Oral Histories

Interview of Patrick Ela

Craft and Folk Art Museum Administrative Director, 1975 – 1984; Executive Director, 1984 – 1996; Board Chairman, 1999 – 2002; Acting Director, 2002; Board Member, 1999 - 2004.
Craft and Folk Art Museum Oral History Project
Biographical Note:
Craft and Folk Art Museum Administrative Director, 1975 – 1984; Executive Director, 1984 – 1996; Board Chairman, 1999 – 2002; Acting Director, 2002; Board Member, 1999 - 2004.
Benedetti, Joan
Ela, Patrick
Persons Present:
Ela and Benedetti.
Place Conducted:
Sessions one and three: Benedetti's home in Santa Monica, California.Session two: Ela's office inside the artist Frank Romero's studio 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 CAFAM timeline developed while working on the CAFAM Records at UCLA. Her knowledge of the CAFAM Records, her experience with the other CAFAM oral history interviews, and her personal knowledge of CAFAM during her 21-year tenure there, assisted in her preparation for the Ela interview.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript was edited by both Benedetti and Ela. Ela was given the opportunity to supply missing or mis-spelled names and to verify the accuracy of the contents. Ela made minor changes. Benedetti added full names and opening dates of CAFAM exhibitions in brackets 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.
6 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 Oakland, California--Early childhood in Berkeley--Father and mother's background--Move to San Diego--Five brothers and sisters--Family moves to San Diego--5:00 Occidental College--Gemini GEL--Getting to know contemporary artists-- 10:00 New York City trip in connection with Gemini show at Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)--MBA in Arts Management from UCLA--15:00 Munich internship at Bavarian State Collection--20:00 Assistant Director, Kohler Art Center--All aspects of exhibition development and production, oversees theater and film program and is introduced to folk art--Ruth Kohler and family--25:00 Education Specialist, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)--Internal politics--Ruth Bowman, LACMA Education Head and on Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) board--Introduces Ela to the Wyles--CAFAM job offer of Administrative Director-- 30:00 Wyle house--Accepts job offer--35:00 Nature of relationship with Wyles and strong friendship--Buys property near Wyle ranch--Why are functional craft objects so expensive?--40:00 Studio crafts movement--First impressions of Wyles and CAFAM-- 45:00 No formal interview--Introduction to board--Negotiations regarding his and Edith Wyle's titles and co-directorship--50:00 Board members--55:00 Making museum more visible than shop/restaurant--Dealing with employee concerns regarding changes--Ela's goal to transform commercial gallery into a nonprofit educational institution-- 1:00:00 Wants to curate and design exhibitions, but job is almost exclusively fund-raising and managerial--Unaware of how needy CAFAM will become--"Unbounded enthusiasm" gives everyone energy--1:05:00 Bernard Kester, Mary Jane Leland, Gere Kavanaugh, Josine Ianco-Starrells, and the Eames help Edith with her vision--Staff who are there and those he hires--1:10:00 The gallery and early museum attract news because it is innovative--Gail Goldberg as first publicist--Membership programs--Problem of getting others besides Frank Wyle to contribute--1:15:00 Frank's management of his contributions--Administrative stress--Planning and balancing budget difficult-- 1:20:00 Museum gains more presence on first floor--The restaurant and tax implications--Using an outside vendor for restaurant management--1:25:00 Taxes on shop activities--Ann Robbins and Susan Skinner--1:30:00 Shop cut back to only east side of first floor--Mort Winston and people Tosco loaned to CAFAM (Mark Gallon and Ron Katsky) 1:35:00 Mark Gallon's development work--Darcy Gelber--(Much later: Bud Knapp)--Fred Waingrow--Board has "certain hipness"--Other Wilshire museums--Love/hate relationship with LACMA--1:40:00 Festival of Masks--1976: First "festival"--Only a parade--Later Festival staff--Why masks? (Mayor Bradley statements)--California Institute of the Arts gamelan orchestra--1:45:00 Growth of the Festival--PET Project--Philosophical underpinnings--1:50:00 1984: Official Olympic Arts event--Festival's financial problems--Volunteering at Festival--1:55:00 CAFAM community programs not always recognized as CAFAM productions--Artists and staff who start out at CAFAM--Breeding ground for ideas and talent--Support for oral history project because of recognition of CAFAM's importance to L.A. history--Wyle donation of 5814 Wilshire.
Councils established--Enhancing volunteers' status--5:00 Judith Clark--Parties and how restaurant helps--10:00 Councils and liaisons--Volunteers Council--Mark Gallon and Associates--15:00 Japan, Egypt, Scandinavia Today--Mrs. Sadat visits CAFAM--Patrick leads Egypt tour--20:00 Annual Primavera Ball fundraiser, Joan Mondale visit--Connections to Washington, D.C.--Eudora Moore, Elena Canavier, National endowment for the ARts (NEA) Crafts program--Crafts in the White House exhibition--25:00 Ed Sanders, Wyles' lawyer and CAFAM board member, Senior Advisor to President Jimmy Carter--Ela and Wyles meet Rosalynn Carter in White House--Projects start out small and grow--Assistance of Ruth Bowman, Mark Gallon, Irvine Foundation in getting library funds--30:00 Juggling many administrative tasks--Ela's paradigm for rationalizing CAFAM programmatic range--35:00 Problems of contemporary craft--Library initiative: Center for the Study of Art and Culture--40:00 Problems with folk art--Folklorists at NEA--Controversy part of CAFAM excitement--45:00 Ignorance in regard to folk art--Problems presented by different disciplines--Patrick thinks folklorists over-intellectualize--CAFAM ahead of other museums in getting away from idea of white cube--Patrick says too much theory makes people's eyes glaze over--50:00 Gallery 3 in Santa Monica Place mall--Many CAFAM staff young women who worked very hard, had experiences they wouldn't have at other museums--55:00 Patrick's "escape hatch"--Cachet of being an L.A. museum--City-wide vernacular architecture project: Gere Kavanaugh, Charles Moore, Blaine Mallory--Annex space-- 1:00:00 More about Annex, space badly needed as staff grew during Olympic Arts Festival--Plans for mixed-use high-rise, capital campaign--1:05:00 1984: Edith retires, Patrick appointed Executive Director--Now in charge of program and administration--Frank Wyle retires from Wyle Lab--Transition is gradual--Ela perspective different from Edith's, wants to include design--1:10:00 Edith doesn’t over-intellectualize--"Sidecar" first design show under Patrick's leadership--1:15:00 Integrating design into CAFAM concept--Patrick presents his ideas at a 1986 UNESCO meeting in New Delhi--Article based on UNESCO talk in museum--Patrick says folklorists don't agree--Joan says folklorists may be puzzled by range of CAFAM's program--Permanent collection--Decision to sell it in 1998--Whole collection viewable--Patrick has idea for merger with Los Angeles City Department of Cultural Affairs--1:20:00 Idea for new museum building during visit by Patrick and Wyles to American Craft Museum opening--Developer Wayne Ratkovich approached--1:25:00 Coincidentally (1989) CAFAM must move from 5814 Wilshire, as it is not earthquake compliant--May Company offers free space in nearby department store-- 1:30 Operating museum in the May Company--May Coompany (1992) closes--CAFAM must vacate--5800 Wilshire is leased--Assumption CAFAM will buy 5800 Wilshire--A more modest plan is developed--Architectural firm of Hodgetts + Fung hired to merge 5800 and 5814 Wilshire--Properties on Curson-- 1:35:00 Ratkovich unable to secure funding for high-rise development--Major set-back for CAFAM--Staff relieved at more modest plan-- 1:40 Effect on foundations that gave to capital campaign--Money donated for new museum, not high-rise as whole--Ratkovich should have covered more entitlement costs.
Shop, restaurant dominant October 1975--5:00 John Browse--10:00 Browse leaves--Ann Robbins Shop Manager, Susan Skinner Assistant Manager--15:00 Contemporary craft Ann’s sphere--“Inter-account borrowings”--20:00 Budget Ela’s primary responsibility--25:00 Museum closed to public for two and a half years--Restaurant was major part of museum’s character--30:00 Restaurant’s great reputation--Divesting museum from restaurant--Loss of liquor license by bankrupt manager--35:00 Ian Barrington--Importance of restaurant to him--5814 Wilshire vacated for earthquake retrofitting--CAFAM goes to May Company--Restaurant closes forever--Ian’s passing-- 40:00 Capital campaign continues--Press conference to announce Museum Tower-- 45:00 Judith Teitelman, Carolyn Campbell organize press conference--Outside firm, Marts + Lundy, seeking donors--Large contributions from Ahmanson Foundation, the Getty, and Lloyd Cotsen--Reactions to failure of high-rise project--LACMA staff shares architecture difficulties--Marcy Goodwin planning consultant-- 50:00 Fall 1989 CAFAM gallery, 4th floor May Company--Gallery entry by Charles Moore firm--Laurie Beth Kalb curates opening exhibition--Joe Terrell designs May Company spaces--Offices on fifth floor--May Company Foundation head gets free space for CAFAM and $200,000 a year for programming--55:00 Building is “dinosaur” to May Company--If recession anticipated, would have been more effort to buy 5800 Wilshire--Library on mezzanine-- 1:00:00 Mostly positive staff, mostly negative board--Robert Ahmanson (Ahmanson Foundation) gave $1,000,000, loved it-- 1:05:00 Patrick says last 2–3 years all was in balance--1992 attempts to buy 5800 Wilshire--Ventress and Longo won bidding war--Why are CAFAM reps not more aggressive?--Large parking lot in back-- 1:10:00 Reminiscing about mid-seventies price of $325,000--Why not purchased then?-- 5800 interior, how utilized--Library on second floor--Working with Van Holland construction--Hodgetts + Fung architects chosen--1:15:00 5800 Wilshire integral to merged plan, but not owned by museum--6.7 earthquake January 1994--No damage--May 1995 gala “Homecoming” opening held--Patrick states “key to plan was ownership of 5800,” but never happened--Wyles try again in 1997, owner Ventress, won’t accept--1:20:00 Ela says he “moved on,” as he was always in “skinny part of the hourglass”--Wearying but also exhilarating--1:25:00 Says he left museum in better shape than found--Board never contributed enough--Did Wyles’ generosity discourage other donors?--1:30:00 Mort Winston primary benefactor when board chair--After Wyle Labs sold, Wyle money diminished--Selling collection unpopular--Possible merger with LACMA-- 1:35:00 Ela learns of closure in newspaper--Present's idea of city merging with CAFAM to Al Nodal--Presents this option to board--Negotiates agreement--City asks Ela to be Board Chair--1:40:00 CAFAM reopens February 1999--Patrick Board Chair until new director, Joan De Bruin, becomes ill; then is appointed Director--De Bruin resigns--Board starts search for director--Peter Tokovsky hired--Ela remains on board until July 2005--Rescue of CAFAM before Edith’s death--Edith Wyle dies October 1999--City dedicates Edith Wyle Square--1:45:00 Patrick no longer involved at all--Board and city’s partnership now up for renewal.