Oral Histories

Interview of Susan Skinner

Assistant Buyer, Craft and Folk Art Museum Shop, 1976 -1982. Associate Manager, CAFAM Shop, 1982 – 1984. Co-Curator, “Fiber, Clay, and Glass,” 1978; Co-curator, “Introductions: 12 Artists,” 1980.
Craft and Folk Art Museum Oral History Project
Biographical Note:
Assistant Buyer, Craft and Folk Art Museum Shop, 1976 -1982. Associate Manager, CAFAM Shop, 1982 – 1984. Co-Curator, “Fiber, Clay, and Glass,” 1978; Co-curator, “Introductions: 12 Artists,” 1980.
Benedetti, Joan
Skinner, Susan
Persons Present:
Skinner and Benedetti; Susan's husband, Chris DeNoon, was working in an adjacent room.
Place Conducted:
Skinner's home in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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 reviewing the CAFAM timeline developed while working on the CAFAM Records at UCLA. Joan's work in processing the CAFAM Records, her experience with the other CAFAM oral history interviews, and her personal knowledge of CAFAM during her 21-year tenure as CAFAM Museum Librarian, assisted in her preparation for the Skinner interview. The interview is more or less chronological. Susan spent a good deal of time talking about Ann Robbins, who, as the CAFAM Shop Manager, was her boss and an important mentor to her.
Processing of Interview:
Skinner 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. However, in this interview only, there are no time stamps in Session 2.
2.75 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 L.A.--Mother, nurse; father, psychotherapist; younger brother--Southwest in summers--Susan dyslexic--[05:00] Oakwood School--“Kinesthetic writing.”--Oakwood difficulties, problems at home--Family to Israel for year, Jerusalem nine months; Susan learns Hebrew--[10:00] Istanbul, then Europe three months--“Incredible” exposure to archaeology, anthropology, and museums.Parents divorce--Graduates Los Angeles High School 1969--Not getting along with mother; scholarship to University of Tel Aviv; can’t be pacifist in Israel, 1969--Backpacking in Europe; Mother hospitalized; Susan goes home, drops out of school to care for mother--Brother also in hospital--L.A. City College, then California State University, Sonoma—Anthropology, California Indians--Teacher is Bodega Miwok, Alfred Kroeber protégé. [15:00] Summer at UCLA Anthropology Museum--Pat Altman--Independent study, Lowie Anthropology Museum, Berkeley--Graduates CSU Sonoma; back to L.A.--Arctic Circle—Inuit art gallery. [20:00]Judy Weinstein--Ann Robbins looking for assistant, 1976--Growing up near Egg and The Eye gallery--Dating Dorothy Garwood’s son--Egg and The Eye "very magical place”--John Browse--[25:00] Comparing Egg and The Eye gallery to CAFAM--L.A. landmark--Judy Clark--[30:00] Ann Robbins’s assistant. Ann Robbins: artist, ceramist--[35:00] Museum dependent on shop financially--History of being slow to pay artists--Everything on consignment--Ann “cleaned all that up"--John Browse tells Ann have separate shop account--Shop successful--Money issues continue--American Craft Council (ACC). [40:00] Susan and Ann go to ACC shows; Rhinebeck best. "Wholesale days” difficult for artists--Sometimes paid artists in advance--Baltimore, New York City shows--Susan jewelry buyer, learns from Ann--Ann knows collectors, interior designers--[45:00] Relationship with L.A. rug dealers--Gift Show at Biltmore--Carol Sedestrom Ross coordinates ACC fairs; good friend of Ann’s.John Browse: Egg and The Eye gallery didn't do publicity; newspapers, magazines called them--[50:00] Susan: Ann did PR--Edith more interested in folk art; important to show contemporary craft in shop--More one-person shows in shop than museum--Some people coming to shop never go to museum; exhibition visitors always come to shop--Many celebrities: Jim Henson, Joni Mitchell--[55:00] Art Buchwald in book department--The Art of the Dark Crystal organized by Henson Organization--Costumes, props, scene design from film, The Dark Crystal--[1:00:00] Joan Mondale, Rosalynn Carter, Carol Sedestrom work on White House Senate Ladies Luncheon--Ann helps organize exhibition American Crafts in the White House--Some pieces enter CAFAM permanent collection--[1:05:00] Ann’s way of looking big influence on Susan; attention to detail; on board American Craft Enterprises--Ann and Susan jury ACE shows--Crafts then and now--It was celebrated--ACC’s magazine, Craft Horizons, edited by Rose Slivka, very influential--Craft community has aged; next generation influenced by Internet, recycling--[1:10:00] Museum of Contemporary Craft; then American Craft Museum; now Museum of Art and Design--Successful craft production harder; more competition--Not as many schools or craft departments. Consumerism a factor; young people see collecting differently; DIY movement—Etsy--Re-purposing something young people interested in—Susan’s jewelry from re-purposed materials. Lunch break.
The Egg and The Eye restaurant--Ian Barrington--Known beyond L.A.--CAFAM into May Company, 1989--Restaurant closes--Retrofitted building, 1995--No restaurant--Restaurant integral to CAFAM’s culture--Gallery 3--Santa Monica Place--Donated by Rouse Company--Well-designed—Bad location--Macy's and Gallery 3—Quality difference--Pottery Barn—Gallery 3 shop prices lowered to compete--Introductions: Twelve Artists, curated by Ann and Susan. All Gallery 3 shows contemporary craft or design--Maskerade Ball--CAFAM parties--Black Folk Art in America—Dressing as Sister Gertrude Morgan--Fundraising galas--Joan Mondale, honorée--Divide between staff and "people who give money"--Constant need to raise money--PIC (Programmatic Input Committee)--Contemporary Craft Council--Board members--Bernard Kester “loved Edith dearly, but they did argue,” “Knock-down drag-outs," says Susan--Gere Kavanaugh--Frank Wyle--A presence--Bowties and pipe--Staff meetings--Exhibition-related things--Shop shows--Budgeting--Museum relies on shop for money--Separate mailing list, but shop coordinates with museum openings--Korean exhibition--Objects arrive at opening--No reproductions--CAFAM not supposed to have collection—Reproductions moot--Legal issues--Museum's emphasis folk art; shop "more about contemporary crafts"-- “Strong craft movement" at time--G.I. Bill--J.B. Blunk--Sam Maloof--Many craft artists in California--American Craft Council--Aileen Osborn Webb--1956 Asilomar meeting--Sam Maloof, Bernard Kester attended--East Coast/West Coast divide--CAFAM staff--Willow Young--Blaine Mallory--Judy Clark--Nancy Cook Smith--Jorje Casillas--Shan Emanuelli, Max King, Laurie Haycock, Davida Rochlin, Janet Marcus, Gail Goldberg, Mary Ann Cesar-Tigne (Mac), Lorraine Trippett, Marilyn Rudolph, Deirdre Evans-Pritchard, Karen Copeland, Marcie Page share office in "cage” behind shop--Sabra Petersman--Ann's sudden retirement, 1982; John Browse re-hired--Shop Manager job not advertised--Fran Rissmiller, Susan’s business partner at New Stone Age--Susan leaves 1984--Fran and Susan do renovation. Carol Sauvion--Susan makes, sells found-object jewelry at CAFAM; sells more at New Stone Age--Growing confidence as artist--Meeting Chris DeNoon--Trip to Albuquerque, amazed at low housing prices--Move to Albuquerque, 1992--John Garrett--Susan sells jewelry in museum shops, Santa Fe; Mariposa Gallery, Albuquerque--"Some things important in L.A. you question in New Mexico"--“Working at CAFAM is a huge part of who I am"--Chris DeNoon partner in jewelry business: his book, The Posters of the WPA, published 1988--He does graphic design work, catalogs, bookkeeping for business--"He's our computer guy"-- Fibula Studio--Susan took classes in casting, anodized aluminum, forming, but "pretty much self-taught"--20 years with found objects, especially buttons--Susan Einstein and David Pottinger give her boxes of Victorian pearl buttons--Takes work "to another level"-- Anthropology in play--More aware of "ceremony that accompanies so many things"--Susan now on CERF (Craft Emergency Relief Fund) board--Most rewarding knowing Ann Robbins: “We don't always have those opportunities to be mentored, and I really was by her”-- Teresa Barnett, head, UCLA’s oral history program, knew importance of CAFAM.