Hundal start FAC--[10:00] First Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) exhibitions--[15:00] Folk Art Market becomes annual event--[20:00] Kuwayama was an officer, still on FAC board--[25:00] CAFAM administration and FAC--Kuwayama on CAFAM board--[30:00] Ullman and Bernard Kester also on board; Morton Winston board chair--Comparing CAFAM board to FAC board--Work with Associates, started by Judith Stark--[35:00] First Associates trip to Seattle; Associates' activities--Edith asks Kuwayama to coordinate Associates' trips--Philadelphia trip and Wyles’ daughter, Diana Munk--1984 PEMEX explosion in Mexico City--[40:00] Associates less active after Edith’s 1984 retirement--Anna Bing Arnold one of early enthusiastic Associates--[45:00] Las Primaveras--Kuwayama not involved--More experiences on CAFAM board; Kuwayama not sure she has same personal assets--[50:00] Mort Winston and wife, Julia--Kuwayama resigns from board--Comes back in 2003 after 1997 closure and 1999 reopening; works on programming--Co-curates folk art exhibition Eclectic Collecting in 2004 with Lyn Avins--Plans for Museum Tower [55:00] CAFAM’s permanent collection; caring for collection--[1:00:00] Issue of CAFAM’s scope--Dora De Larios and Contemporary Craft Council (CCC)--CCC did not last as long as FAC--After Edith’s retirement museum had more interest in contemporary craft and design; competition--Reasons for weakness of CCC--Too many specialized groups in L.A--[1:05:00] Staff aware of need to balance folk art and contemporary craft/design exhibitions--What defines folk art?--Kuwayama supports inclusion of contemporary craft and design--Museum’s name--[1:10:00] Comparing The Egg and The Eye gallery and CAFAM--Education always important to Edith--Karen Copeland--[1:15:00] Willow Young, Sharon Emanuelli--Shan first Festival of Masks coordinator, then Willow--Kuwayama always attended; very exciting: food, performances, the parade, the Maskerade Ball--[1:20:00] More about parade, Danny Selznick--“Those were the days”--The Egg and The Eye restaurant--[1:25:00] How restaurant evolved, Restaurant closure--Edith discusses future restaurant with Kuwayama--[1:30:00] Restaurant-goers sometimes unaware of museum--Importance of food service; board talking about it--[1:35:00] CAFAM shop--Why so special--CAFAM library is missed: [1:40:00] People’s queries referred to librarian, as CAFAM seldom had staff curator--CAFAM library collection now part of Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) library--Center for the Study of Art and Culture (CSAC), adjunct library program--[1:50:00] Part of CSAC mission to look at museums from viewpoint of diversity and inclusion--Kuwayama says CAFAM board aware of those issues--Might be reason she was on board--CAFAM currently has “very nice diversified staff, young, hardworking women”--Benedetti comments that Edith hired lots of young, hardworking women--[1:53:50]
Kuwayama’s roles at CAFAM--[5:00] Patrick Ela--Lisi Rona, other administrative assistants--Frank Wyle--[10:00]--Friendship with Edith Wyle--Trips to Japan with CAFAM and Edith--[15:00] Hodgetts + Fung hired in 1992 to renovate, merge 5814 and 5800 Wilshire--[20:00] Prior period focused on Museum Tower capital campaign--Museum Tower campaign fails due to global recession--[25:00] CAFAM in May Company, 1989 - 1992--Talks begin with owner of 5800 Wilshire--[30:00] Hodgetts + Fung plan relies on ownership of 5800 Wilshire; never purchased--5800 lost: museum loses most offices, all parking--[35:00] CAFAM re-opens in May 1995--Gala “Homecoming”--[40:00] Re-opening exhibitions--Events following re-opening--1998 auction of permanent collection--[45:00] Gift of Romanian costume to CAFAM; sold at auction--Kuwayama didn’t attend auction, too sad--Resigns from board in late 1997 just before CAFAM’s 14-month closure--Bud Knapp, board chair--Paul Kusserow, Martha Lynn--Effort to buy 5800 Wilshire collapses--Edith’s illness, 80th birthday party, April 1998--Frank’s 80th birthday party, June 1999, at ranch--Edith dies, October 1999--[50:00] Intervention by Patrick Ela, Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs allows CAFAM to re-open February 1999 before Edith dies--Joan de Bruin, Director--[55:00] FAC disturbed about CAFAM, but keeps up membership, produces annual Folk Art Market--Joan de Bruin resigns April 2002--Folklorist Peter Tokovsky hired January 2003; resigns December 2003--Kuwayama says he is charming; staff morale not good--[1:00:00] Goodwin and wife Susheila--[1:05:00] Goodwin leaves January 2005 after one year--When Tokovsky left, some board members resigned--After Maryna Hrushetska hired March 2005, board coalesces--[1:10:00] Maryna’s staff excellent--Shop now making money to support museum--Seven staff, less than half staff before 1997 closure--[1:15:00] Other museums now have similar scope--[1:20:00]Kuwayama’s personal history continued: daughters, Mariko and Reiko, are born after arriving in Los Angeles--Hibbett goes to Harvard University--Kuwayama stays in L.A. after divorce--Kuwayama gets teaching credential; begins teaching home economics at Belmont High School, downtown L.A--[1:25:00] Belmont’s student body multi-cultural, mostly Hispanic--Kuwayama makes ethnic food cultures part of curriculum--She marries Bob Haas--[1:30:00] Teaches Asian cooking in UCLA Extension--Works as dietician again part-time in maternity and infant care program in Watts--Challenges of working as a public health nutritionist in all-black community--[1:35:00] After a couple of years, she transfers to west district in Santa Monica, closer to home--Her experience in Watts very important--By 1976 she is involved with CAFAM--[1:40:00]Various L.A--textile groups--[1:45:00] She and Bob Haas divorce--Marries Lorenzo Tedesco, architect and neighbor in Beverly Glen--[1:50:00] He designs Wyle’s teahouse and daughter Diana’s house at Wyle ranch--His father the composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco--Kuwayama says Lorenzo started her music education--Still on CAFAM board and Chair of LACMA East Asian Arts Council--[1:55:33].