Oral Histories

Interview of John Browse

Assistant Director, Egg and The Eye Gallery, 1971 – 1976. Craft and Folk Art Museum Shop Manager, 1982 – 1989.
Series:
Craft and Folk Art Museum Oral History Project
Topic:
Art
Interviewer:
Benedetti, Joan
Interviewee:
Browse, John
Persons Present:
Browse and Benedetti.
Place Conducted:
John Browse’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 Archives. The interview follows a roughly chronological outline—with some detours. It is not always clear whether some events referred to took place during John's earlier (1971 – 1976) or later (1982 – 1989) tenure.
Processing of Interview:
Browse was given the opportunity to review the transcript and to supply missing or mis-spelled names and to verify the accuracy of the contents. Benedetti added full names and opening dates of CAFAM exhibitions where appropriate. She also added further information for clarification and deleted 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.
Length:
3.75 hrs.
Language:
English
Copyright:
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Audio:
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 and childhood in Nairobi, Kenya--Boarding school in Johannesburg--College in London--5:00 Import business with friends--Working for father--Meeting Alan Donovan-- 10:00 Alan becomes his business partner--Buys farm outside Nairobi--Also works in father's optometry business--15:00 Cross-country tour of U.S. with Donovan exhibiting and selling African and Indian objects--20:00 Tour ends at The Egg and The Eye gallery, November 1971--None of staff expects them-- 25:00 Edith Wyle out of town--Start to install their show--Edith returns, says she is only exhibition designer--Commandeer exhibition space and put up show without Edith--30:00 Exhibition a big success--Wyle offers John job as Assistant Director--35:00 Beginning of Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) job and seminal relationships--40:00 Difficulties in communication between Wyle and everyone else--John uncertain what he is to do--45:00 He learns on job and Frank Wyle advises him about business and how to handle Edith--Physical layout of gallery--Edith's aversion to price tags--50:00 "Members Room" for gallery and film/lecture series--55:00 Original gallery staff, long intense hours of preparation and de-installation of each show--1:00:00 Edith's vision as art gallery, bookshop, film series, ambience, cultural context, the restaurant, a few artists and staff--1:05:00 Some specific exhibitions--1:10:00 More about restaurant--1:15:00 Elevation of craft objects--1:20:00 1975: Gallery becomes museum--John leaves in March 1976 when offered job running African shop at Los Angeles Natural History Museum--Donovan helps and John opens his own import business--Mention of a later time when Museum Tower planned-- 1:25:00 Edith as vulnerable person, her family, her as artist, her love of staff and gallery patrons--Ian Barrington, restaurant chef, CAFAM board--1:30:00 Trustees--Money needed to support museum--Frank's contributions--Frank's advice--1:35:00 Carol De Runtz Day Assistant Manager--Volunteers--From gallery to museum--1:40:00 Patrick Ela as Administrative Director--Mark Gallon from Tosco does development--1:45:00 Importance of education programs--Karen Copeland, Janet Marcus, Marcie Page--Why restaurant wasn't included in renovated museum --1:50:00 Possible reasons restaurant not included--Publicity during gallery and museum days-- 1:55:00 John's flower shop in Nairobi--A gallery show of plants and their containers--Edith's criticism--2:00:00 Disagreements with Edith--Ann Robbins--2:05:00 John and Ann divide work--Recommends Ann to be Shop Manager--Financial tension between shop and museum 2:09:41.