Oral Histories

Interview of Walter N. Marks III

Craft and Folk Art Museum Board Member, 1994 – present; Board President, 2008 – 2016.
Craft and Folk Art Museum Oral History Project
Biographical Note:
Craft and Folk Art Museum Board Member, 1994 – present; Board President, 2008 – 2016.
Benedetti, Joan
Marks, Walter N. III
Persons Present:
Marks, III and Benedetti.
Place Conducted:
Marks III's office at the Helms Bakery complex in Culver City, 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 several biographical and other documents related to Wally Marks III, his family, and his real estate business interests in Los Angeles. She also reviewed the CAFAM timeline developed while working on the CAFAM Records at UCLA. Joan's work with the CAFAM Records, her experience with the other CAFAM oral history interviews (which included several former CAFAM Board members), and her personal knowledge of CAFAM during her 21-year tenure as CAFAM Museum Librarian, assisted in her preparation for the Marks interview.
Processing of Interview:
Marks 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.
1.75 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.
Growing up on L.A.’s Westside--University High School, then University of California, Berkeley--Three sisters--[00:05:00] Marks works five years for Simon Levi Company, maternal family's five-generation liquor wholesale business--In 1988 goes to paternal family's real estate business--Properties in Culver City, Santa Monica, and near Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) on Wilshire Boulevard--Marriage to Carol; son, Aaron--Co-chair, Miracle Mile Civic Coalition (MMCC); "Museum Row"-- Connection to CAFAM is MMCC director Patrick Ela, who is looking for younger board members--[00:10:00] Ela taught him simplicity of craft and folk art--Festival of Masks--[0015:00] Meeting Edith and Frank Wyle--On board as Museum Tower planned with Wayne Ratkovich--[00:20:00]Recession makes Museum Tower financing impossible--Hodgetts + Fung to merge 5800 + 5814 Wilshire--Joseph Ventress buys 5800, then charges CAFAM $17,000/month--[00:25:00] Build-out of 5800 Wilshire for offices and library; museum closed to public for 30 months while renovation/merging proceeds--5800 still not purchased; why proceed with merging?--Option to purchase 5800; price not set--Ventress assumed Ratkovich would "pay a premium"; will not budge on asking price--[0030:00] 5800 building has large parking lot--[0035:00] 5800 purchase fails; parking lost--Marks assists selling Curson propertiesMay 1995--Merged CAFAM opens--Gala weekend--[00:40:00] Renovated 5814: first floor mostly shop; mezzanine, third floor are galleries-- No elevator--5800 has space for staff, library, storage, and galleries, but CAFAM must vacate at end of 1997-- [00:45:00] Frank Wyle resigns as Board Chair; new Chair Bud Knapp--Director Ela resigns June 1996--Bud Knapp resigns August 1996--Frank Wyle again Chair--1997: Paul Kusserow to "turn things around”--Layoffs begin. [00:50:00] CAFAM defaults on lease--[00:55:00] Museum closing forever? Marks remembers terrible struggle of board meetings--Remaining staff laid off--Permanent collection auction March 26, 1998--Marcia Page--Ela's "insight to reach out to L.A. City"--Marks helps Patrick negotiate ten-year lease with L.A. Cultural Affairs--[01:00:00] January 1999: Wyle resigns again as Chair, Ela steps in--Joan de Bruin--CAFAM re-opens April 9, 1999; Marks elected Board Treasurer--Edith Wyle very ill; sees CAFAM survive--Edith dies October 12--"Edith Wyle Square"--[01:05:00] Marks: "most important person . . . was Patrick Ela"--Joan de Bruin sick leave; Ela Interim Director--[01:10:00] Peter Tokovsky hired January 2003; resigns December 30--2004: James Goodwin hired-- Goodwin resigns--City giving less--Re-interpreting lease--Originally City gave $350,000; now $90,000; 2010 is last year-- Frank Wyle back as Board Chair--[01:15:00] Maryna Hrushetska hired March 2005; now has five years' tenure--Exhibitions cost much less--Foundation support renewed-- [01:20:00] Board increases "give-or-get" dues--[01:25:00] Frank Wyle steps down permanently August 2008--Marks Board Chair--[01:30:00] Board meetings now telephonic; using Internet more--Meetings 4 times a year instead of 6--Trustees more engaged--[01:35:00] Main focus funding--Annual budget goal $600,000--Without City support--Shop generates profit--Exhibitions extended; one less show a year--Staff very hard-working--Marks hopes Edith Wyle would be proud of direction--[01:40:00] Marks thrilled to be part of oral history.