Oral Histories

Interview of Nancy Wyle Romero

Daughter of Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) founders, Frank and Edith Wyle. Artist and designer. Developed educational materials for several CAFAM exhibitions; worked on “Masks in Motion” exhibition for 1984 Olympic Arts Festival.
Craft and Folk Art Museum Oral History Project
Biographical Note:
Daughter of Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) founders, Frank and Edith Wyle. Artist and designer. Developed educational materials for several CAFAM exhibitions; worked on “Masks in Motion” exhibition for 1984 Olympic Arts Festival.
Benedetti, Joan
Romero, Nancy Wyle
Persons Present:
Romero and Benedetti.
Place Conducted:
Romero's home in Altadena, 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 Nancy Romero's resumé, the CAFAM timeline, and the CAFAM exhibition lists. She also re-read the transcript of the interview of Nancy's father, Frank Wyle, done for the CAFAM Oral History Project in 2008, and the transcript of an interview of Nancy's mother, Edith Wyle, done for the Archives of American Art in 1993. Nancy balances the story of her parents’ lives (with a focus on the start of The Egg and The Eye gallery and the transition to the Craft and Folk Art Museum) with her own. The narrative is very roughly chronological with frequent detours.
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.
2.25 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 Los Angeles--Siblings close--Loving home--Mother, painter, spends a lot of time in studio--Mother's teacher and mentor, Rico Lebrun--[05:00] After Lebrun’s death, Edith has trouble resuming painting--Nancy encourages start of Edith’s intense interest in crafts and folk art--Idea of commercial gallery/restaurant for friend, Bette Chase, to manage--[10:00] Stan Bitters--Guy Moore-- The Egg and The Eye gallery opens November 1, 1965--[15:00] Nancy works at gallery for semester before graduate school--Edith gives up painting to run gallery with Bette--Nancy loves gallery, but “had to follow my own path"--[20:00] Nancy's grandmother (Edith's mother), Rose Rubin, child prodigy/concert pianist, meets Louis (née Rovinsky) Robinson, violist/violinist in New York--“Gave up career" to marry--Moved to San Francisco, where Edith was born--[25:00] Rose and Edith have abrasive relationship--Jewish, but "no cultural connection"--Frank Wyle--German family in America before Civil War-- Family has chain of millinery shops in Illinois--Frank founded Wyle Laboratories in 1949-- Frank pragmatic, man of action--Nancy says Frank engineered gallery’s birth--[30:00] He became a craftsman--In 1959 Wyles buy large cattle ranch/retreat in North Fork, California--Children sent to Verde Valley School in Sedona, Arizona--Nancy’s mother the artist, so Nancy didn't want to be--[35:00] Nancy’s house on ranch--She and Frank Romero add studio--Now daughter Rosie's house--Ranch compound for family and friends--[40:00] Verde Valley School students stay two weeks with families in Mexico and on Navajo reservation, different places each year--Collecting folk art when 12--Nancy led mother into folk art and crafts-- Edith not so interested at first; had deep interest in Japanese art--Wyles’ Brentwood home and North Fork ranch totally Japanese aesthetic--Nancy had business in Japan designing housewares--[45:00] Went on trip led by Edith in Japan--Hamada, Eishiro Abe, pottery villages--Edith fêted everywhere--Beatrice Wood important influence--Huge folk art collection--[50:00] Wood and Sam Maloof key--Perfect time for craft/folk art gallery-- Edith wants to preserve authentic things-- 1998 auction of Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) permanent collection--[55:00] Nancy, Diana, and Frank Wyle buy some things back--Christopher Donnan--Other prominent women interested in traditional crafts/folk art: Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, Jehan Sadat-- [1:00:00] Edith as spokesperson "for U.S. crafts” -- Aileen Osborn Webb, American Craft Council--Objects shown as fine art--Gallery’s basis-- [1:05:00] Edith not interested in making money, Attention on display, collecting, learning about objects--Formation of museum--1973 IRS nonprofit status--1975 start CAFAM exhibitions--Festival of Masks--Nancy "the reason for that"--[1:10:00] Nancy living in San Francisco Bay Area, goes to small mask parade, tells Edith about it--Suggests CAFAM involve L.A.’s many ethnic neighborhoods. Edith caught idea and ran with it--[1:15:00] Nancy and Frank Romero meet during preparation for 1978 Artesanos Mexicanos show--[1:25:00] They do murals for several CAFAM exhibitions; also produced slide shows--Murals of Aztlan, CAFAM show of Chicano muralists painting murals in galleries. Frank curates--[1:30:00] Jim Tartan film--Shifra Goldman--[1:35:00] Mural tours of East L.A.
Edith and Frank both retire in 1984, Edith very reluctantly--Nancy thinks 1990 move into May Company was a fiasco, as CAFAM “disappeared”--Edith excited (a few years later) about Hodgetts + Fung design for merged buildings. Nancy didn't like it-- [5:00] Especially bad it didn't include restaurant--Joan says real fiasco not buying 5800 Wilshire--Edith wanted that building early on--Available in 1975 for $300,000--In 1997 the owner Joseph Ventress "played on them mercilessly"--Design relied on purchase of 5800 Wilshire; 5814 mostly shop, galleries, small space for restaurant or offices, not both-- [10:00] After museum re-opens in 1999, Nancy curates a show, Toy Mechanics, in 2002--[15:00] More about 1990 move into May Compnay-- Nancy and Frank Romero living half time in Taos; weren't much in touch with L.A.--[20:00] May Company store closed at the end of 1992; CAFAM vacates--5800 Wilshire leased for offices and library--Assumed it would be purchased; all plans based on that--Gala re-opening in 1995--Patrick Ela, after 21 years, resigns June 1996--New director, Paul Kusserow--[25:00] Staff begin to be laid off--Final attempt to buy 5800 Wilshire fails--Library goes to Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), archives to UCLA--Museum closes end of 1997--March 1998 permanent collection auction seems like end, but Patrick Ela has plan with Al Nodal for city to partner for ten years with CAFAM--Edith Wyle able to see museum re-open April 1999--Traumatic times: several different directors before stabilizing--Walter Marks now Chair--[30:00] Maryna Hrushetska director--Nancy says having CAFAM in their lives added a great dimension to the family--Joan points out Nancy is having a renaissance in her career as an artist--[32:21]