Oral Histories

Interview of Frank S. Wyle

Craft and Folk Art Museum Co-Founder with Founding Director Edith R. Wyle. Co-Founder, The Egg and The Eye gallery, with Edith Wyle and Bette Chase. CAFAM Board Chair, 1975 – 1976; 1987 – 1995; 1996 – 1999; 2002 – 2008.
Craft and Folk Art Museum Oral History Project
Biographical Note:
Craft and Folk Art Museum Co-Founder with Founding Director Edith R. Wyle. Co-Founder, The Egg and The Eye gallery, with Edith Wyle and Bette Chase. CAFAM Board Chair, 1975 – 1976; 1987 – 1995; 1996 – 1999; 2002 – 2008.
Benedetti, Joan
Wyle, Frank S.
Persons Present:
Wyle and Benedetti.
Place Conducted:
Frank Wyle’s office in Marina del Rey, 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, including several Wyle résumés and articles; she searched the Internet for information on the history of Wyle Laboratories; she also read the transcript of an interview of Edith Wyle by Sharon Emanuelli recorded for the Archives of American Art on March 9, 1993.
Processing of Interview:
Wyle 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, and she added 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.
3.50 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.
Wyle speaks briefly about his family and growing up in Glencoe, Illinois, a Chicago suburb--5:00 Moving to California before attending Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and graduating in June 1941--Working in the summers at Triplett and Barton, an aeronautic testing company-- 10:00 Working at Triplett and Barton full-time during the war and continuing there until 1949, when a gift of $5,000 from his father enables Wyle to start Wyle Laboratories--15:00 He recounts meeting Edith Robinson in November 1941 just before Pearl Harbor--They married in January 1942-- 20:00 He speaks about her interest in painting and her work as a secretary for Jesse Lasky, Jr., then about the birth of their three children: Stephen, Nancy, and Diana--25:00 Frank’s parents move to Ojai and they meet the artist Beatrice Wood--30:00 The growth of Wyle Laboratories--His retirement in 1984--The buy-out of the scientific services (testing) part of the business--Adding the electronic distribution business--35:00 Finding the ranch property in North Fork, California--Adding to the property--Building the house; furnishing it with Sam Maloof furniture--Houses for their children--Sale of 40-acre parcels to their friends--40:00 Their children’s love of the ranch and California--Running cattle--Start of The Egg and The Eye Gallery with Bette Chase and Ruth Greenberg--45:00 Finding the building at 5814 Wilshire Blvd.--Shareholders raised about $60,000 to finance the start-up of the gallery; eventually the Wyles bought them out because the gallery lost so much money--This was the start of Edith’s thinking about starting a museum--50:00 Meeting with Peter Bing and Joan Palevsky--Palevsky’s offer of $50,000 for renovation to turn the gallery into a museum--Involvement of Edith Wyle in World Craft Council (WCC) activities--Frank and Edith travel to WCC international meetings--Mort Winston becomes chair of the Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) board--55:00 Sam Maloof’s involvement in both the gallery and the museum--Opening of The Egg and The Eye Gallery in November 1965-- Eskimo exhibition is one of the first shows--1:00:00 The development of the omelette specialty of the restaurant--Rodessa Moore, the first chef; her omelette-making lessons--1:03:00 Architect Guy Moore designs the gallery--Many now-famous artists shown in the gallery when they were just getting started-- 1:05:00 Stanley Marcus (of Neiman-Marcus) showed crafts and fine art in his department store--Doug Edwards and Encounter Cinema-- 1:10:00 John Browse and Alan Donovan’s East African exhibition--John becomes Assistant Director in the Gallery and later CAFAM’s Shop Manager--1:15:00 Mention of a few memorable shows at CAFAM: Hopi and Santo Domingo crafts, Guatemalan masks, Bolivian textiles.
Since the last interview, Frank’s companion, Bette Chase, has passed away--Bette and Frank’s life together after Edith’s death--5:00 Beginnings of CAFAM--Bernard Kester, first board chair--Frank’s reluctance to take chairmanship--10:00 Mort Winston, Tosco CEO, becomes chair; lends Mark Gallon to help with development--Trips organized for Associates--Daughter Diana organizes memorable Philadelphia trip--Visiting Barnes collection--15:00 Ron Katsky, museum counsel, also from Tosco--Mark Gallon’s support of library feasibility study obtains major Irvine grant--Board committees, especially program committee; lack of fundraising committee--Capital Campaign-- 20:00 Judith Teitelman, first paid development director--Museum Tower, developer Wayne Ratkovich--Richard Weinstein, architect--Gensler Associates, engineers--Involvement of Joseph Ventress, Lena Longo, owners of 5800 Wilshire--Financing fails due to global real estate recession--Need to bring 5814 Wilshire into earthquake code compliance--25:00Move to May Company--Lloyd Cotsen $1,000,000 donation--Lease of 5800 Wilshire with option to buy--Move from May Company to 5800--Earthquake retrofitting on 5814 Wilshire completed--Hodgetts & Fung to do renovation, merging of two buildings--30:00 Meeting Ruth Bowman at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Ruth at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), hires Patrick Ela, introduces him to Wyles; Patrick hired, 1975, as Administrative Director; Becomes Executive Director, 1984, when Edith retires-- 35:00 Inception of Festival of Masks, first as parade only in 1976--Police try to arrest California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) gamelan orchestra--Frank helps build dragon head entryway to publicize Devils, Demons, and Dragons--40:00 Following year, performances, vendors added to Festival, held across street in Hancock Park--Growth of Festival to two days; Maskerade Ball added--45:00 1984, Festival is part of Olympic Arts Festiva--Bob Fitzpatrick (President of CalArts) on CAFAM board—Financial, logistical problems of 1984 Festival--Admission charged, fence necessitated--Olympic Torch run part of Festival; takes place in July at L.A. Summer Olympics--50:00--Edith and Frank Wyle retire in 1984--55:00 Mort Winston resigns as board chair--Press conference to announce Ratkovich Museum Tower development, May 9, 1989--Marcy Goodwin hired to work with staff on building program--Move to May Company; controversy re CAFAM in May Company--Museum entrance designed by Charles Moore firm--1:00:00Hodgetts & Fung design renovated, merged 5800/5814 Wilshire buildings--Van Holland Company contractors for earthquake retrofitting and renovation--1:05:00 Staff move to 5800; CAFAM closed 28 months during renovations--Language of Objects project--1:10:00 Restaurant closed permanently when staff move to May Company; 5814 Wilshire vacated--Gala re-opening of CAFAM May 1995--Opening exhibitions: Warmbold collection of Mexican folk art and history of CAFAM, Museum for a New Century--1:15:00 Major L.A. earthquake (6.7) while Wyles in India-- Bud Knapp becomes board chair--Patrick resigns June 1996--1:20:00 731 S. Curson (the “cottage”) sold--Permanent collection sold at auction; problems of museum collections--Committee to find new home for archives and library--Paul Kusserow new director; hires Martha Drexler Lynn as curator--1:25:00 Archives go to UCLA, library to LACMA.
Museum will close--Museum in debt--Board decides to sell 5814 Wilshire, then decides against it--Patrick Ela approaches L.A. Cultural Affairs re CAFAM’s plight-- Cultural Affairs agrees to provide support and staff for CAFAM--Board to raise funds to pay for programming--In first year, board funds elevator construction--05:00 Director Joan de Bruin resigns--Peter Takovsky hired--Takovsky leaves--James Goodwin hired--Goodwin leaves--Maryna Hrushetska hired--City’s funding of CAFAM severely reduced-- Board raises additional funds--10:00--Decision to sell permanent collection--Auction preview days displayed whole collection for first time--Frank tells about buying art for Wyle Electronics and then giving that collection to CAFAM; these objects were part of auction sale--Auction raises almost $250,000--15:00 Edith and Frank attended sale--Frank was able to later buy back from the museum a few pieces from what had been the Wyle Electronics collection and they are now in his Marina del Rey office--20:00 Edith’s 80th birthday party in 1998--Board continued to meet through 1999--Museum closed for 14 months while negotiations with city went on--Museum reopened April 1999--Edith dies October 12, 1999--Frank continues as board chair--25:00 Joan de Bruin’s tenure was four years; Tokovsky one year; then Goodwin one year, then Hrushetska, the present director--30:00 Frank continues to be a major supporter--New board members are being added--Frank has given notice as of next board meeting in August [2008]; hopes to have a new chairman by that time--Frank will stay on board--Future of museum “entirely a function of whether the board steps forward and takes responsibility to keep it going.”