Lois Boardman interview
This interview took place on October 5, 2014 at the home of Lois Boardman in South Pasadena, CA and was conducted by Emily Zaiden.
EZ: We are going to be talking about California Design and your relationship with Eudorah Moore. How did you met?
LB: We met at the Pasadena Museum. I had gone to Chouinard and I was accepted into a California Design show having these little miniature pulls.
EZ: Door pulls?
LB: Door pulls, yeah. And then through various circumstances …
EZ: Which show was that?
LB: ‘10. I’ll tell you exactly how I got involved with the museum. I had been working as a potter here (in Pasadena) and a neighbor, a neighbor of mine said, there’s an art group at Occidental College, come and be my guest. And so I went and they were trying to think of a fundraising event. I had just been reading a book by a man by the name of Sheldon Renan and it was about experimental underground movies. So I said, why don’t you put on an underground movie festival and they said, you do it! I was suddenly an expert. So I did. There were so many films. Mrs. Fischinger came and helped, Oskar Fischinger’s wife, she was a widow and she was in mourning for Oskar. He had died just before that. Anyhow, so one day I got a call and they said we would like you to do the programming. And I said tell me a little more because I didn’t even know who they were. And so it was Pasadena. So that’s when I met Eudiee (Moore) I think. So it was okay with me. I mean, I didn’t have anything better to do except tramp in and out of the house with clay. So I started working there and I worked there for twenty years. During that time, Eudiee and I became very friendly.
EZ: What year did you begin?
LB: Probably in the ‘70s, middle ‘70s I guess, something like that. Time and I have parted a long time ago, but it was in the ‘70s someplace.
California Design was part of the design department at the museum because Eudiee started off as being on the board of trustees but then she became the curator of design. And so in fact when it was written up, legally, everything that came it’s way as far as money went back into the next show.
EZ: Whose decision was that?
LB: She had her own board. I was on the board, as well, but before I was there, she had a lawyer, Jim Green, who had, who had set this up. And that caused a rift with the museum, politically, but that was the way she was able to go out and fundraise.
LB: She was underwritten by various department stores. Each show required a lot more money.
EZ: Why was that?
LB: Because I think things became more expensive and, you know, the cost of living was much less in the ‘60s than it is in the ‘80s or 2000. She also had a group of followers. I don’t think they paid anything but, but they were friends. The museum had few paid staff but you know about the three E’s? Eudie, Estelle and Elizabeth Hansen. The others provided a work force. It wasn’t a social group. It wasn’t a money-raking group. It was a hands on group.
EZ: What do you mean by hands on?
LB: They would spackle and paint, I mean hands on. They worked on installations. The museum had Hal Goodman, a preparator, and they had another guy, but there were two, basically, the women did it, you know. It turned into a money raising group. But when it started, it started as a hands on group.
EZ: Were you involved then?
LB: That was before my time. We became very close because I could see the fights that she was having with various other people and she was very upset with that and it really affected her a lot. It really did. And I was doing programming in relationship to the museum and crafts. We did the various shows. And then we went out and made California Design since it had incorporated as a non-profit organization within a museum. That was the reason why they could take the funds. It was a very strange relationship.
EZ: How did California Design 1910 come about?
LB: We were talking about what we should do and I said, well, why don’t we look back. Why don’t we look to the past. And that was the first one outside the museum proper venue and it was at the Convention Center in Pasadena.
EZ: It was an incredible show.
LB: Not only did it acknowledge the arts and crafts movement but it started, in Pasadena anyhow, it started Pasadena Heritage. It has become a way to advance the City. Preservation has been a plus and a minus.
EZ: In terms of the aesthetic style of Pasadena?
LB: Yeah, it, it has. But actually, the people that came to the museum venue actually saw for the first time that there was a history and that was very interesting because before that nobody did. Isn’t that interesting?
EZ: No one had a sense of the importance?
LB: In other places, but not in California. There were writers that talked about it, but really there had not been an exhibition. And then the next California Design was the ’76 show. I guess that (California Design 1910) was before that because that’s ’76.
EZ: I think it was earlier.
LB: Earlier, yeah, it was earlier… it all merges with me, ’76 was then at the Blue Whale. It was the opening of the Blue Whale and it was also the last show.
EZ: Back to the others, aside from being accepted and having your pieces shown …
LB: I helped because the museum was doing the programming …
EZ: What kind of events and programming were planned with each show?
LB: We had all kinds of events. Really, the show was it I think more than anything else. I did other things. I made sure that anybody that came up to demonstrate went to the schools. I mean, it was, it was part of the whole thing. And then I had people living here with me who demonstrated.
EZ: For long periods of time?
LB: Yeah, you know, we had women, or people from New Mexico living here and Maria Martínez’s son and granddaughter and daughter-in-law came with license plates to do a firing at the museum. I had to tell the police that there was going to be a firing at the museum. There was always a helicopter going around. To have a museum and to put out the black ware, you had to cover up the flames. So they brought license plates from New Mexico to do that. And, you know, then we had many, many things that later went on to, to be big, however, but maybe we had, the audience were 6 or 8 people. But I mean really big. One went on to New York and it was on Broadway. And many of the dancer groups were put on. We put on poetry sessions. Paul Vangelisti who teaches at Otis, he and I put out a book of poetry. It was just a very interesting time.
EZ: So you did a whole range of cultural programming.
LB: I had to… I mean, you’re getting away from California Design, but … What I had to do was when an exhibition came, I had to put on all kinds of things that went around that exhibition to demonstrate and have people come in.
EZ: What was the most successful with the audience in terms of events at California Design?
LB: I just think the shows were the basis of people coming through … I’m trying to think of it because I haven’t thought about it for a long time.
EZ: What about events and programs of 1910?
LB: 1910, well, I at that point, I ran the bookstore, I didn’t do events there.
EZ: Were you involved in other ways of making that show happen?
LB: Yeah, well, you know, the, everybody was involved with doing … I can’t say what I actually what I did, but I, I was involved with it.
EZ: Were you involved for installation of any of those shows? You said everybody pitched in.
LB: Everybody did. Everybody worked, yeah.
EZ: Any anecdotes? They all were large shows.
LB: That’s right and Tim Anderson who is a designer … He lives up in Seattle. And he architecturally designed it and Richard Hammond worked on it. Richard Hammond and I met when he was at Cal Arts.
EZ: Okay, in terms of fundraising and …
LB: We all did it.
EZ: You all did it.
LB: Yes, Eudie and I did most of it, you know, but it was, it was basically that. And so, we had to. We had other people on the board who were really helpful.
EZ: Such as?
LB: Such as Arnold Wolf for example. Arnold Wolf just died the same time Eudie died and he was extremely helpful. He used to be the president of …, he was very helpful. And Jim Green was a lawyer. There were people at Architectural Pottery that were on the Board. And Bernie (Kester) was on the Board. And I think that’s, that’s about it. I can’t remember the other people but everybody was there to support the effort of California Design.
EZ: Were you involved before Eudie became involved?
LB: No. I knew, I knew Ricky Fedderson.
EZ: Did you go to the shows?
LB: I don’t think I was here yet. I was in Europe, or in Chicago. And so, I was raising kids.
EZ: Did you have a sense of how it shifted when she became involved?
LB: It became much larger and it, and it took on a … Well, the thing that Eudie did, as I say, Estelle and Elizabeth Hansen. Elizabeth Hansen was a professional model. You must know about her.
EZ: A little bit.
LB: During the war she was in the Red Cross and she was one of those beauties, you know, that had been much photographed during that period. And she had a lot of involvement because she was an editor out here of Vogue. And so she had a lot of connections in New York. So she took Eudie, the two of them went to New York.
EZ: Were they friends from college?
LB: No, they were not. She was from Vernon, Alabama. Eudie was from Colorado. After the war Elizabeth had married a doctor and she was still involved with the fashion industry and with New York. And the two of them were friends. So, the two of them went off to New York and that’s really how Eudie was able to get to the magazine and the magazines of the time, was through Elizabeth. And, yeah, it was just as simple as that. And then she made connections with the L.A. Times and there was a lot of publicity, more publicity than I think any other, than I have seen, with other kinds of exhibitions now or then, really.
LB: Yeah, it hit the home section, but what else did people read, really. And there wasn’t the TV that there is now. And so it became, in itself as a big part of it.
EZ: Gere Kavanaugh said that it got a lot of publicity in the West and only some in the East.
LB: Well, but nationally in the home sections. I don’t know what she means by some but there were a lot of shelter magazines that had a couple of pages of ours. And the West of course the west did, too. But that’s a normal kind of thing because it’s local versus national. But California Design really was the introductory thing between the East and West. It showed what California could do.
EZ: It was a counterpart of MOMA design shows in a lot of ways.
LB: Yeah and I think it had much more impact than a MOMA show, because it, MOMA is there and this was the introduction of, of California.
EZ: –Which was not previously on their radar. It put California on their radar.
LB: It sure did. Well, I think everybody got their start. I mean the art, before you talked about artisans, it tweaked a little bit. … It’s the first time I think that anybody combined craftsman and designer. That really was a first I think. It was limited production and original work, you know, on those shows. So, that was kind of a first too.
EZ: How did the other shows fall into the publicity?
LB: She would make a visitation to the East and so forth and so on. And then she had the backing of the L.A. Times and so I think because of that, you know. I know that there were articles in the shelter magazines in the East. For the times, I think that was a big step.
EZ: Was she equally involved in the 1910 show or did you helm that?
LB: No, we all had a function. I mean, she was over everybody and she, and Tim and various historians were involved together. And everybody had a place.
EZ: What was her greatest strength as a curator?
LB: She was very smart and she’d think things through. I mean, I think her intelligence was the greatest thing for her. It helped her in many ways. She didn’t show her emotions that much. I mean, you know, when she was displeased, she, she really didn’t…and that helped her out a lot. And then after she left for Washington, I took over the California Design. And that was an uphill battle because at that point, I had to raise money. The money wasn’t there. Richard and I would go into various department stores and we raised the money for whatever we did in a small way by doing installations in department stores. Then we put on events at various other places like Barnsdall Park and various other things, tied to California
LB: We had industrial design and I remember we had a car that was I don’t know how many miles to the gallon but we haven’t gotten to there yet. I think it was deep sixed by the auto industry. It didn’t make it. And then but we had designers that we gave awards to for a couple of years and it was at Barnsdall Park. We put on an exhibition. The first exhibition of folk art in California.
EZ: What was the focus or was it general? Folk art of California?
LB: I think there was something written, that there’s no folk art in California. And I said, you want to bet? And so I went up and down the state and there was the first one that … Well, there was another one later on but this is the first one that was a product of California, and it was very funny because a friend of mine, Glenda Davis, who used to be the curator of the Pasadena Museum in children’s education went with me sometimes. We would drive along the road. That’s what we really did. We just drove around looking for things and I remember going someplace. I saw this huge statue of a cow. So I went and knocked on the door of the farm house and I said is the artist here? So the guy came proudly out and he said I’m the artist. And we brought the things back to Barnsdall.
EZ: So this was all under the California Design.
LB: Yeah, my idiosyncratic take on California Design.
EZ: Eudorah left and went to D.C. and you did some of the interviews when she was in D.C. for that project.
LB: Yes, during the Carter administration. There were 32 of us who went around the country. This is where I met my friend, Helen Drutt. We had people from all over, including, John McLean.
EZ: And you had a section of the country that you would go to?
LB: We were trained to take testimony in the uptown Y in North Carolina. We had a professional trainer to tell us what to do, how to take testimony.
EZ: From the NEA.
LB: Well, actually, there’s a very interesting thing about this, people in the states invited us rather than the government, the government just paid for our carfare. We were invited in by, and we stayed with families. And it was a very, that was an interesting trip. It was so much fun.
EZ: And you had a partner, Helen Drutt.
LB: Well, we were divided into sections and Helen and I were in a section with John and a couple of other people, a gal from Alaska. It was all mixed up. And but it was so much fun. It was a whole year.
EZ: And you just went from house to house?
LB: Yeah we had a schedule. We landed in Ames, Iowa for example, and it was the National Endowment Planning Commission because we were to tell them what we found out afterwards. And so all the craftsmen in the area, designers and craftsmen and folk artists came and we wrote down what they liked and what they didn’t like, and what they wanted and so forth and so on. So that was a very interesting time. I remember Helen and I meeting … I’ll remember that. Helen and I were on the staircase and we just talked to this lady, and our trainer wandered by with this young girl. He was dead drunk and he was trying to find his room. And he pulled her and tumbled with the keys and there is Helen and I back against the wall. When he finally got her into the room, we both broke down and started to laugh.
EZ: You covered the whole country.
LB: Including Alaska. I can remember Helen dancing … we had so much fun. Absolutely funny and we had all kinds of experiences, you know.
EZ: Did you come back and report to home for stretches?
LB: Yeah, and Helen said at that time, I can’t do that. I can’t leave. She was the only one that said she can’t leave. Everybody else was willing to go. I went to Alaska. That was interesting. And then Hawaii. That was quite a fun week in Hawaii and it was interesting to see what the outcome was that people really took us seriously at first.
Since then, all the kinds of things that have happened in the crafts basically, happened, I don’t think they happened as a result of the conference but it happened because I think people decided that this is what we really need. Things happened after that because American craft at that time was strictly New York, now it’s someplace else. So it was strictly an East Coast thing and it didn’t disseminate other places. Many of these craft organizations were (not anywhere else yet). The times changed and I think maybe this had some involvement with it, the change, I don’t know.
EZ: Even though it didn’t get fully carried out.
LB: That’s right. But I think it certainly had people thinking about these kinds of things and money and I think it did affect the crafts in a lot of ways, at least the psyche of these people. They were all different people. I mean, really different, from all places in the craft’s world, which is kind of interesting.
EZ: Any other points that you wish to cover?
LB: The legacy of California Design is the legacy of Eudorah Moore. I think we all said that it probably was a turning point and we hoped it would be.
EZ: I think it did have this impact. I think now it’s coming more to the forefront.
LB: I think it certainly has and I think that the breakdown of the terrible, you know, “is it art or is it craft?” kind of thing has dissipated. I think that maybe, and because California Design, one of the things that I said before, (was that) California Design was about not making any difference between craft and designers, and that made a difference.
EZ: Thank you.