Roots and Offshoots - The Blossoming of Silicon Valley's Arts Community
"Roots and Offshoots, the Blossoming of Silicon Valley's Arts Community," a cross-cultural, interdisciplinary essay, was first posted here in August 2014 and published in the Californian
, Fall 2014. The revised essay is now the opening essay in the book Roots and Offshoots, Silicon Valley's Arts Community
published in 2017.
For more information about historical San José area arts development, including the Silicon Valley Arts Council, and an overview of San José arts activity in the 1970s and early '80s, see "The First San José Biennial" essay, Jan Rindfleisch, for The First San José Biennial, 1986, San José Museum of Art
The story of the development of the arts in Silicon Valley has just begun to be told. Its art history is filled with people who were often marginalized, people who stood up to the status quo, people with the guts and love to persevere and build a community that nourished all, at a time when that was not easy to do. It's time to tell the story.
How did we get from the largely monochromatic, exclusive, and repressive landscape of the 1970s to where we are now? In this article, I will introduce various elders and others who have contributed creatively to the blossoming of Silicon Valley, place them in a broader context of community building, and set the stage for individual profiles still being collected. We need context for current discussion, and for our historical documentation that is so easily lost—websites included. My intent is to raise questions and ideas about how the arts, community, and democracy can flourish in Silicon Valley. I suggest that academics, community leaders, artists, activists, and students can take action to enrich and document the arts forum across cultures, academic and professional disciplines, and economic sectors. This examination should consider new types of arts roots, startups, and offshoots. All can be incorporated into our Silicon Valley identity, already known for its innovative problem-solving culture.
Despite the levels of complexity in our local art history, the tale remains instructive and relevant. For some of the people involved, the story of what they were up against and how they worked to change it is their legacy; for many more, it is what they continue to do. Common among all of them is a grounded connection to fundamental human concerns, plus an ability to relate to diverse communities. Let's begin to meet some of these fascinating people and see where a good heart can take us.
The death of Consuelo Santos-Killins in 2012 was a wake-up call for me and other arts activists to start telling the story of arts community building in Silicon Valley. During her long lifetime, she was a key figure in the effort. She brought an overarching vision integrating art, socioeconomic issues, and politics, with an understanding of basic human needs, important for leaders and activists of any age. The vivacious redhead served on the San José Fine Arts Commission, the Santa Clara County Arts Council, and the California Arts Council, among other arts organizations. She argued for substantive arts programs in the schools and community, and more diverse participation in arts governing boards.
Compassionate and generous toward all in need, Santos-Killins—once a nurse—did not limit her activism to the arts, but the arts remained foremost for her.1 San José Mercury News columnist Scott Herhold remembers, "You could talk to Santos-Killins about, say, the need for corporate directors to ask more questions, and before your talk was over, she would have convinced you utterly of the need for ceramics and music and painting in the schools."
"The assumption is that quality exists only in highly visible cultural institutions—the truth is an abundance of artistic quality exists in Santa Clara Valley… As in San José, significant progress in the arts will occur when people speak up in order to change attitudes toward art—people who believe in the area they live in." — Santos-Killins
Making an Arts Community
Building an arts environment requires energy, courage, and determination, but Santos-Killins wasn't the only one. Silicon Valley blossomed in the last quarter of the 20th century with the formation of arts offshoots, spin-offs, and startups that tapped into the area's increasing ferment of ideas and involved myriad supporters across all walks of life.2 Through my own long and varied involvement in the arts as an educator, presenter (producer, director), author, community activist, and fellow artist, I witnessed the growth of this community. I worked with an unusual cast of characters and discovered some seldom-discussed basics of a sustainable, stimulating arts/cultural system.
What follows is a personal narrative with perspectives drawn from my experiences with the art world and with Silicon Valley artists and arts institutions that stood apart from, challenged, or broadened, the mainstream perspective. Along the way, I hope to provoke timely and substantive questions and draw answers that elucidate what it means to build a vibrant arts community, such as the importance of small organizations in the cultural mix and of experimenting with open and flexible organizational structures.
The Early Cultural Landscape
The road toward arts development in the South San Francisco Bay Area was paved by the San José Art League,3 formed in 1938 by a group of San José artists, mostly San José State University (SJSU) teachers and students, to stimulate public interest in art. In Depression-era Santa Clara Valley, the agricultural economy still functioned because of the blossoming of trees, the stone fruit that followed, and the diverse labor pool available.
Post-WWII movements for civil rights in the 1950s and '60s laid the groundwork for change, opening doors in academia, community, and workplace, but change took longer to resonate in Santa Clara Valley, today better known as Silicon Valley. Conservatism accompanied Cold War fears and a local economy that increasingly stemmed from defense (Lockheed, FMC, Varian, later Fairchild Semiconductor, Intel).
There were valiant attempts to open up the valley to new ideas. When post-WWII migration to California brought urban sprawl, the Art League sought to improve San José's downtown image and bring culture to the city center. Pioneers like art professor John De Vincenzi and artist Mary Parks Washington guided the Art League in the 1960s and '70s, went on to influence further art developments like the San José Museum of Art and their Black on Black Film Festival, and provided counsel during tumultuous times. The community branched out to found new museums, such as the Triton Museum in Santa Clara. De Vincenzi and Washington racked up decades of teaching, honors, and community service in the arts via multiple tacks, from the San José Fine Arts Commission to the San José Chapter of Links, Inc.
The de Saisset Museum at Santa Clara University featured a permanent California history exhibition, including Native American art and art from Mission Santa Clara, plus changing contemporary art exhibitions. The de Saisset, in keeping with the university's culture of service, had a social justice component from the start, reaching out to diverse communities, including hiring women directors,4 when that was not the norm.
Mary Parks Washington, Erik
, 1999. Mixed media, c 38"x30". Image courtesy Mary Emma Harris, Black Mountain College. A memorial tribute to her son, a screenwriter. Washington—artist, arts advocate, educator, historian—created "histcollages," embedding historic documents into her art. Her research shows artistry in the local African American community going back to the 1800s; a story of a janitor, a leading suffragist, and art stars from different centuries, three women of different racial/ethnic backgrounds; and the contemporary politics of art placement, substance, and importance in the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library
and city spaces.
Despite these efforts, a sustained cultural blossoming has been difficult. Maintenance of routine practices with exclusionary results checked the momentum built on the groundwork of the 1960s. The newborn San José Museum of Art (SJMA) sought instant status and funding in the 1970s by emphasizing art history exhibitions, a common tactic using conventional groupings—artists abroad, Impressionism, Post-Modernism—rather than the diverse talents available here and elsewhere. Simultaneously, the San José State University (SJSU) art department, a white-male bastion closely aligned with the SJMA, banked on their 1960s legacy "School of San José," with its elegant objects, industrial techniques, and materials. Not surprisingly, for Stanford Museum of Art's 1974 Ten West Coast Artists, all ten artists selected were male. Even as late as 1986, when the SJSU galleries featured the School of San José exhibition for The First San José Biennial, of 23 participating artists, there were only one African American and one female represented.
To make matters worse, in the 1970s and long afterward, people of means in the South Bay often went north for culture, even as our lingering orchards gave way to tract homes5 and de facto segregated communities.6 Considered a frill and scantily funded, the arts—in education and the community—encountered rough times, and many artists left the South Bay for San Francisco.7 For example, as a result of the enactment of Proposition 13 in 1978, funding for our fledgling Euphrat Museum of Art (then called Euphrat Gallery), founded in 1971 at De Anza College in Cupertino, was essentially cut to zero.8 Large arts organizations,9 often seen as the backbone of an arts community, had their own survival problems as they tried to cultivate individual donors and basic support from local government and the business community,10 but the loss of funding from tax revenue was particularly devastating to public arts education, social services, and community cultural programs.
The 1970s: Pervasive Exclusion
The politics of inclusion in the arts was and continues to be contentious. Today, various kinds of discourse are taken for granted—how the arts might be used to advocate for human rights, social justice, and peaceful conflict resolution and promote cultural understanding and recognition; examinations of the function and place of art in the schools and our lives, or the relationship of art with government; the interaction of the arts with other academic disciplines. We had to fight to have those ideas taken seriously.
When I was a student in the 1970s, exclusion was pervasive—of women, people of color, people with disabilities, people considered "different" for whatever reason. There were essentially no women in art history survey texts used in universities. My first art history text was the 1973 version of H.W. Janson's History of Art: A Survey of the Major Visual Arts from the Dawn of History to the Present Day, then the prevailing college text in the United States. It was a man's art history; no women were included, not even Impressionist Berthe Morisot or the legendary Georgia O'Keeffe. Much of the non-Western world was passed over or lumped into a section on "primitive art" and a nine-page postscript, "The Meeting of East and West." Contemporary non-European art scarcely merited a mention, with the exception of a dismissively judgmental paragraph about Expressionism in Mexico.11
It was a long road from the woman as nude model or male fantasy object to a fully realized woman as professional artist, academic, and/or cultural leader. SJSU art department alumnae remember "fanny pinching in the elevator back in the '70s. Wine and cigarettes were the bill of fare for critiques." There were some discussions,12 but the art world clearly needed a jolt and an overhaul. At SJSU, visiting professor Judith Bettelheim did shake things up. In my early years as the director of the Euphrat Museum of Art, she contributed to the Museum's first major publication (1981) with an essay about Leila McDonald and "women's hobby art," citing barrier-breaking art historian Lucy Lippard.13 In her magazine Visual Dialog,14 satiric printmaker/educator Roberta Loach of Los Altos published statistics quantifying the appalling discrimination against female artists. Not only did that resonate with my scientific training in basing theory upon measurable information, it made the case to others who need to see the numbers.15
, Vol. 2, No. 3, 1977, the second of two issues on "Women in the Arts." Roberta Loach published, edited, and wrote for Visual Dialog
, 1975–1980, a scholarly California journal of the visual arts.
Even though in the 1970s more women, people of color, and those with diverse gifts and backgrounds were hired in teaching and administration, the institutionalized culture then prevalent in academia, galleries, and museums did not truly value diversity of issues and ideas.16 Working within these organizations, one often paid a heavy price personally, politically, and economically for advocating openness and inclusion. Tokenism—hiring a single female or nonwhite person, or programming exhibitions encapsulating artists by gender or ethnicity to demonstrate the institution's commitment to diversity—reigned.17 The general climate in many university arts programs undercut initiatives for change. Art that had any sort of socially relevant content (different from the status quo) was disparaged as "political art," as opposed to "real art."
Pioneer artists Patricia Rodriguez
and Marjorie Eaton
with Rodriguez's heart sculpture in the exhibition Staying Visible, The Importance of Archives
in 1981. Rodriguez, from San Francisco, described prevalent art world responses in the '70s: "[they] turned up their noses," "they didn't know how to accept my art," "it was difficult because I was not in step." She chose to do hearts instead of the usual abstract "yellow canvas with a white dot." Her art was cultural, emotional, as was Eaton's, and both had a passion for evocative murals. Eaton could have told Rodriguez about how it was painting with emotive artists Diego Rivera
and Frida Kahlo
in the 1930s, because she lived it. Eaton loved people. For many decades, Eaton nurtured a diverse avant-garde arts colony in the Palo Alto foothills on the historic ranch site of legendary Juana Briones
and shared her legacy of caring. Contemporary academic research on Briones and Eaton is illuminating their times and their lasting meaning for California cultural development. Photo: Helen Fleming.
Breaking New Ground: Creative Strategies
The blossoming of Silicon Valley into a home for vibrant cultural startups was the result of three key growth factors: 1) The desire and courage to widen the vista and dialogue of new ideas and values begun by pioneering activists; 2) Formation of flexible, open structures that combine vision with a grounded understanding of real-world struggles that kept in touch with our basic humanity; and 3) Involvement of dedicated individuals, who provided counsel, advocacy, and investment of time and money. The combination of these attitudes and actions energized the breaking of new ground in addressing the issue of exclusion in the arts.
As a college instructor in studio art and art history, I was one of the change-seekers who rewrote studio and art history courses and books (late 1970s, early '80s),18 adding women and people of color, as well as unusual media and ideas. Some women altered their first names; others, including artist/activist/educator Ruth Tunstall Grant and me, occasionally used only our first initials to sidestep prejudice (for example, to get our work into an exhibition). But most exciting of all, we started to connect with others around the Bay.
For me, as a motivated educator/presenter/activist, that meant learning from acclaimed visionary artists/activists, including Ruth Asawa, who developed whole-person art programs in San Francisco public schools starting in 1968 and her renowned Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts in 1982; Patricia Rodriguez, founder of Las Mujeres Muralistas (women muralists), who created brightly colored murals in Balmy Alley and elsewhere in San Francisco's Mission District from 1970 to 1979; Carlos Villa, who directly challenged the entire academic/cultural establishment from within,19 organizing diverse, thought-provoking programs at San Francisco Art Institute; and then-novice artist Mildred Howard, Berkeley, who curated a Heartfelt Hearts exhibition in 1977 that included her own mixed-media textile constructions, Chocolate Hearts.20 Years later, Howard would be featured in top galleries, museums, and art history survey texts.
Building New Forms
We began to build new forms of arts startups from scratch in the cities of the Peninsula and South Bay, gathering together a unique blend of people from the arts and academia, along with forward-thinking government and business leaders. Without the decades-long dedication of a broad base of partners and leaders, all the good that was accomplished would have taken much longer and been far more difficult than anyone could have possibly imagined. Our new hybrids included old-timers, newcomers, people finding their way in satellite cities, special-needs populations, supportive nonprofits, people from other parts of the world. Building community with a group of insightful, innovative dynamos proved to be the real energizer.
Two such dynamos were cartoonist Gen Pilgrim Guracar and historian Connie Young Yu, an amazing duo on the Peninsula who moved past barriers as early as the 1970s. They reached across cultures and disciplines, and brought together people from different walks of life. Using pen and paper, needle and thread, they combined living art and democracy. Guracar organized the dozens of women creating The People's Bicentennial Quilt (1974), and Yu wrote the book The People's Bicentennial Quilt: A Patchwork History (1976) that tells the story behind each square. At the Euphrat, we wrote about this early collaborative public art as part of our exhibition and publication The Power of Cloth: Political Quilts, 1845–1986.21
Patchwork History, The People's Bicentennial Quilt
, Connie Young Yu. 1976 version printed by UP PRESS, East Palo Alto, CA. Republished by the Saratoga Historical Foundation in 2010.
"We made this quilt," wrote organizer Gen Guracar, "in answer to those who would commercialize our Bicentennial celebration … leaving us without a spiritual link to those who struggled so hard for the rights that we have now." In her foreword, Connie Young Yu writes: "We wanted to portray the people as making history: the nameless, countless members of movements and struggles that have affected the soul and character of America. We felt there was much in American history that could unite us and inspire us in a cynical time…We hope to inspire other community groups to celebrate American culture and history in a true revolutionary spirit."
In the same time frame, Deanna Bartels (now Tisone), Betty Estersohn and Joan Valdes used video—then "cutting-edge" technology—to explore and document breadth in San Francisco Bay Area art making, even art and open space. The three Peninsula artists taped early social activists/environmentalists Frank and Joséphine Duveneck, who purchased and used their land, Hidden Villa in Los Altos Hills, in order to protect an entire watershed, advance social justice, and promote environmental education. The trio's Marjorie Eaton video opened a world of hidden Silicon Valley cultural histories from Ohlone Indian and local pioneer struggles in post-Mission days to a modern family-like community of artists. It inspired me to collaborate with them on an exhibition, publication, and further programming. The NEA-funded First Generation videos included visual art stars like Ruth Asawa, dancers Jasmine and Xavier Nash in the early '70s in the Fillmore, and clay artist Bea Wax in Palo Alto. First Generation was one of Tisone's many collaborative, interdisciplinary art projects over the last decades. Today we are working on making more of this history accessible and available online.
Shoots and Offshoots
In the late 1970s in San José, a group of aspiring curators with a strong SJSU contingent began a series of attempts to create viable spaces where emerging artists could show their work. Art professor Tony May and I first wielded hammers for art in an old building on Santa Clara Street in downtown San José. May was, and continues to be, a key catalyst.22 We put our energies into Works Gallery (1977), an offshoot of Wordworks, which in mid–1980 reopened as the San José Institute of Contemporary Art (SJICA). Works Gallery, SJICA, and others could be termed alternative art spaces, art lingo for increased non-traditional exhibition opportunities for emerging artists. Because artists, poets, and other creative people need multiple venues to flourish, the creation of these alternative organizations sparked cultural growth in Silicon Valley and put the area on the arts map.23
The core groups I speak of here, however, might be called "alternative-alternative" organizations. These smaller organizations (and offshoots from large organizations that manage to grow independently from their parent group) often begin with altruistic goals and a commitment to community-building, and are free to exhibit more flexibility. Pioneers in this arena, like artist Ruth Tunstall Grant, led the way and overcame obstacles. Tunstall Grant gave SJMA and Silicon Valley new dimensions by drawing in community diversity, giving opportunities to creative people of color, and starting studio art programs in city schools and the county youth shelter.24 The alternative-alternative groups have often served as reality checks, providing grounding for the large institutions. These shoots and offshoots find new doors to open, notice diversity of ideas in their own backyard, meet needs of diverse artists and the student in all of us, and understand the social dynamics and issues of their communities.25
Opening the Door
During the late 1960s and continuing into the '70s and early '80s, various small organizations—hybrids of business, education, and volunteer models, supported at times with government funding—opened doors to other cultures. I grew to know and value their work, and collaborated extensively with some of these innovators. In 1968, two visionaries, artist/educator Cozetta Gray Guinn and her physicist husband Isaac "Ike" Guinn, established Nbari Art, a museum-quality gallery in Los Altos, highlighting the work of students at Stanford and UC Berkeley. Their gracious and welcoming shop featured imported African art and African American art, and offered us an invaluable cultural resource for four decades.
In the early 1970s in an abandoned downtown San José storefront near First and San Carlos Streets, artist Mary Jane Solis26 and activist Adrian Vargas (founder/director of San José's Teatro de la Gente, 1967–1977) co-founded El Centro Cultural de la Gente, the South Bay's first Chicano/Latino cultural center. El Centro's exhibitions, art programs, and luminaries had an impressive roster, including: Lorna Dee Cervantes and her Mango Press, artist José Antonio Burciaga, Las Mujeres Muralistas, and Luis Valdez, the father of Chicano theater. Solis curated art exhibitions, managed arts programs, called attention to social justice related art, and spoke out for multicultural arts—for "a place to come together and feed the spirit."
In 1973, renowned painter Paul Pei-Jen Hau (Hau Bei Ren) and Mary Hau opened their Chinese Fine Arts Gallery in downtown Los Altos. Their personal invitation to understand Chinese culture countered lingering anti-Chinese sentiment, and in 1979, with Paul Pei-Jen Hau as its guiding spirit, artists, and friends founded the American Society for the Advancement of Chinese Arts.27
Paul Pei-Jen Hau (born in 1917) and Mary Hau in 2009, celebrating at the reception for Looking Back, Looking Ahead
Artist Terese May remarkably opened the stubborn art world door to the culture of domesticity, through her quilts and paintings. Periodically, she assisted the San José Museum of Quilts & Textiles, the first museum in the U.S. to focus exclusively on quilts and textiles as an art form. Started in Los Altos in 1977, the museum was essentially a collaborative, volunteer organization for a decade before hiring its first paid director.
In 1981 in Palo Alto, Trudy Myrrh Reagan started YLEM: Artists Using Science and Technology.28 With our similar backgrounds in science and art, Reagan and I exchanged ideas and collaborated on exhibitions. In 1984 at SJSU, quiet-but-determined art professor Marcia Chamberlain took the initial lead of CADRE Laboratory for New Media, an interdisciplinary academic and research program dedicated to the experimental use of information technology and art.29 We strategized frequently, and she invited me to write the essay for the CADRE '84 catalog.
Expanding the Boundaries
While doors were opened, the struggle to change minds continued. Quilts, fiber arts, and "computer art" were saddled with countering prejudices about "women's work" or "right/left brain" thinking, and had little acceptance in the academic and institutional art world. In fact, the two worlds rarely communicated.30
In 1979, when I became director/curator at the Euphrat Museum of Art at De Anza College, I brainstormed with activists and potential staff and board members how we could build community, foster civic engagement, and go beyond disciplines and narrow definitions to explore new ideas. For us, the open-door policies of the community college system and the logic of partnerships were great avenues for experimentation. We realized the urgent need for new systems to open up opportunities, give visibility to contemporary artists and ideas from diverse sources, and promote thought and discussion. With this in mind, we initiated a unique campus/community partnership.31
Working with incredible innovators, beginning with artists/activists Jo Hanson (Art from Street Trash) and Carlos Villa (performance art with dramatic installations of feathered capes) and poet George Barlow, we expanded the boundaries of what could be considered art and what merited attention or discourse, and began a stellar poetry series that would include Dennis Brutus and Quincy Troupe. Early exhibition examples were The Workplace/The Refuge (Janet Burdick and Scott Miller recreating their San José studio in the Euphrat) and Men and Children (views from six Bay Area male artists with diverse backgrounds) in 1980; an exhibition to celebrate the 1981 International Year of Disabled Persons, developed with De Anza's Physically Limited Program; followed by our seminal Staying Visible, The Importance of Archives, which directly addressed visibility issues. CROSSOVER, the first of many art and technology exhibitions, came in 1982, and Commercial Illustrators, 1981, and Illustration/Design, 1983, introduced processes and artwork from Bay Area commercial artists, another discipline not recognized at that time by the art world.32 And that was just the beginning.33 We responded to suggestions from the community. A student asked me why there never seemed to be any religious art in modern art galleries. So in 1982, we investigated the subject in Art, Religion, Spirituality.343536
, 6/23/82, San José Mercury News
, reprinted in Illustration, Design
. Commercial art was not recognized by the art world in the early '80s. To broaden the institutional mindset and see larger contexts to struggles, we worked with people in related fields such as Wilkinson. A cartoonist extraordinaire who got her start sitting in on San José Mercury News
editorial sessions, Wilkinson went on to Philadelphia and became the first woman to win a Pulitzer in cartooning. Feisty and funny, she could open anyone's mind.
There were noticeable structural parallels between the growth of the alternative arts scene and that of Silicon Valley tech culture, although tech culture has had its own problems with insularity. From Hewlett Packard in its early days to Google, many companies saw the wisdom of loosening reins and regulations, and were increasingly open to new values, different cultures, and varied schedules and ways of working. Dress codes relaxed from the stiff suits of previous eras. Size played a role in cultural development. Large companies gave rise to spin-offs, and startups were staffed by even smaller teams. Via these spin-offs and startups, innovative individuals could make direct connections with education, youth, music, and gamers, as well as counterculture, geek and activist cultures, and the global community. Steve Jobs started Apple Computer in Cupertino in 1976, just down the street from the Euphrat. Apple supported and participated in many early Euphrat Museum exhibitions, and the Euphrat created art exhibitions in numerous Apple buildings. We connected with Apple on many levels.37
The Late 1980s/1990s: New Ventures, Ethnic Dimensions, Community Building
At Stanford, Cecilia and José Antonio Burciaga did something different. From 1985–1994, the couple lived at Casa Zapata as Resident Fellows—she as a top university administrator, he as resident artist—both working closely with student and community needs.38 José (a.k.a. Tony, Toñ o) created murals at Casa Zapata, and used comedy to attack racism and narrow divisive thinking, and published poetry and writings, e.g. Weedee Peepo (1988). ("…Tony remembers his parents preparing for their citizenship tests and saying to each other: 'Have you learned el Weedee Peepo?' That was how the Burciagas pronounced the words that perhaps more than anything else make American, Americans: 'We the People,' the first three words of the preamble to the Constitution." José Cardenás, Arizona Republic, 2005.)
José Antonio Burciaga taught us how to Drink Cultura
. Drink Cultura
was first published in 1979 by Lorna Dee Cervantes's Mango Press in San José. Detail of T-shirt accompanying the publication.
In 1989, artists/activists Betty Kano of Berkeley and Flo Oy Wong of Sunnyvale founded the Asian American Women Artists Association (AAWAA) in the Bay Area to "promote the visibility of Asian American women artists" who lacked recognition in their own traditional culture and were again overlooked when national museums sought Asian art stars. Also in 1989, Maribel Alvarez, Rick Sajor, and Eva Terrazas envisioned arts programming as a vehicle for civic dialogue and social equity and founded Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana (MACLA) in downtown San José. Alvarez recalls, "When we got involved, the way to ignite the sort of movement included in our name…was a literary movement." We both worked with another powerful arts couple, poets Juan Felipe Herrera and Margarita Luna Robles. They organized poetry readings downtown, in East San José, and at the Euphrat Museum in the 1980s, lifting us all in spirit, bringing poems by, from and for the people, without shrinking from telling hard truths in poems like Robles's Suicide in the Barrio.
I marveled at the ongoing vibrancy of Ruth Tunstall Grant, who in the 1990s founded Genesis/A Sanctuary for the Arts in San José creating exhibitions, presentations, performing arts, and artist studios, bringing together different cultures and simultaneously establishing a visible presence for the black community. Somehow, in the same decade, she developed the art program for foster youth at the Santa Clara County Children's Shelter, after directing and building the outstanding children's art school at SJMA in the 1980s.
After she worked in San José, artist Jean La Marr introduced us to Urban Indian Girls, which became part of Euphrat's 1984 FACES exhibition; a decade later La Marr collaborated with the local Muwekma Ohlone Tribe to create The Ohlone Journey mural in Berkeley. Given the Native American Diaspora, my early knowledge of local Indian art often came through transient artists who connected both with far-flung traditional communities and part-time academic assignments around Northern California.39 As artist Consuelo Jimenez Underwood, Cupertino, put in an artist statement: "With beauty, grace, and traditional form, my work expresses the quiet rage that has permeated indigenous peoples of the Americas for over five hundred years."40 Underwood would develop and head the textiles/fiber program at SJSU for over twenty years.
Jean La Marr, Urban Indian Girls
, 1981. Etching, 16"x18".
The above are just part of the story. There has long been arts activity beyond nonprofits. In her 2005 book There's Nothing Informal about It: Participatory Arts Within the Cultural Ecology of Silicon Valley,41 published by Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley, Maribel Alvarez chronicled amateur, folk, commercial, and avocational arts.42
In the new millennium, Silicon Valley's cultural ecology was changing rapidly with immigration: the white population became a minority, displaced by a massive population of emigrants from India, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Mexico.43 At the same time, new systemic disparities in formal education and income levels would increasingly present both opportunities and challenges in social, economic, technological, and government realms. At a forward-looking event in 199544 at the Euphrat, the Arts Council under new director Bruce Davis applauded the "arts as an intervention for social ills,"45 connecting arts with government, schools, youth, veterans, social services, and prisons. Presenters included a county supervisor, a judge, and arts/community leaders from Menlo Park and East Palo Alto to Gilroy. "We had to run two sessions!" Davis recalled.
Counsel, Advocacy, Support
What kept innovators going even in the face of personal attacks, political maneuverings, and endless barriers put in their paths by resistant administrators, colleagues and institutions? This brings me back to Consuelo Santos-Killins. Ruth Tunstall Grant and I both sought seasoned perspectives from Santos-Killins. She possessed insight and understood the unique value of new ventures. As she battled cancer for five years, Santos-Killins continued her wide-ranging activism, firing off letters to top policymakers. Grant and I, like many other arts advocates, faced incredible struggles. Grant: "One gets beat up. You think you know the answers; but after a while, you are not sure anymore." Even on our worst days and hers, Santos-Killins could be counted on. Good advice and support were gifts she brought to so many who struggled to build the arts and art education systems we have today.
Advocacy was another gift of Santos-Killins. Advocacy, little heralded or discussed, is a well-worn term with levels of meaning. The advocacy I laud and refer to here includes speaking up for people, ideas, and/or organizations in a public letter or at a public meeting.46
None of the blossoming could have happened without supporters, from a key trustee to a bold city councilmember or a few visionary county and state policymakers like Santos-Killins, to donors, board members, students, volunteers, brainstormers, barnstormers, activists, collectors, companies, and educators in other disciplines with fresh perspectives.47
Protect the Child
, Ruth Tunstall Grant, c. 2004. Acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 5'x8'. From the series entitled, Breaking the Chain of Abuse
. An enlarged reproduction became a section of the Japantown Mural Project
(2012-2013), a community project by rasteroids design and the City of San José Public Art Program to celebrate an historic San José neighborhood. Art by 50 local artists, more than 60 large panels of color, covered chain-link fencing surrounding barren land, once San José's maintenance yard, and 100 years ago, one of San José's first Chinatown settlements known as "Heinlenville."
The New Millennium: Business, Democracy, Change
Today, our traditional cultural, educational, and media institutions, so important to our democracy, are challenged by new technologies and a changing economy that demand new business models. Daily newspapers search for successful ways to develop and monetize their online product. Educational and cultural institutions participate in online and other technological changes, adapting through private funding and unusual collaborations. As we sort out what is gained or lost,48 we have examples of new "alternative-alternative" organizations forging the trail, such as Silicon Valley De-Bug, with whom I worked often. This media, community-organizing, and entrepreneurial collective coordinated by Raj Jayadev has an expanded reading of art, information, and democracy as its basis.49
, The Art Of War
, 2009. Digital print. B-boys (breakdancers) presenting their skills at San José's largest b-boy/b-girl event. Menor has worked with Silicon Valley De-Bug
and photographed a hidden Silicon Valley for years.
An open door in the arts plays an ongoing role in democracy; this is even more important today as we see exclusion continue in many ways. In News in a New America (2005), Sally Lehrman of Santa Clara University describes the "invisibility" of people and ideas in journalism and new media, emphasizing how access to information about each other is essential for our democracy. It is this same communication that is at the core of the arts. However, many people do not think of arts organizations and institutions as being essential for our democracy. "Invisibility" of people and ideas in the arts precludes exchange of information about each other. Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston reminded us of that recently in The Manzanar Lesson: Telling our stories strengthens democracy50 in which she urges people to tell their stories, experiences, and perspectives because "democracy depends on it."51
In 2004, Euphrat Museum spotlighted Titus Kaphar's Visual Quotations series,52 drawn from classical paintings illustrating one version of the founding of our country. Kaphar only painted the African American(s); the rest of the scene is white, leaving a disjointed figure(s). Kaphar wanted viewers to consider the individual represented, to see "a people of dignity and strength, whose survival is nothing less than miraculous," bringing the visibility issue to light.
Have things changed in Silicon Valley's contemporary arts environment? Yes and no.53 We can see a lasting breakthrough in MACLA, which has an inclusive community vision that has brought dimension to South First Street in San José. Technology-oriented ZER01 and its Garage, and the San José Museum of Quilts and Textiles have become crucial anchors for the SoFA District arts community. Silicon Valley De-Bug boldly plows new ground.
More Work to be Done
Some 50-plus years from the March on Washington for jobs and justice, so much community-building work remains. Does discussion about an "open arts community" really exist in our local academic world and cultural institutions? Much of Silicon Valley academia has dropped the ball in terms of providing a center for cohesive, open discussion, let alone a base for support, in part because funding cuts have exacerbated academic departments' territorial tendency to focus on their own bread-and-butter programs. Thus art departments tend to be insular, with other fields—women's, gender, and cultural studies, humanities, or other social and physical sciences—filling in where needed. Our local cultural institutions suffer from similar problems and financial vulnerability.
Moreover, even institutions grown in opposition to exclusion can, by defining themselves narrowly or through unconscious prejudicial behaviors, continue exclusion by class, educational level, discipline, or background. It is so easy to separate ourselves. In terms of visibility and participation, clearly more work needs to be done—with arts at the table—across all sectors, including with at-risk youth populations, low-income neighborhoods, threatened environments, out-of-whack justice systems, and out-of-balance boardrooms focused only on a myopic bottom line.
It remains difficult to develop or discuss the region's integrated art history within its ongoing context. Recognition provided through random, selective awards and obituaries typically fails to provide a coherent, integrated appreciation or understanding. One local artist labels the drag on any art scene as "selfishness, contentment, lack of desire to do the hard work."
I have suggested that we take action to extend and document the arts forum across cultures, disciplines, and sectors and include the role of arts roots, startups, and offshoots. In order to do this, we need a local archive or a locus of discussion, yet no central historical record is available online. Advancing previous cross-disciplinary and cross-sector initiatives without a clear place to start an examination of past efforts is especially challenging.
We need ongoing attention to build on the contributions of our diverse forerunners. Too often websites are not archived and disappear. Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley, Nbari Art, and Arts Council Silicon Valley (ACSV) sites no longer exist. Major institutions like ACSV (now Silicon Valley Creates, 2013) and SJMA have not given web attention and context to pioneers and change agents like Ruth Tunstall Grant.
One option could be a multi-year, interdisciplinary campus and/or community project, with an annual published essay related to the meaning or practice of "the spectrum of the arts in Silicon Valley." Such a project would open doors, collaborate across disciplines and sectors, and connect side history with mainstream history. An accessible, ongoing web presence would be an essential element, combined with the involvement of students doing related research, documentation, and projects (including drama or other arts forms) on individuals, organizations, and/or concepts.
Gathering and Flourishing
Juan Felipe Herrera, our California Poet Laureate, performed his poetry on April 4, 2012 at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, accompanied by jazz musicians. "Good words. Good hearts," he said. His poem, Let Us Gather in a Flourishing Way, speaks to us all. "Let us gather in a flourishing way… Let us gather in a flourishing way," he intoned with the drums. Ruth Tunstall Grant nodded when I mentioned the glowing experience to her. "Flourishing. One has no idea what will grow. But it needs to be face-to-face, not Facebook," she said.
Let us, then, learn from the various elders and all those who have worked "in a flourishing way." Face-to-face conversations and stories are the start of an ongoing gathering of the thoughts and experiences of some of our artists/activists who have contributed creatively to the blossoming of Silicon Valley. I have introduced some of them, presented a context of Silicon Valley community building, raised questions, and suggested actions for research, documentation, and discussion. But this essay is just the beginning. I invite you, the reader, to offer your perspective and to fill in the blanks in an appendix, available later on www.janrindfleisch.com, so we can recognize and give context to more key artists, organizations, and others who opened up new doors. Knowledge of the past will inform our dialogue as we move forward. Let us build upon their experiences to create a truly vibrant arts community in Silicon Valley.
FOR FURTHER READING
San José Art History to 1985
Artist/educator Roberta Loach, Los Altos, published the quarterly magazine Visual Dialog, from 1975 to 1980, with essays, interviews, reviews and columns, expanding women's role in connecting Silicon Valley arts with Bay Area and national arts and arts activism.
In 1979 and 1987, artist/professor Marcia Chamberlain published the Irregular Gazette, "a once in a while publication of the SJSU Art Department," an opportunity to think about and understand women's contributions, cultural diversity, and entrepreneurship. 1987 articles brought forward emerging artists, the art and humanism of Dorothy Liebes, and the future for CADRE Laboratory, fiber, and foundry programs.
The ambitious A Celebration of 100 Years of the Department of Art, 2013, Natalie and James Thompson Art Gallery, refocuses on the SJSU art department's past to "tie to larger cultural and social movements" of today, but creates a sense of a more diverse and diversity-welcoming past academic cultural climate than existed.
Importance of Archives
For understanding the making of art history and the times, including local activism, see Staying Visible, The Importance of Archives, Jan Rindfleisch, 1981, exhibition publication, Euphrat Museum of Art. Foreword by Paul Karlstrom, West Coast Area Director, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Commentaries included Michael Bell, Registrar/Cataloguer, Oakland Museum of California. Eleven articles involved researchers from various institutions concentrating on individual artists, all women, with a focus on putting material into archives. Karlstrom, Bell, and others brought project insight, guidance, and support, particularly important in our early critical days of discovery.
This essay would not have been possible without discussions and insight from Nancy Hom, Ruth Tunstall Grant, Judy Goddess, Laurel Bossen, Lucy Cain Sargeant, and Tom Izu, with additional assistance from Consuelo Jimenez Underwood, Mary Parks Washington, Gen Pilgrim Guracar and Connie Young Yu, Ann Sherman, Bruce Davis, John Kreidler, Michael Bell, Thomas Rindfleisch, Janet Burdick, Samson Wong, and many artists and activists mentioned in this essay, and unmentioned, with whom I spoke.
Appendix: A Selected Timeline of Arts and Cultural Development in Silicon Valley
First posted April 2015, updated February 2017.
This appendix gives a selected timeline of arts activism and cultural development in
Silicon Valley. To give additional context for arts and community building, it focuses on
key individuals who moved beyond the mainstream and worked communally to expand
the conversation and breadth of opportunity for those sidelined. A few examples of the
destruction of culturally significant places, structures or artworks are also included
for context. The timeline is not comprehensive, and any amplification, refinement, and
dialogue about it are welcome.
At the end of the timeline is additional art and historical context with a list of organizations.
Kuksu ceremonial pendants
made of red and black abalone
shells are found in archaeological
sites in downtown San José and
CA-ALA-329 in Coyote Hills,
Fremont. Jewelry is one example
of the long history of Ohlone art.
Juana Briones purchases the
4,400-acre Rancho la Purísima
Concepción in the Palo Alto
foothills from two Mission Santa
Clara (Clareño) Ohlone men and
brings her vision to the land:
a hilltop home for her family
with an architecturally rare
construction. A humanitarian
and initiator of creative spaces,
she builds community, models
freedom and courage, and
advances opportunities for
Purchase of three marble
sculptures created by artist
Edmonia Lewis, who identifies as
African American and Ojibway/Chippewa and works out of
Rome in a neoclassical vein.
The Friends of San José Library
purchases Bust of Lincoln. San
José leader and suffragist Sarah
Knox Goodrich purchases
and Asleep. Lewis is the first
internationally known artist to
come exhibit in San José.
Art Association is formed in San
José. The first Art Association
exhibition is held at the Normal
School, now San José State
Arson demolishes San José's
Market Street Chinatown (one
of five in the city). Within weeks,
the site is voted for San José's
new City Hall.
Stanford Museum of Art is
established (revival in 1963).
Hakone Estate and Gardens,
designed and built by Isabel
and Oliver Stine, is established.
Inspired by the 1915 Pan-Pacific
Exhibition, Isabel Stine travels to
Japan. Upon seeing Fuji-Hakone
National Park, she retains
architect Tsunematsu Shintani
and landscape gardener Naoharu
Aihara to build her own Hakone
Gardens in Saratoga.
Pacific Art League is founded
in Palo Alto (founded as Palo
Alto Art Club; name would be
changed in 1984).
Artist/actress Marjorie Eaton
initiates a family-like arts colony
in Palo Alto built around the stage
Juana Briones set at her home on
the hill. The colony flourishes for
most of the century, encouraging
women in the arts and crossing
racial barriers during decades of
de facto segregation in Palo Alto.
(Eaton and her colony would be
featured in a local documentary
video in the 1970s and in a local
publication in the early '80s.)
Muwekma Ohlone language
songs sung by Muwekma
Elder Jose Guzman, the great-grandfather
of Muwekma Tribal
Councilwoman and Language
Committee Co-Chair Sheila
Guzman-Schmidt, are recorded in
Niles. Linguist John P. Harrington
records 27 songs from Guzman,
which are currently housed at the
Smithsonian Institution's Bureau
of American Ethnology.
San Jose Art League established.
Montalvo Arts Center, Saratoga
is established, including the third
artist residency program of its
type in the United States. (Now
known as the Sally and Don
Lucas Artist Residency Program,
it continues to support new
YWCA of the Mid-Peninsula
opens as a recreation center
for businesswomen. It expands
to provide recreational and
social services for women that
meet the organization's mission
of "empowering women and
eliminating racism," and exhibits
local artists, including self-taught
painter Huellar Banks from East
Palo Alto. (The organization
would be based in Palo Alto until
its closing in 2003.)
The de Saisset Museum is
established at Santa Clara
University (SCU), covering art
and history; includes Santa Clara
Mission art from the Galtes
Museum, formerly housed in the
basement of O'Connor Hall. (The
de Saisset would develop a focus
on exhibitions exploring social
SJSU art professor John De
Vincenzi, WWII veteran, is a key
arts and community organizer,
from the San Jose Art League
to the Italian American Heritage
Foundation of San José. He keeps
substantial archives. Atlanta-born
artist/educator Mary Parks
Washington works with De
Vincenzi in expanding the South
Bay's arts vision beyond cultural
John De Vincenzi becomes
chair of the Gallery Advisory
Committee to the San José Fine
Arts Commission. The advisory
committee carries out the
planning process for the proposed
conversion of a San José public
library building into a city art
Triton Museum of Art, Santa
Clara, is founded as first non-university
art museum in the
Spurred by his volunteer
activities in Mississippi during
1964's Freedom Summer, Frank
Cieciorka, graphic artist, former
SJSU student and activist,
develops the iconic clenched-fist
image of the New Left.
Artist/educator Cozetta Gray
Guinn and her physicist husband
Isaac "Ike" Guinn establish Nbari
Art, a shop and museum-quality
gallery in Los Altos, featuring
imported African art and African
With a grant from Signetics, artist
Talala Mshuja starts the Nairobi
Cultural Center in East Palo
Alto, which includes classes for
San Jose Civic Gallery (now
known as San José Museum of
Artist Mary Jane Solis and
activist Adrian Vargas (founder/director of San José's Teatro de
la Gente, 1967–1977) co-found El
Centro Cultural de la Gente, the
South Bay's first Chicano/Latino
cultural center, in downtown
San José. El Centro features
exhibitions; art programs; Lorna
Dee Cervantes and her Mango
Press; performance by Teatro
de la Gente; and Luis Valdez, the
father of Chicano theater. [Solis
would serve as gallery curator
(1973–1976) and mural program
manager (1978–1981). El Centro's
first staff member Elisa Marina
Alvarado would later go on to cofound
Teatro Visión, where she
continues as artistic director to
Painter Paul Pei-Jen Hau and
Mary Hau open the Chinese Fine
Arts Gallery in Los Altos.
Emphasizing performing arts,
PJ and Roy Hirabayashi found
San Jose Taiko and collaborate to
revitalize San José's Japantown,
one of only three Japantowns left
in the country.
Artist Gen Guracar, Mountain
View, organizes dozens of women
for the valley's first large-scale
Visual Dialog, a quarterly
magazine with essays, dialogs,
reviews, and columns, edited by
artist Roberta Loach, Los Altos,
first appears. The publication
challenges discrimination against
Historian Connie Young Yu writes
The People's Bicentennial Quilt:
A Patchwork History a book
telling the story behind each quilt
square. [First edition, UP PRESS,
East Palo Alto, 1976; revised
edition, Saratoga Historical
Mid- and Late 1970s
SJSU faculty member Jessica
Jacobs leads artists in developing
city exhibition space with broader
representation and more freedom
than the now "established" SJMA.
Jacobs and a number of her
students pioneer the first modern
art galleries in San José, starting
with Merz Gallery (later to be
replaced by Wordworks).
On the Peninsula, First
(now Tisone), Betty Estersohn
and Joan Valdes—use new
video technology to explore and
document Bay Area art, including
that of artists Marjorie Eaton and
Consuelo Santos Killins directs
Pacific Peoples Theater and
begins three decades of
activism—with the San José Fine
Arts Commission, California Arts
Council, Santa Clara County Arts
Council, SJSU's Institute for Arts
and Letters, Santa Clara County
Mental Health Association, and
Friends of Guadalupe River Park.
She pushes for substantive school
and community arts programs
and more diverse participation
across the board.
Artist Anthony Quartuccio paints
a mural above the altar of Holy
Cross Church (1906) in an early
Italian immigrant area of San
José. (It would be lost in a fire in
San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles opens in Los Altos,
the first U.S. museum to focus
exclusively on quilts and textiles
as an art form. (It would be
essentially a collaborative,
volunteer organization for its first
Professor Diane Middlebrook
becomes director of Stanford's
Center for Research on Women
(CROW, founded 1972). [In 1979
Professor Dr. Carl Djerassi would
found the Djerassi Resident
Artists Program. Initially
administered through the art
exhibition program of CROW, he
and Middlebrook would establish
an independent, comprehensive
program by 1982. CROW would
later become the Institute for
Research on Women and Gender
(1983), with exhibitions at Serra
House, and still later, Clayman
Institute for Gender Research
Nairobi Cultural Center moves
north to San Mateo County.
Photographer Mary Andrade
creates a vehicle for art as
co-founder, co-publisher of the
bilingual La Oferta, the oldest
continuous Hispanic publication
in San José.
With Paul Pei-Jen Hau as its
guiding spirit, artists and friends
found the American Society for
the Advancement of Chinese Arts
Euphrat Art Gallery (1971), De
Anza College, is resurrected after
funding loss from Proposition
13, differentiated by an unusual
vision of collaboration across
cultures and disciplines. Jan
Rindfleisch, director, develops
a unique college/community
partnership that produces
innovative, vibrant museum
programming for over three
decades. (Gallery becomes the
Euphrat Museum of Art in 1992.)
Poets Juan Felipe Herrera and
Margarita Luna Robles organize
poetry readings in downtown and
East San José, and at the Euphrat
Artist Ruth Tunstall Grant directs
and expands the children's art
school at the San José Museum
of Art, initiating art classes in
underserved city schools.
San José State University
professor José Colchado creates
murals, working with youth in
the East Side Union High School
District and Janie Perez, director
of the Barrio Leadership Training
Program (later known as East
Side Youth Center).
Activist artist Julia Iltis creates
artwork for political posters.
Stop the Repression! (1982)
commemorates the fi nal speech
made by Monsignor Oscar
Romero, Archbishop of San
Salvador, the day before his 1980
assassination. Guilty of the Gospel
promotes a 1984 presentation
in honor of four U.S. women
missionaries martyred in El
Salvador in 1980. (Both would be
added to the Oakland Museum
of California's All of Us or None
Archive in 2010.)
Mythili Kumar founds Abhinaya
Dance Company, teaching and
performing Bharatanatyam, a
South Indian classical dance.
In Palo Alto, artist Trudy Myrrh
Reagan starts YLEM: Artists
Using Science and Technology
to exchange ideas, explore the
intersection of the arts and the
sciences, and consider the impact
of science and technology on
Jan Rindfleisch, Lucy Cain
Sargeant and Kim Bielejec Sanzo
create the Euphrat exhibition and
publication Staying Visible: The
Importance of Archives; foreword
by Paul J. Karlstrom, West Coast
director, Archives of American
Art, Smithsonian Institution. The
pivotal project focuses on women
in the arts, featuring multiple
interviewers and authors.
Arts Council of Santa Clara
County is established.
SJSU art professor Marcia
Chamberlain organizes the
first Computers in Art, Design,
Research, and Education
(CADRE) conference and
publication, and becomes the
first director of SJSU's CADRE
Laboratory for New Media, an
interdisciplinary academic and
research program dedicated
to the experimental use of
information technology and art.
Cecilia and José Antonio Burciaga
become Resident Fellows living
at Stanford's Casa Zapata—she
as a top university administrator,
he as resident artist, both
working closely with student
and community needs. [For the
next nine years, José (aka Tony,
Toño) would create murals at
Casa Zapata, use comedy to
attack racism and narrow divisive
thinking, and publish poetry and
Jeanne Farr McDonnell starts
the Women's Heritage Museum,
with a focus on California
history and culture. (To create
a larger organization, in 1997 it
would become the International
Museum of Women.)
The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Association of Santa Clara Valley
inaugurates the Freedom Train
on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
The train travels the 54 mile–
Caltrain route from San José to
San Francisco to approximate
the distance of the historic 1965
civil rights march from Selma
to Montgomery, Ala. led by
Dr. King to spur passage of the
Voting Rights Act. (The group will
organize the annual event for the
next 30 years.)
While serving on the Arts
Council of Santa Clara County,
Ruth Tunstall Grant initiates
Hands on the Arts as an Arts
Council project. (The all-day
children's art festival would
become a joint venture of the Arts
Council and the City of Sunnyvale
the following year, and beginning
in 1988, an annual city event.)
Activist Connie Young Yu,
longtime promoter of the art
of marginalized Chinese and
Chinese Americans, highlights
renowned painter Hau Bei Ren
(Paul Pei-Jen Hau) in her book
Profiles in Excellence: Peninsula
Chinese Americans, published by
the Stanford Chinese Club.
Rick Sajor and Margarita Luna
Robles convene "The Arts Lobby"
to increase Latino representation
on the San José Art Commission
and to monitor policies in the arts
locally and regionally.
Consuelo Jimenez Underwood
(Huichol, mestiza), Cupertino,
begins teaching at SJSU. (She
would develop and head the
textile department for over 20
years, simultaneously illuminating
indigenous and hybrid cultures
and border issues.)
Salwa Mikdadi Nashashibi,
Lafayette, founder and director
of International Council for
Women in the Arts, participates
in a Euphrat Museum exhibition
and publication on refugees. (She
would later co-author Forces of
Change: Artists in the Arab World,
the catalog for an unusual 1994
traveling exhibition of artwork
by contemporary Arab women
sponsored by Nashashibi's
San Jose Multicultural Artists
Guild is formed from Maiko
Women's Poetry and Drum
Ensemble, Tabia African
American Theater Ensemble,
and Teatro Familia Aztlán,
with executive director Arlene
Sagun. (Venues would include
social service agencies, battered
women's shelters, juvenile
detention facilities, Juneteenth
and Kwanzaa celebrations,
plus academic and community
sites for Dia de los Muertos arts
exhibitions. Mary Jane Solis
would curate their Day of the
Dead exhibitions from 1986–
Dr. Jerry Hiura chairs San José
Arts Commission (SJAC) and
appoints Mary Jane Solis chair for
Multicultural Arts Development
(1987–1995). Almost 92% of grant
allocations in the mid-1980s goes
to six large-budget institutions,
such as the San Jose Symphony,
San Jose Cleveland Ballet, and
Joel A. Slayton is named director
of CADRE Laboratory for New
Artists Betty Kano of Berkeley
and Flo Oy Wong of Sunnyvale
found the Asian American
Women Artists Association
(AAWAA) in the Bay Area to
"promote the visibility of Asian
American women artists," who
lack recognition even in their own
traditional culture. Local artists
Terry Acebo Davis and Dawn
Maribel Alvarez, Mary Jane Solis,
Rick Sajor and Eva Terrazas
envision arts programming
as a vehicle for civic dialogue
and social equity and found
Movimiento de Arte y Cultura
Latino Americana (MACLA) in
downtown San José.
Multicultural Arts Action Group
(MAAG), led by two MACLA
board members, Rick Sajor and
Sonia Gray, with representatives
from existing multicultural
arts groups, is established to
encourage more civic support
for small organizations meeting
different cultural needs.
After the Northern California
Chapter hosts the 1989
Women's Caucus for Art (WCA)
National Conference, artists
Ruth Waters and Marta Thoma
develop Peninsula and South
Bay chapters. [The South Bay
Chapter would become Silicon
Valley Women's Caucus for Art
(SVWCA) in 2014.]
Under Mayor Janet Gray Hayes,
the City of San José establishes
the Office of Cultural Affairs
(OCA) to work with the San
José Art Commission. Yankee
Johnson becomes its Director
SJMA opens a new wing.
Mayor Susan Hammer (1991–1999) appoints the Mayor's Task
Force on Multicultural Arts
Development and issues the
"Vision 2000 Report" to address
immediate needs of the growing
diverse multicultural community
and its artists.
Mexican Heritage Corporation
is founded, the first and only
multicultural arts organization
to be considered a "major
institution" by the City of San
José. In its first year, MHC
establishes the Mariachi Festival
in San José.
The Multicultural Arts Incubation
Pilot (MAIP) becomes a national
model for supporting the
development and stabilization of
multicultural arts programming.
Artist Joe B. Rodriguez, arts
program manager (1990–2011)
for the OCA, implements the
program. (Between 1992–2004,
the city would invest and secure
federal, state, and foundation
grants totaling over $1 million
for Arts Incubation initiatives.
Thirty MAIP graduates would
generate $3.2 million of new
revenues by the end of their third
year, creating arts-related jobs
and enhancing local economic
Ruth Tunstall Grant founds
Genesis / A Sanctuary for the
Arts in San José with exhibitions,
presentations, performing arts,
and artist studios, bringing
together different cultures at
three locations—Ryland Street,
40 North First Street, and The
Alameda—with Claude Ferguson
as artistic director. (At the
Alameda site, she would renovate
and build studios in a warehouse
that is now The Alameda
Artworks studios. Tunstall
Grant also would develop the art
program for foster youth at the
Santa Clara County Children's
The Association for Viet Arts is
founded by Hoa Trinh Glassey
and Man Bui to foster excellence
performing, visual, and literary
arts. AVA is the first nonprofit
Vietnamese arts organization in
the Bay Area.
Chike Nwoffi ah starts Oriki
Theatre, Mountain View, to
provide a shared experience of
authentic African culture, from
recreating an African village to
school programs and seasonal
In East Palo Alto, Bart Decrem
founds Plugged In, one of the
nation's first digital-divide
The Muwekma Ohlone Tribe
reclaims the arts of naming and
installation. Tamien Station,
an intermodal passenger
transportation station in San José,
is named after the valley and
tribal region which the Spanish
priests recorded as Thámien
when they founded the first
site of Mission Santa Clara de
Thamien in 1777. Tamien Station
is named to honor the ancestors
of the Muwekma Ohlone after its
construction uncovered a major
ancestral heritage archaeological
site containing around 172
ancestors. (A planned permanent
exhibition of artifacts found
on the site has not yet been
The Arts Council, under new
director Bruce Davis, convenes
a forward-looking countywide
event to applaud the "arts as
an intervention for social ills,"
connecting arts with government,
schools, youth, veterans, social
services, and prisons. Director
Davis (1994–2011), working
with Diem Jones, Lissa Jones,
and Audrey Wong, expands
the Arts Council's community
importance and increases seed
funding to small and mid-sized
Working with Muwekma,
Amah-Mutsun and Esselen
Nation Costanoan/Ohlone tribal
communities, artist Jean LaMarr
creates a mural (restored in
2013) The Ohlone Journey, located
in Ohlone Park in Berkeley,
which celebrates Ohlone life
and culture on four walls. The
local Muwekma Ohlone Tribe,
led by chairwoman Rosemary
Cambra, uses performance art,
academic research, language
revitalization, and public art to
Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley
(1996–2006) is inspired by Mayor
Susan Hammer, a leader in
regional cultural planning. The
initiative advances cultural policy
and art education. [Executive
Director John Kreidler
(2000–2006) would implement a
10-year cultural plan for Silicon
Valley, and produce two major
publications on participatory
arts with Pia Moriarty (2004)
and Maribel Alvarez (2005). Arts
Council of Santa Clara County
would later be renamed Arts
Council Silicon Valley.]
David Yohn (Ojibway), executive
director, and Diane Way (Lakota/Cheyenne), artistic director,
start ABLEZA: Native American
Arts and Media Institute in San
José. Exhibitions are held at the
American Indian Center, part
of the Indian Health Center off
The Alameda, a long-standing
community gathering point.
(ABLEZA programming would
include a 1999 virtual art
exhibit entitled Honor and Pain,
photos of traditional powwow
dancers with sports mascots and
images on commercial products.)
Mary Jane Solis initiates an
extended period highlighting
arts programming in conjunction
with her work in community and
public relations at the Office of
Human Relations, Santa Clara
Mexican Heritage Plaza, a
cultural center built with San José
Redevelopment Agency funds,
opens in San José.
ZERO1, the Art and Technology
Network is founded by Andy
Cunningham. (Joel A. Slayton
would serve as director, 2008–2016.)
Silicon Valley De-Bug, a media,
community organizing, and
coordinated by Raj Jayadev, is
established in San José. Part
of SV De-Bug's core group,
community artists Adrian Avila,
Charisse Domingo, and Jean
Melesaine, would tackle projects
with photo-essays and videos.
Diane Way becomes the first
Native American artist to win the
Literary Fellowship in Playwriting
from Arts Council of Silicon
Valley. In addition to her visual
art, Way taught script writing
and oral tradition at SJSU and
MACLA is recognized in 2003
by Cultural Initiatives Silicon
Valley as Santa Clara County's
"most practiced and mature site
through participatory arts."
Jianhua Hsu establishes the
Silicon Valley Asian Arts
Center in Santa Clara, offering
exhibitions of local and Chinese
art, seminars, music recitals,
publications, art education and
community fundraising events.
Self-taught muralist Frank Torres
makes positive impact on gang
infestation through community
collaborations: murals at Pop's
Mini-Mart, Payless Shoes store,
the visitors' room at the Santa
Clara County Hall of Justice,
and the Elmwood Correctional
Facility (Elmwood's history).
Empire Seven Studios and
Gallery is founded by Juan Carlos
Araujo and Jennifer Ahn in San
José's Japantown, as "a beacon to
underground art culture in the
Content Magazine, The Innovative
and Creative Culture of Silicon
Valley, is started by Daniel Garcia,
Activist Tina Morrill starts Art
Box San José, a community-driven
project depicting art on
The Juana Briones House, a
key link to a woman who was
a California change-agent in
multiple fields, is torn down. A
careful deconstruction occurs,
both to salvage materials and to
preserve a section of wall that
shows its unusual construction.
Juan Carlos Araujo and Jennifer
Ahn establish the E7S Mural
Project in San José to promote
Raj Jayadev writes an essay
about De-Bug's approach and
philosophy: "The Anatomy of an
Exhibition District is a nonprofit
established to paint 40,000 sq.
ft. of blank space in downtown
San José. Organized by local
muralist Erin Salazar, the plan
is a follow-up to work done by
muralists like Paul J. Gonzales
and Phuong-Mai Bui-Quang. (ED
murals completed to date include
Labor of Love, a tribute to the
working men and women who
built the valley on the side of the
Workingman's Emporium on N.
First Street, and Life Abundant in
the Face of Imminent Death, on
the Hotel De Anza.)
Artists Robin Lasser, Trena
Noval, and Genevieve Hastings
create Our Lives in This Place
at the request of the city. The
project is part of Envision San
José 2040 planning for "urban
villages" such as East Santa
Clara Street from Seventh to 17th
Street. Community members are
brought together and voice ideas
to make the neighborhood more
interesting. "Imagine" postcards
featuring these ideas are created
and circulated via a kiosk that
travels the neighborhood.
Bay Area Society for Art &
Activism develops a timeline
for the Bay Area's history of
art and media activism: http://artandactivism.org/timeline/.
For the Women's March in
downtown San José, about
30,000 people marched for civil
rights, many wearing handmade
pink "pussyhats," in diverse,
intergenerational groups. As
part of a global awakening and
rededication, they spoke up
through words, music, attire,
and artful signs about concerns,
values, and hope.
For additional information
pertaining to the greater San
Francisco Bay Area:
See the digital archive/wiki
FoundSF.org; docspopuli.org, a digital archive of protest
and advocacy artwork of the
20th century; and Women Eco Arts Dialog,
promoting ecological and social
Art and Historical Context:
For more information about mid–20th century San José area arts development, starting with artist/activist John De Vincenzi and including the Arts Council Silicon Valley (1982), see Rindfleisch, Jan. Essay. First San José Biennial. San José Museum of Art, 1986.
For subsequent context and discussion, starting with community activist Consuelo Santos Killins and artist/activist Mary Parks Washington, see Rindfleisch, Jan. "Roots and Offshoots: The Blossoming of Silicon Valley's Art Community." Californian Vol. 37 (October): 5–15.
For information regarding arts activity beyond nonprofits, see Alvarez, Maribel. There's Nothing Informal about It: Participatory Arts Within the Cultural Ecology of Silicon Valley. Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley, 2005.
Large organizations that served as historical markers
The early local contemporary art scene
The scene was anchored by the academic/exhibiting centers of SCU, Stanford University, and SJSU, augmented by the new community colleges, and by city arts commissions, other organizations, art associations, centers, leagues, guilds, societies, estates, and clubs usually of a regional nature, such as Los Gatos Art Association, or related to a specific arts medium. Some of these are listed below to give a larger feeling of the Silicon Valley art scene as it developed.
Other larger arts or related organizations:
The TechMuseum of Innovation: 1978 idea of Junior Leagues of Palo Alto and San José, resulted in "the Garage" in the former convention center on San Carlos Street, 1990; "The Tech" relocated in a new building on S. Market Street, 1998.
Children's Discovery Museum (1990)
1stACT Silicon Valley (2007–2013): leveraged a "network of networks" for leadership, participation, and investment in art, creativity, and technology.
Silicon Valley Creates (2013–present): a merger of Arts Council Silicon Valley with 1stACT Silicon Valley, with multiple programs.
Office of Cultural Affairs, City of San José
Office of Human Relations, Santa Clara County
Specialty historical museums:
Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum (1929; 1966 new museum), San José
History San José (activities began 1949, managed by city; incorporated 1998) with African American Heritage House, Chinese American Museum at the Ng Shing, Greenwalt House (Museum of the Boat People and Republic of Vietnam), Portuguese Historical Museum at the Imperio, and more.
California History Center Many Silicon Valley cities have their own historical organizations and museums.
Alternative arts organizations and endeavors open to emerging artists:
Los Gatos Art Association (1948 first discussions)
Smith Anderson Gallery (1969): begun by Paula and Phillip Kirkeby in Palo Alto.
Palo Alto Cultural Center (1971)
Gallery 9 (Menlo Park in 1970, moved to Los Altos in 1973): a cooperative gallery.
Works/San José (1977): a community art and performance center inspired by Tony May, was an offshoot of Wordworks, inspired by Jessica Jacobs. The latter continued until it morphed into SJICA.
San José Institute of Contemporary Art (SJICA) (1980): a member-supported, nonprofit organization committed to presenting visually compelling and conceptually challenging contemporary art.
dp Fong Gallery (1989–2007), San José.
Frederick Spratt Gallery (1993–2006), San José.
Anno Domini//the second coming of Art and Design (2000): a San José–based collective of artists and cultural entrepreneurs created by Cheri Lakey and Brian Eder. Primary organizers of South First Fridays Artwalk and Art Market.
Art Boutiki and Gallery (2001): comics store, art gallery, and live music venue in downtown San José.
Heart of Chaos Artisan Collective/Catalyst for Youth (2002): founder/executive director Joanne Hobbs
Kaleid Gallery (2006): an offshoot of San José's Phantom Galleries (a project exhibiting art in vacant storefronts & alternative spaces). Over 60 fine artists and designers from the San José area make use of a 6,000-square-foot retail space with individual exhibits in a variety of media.
Art Ark Gallery (2006) on the Art Ark Apartments property: an artisan village in the heart of San José's Martha Gardens Arts District, featuring the work of local artists in one-person shows and group exhibitions. Gallery coordinator, Valerie Raps (2006–present).
CreaTV San José (2007): a member-based, nonprofit community media center that helps the residents, businesses, schools and organizations in San José to effectively communicate their message to a broader audience using our public and education television and Internet channels.
Seeing Things Gallery (2012): downtown San José
Other arts-related events and organizations:
Tapestry in Talent Festival of the Arts (1976–2009; 2011)
Silicon Valley Open Studios (1986): a free annual event allowing the public to visit Peninsula and South Bay artists' studios is established.
Downtown Doors (2003): an art competition and outdoor exhibit for middle and high school students produced by the San José Downtown Foundation.
Luna Park Arts Foundation: organizers of the annual Luna Park Chalk Art Festival, San José
Arts organizations dedicated to particular media:
Bay Area Basketry Guild (1984), Judé Silva and Maxine Kirmeyer founders.
Citadel Print Center (1987), Glen Rogers Perrotto, Betty Bates.
Bay Area Book Artists (1995)
Bay Area Glass Institute (BAGI) (1996)
Orchard Valley Ceramic Arts Guild (2000)
Private independent arts organizations and events:
Anne and Mark's Art Party (2007)
Bill Gould's annual exhibition event at Artik Art and Architecture, curated by
M. Lee Stone Fine Prints
(1976): focus on WPA and Depression era, social commentary, Chicano artists, industrial and cityscapes, and labor themes.
A Spiral Through Time: Silicon Valley Arts and Culture from Ancestral Ohlone to Today
This article, first posted here in June 2015, has been revised and is now a transitional essay in the book Roots and Offshoots, Silicon Valley's Arts Community.
A towering, sleek bus glides between its passengers' homes in culturally sophisticated metropolitan San Francisco and their work places in Silicon Valley, a region constantly reinventing itself with tilt-ups, office parks, and campuses for the latest Google wannabe.
It's helpful to have a sense of our diverse historical roots, as well as the forces of change and new ideas, as we ponder Silicon Valley's unique cultural development. This article will look back 10,000 years to the ancestors of today's Ohlone Indians and consider their long and ongoing history; then examine the stories of 19th century pioneer Juana Briones and last century's Marjorie Eaton. The investigation will provide an informative and provocative temporal bridge that spans from early Native American cultures to the contemporary local community and art stars like Consuelo Jimenez Underwood. The ability of these resourceful and generous women to honor indigenous heritage, draw from different sources, and shape new creative environments has left a timeless legacy. Building and sustaining a vibrant, innovative system of arts and culture in Silicon Valley has always started with engaging newcomers and transcending the divisions between art, history, cultures, economics, ethics, and other disciplines.
A Natural Weave of Art and Community Life: The Ohlone
The exquisite basketry and elaborate adornment of the Ohlone once reflected their lifestyle, which was in sync with nature; their appreciation of the artistic skills of women; and their social stratification, with a well-decked out, finely feathered elite. The indigenous Ohlone people hunted, fished, and harvested a diversity of plants and seeds. They created fiber art with materials derived from the natural world and sustainable architecture, such as a tupentak roundhouse that could accommodate 250 people. They wove baskets for leaching acorn meal, cooking, fishing, and winnowing grain; as well as for storing ornaments of abalone, cut-and-drilled beads from Olivella shells, and complex feather dance regalia.
Photo: Joe Cavaretta (Muwekma Tribe)
Kuksu ceremonial pendants, c. AD 1100, from CA-ALA-329 in Coyote Hills, similar to those found in downtown San José made of red and black abalone shells.
Certain art forms were owned; jewelry (shell ornamentation and regalia) was associated with status and wealth based upon the family's lineage and ranking in the community. Other art had to do with shamanic visions and ceremonial religious performances. The architectural "shellmounds" of Coyote Hills were sacred landscapes, ceremonial burial grounds for nobility—California's pyramids.
Once widely known for their fine basketry with geometric designs, Ohlone women lost much of their material and spiritual culture when they labored in the valley's emerging agricultural economy. At Franciscan Mission Santa Clara de Asis, Thamién Ohlone–speaking women turned to weaving cotton clothing, blankets, and carpets for the community. With the establishment of Spanish ranchos and an increasing hide trade, the decimated Ohlone population became a hidden minority, their native way of life increasingly influenced by Spanish/Mexican culture. Their traditional arts often took a back seat to the arts of survival.
Maria de los Angeles (Angela Colos)
, c. 1925, born in the Santa Teresa Hills in San José, at Alisal Rancheria between Pleasanton and Sunol, where her family found refuge. The American conquest of California and the Gold Rush (1849), followed by statehood in 1850, ushered in an extended period in which indigenous Californians were robbed of basic rights and had to hide out for their safety.
Angela Colos, born in 1839, daughter of Indians who were married at Mission San José in 1838, was one of the principal linguistic consultants for many anthropologists.1 A fluent speaker of the Chocheño Ohlone language, she shared her linguistic knowledge. Stating that "muwékma" means "la gente (the people)," she also passed along other traditions about the tribe. Her living descendants are enrolled members of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area, which continues the traditional arts and gives precedence to new art for building community.2
Photo: Chuck Barry, © 2006 Santa Clara University.
Installation image, California History from the Permanent Collection exhibition. In 1986, Muwekma Ohlone tribal members and their children constructed a tule house (rúwwa) for the de Saisset Museum. The Museum recently launched its new iPad textbook focused on the California History exhibit and the Mission.
Today, we are learning more about how Ohlones have been denied their cultural existence and how their languages and place names were erased, replaced by Hispanic and Anglo ones. Contemporary art historians know well the art of erasure (for example, artist Robert Rauschenberg's Erased de Kooning Drawing) and also what anthropologists call "nominative cartography." Colonial systems have "remade, restructured, and renamed landscapes," literally transforming the map of the San Francisco Bay area. "Mapping Erasure,"3 written by anthropologist Les W. Field with Alan Leventhal, Muwekma Tribal Ethnohistorian, and Rosemary Cambra, elected chairwoman of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area4, is one of numerous articles in which Leventhal and Cambra describe and counter colonial systems and the widespread art of erasure.
For instance, Moffett Field, a former naval air station, is currently a joint civil-military airport whose airfield is leased to Google for 60 years. It is known for its tremendous Hangar One, one of the world's largest freestanding structures. Moffett used to be Rancho Posolmi, home of Lope Yñigo, who bridged three cultures. Born in 1781 in an Indian village near Mission Santa Clara, Yñigo was baptized at the Mission in 1789 and served it from 1789–1839. He was given a land grant to the rancho, where he raised crops and livestock, defended his land grant for over two decades, and resided till his death in 1864. Yñigo was buried somewhere on this land. At Moffett Field, there's no sign of any of this past.
Similarly, Stanford lands incorporate former Indian villages, both in their archeological preserve and at Jasper Ridge. In one article5, archeology professor and campus archaeologist Laura Jones describes a place as possibly sacred, because there are tiny holes (cupules) in the rocks, suitable for grinding medicine and pigments used in rituals. She also notes the Ohlone nature friendly style of human organization: "It's extremely effective—and low impact." Yet the Ohlone place names have disappeared from Stanford.
A rare exception is Ulistac Natural Area near the new Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, which may mean "place of the basket" in several Ohlone languages.
The Ohlone have reclaimed the arts of naming and installation, having renamed the Tamien Railroad Station in San José. In 1777, Father Tomas de la Peña and an escort of soldiers and settlers arrived at the banks of the Guadalupe River, built an arbor of thatched tule reeds for a temporary shelter, and thus founded the Mission Santa Clara de Thámien. Peña mentioned in a letter to Father President Junipero Serra that the natives called the area of the mission Thámien. Shortly after the mission was founded, the Governor of Alta California, Felipe de Neve, sent instructions to establish a pueblo nearby. Commander Jose Joaquin Moraga of the San Francisco Presidio took a group of settlers and retired soldiers to the Guadalupe River to found California's first civil establishment, El Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe—now the City of San José. After construction of the railroad station uncovered a major ancestral archeological site containing around 172 ancestors, the Muwekma Ohlone renamed it as Tamien Station to honor their ancestors and the memory of the thousands of Ohlones who had lived in Thámien. A permanent exhibition of "artifacts" found on the site has been planned but not yet constructed.
Regarding sacred burial grounds and cultural history, the Ohlone now work in a heartbeat alliance with archeologists and anthropologists and use art forms such as performance art, installations, language revitalization, and public art. A close-knit community, the Muwekma employ Internet strategies as well as traditional gatherings.
One moving public ceremony occurred in 2010 when a Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) gas line replacement project within the Mission Santa Clara Indian Neophyte Cemetery required the excavation and then reburial of ancestral remains.6
The reburial honoring ceremony included Native American spiritual beliefs and Roman Catholic religious traditions. Reburial layers interred the remains with associated regalia, sand, church-consecrated objects, and an abalone shell containing purifying sage and mugwort, or estafiate, turned upside down. The ceremony ended with the Lord's Prayer in the Santa Clara (Clareño) Thámien Ohlone language.
Noted artist/activist Jean LaMarr (Pit River/Paiute, Susanville), working with tribal members, counters the long-standing erasure of Ohlone presence. With her art, she speaks to the cultural identity and ongoing struggles of Ohlone people living today. LaMarr's 1995 mural (restoration and celebration 2013) The Ohlone Journey, located in Ohlone Park in Berkeley, celebrates Ohlone life and culture on four walls. The westward-facing panel, "Modern Life Transitions," honors individuals who lived in the 19th and 20th centuries, depicting members of indigenous families based on photographs taken over the generations and lent to the artist by their descendant family members. Maria de los Angeles Colos is far left. "The Strong Walk Back to the Future" faces south.
In terms of general Native American cultural history and concerns, the Indian Health Center (IHC) in San José has played a basic but significant role while undergoing multiple moves and divisions. The IHC was originally part of the Indian Community Center (ICC), established in 1969. Then it became San José American Indian Center in 1970, a gathering place that provided art exhibition space. At one point it sponsored ABLEZA: Native American Arts and Media Institute, which began in 1997.
Muwekma Ohlone visibility has benefited from a more focused multigenerational and multidisciplinary approach of dedicated individuals. "Makkin Mak Muwekma Wolwoolum, 'Akkoy Mak-Warep, Manne Mak Hiswi! We Are Muwekma Ohlone, Welcome To Our Land, Where We Are Born!" Tribal Vice Chairwoman and webmaster Monica V. Arellano keeps the tribe's website updated with current information about activities from ceremonies to academic conferences.7
In spring 2015, Gilbert Martinez, a young active Muwekma tribal member, shared or reposted several pertinent touch points on the Internet. The first of these was a 1930 recording of a Muwekma Ohlone language song sung by Muwekma Elder José Guzman, the great-grandfather of Muwekma Tribal Councilwoman and Language Committee Co-Chair Sheila Guzman-Schmidt, who lived in Niles and the Sunol/Pleasanton rancheria. Linguist John P. Harrington's recordings of 27 songs from Guzman are currently housed at the Smithsonian Institution's Bureau of American Ethnology. The second posting noted the 2015 grand opening ceremony of the new Balermino Park in San José, which the tribe helped name for Ohlone ancestor Robert Antonio Balermino, a Mission Santa Clara Clareño-Thámien (Costanoan/Ohlone) who had been granted the land in 1844. Martinez also shared a link to an article by Stanford PhD student Fanya Becks on Muwekma archeology and ownership of the ancestral past.8
Changing Context: Mission-era Art
Regalia and cultural objects, integral to community life, were created and cherished by the ancestral Ohlone people. Subsequently, art and cultural objects in the valley were increasingly created or acquired, displayed, saved, and contextualized by religious, academic, and public institutions with Euro-American roots and global networks and interests. The preponderant system of cultural values changed.
In 1851, Jesuits founded Santa Clara College, later known as Santa Clara University (SCU), at the Mission site. Through their permanent collection, SCU's de Saisset Museum of Art and History offers a window to the diversity and global influences of Mission-era art. For example, their textile art collection encompasses opulent vestments from France and Spain (mainly 1650–late 18th century); brightly colored vestments embroidered in China, fabricated in the Philippines and distributed to the missions from Mexico; and somber matte velvet funeral vestments sewn by Ohlone living at the mission. In 2012, the de Saisset curated a historic display of Central Coast baskets and traditional Ohlone arts with select old ecclesiastical vestments from around the world found at the Mission. The two collections complemented an exhibition of contemporary textile art, Beyond Function: Fiber, Fabric, and Finery, with garments that utilize, pay tribute to, and draw from the earlier forms.
Personal Freedom and Rich Interaction: Juana Briones de Miranda (1802-1889)
Living through the Mission era, the ever-inventive Juana Briones de Miranda set the stage for future cultural development in the valley. Briones was of mixed European, African, and Native American ancestry. Her grandparents immigrated to Alta California to escape a "racial caste system" and a deteriorating economic climate in New Spain (now Mexico). Her mother9 was about five years old when her family came with the De Anza expedition to California in 1776, a year before Mission Santa Clara and the old pueblo of San José were established. Briones was born and spent her early years in the Villa de Branciforte near Mission Santa Cruz, which set the tone for her life, including learning from Indians. When her mother died, her father moved the family to El Polín Springs, near the Presidio in San Francisco. After marrying soldier Apolinario Miranda, Briones and her husband established a farm nearby.
Through an archeological project conducted by Stanford University at El Polín Springs, we find early information about Briones' relationships, values, and the pluralistic households she formed with her sisters. Professor Barbara L. Voss writes: "This ethnic pluralism may be reflected in the archaeological materials found at El Polín Springs, which included groundstone, flaked lithics and glass, worked shell artifacts, glass trade beads, and locally-made ceramics along with British-produced whitewares and other imported goods." Voss also provides discussion that gives insight into Briones' changing relationship with a patriarchal Presidio society.10
Briones' history elucidates the ingenuity of successful women at the interaction of cultures. She became a businesswoman, humanitarian, and landowner. She raised eight children, including an adopted Native American girl, studied the art and science of natural healing from Mexican curanderos and her Native American neighbors, aided people in need during the smallpox epidemic, left her abusive, drunkard husband, and started new ventures. She moved her family to what we still know as Yerba Buena (perhaps named for the healing herb tea she used), developed successful cattle and vegetable businesses, and built community through her hospitality and healing as a curandera. The coastal site became increasingly known for celebrations and for meeting potential partners. Reflecting her reputation, it was highlighted on San Francisco's first map as Playa de Juana Briones—later to become the cultural hotspot known as North Beach, home of Little Italy, the San Francisco Art Institute, beatnik subculture, and City Lights Bookstore.
In 1844, Briones purchased the 4,400-acre Rancho la Purísima Concepción in the Palo Alto foothills from two Mission Santa Clara (Clareño) Ohlone men, José Gorgonio and his son José Ramon, who then stayed on for years until they had to find safety. The two men had been given the first Native American–owned Mexican land grant after the breakup of the Santa Clara Mission in 1840. Briones developed the cattle ranch and brought her creative vision to the land: a hilltop home for her family with a spectacular view, an architecturally rare type of redwood-and-adobe construction called encajonado, and an east wall arbor of wisteria.11
Briones' rancho also served as an inn for travelers on a route that connected with Santa Cruz. From the wide-ranging art forms of Mission Santa Clara12 to the cultural objects and ways of Ohlone or Chinese ranch laborers and various new immigrants, Briones lived in rich interaction with Mission art and the evolving arts of Ohlone, Spanish, Italian, Mexican, Chinese, and many other traditions.
Briones witnessed vast changes in traditional, liturgical, and secular arts. As a businesswoman, she saw the wins and losses in a changing culture and economy and the strains on Indian and Chinese ranch laborers. Here's a partial local snapshot in 1873. Briones would have been 71. In this pivotal year, sculptor Edmonia Lewis, an African American working out of Rome in a neoclassical vein, became the first internationally known artist to exhibit in San José, with the support of San José leader and suffragist Sarah Knox Goodrich. This was two years before the start of the San José Art Association and eight years before an architectural phenomenon—the San José Electric Light Tower (a precursor to the Eiffel Tower), our first grand public art—touted San José as the only electrified city west of the Rocky Mountains. From all over the world, Santa Clara Valley newcomers brought with them cherished artworks, along with pens, brushes, needles, and tools to fashion more, to recreate meaning and cultural familiarity in an alien, sometimes hostile, land. Chinese workers, who lived simply, started with baskets and kites. Later, they were enriched by art in their temple, as well as costumed performances of Chinese opera in their large theater, a colorful blend of living art and architecture. However, anti-Chinese sentiment deterred these cultural activities, and in 1887, arson demolished the San José Market Street Chinatown and its businesses, homes, and livelihoods. Within weeks, the area was voted to be the site for San José's new city hall, a form of early urban renewal.13
Briones resided at the rancho for several decades. Then she moved to Mayfield (now south Palo Alto) to be nearer to her daughters.14 Palo Alto author/historian Jeanne Farr McDonnell's 2008 biography of Briones brings the story and the times to life, even making the case for crediting Briones with the founding of the City of San Francisco.
Photo "Courtesy of M. Eaton."
Aerial photo of home (off Arastradero Road, Palo Alto) around 1925.
Photo "Courtesy of M. Nott Ginsberg."
Briones' rancho home, in 1880s or early 1890s. There's some speculation that portions may have been built over Gorgonio's house.
Briones' home was demolished in 2011 after a long legal battle. It is difficult to believe that only a section of one of its uniquely constructed walls was salvaged. Plans are to make a permanent Briones exhibition, including the wall, at the Palo Alto History Museum. Palo Alto Stanford (PAST) Heritage member, Clark Akatiff: "The legend of Juana Briones grows by the year. All of us engaged in the long lost cause of saving the Casa can take heart in the fact that though we lost the house, we saved the persona and advanced La Causa."15
Photo: L.A. Cicero.
Briones house hearth16
The persona of Briones has been reconstructed in recent years by storyteller Olga Loya. She created a one-woman Chautauqua where she becomes Juana Briones, which she has also adapted for performance as a more conventional, third-person narrative. For years, students from nearby Juana Briones School came annually to the Briones house to learn about the Briones legacy and to create art on site, which they would then display in an exhibition.
Stanford history Professor Albert Camarillo served as a guest curator for the 2014 exhibition mounted by the California Historical Society in San Francisco about the life and times of Juana Briones—Juana Briones y Su California, Pionera, Fundadora, Curandera. The remnant wall was prominently displayed. "The story of Juana Briones is important to us all as Californians for many reasons," Camarillo said. "She was a humanitarian and folk healer, a woman who cared for sick and needy people regardless of their ethnic, racial or class background, or whether they spoke Spanish, English or some other language. She was also a person of great integrity who persevered through tumultuous times in the 19th century and fought against great odds to protect her rights as a property owner, as a mother and wife, and as a businesswoman." Camarillo said the exhibition offered new perspectives and an "appreciation for a little-known historical figure whose stories reflect some of the best qualities we as people possess." At times Camarillo's students at Stanford have created projects related to Briones and an accompanying exhibition.
My thoughts about Briones and art go beyond the red lacquered Chinese chest given to her, the stone mortar and pestle found on site, the music in extended family gatherings, her dramatic recounting of events, or the dressmaking and sewing business in which she employed Indian women skilled from working in the missions. They go beyond the unusual construction of her homes, an architectural interest she may have first learned from Indian women who, having built their own homes, were construction experts. Rather, I think about her creating an environment that fostered innovation and freedom.
What is an art scene or a creative scene without personal freedom? More than once, she carved out a space and built on it—for herself and others—at a time when that was definitely not easy for a woman to do. I marvel at her mastery of the art of creative problem solving in multiple arenas, in part learned from Indians: the arts and science of using native habitat for food and herbs along with gardening, farming, and ranching; the arts and science of healing, setting bones, and attending births. Briones was known for her hospitality. In Briones' 1800s, social separations increased. A patriarchal military elite culture advanced in the Presidio and anti-indigenous practices multiplied. Yet Briones did not limit her cultural appreciation; rather, she valued locally made textiles and ceramics alongside imports from England, Mexico, and China. She valued people. With her openness to individuals across lines of race, ethnicity, gender, and class, she showed us the art of community building. Modeling courage and opportunities for women, she fought for her land rights up to the Supreme Court and won. As it says on her gravestone, "She Cared."
Connecting Multiple Cultures and Art Movements: Marjorie Eaton (1901–1986)
Painter/actress Marjorie Eaton initiated a family-like arts colony in the Palo Alto foothills, on the stage Juana Briones had set with her home on the hill. Eaton was raised in San Francisco, but spent much of her life living in or next to the historic home of Juana Briones. In 1925, Eaton's stepmother, Edith Cox Eaton, a leading San Francisco dress designer and a key figure in Marjorie Eaton's life, purchased Briones' historic Palo Alto house, which had been enlarged by Stanford botanist Charles Nott after he bought it from Briones's daughter. The 20th century brought new expansion and finery to the Briones/Eaton hilltop. People dressed for dinner. While Eaton's father, physician Dr. George Eaton, and Edith Eaton employed three generations of a Chinese family as household staff in San Francisco, the dinners on the hilltop were more a family affair, often gourmet meals cooked by Edith Eaton herself.
To understand the arts colony, we need to understand about Marjorie Eaton's art. Marjorie Eaton was a seminal figure linking multiple cultures, women arts leaders, and the proliferation of major 20th century art movements: Cubism, Expressionism, Social Realism, conceptual art, and abstraction. After completing her first oil painting in 1922 at the San Francisco Art Institute, she studied or worked in San Francisco, Carmel, Boston (Art Institute of Boston), New York, Taos, Florence, Italy, Paris, and Mexico, among other locations. Her independence and peripatetic experience were evident early on, laying the foundation for creating her complex artist colony, as we see in her recounting of how she befriended art dealer/collector/teacher Galka Scheyer in 1928:
I recall vividly when I met Galka. She had come up from Los Angeles and was living at a little hotel on Sacramento Street near the Fairmont Hotel. She had with her all the paintings that she had brought from Germany of the German Expressionists, including Paul Klee
. … This was the first trip, and she was showing to people [who] bought these things. I imagine she didn't go back for a couple of years at this time.
I had taken a job as a [department store] stylist in Oakland, and I was commuting back and forth. I was so tired most of the time that I stayed at the YWCA—I couldn't make it back again.17
Fortunately, staying at the relatively new San Francisco Chinatown YWCA enabled Eaton to work and forge cultural connections.18
Scheyer was giving lectures at the YWCA and "bringing her art right to the level of the people." As an energetic arts impresario who saw that art could make a change in people's lives, she brought fellow artists Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger, Vasily Kandinsky and Alexei von Jawlensky together to form the Blue Four (so named due to their association with the Blue Rider group of Munich Expressionists), and introduced their work to American audiences.19
Eaton bought a Klee, her first acquisition.
Eaton was impressed by Scheyer's accomplishments and commitment. She invited Scheyer to her studio and showed her paintings. "She must have been in her early forties. She was German ... an artist, a poet, a painter herself. She had gone to Oxford." Scheyer's recognition and support meant a lot. "Galka was so enthusiastic about my work…that she attacked my father for letting me ... waste my time, standing on my feet in a department store … wasting my life on transportation."
Through a friend of a friend, Eaton was introduced to Lloyd Rollins, joint director of the de Young Museum and the Legion of Honor.
He was young and full of ideas. In fact, I introduced him to Galka, and he had a big show of the Blue Four at the de Young Museum. They [Lloyd and Galka] came to blows a little bit, because she wanted to have one picture very high up and another picture low down, below the eye level, and another one at the ceiling … diagonal movement on the walls.
Scheyer was clearly full of ideas, also. The standard museum eye-level installation, however, was not a convention Rollins felt he could challenge.
I was very instrumental in Galka meeting people, and yes, she for me. You see, our lives were interwoven. They continued to be interwoven. And she would come down on the weekends [to Palo Alto] to recover from her wild life lecturing.
After meeting Eaton, Rollins offered, "Marjorie, if you go and give up being a stylist at this department store and settle down for three years and paint, I'll give you a show at the Legion of Honor." The offer was just what Eaton needed.
Eaton drove down to Taos and joined her friend, painter Katie Skeele. She saw "the most beautiful" Indian—"Leonardo da Vinci was right there in his face"—and asked him to pose for her. "Katie gave me some canvas, stretched a canvas for me, good canvas, and said, 'You can have my paints, but you can't have my brushes.'" So Eaton painted her first painting of Juan Mirabal with her fingertips. A friendship grew. She shared her arts knowledge with Mirabal, who would come to paint indigenous experience with a modernist interpretation and become known as one of three Taos Pueblo painters.
Eaton's favorite work, Paulita Mirabal, was done in Taos. Other Taos works include the oil paintings Taos Girl, Corn Mother, A Dream, Juan Braiding, and numerous drawings and watercolors.
At the end of 1931, Eaton submitted art for the juried Sixth Annual Exhibition of the San Francisco Society of Women Artists at the Legion of Honor. This exhibition included paintings by invited New York artists. Eaton's painting Blue Lakes had good company, including a Mary Cassatt, Agnes Pelton, and Frieda and Diego Rivera by "Senora Frieda Rivera" of Mexico City.20
Eaton painted in Taos for three years. Rollins gave her a show at the Legion of Honor in 1932, featuring two rooms, one of drawings and one of paintings.
Then Eaton left Taos and went to New York, although she really had intended to go to Europe to meet Klee, Kandinsky, and Jawlensky. "[l] had letters to them, and Hitler came into power in '33 and nobody was going there, you know." So she went to the Art Students League, studied with Hans Hofmann, and that's when "I met Louise Nevelson and I met Arshile Gorky and I worked with him … and I knew Diego Rivera already. I introduced him to Louise.21
That year, 1933, Eaton and Nevelson came to share an apartment, with Rivera and Kahlo living above them. Nevelson worked a bit on murals with Rivera. Eaton learned new fresco techniques.
He [Diego] invited me to come to Mexico to work with him there. So I did go to Mexico and spent three years there … painting. I used to take my work once a year to Diego, and he would look at my sketches and my paintings. … There was never any patronage. … He just treated me as an equal. It was fantastic. … I went away to an obscure village, Pahuatlan, in the country, and lived there for a year with the … very poor people and the Indians…. All the young painters asked me to help them. … I did all that I could. … I came back, finally … and wept. I [was sad] to leave Mexico.22
Marjorie Eaton pencil sketches from Mexico around 1935. In Mexico, Eaton made numerous line drawings of children and mothers, including Five Indian Children, Concha and Baby, Xavier Eating Beans with Pig. She got so involved drawing Xavier eating beans that she didn't notice how much he was eating—and he spent a very uncomfortable night. Eaton also captured the birth ritual in a sequence of gesture drawings that caught split-second actions (one for example: Midwife Giving Carmen Her First Bath in Herbs After Birth). She loved children, always wanted one. She found herself drawing them all the time.
Photo by Hella Hamid, whom Eaton met in 1939.
Marjorie Eaton with one of her many godchildren.
Although after her father's divorce Eaton chose to live with her stepmother Edith, she ultimately wanted a space apart. In 1939, adjacent to the Briones house, with construction labor from Mexico, Eaton started building her own adobe house. The design honored the Briones home site, while combining her own ideas, giving a nod to Picasso, and employing modernist architect Gregory Ain. The home was built with adobe bricks handmade on site, the theater of action reminiscent of the manual labor for the Briones adobe almost a century earlier. Ain designed the home on a diagonal, based on Pablo Picasso drawings held by Eaton's friend, Galka Scheyer. All the adobe bricks had angles to them: a joining of heart and art.23
The hillside became the amphitheatre; the house, a stage. Her home highlighted a large Mirabal mural. Despite long absences due to her subsequent acting career, she resided there until she died.
Eaton used the big house (the original Briones home plus later expansions) as her home base when she lived in New York and Southern California, working in film and on stage, including Broadway plays. Her film career included roles in Anna and the King of Siam (1946), Mary Poppins (1964), and Street Music (1981). During long absences, she rented out her new adobe, at one point to Alan Cranston and family before he became a senator. One writer lived there for many years rent-free.
Eaton's colony never had a name. Its true years as an artist community began around 1941, when Eaton invited artist Lucretia Van Horn, who was having a difficult time in her later years, to come visit. She never left. Invited by Edith Eaton, the Nakatas, a Japanese-American family who had been interned, stayed in the cottage that had been the chicken coop for a decade after the war. The colony grew from Eaton's friendships and generosity, in part the result of a convivial sequence of dinners, visits short and long, events, and ultimately, architectural expansion. Some artists lived in the big house, which spanned the art vs. craft divide with décor that included painted furniture by Arthur and Lucia Mathews, who brought the spirit of the Arts and Crafts movement to Northern California in the early 1900s. Some stayed for years.
Things were not always rosy. Consuelo Cloos, painter and opera singer, was so difficult, Eaton had a separate cottage built for her by a master carpenter from New York. It was essentially one huge room on poles, over to one side of the big house, and three-storied in back. Mosaicist Thomas Hunt came in 1956 and lived at different times in the big house and in a cottage at the rear of the compound (the Nakatas' former chicken coop-cum-cottage became his studio). Hunt took care of maintenance, did all the cooking after Edith's stroke, and grew into a devoted collaborator. He became the executor of Eaton's estate when she died.
Susan (Cox) Kirk, who grew up spending summers and holidays with her family at "the ranch," remembers the apricot and almond orchards, the aromas from Aunt Edith's fabulous cooking, dinners at the Arts and Crafts table, the music room with grand piano, the five fireplaces, the imposing wood staircase, and the gardens. She depicts a Bohemian Marjorie seemingly at odds with her Victorian stepmother Edith. "Edith, San Francisco's leading couturier, traveled to Europe for fabrics every other year with large steamer trunks. Often Marjorie went along. Dr. Eaton had run off with his nurse leaving Marjorie and Edith to fend together. Marjorie always strove for her father's acceptance. Her deep longing affected her trajectory in life." Kirk's father, Charlie Cox (Edith's nephew), and Marjorie were raised side by side since the age of 12. Together, they took care of Edith in her wheelchair years. "For Charlie and Marjorie, it was all about people," Kirk reminisces. "So many gathered around that table—artists, politicians, writers, family, friends—and held stimulating conversations about the times. I was raised to connect with people." Decades later Eaton told Kirk she envied her life raising two children, and called it "the real work." For Eaton, who had no siblings or children, the colony and the life she chose in the theatre after 1940 provided more than community. "I created a family," she declared in First Generation's artful documentary video of Eaton.24
In terms of architectural history, Eaton repurposed and built on the Juana Briones house, which had been modified by the previous owner, Nott; Briones herself had built on what appeared to be portions of an earlier structure, possibly Gorgonio's adobe house. The sequence hints at the repurposing cycles that flourished in the 20th century, when artists and other creative people took over neglected or ill-functioning architectural forms, often in undesirable neighborhoods, and turned them into art spaces, re-envisioning what is possible.
It is easy for a multidisciplinary artist like Eaton, working in different geographies, to slip through the art-historical cracks. My understanding is Eaton has not been featured in Maurine St. Gaudens' upcoming book Emerging from the Shadows: A Survey of Women Artists in California, 1860–1960, because she painted primarily in Taos and Mexico, not in California. However, growing research places Eaton with the husband-and-wife team, architect Rudolph Schindler and activist Pauline Gibling Schindler, and father-and-son photographers Edward Weston and Brett Weston, at salons in Los Angeles and at Eaton's ranch. They were part of a modernist circle of people exchanging ideas and contacts in the arts and architecture, many with a strong social conscience, leading educational, labor, and social movements.25
As editor of the Carmel-based progressive weekly, The Carmelite, in the late 1920s, Pauline Schindler had featured Dorothea Lange on one of her magazine covers.
Eaton and her friend Pauline Schindler both had ideas regarding architecture, and offer less discussed perspectives on architectural goals and purposes. Pauline Schindler had worked with Jane Addams in Chicago's Hull House, and the continued influence of its progressive communal philosophy found expression in Schindler House, aka Kings Road House (1922), the Southern California modernist architectural icon the Schindlers created that served as an experiment in communal living, artistic salon and left-wing meeting house. Hull House, founded by Ellen Gates Starr (1859–1940) and Jane Addams (1860–1935), was known as a settlement house, and served as a successful center for social reform, providing opportunities for immigrants and the working poor, including through the arts. The Schindler House, however, while a work and social hub, turned out to be not very livable as designed. John Cage lived there briefly, as did Galka Scheyer in 1931. After Rudolph's death in 1953, Pauline made changes for comfort and aesthetics, including audaciously painting her side of the communal house pink.26
Pauline Schindler's own vision had a resonance with the family-like colony Eaton would build:
One of my dreams is to have, some day, a little joy of a bungalow, on the edge of the woods and mountains near a crowded city, which shall be open just as some people's hearts are open, to friends of all classes and types. I should like it to be as democratic a meeting-place as Hull House where millionaires and laborers, professors and illiterates, the splendid and the ignoble, meet constantly together.27
Other Eaton contacts include the Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfero Siqueiros, speaker/writer Jidda Krishnamurti, and artists and activists Henrietta Shore, Beatrice Wood, and Tina Modotti. Working with Scheyer, Eaton built a substantial contemporary art collection. At the time she bequeathed it to the Oakland Museum of Art, it was valued at approximately $2 million.
Eaton, born elite with a silver spoon in her mouth, lived relatively simply, but she traversed borders and supported diverse aesthetics morally, financially, and across cultural boundaries of social or economic status, gender, and ethnicity. "Try not to stop [she pauses] until something stops you."28
Photo (detail): Helen Carlisle Fleming.
Artists Patricia Rodriguez and Marjorie Eaton in the exhibition Staying Visible, The Importance of Archives in 1981.
Rodriguez, from San Francisco, resonated well with Eaton—both created art that was cultural and emotional, and both were activists. Rodriguez propelled Mujeres Muralistas, a group of Chicana/Latina artists in the Mission District that pioneered large-scale, woman-painted outdoor murals in the 1970s, when the mural tradition was overwhelmingly male. Their first mural was on a garage door in their alley—now well known as Balmy Alley. Twenty years later, the spectacular mural Maestrapeace (1994) turned the San Francisco Women's Building into one of the city's most distinctive and memorable architectural statements—educational, inspirational, and meaningful to the community. The multicultural, multigenerational collaboration of seven women included one of the Mujeres Muralistas, Irene Pérez. Both murals are prime examples of rethinking and repurposing.
Shaping New Creative Environments
When I knew Eaton in the early 1980s, she was still running a small international arts colony from her property. Imagine the scene: Wisteria blooms from century-old vines blowing across the tile floors, piling near Briones' old adobe and redwood walls; Eaton, a slight woman with a dramatic air, playing host to a diverse and lively array of artists and others. Some, like Nevelson would come and stay for a month; others, like artist Lucretia Van Horn, lived there many years. Mirabal visited from Taos. Photographer Imogen Cunningham came and took photographs of the ranch. An opera singer, an African American playwright, a French harlequin, and other artists lived on site in the early '80s. Salon-type events were a regular occurrence.
Kirk, a jazz singer who lived in the house on and off from 1945 to 1993, hosted elegant dinners and staged concerts. She recalled visits from notables across all fields, including scientist Linus Pauling, author Wallace Stegner, entrepreneur Steve Jobs, and the Palo Alto City Council. The Women's Heritage Museum (WHM), founded in Palo Alto by Jeanne Farr McDonnell, arranged with Kirk to conduct public tours at the ranch, telling the history and imagining what life was like there. With such tours, hundreds of local school children were able to get a flavor of the house's colorful history and its female visionary lead characters.29
For decades, away from the confines of rigid systems, creative people developed new insights at the Briones/Eaton ranch on the Palo Alto hilltop.
Empowering People with "Thread Knowledge": Consuelo Jimenez Underwood
Contemporary artist Consuelo Jimenez Underwood wove baskets in 1971–1973 in Los Angeles as a young mother, having read a childhood book about Dat So La Lee (ca. 1829–1925, Nevada), one of the last great Native American (Washoe) basket weavers. Understanding basketry allowed Underwood an easy transition to other textile arts, including weaving. Working with fiber to convey concepts sparked her creative process. In 2005, her solo exhibition at Moviemiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana (MACLA) in San José, centered on Tortillas in Basket constructed at her nearby Cupertino studio: "The tortilla baskets celebrate the survival of indigenous culture."
Undocumented Tortilla Basket, 2008. Barbed wire, aluminum wire, 9.5"x29" diameter.
Tortillas in Basket, 2005. Reed, silk, corn leaves, thread, 20"x5' diameter. Part of her exhibition entitled Tortillas, Chiles, and Other Border Things at MACLA that commented on the "true American food that has survived 500 years of colonization—the tortilla de maiz. In 1992, the tortilla outsold 'white' bread in the U.S. That is incredible, when you consider that the tortilla was invented by the Amerindians."
Underwood's life and art span border issues and three cultures. She grew up crossing the U.S.–Mexico border, starting in 1949 soon after she was born in Sacramento, California. Her mother, born in 1906, was a first generation Californian, whose ancestral family had a connection with the Tarahumara (northwestern Mexico), the people who run long distances. It is from her maternal side that Consuelo draws "tenacity and strength of will." Her father, from Jalisco, was one of the first braceros during World War II. His mother was full-blooded Huichol, who married a Mexican and lived and worked on a hacienda in Jalisco, Mexico. Since she was never permitted to speak in her native tongue, Underwood's father never learned Huichol. Years later, when Underwood was a very young child, it was her father who introduced her to weaving and taught her the magic and mystery of life. He inspired Underwood with "songs and stories, where forces like wind and fire were main characters." While it is with her Huichol grandmother that Underwood connects, she never met her. Honoring her Huichol grandmother and all the Amerindian anonymous woman elders who wove with a backstrap loom, Underwood vowed in the 1970s, early on her artistic path, to always make art with a textile process or material. She insisted on focusing her artistic studies on learning how to spin, dye and weave with thread.
"I learned three ways of seeing and understanding the world—the English, Spanish and Amerindian, all very distinct." Underwood has spoken about the past, her Amerindian connections, survival skills, and the mixing of peoples and cultures. "There was no border in California, just two little stalls at the border crossing at Mexicali/Calexico."
Recalling the Chinese, Underwood recounts, "They go way back. It was difficult for them in Mexico and the United States (Chinese Exclusion Act). In the late 1880s, they were sent back to China. Some were sent to Yaqui Land [the fertile valley on the banks of the Yaqui River in the Sonoran Desert]. They have burial grounds there. So there are Chinese descendants in Yaqui Land." Underwood's husband, electrical engineer Dr. Marcos Underwood, is a Yaqui member of the Pascua Yaqui Nation in Tucson, Arizona. The Underwood family participates annually in the spring and fall rituals in Yaqui Land.
While others built an arts colony in Palo Alto or a Chicano movement in San José, Underwood worked the fields. She knows many would like to forget the borders and the struggles. Instead, she loves large walls as creative opportunities to rethink artificial divisions, see a larger picture, and imagine a more humane world where we don't need road signs warning of families running across the highway. Through her large, colorful and inviting fiber art installations, she has honored a strong connection with the land and living things, and countered the human tendency to use architecture and walls to create divisions, like the scar on our southern border.
Consuelo Jimenez Underwood, Undocumented Border Flowers, 2009. Fiber, 17'x24'x5". Installation, Triton Museum of Art, Santa Clara, California. "My artwork is intended to alert the public about the devastating and irreversible environmental chaos that the US/MX border is creating on our southern homelands. My fear is that soon we will require even our state flowers to acquire proper documentation if they wish to grow on both sides of the border. Yikes!"
Based in Cupertino since 1980, Underwood became a professor at San José State University. She went on to develop and head the university's Fiber/Textile Area for 20 years (1989–2009), where she took on the recurring arts vs. crafts division in the art world and empowered people with "thread knowledge." Respected as a star educator and internationally known for her fiber art, Underwood created a provocative and evocative solo exhibition of multiple wall installations in 2013 at the Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara, entitled Consuelo Jimenez Underwood: Welcome to Flower-Landia.
San Jose Mercury News reporter Joe Rodriguez reviewed the 2013 Triton Museum exhibition. He noted how Underwood spoke with the Santa Clara University students of associate professor Juan Velasco: "I've learned the power of generational knowledge," she said. "When you pass knowledge to the younger generation, not everyone gets it. But if one, two, or three get it, then we won."
Winning connects with opening minds and hearts and, at its most basic, with survival for the marginalized. María Ester Fernández, curator of the Flower-Landia exhibition, elaborates:
[Underwood's] indigenous heritage gave her the strength and purpose to infiltrate, play the game and survive. Trained as a child to cross borders real and psychological, Underwood walks between opposing issues. Living in the middle as an infiltrator, she has learned to navigate contested territories: as a picker in the fields, as a student in school, and as an artist using indigenous weaving tradition as fine art. This exhibition is an attempt to recreate that journey, to relive the tension of a highly volatile border region embodied by a young girl, and to re-imagine the border as a place where the spirit can roam free.
Regarding Underwood's self-portrait, Tenured Petals, Fernández adds:
Ten is a magical number; the age at which Underwood realized that as long as she played the game and learned the rules; she could win. At ten, she created a life plan to free the spirit. It also touches on the artist's academic career, having achieved tenure at San José State University and retained her identity as a weaver after much pressure to succumb to a more traditional fine art practice.
Underwood is the subject of an individual profile I am writing that will include discussion of her stunning Borderline Encounter #1, a performance in the ocean commissioned for an exhibition by MACLA and photographed by SJSU Professor Robin Lasser. Underwood's influence continues to grow. A 2014 Artist Laureate for Silicon Valley Creates, she has been interviewed by the Smithsonian Institution, and has major installations planned in Reno, Nevada (2015); then a very large wall in Washington, District of Columbia (2016). Underwood is delighted to be taking her art to where they make policy, the political home of this nation. But the first six months of 2015 she dedicated to weaving a new rebozo (shawl) "for the Virgen."
Rebozos For Our Mothers, 2013 Woven wire, linen, silk, rayon, gold and silver threads. Left to right, Mother Mundane, Virgen de Guadalupe, Mother Earth, Mother Moon, and Mother Ocean.
Virgen de Guadalupe, 70"x20" (detail), 2013
Mother Moon, 70"x20" (detail), 2013
A Spiral Through Time
Underwood's baskets remind us of the workload women have carried, and her one-of-a-kind woven forms bear witness to the ongoing creativity, energy and innovation of Silicon Valley, and her unique spirit. Her gigantic fabric flowers also evoke spirit, transcendence, as well as the too long ignored, real world struggle to sustain natural habitats. Following Underwood's art and career yields stories that illuminate the realms of border crossing and take us on a beautiful spiral through time, starting with the early art of Ohlone women, through the intercultural appreciation and courage of Briones, followed by the expansive cultural and art-world connections of Eaton, up to today. Underwood's fiber art raises ongoing questions about local cultural development, about the nature and challenges of borders—geographic, generational, academic, social, and in the art world—and about imaginative travel through time. "I need the old ways." She speaks of the "ancient ones" as if they were intimate family members.
A convivial vision comes to my mind of a wonderful, intergenerational circle of women. All are admiring, perhaps with smartphones at hand, Underwood's exquisite woven rebozos for the "ancient ones," the first weavers: Consuelo with Dat So La Lee, Juana Briones and Marjorie Eaton; Angela Colos with Jean La Marr—sharing tales, oohing, aahing, nodding in approval, and smiling—a natural gathering of community in Silicon Valley, as it was in the beginning with the ancestral Ohlone.
Returning to real time, construction proceeds on the huge, synchrotron-like Apple Computer headquarters—a circular building echoing the Ohlone tupentak meeting space. The Cupertino site will have 85% open space, trees, an old barn, and a flavor of the agricultural past.
Companies, organizations, educational institutions, and cities choose building sites with a hilltop or coastal view or the advantages of a nearby major transit artery—a good mix of art, technology, and community. Dark, streamlined buses ply these routes from San Francisco to Silicon Valley, bringing workers who, like Briones before them, weave together cultural experiences, employment opportunities, and creative styles. Fleets of these black-windowed shuttles cause their own disruption and resentment. As in centuries past, constant travel, trade, and immigration has built new workforces and economies, brought class struggles and injustices, and engaged new ideas.
This investigation began with local indigenous people, examining changes in Ohlone art and lives in relation to socioeconomic and political changes that continue to this day. What do various creative—and caring—communities feel like in terms of architecture, institutions, and informal get-togethers? How does the example of creative people like our circle of women connect with contemporary transmissions of values held most dear? These are ongoing questions that thoughtful leaders must address.
This historical bridge is excerpted from a manuscript in process, written in collaboration with others. This essay and related article, "Ohlone Art and Community Building," would not have been possible without discussions and insight from Nancy Hom, Judy Goddess, Dr. Laurel Bossen, Lucy Cain Sargeant, Alan Leventhal, Jean LaMarr, Dr. Lee Panich, Consuelo Jimenez Underwood, Mary Parks Washington, Connie Young Yu, Clark Akatiff, Ann Sherman, Jeanne Farr McDonnell, and others.
Information about the Ohlone and Indian tribes in California:
Field, Les W. with Alan Leventhal and Rosemary Cambra, "Mapping Erasure," in Recognition, Sovereignty, Struggles, and Indigenous Rights in the United States, A Sourcebook. Ed., Amy E. Den Ouden and Jean M. O'Brien. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2013.
---, with Alan Leventhal, Dolores Sanchez, and Rosemary Cambra, "Ohlone Tribal Revitalization Movement, A Perspective from the Muwekma Costanoan/ Ohlone Indians of the San Francsico Bay," California History 71:412-431. 1992.
Lightfoot, Kent. Indians, Missionaries, and Merchants: The Legacy of Colonial Encounters on the California Frontiers, University of California, Berkeley, 2005.
The Muwekma Ohlone Tribe website, www.muwekma.org
Rindfleisch, Jan. Ohlone Art and Building Community
Information about Juana Briones life and times:
Juana Briones Heritage, www.brioneshouse.org
Palo Alto Stanford (PAST) Heritage, www.pastheritage.org (Palo Alto Stanford Heritage Newsletter)
Stanford University Research at the Presidio of San Francisco Tennessee Hollow Watershed Archeological Project
Technical Reports of the Market Street Chinatown Archaeology Project (MSCAP), Stanford Archaeology Center
McDonnell, Jeanne Farr. Juana Briones of Nineteenth-Century California. University of Arizona Press, 2008.
California Historical Society, San Francisco. Juana Briones y Su California, Pionera, Fundadora, Curandera. 2014. Exhibition. Included Kristine Samuelson's video of Al Camarillo narrating at the Briones site as the demolition loomed; and artist Rebeca Méndez's Of the Earth 1, a 5-minute video portrait of the land Briones held so dear.
Information about Marjorie Eaton and "the Ranch" arts colony:
Rindfleisch, Jan. Staying Visible: The Importance of Archives, 1981; Betty Estersohn, Jan Rindfleisch, Deanna Bartels, "Marjorie Eaton." Also, Carol Holzgrafe, "Consuelo Cloos."
A separate publication includes information about Tom Hunt: Holzgrafe, Carol. "Mosaics," in Art, Religion, Spirituality. Jan Rindfleisch. 1982.
Susan Kirk remembering, Palo Alto Stanford (PAST) Heritage 2007.
Conversations and correspondence with Susan Kirk, artist Tom Hunt, Deanna Bartels Tisone and others.
First Generation—Deanna Bartels, Betty Estersohn, and Joan Valdes—created a 1970s award-winning video, Marjorie Eaton.
John Crosse conversations and correspondence related to Pauline and R.M. Schindler/Edward Weston circle
Mayfield, Signe. Marjorie Eaton: Paintings and Drawings from the 1930s. Palo Alto Cultural Center. 1992. Exhibition catalogue.
Information about Consuelo Jimenez Underwood:
Rodriguez, Joe. "Artist weaves flowery tapestry of hope from thorny U.S.–Mexico border," San Jose Mercury News. October 29, 2013.
Hernandez, Ester. Text panels for Flower-landia exhibition. Triton Museum of Art, Santa Clara, California. 2013.
Perez, Laura. "Threads." Craft in America. PBS. KQED, San Francisco. May 11, 2012.
"Threads," SPARK*. PBS. KQED, San Francisco. June 2003.Television.
Since we resurrected the organization in 1979, we have accomplished
a lot together. I have deepest appreciation for our passionate dedication
to education and artistic innovation, the struggles and triumphs we
shared, and the wonderful friendships we have made through the years.
Now I work in the larger art and community scene. Through projects
and collaborations, our call to action continues with our awareness,
networking, advocacy, and commitment to excellence. Our experience
in connecting art, issues, creativity, and community still plays a
unique and vital role in trans-disciplinary education and activism
today. We must build on this outstanding legacy.
Euphrat Accomplishments (1979-2011),
The thirty-three years (1979-2011) under my leadership were an exceptional
time of growth and achievement for the Euphrat. We formed a spectacular
college/community partnership that has grown vibrant museum programming
for over three decades. Kudos to the Euphrat campus/community family
and the Euphrat Board/Council, particularly Euphrat Council Presidents,
Margaret Kung and Helen Lewis, who oversaw the building of our new
Euphrat Museum of Art. Our shared vision and dedication created an
amazing legacy, including the following accomplishments.
Jan Rindfleisch, Executive Director
Rescued, Developed, and
Expanded the Organization
Built up the Euphrat from scratch after its sole funding was
cut in 1978.
Initiated and developed Euphrat Board/Council, Euphrat Program
Committee (artists, campus, and community), Euphrat professional
staff, Student Intern Program, Gallery/Museum Studies, and volunteer
Developed vision, mission, and long-range plans, as well as
diversified funding plans, business plans, and transition plans
to restructure the Euphrat. Our fundraising efforts included grants,
events in private homes, auctions (Auction Committee raising $14,000
in June 2011), and more. We participated in the Museum Assessment
Program and the Museum Management Institute (Getty).
Developed a new logo, branding, brochure, website, and social
Grew Euphrat from zero funding after the passage of Proposition
13 to an annual budget of around $300,000. We increased the endowment/reserve
from $30,000 to $80,000. We left the Museum with dedicated core
funding for 2011/12, such as $19,000 from De Anza Student Body,
$15,000 from the City of Cupertino, and a solid volunteer program.
The original Euphrat, next
to Flint Center for the Performing Arts, had a long bunker structure,
with earth and plants on three sides. Before my directorship, Proposition
13 (1978) had eliminated funding for the Euphrat and about two thirds
of the original Euphrat had been turned into classroom space. In the
years to come, the remaining Euphrat space was threatened continually
with being turned into computer labs. In building up the Euphrat after
1979, we created a bright blue awning and a neon sign/logo in the
script of designer Sam Smidt, enhancing daytime and evening visibility
for students and Flint Center community audiences.
Curated over 100 thought-provoking exhibitions on site and
off site, including many renowned artists in the contemporary
art scene and revered masters such as Paul Hau. We published over
a dozen catalog/books, written by multiple contributors. We held
annual student exhibitions, with new approaches to the shows each
Pioneered unique trans-disciplinary exhibitions and programming
that expanded educational impact. Through projects such as the
art/game dynamic in
, 2010-11, we advanced scholarship, tackled difficult
issues, enhanced cultural understanding, and promoted discussion
and collaboration. Game Studies is a hot topic of university research,
engaging across human institutions. Universities, colleges, and
community members of all ages, including those from corporate
and government groups, participated in
. From the project's inception, people challenged
each other, questioning institutions, systems, choices, and values.
Innovated curatorial practices with curators and experts/ innovators
in other fields. For example, our flexible space arrangements
(within and outside museum walls) and flexible scheduling enhanced
the ability of exhibitions to overlap and evolve, which resulted
in additional artist, campus, and community participation.
Presented untold histories/stories, from Angel Island to veterans'
issues, to the loss of Native American languages. The Euphrat
was an early participant in larger social movements and was among
the first to address inequities. We heartily showcased art by
women and people from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds
as well as those with diverse ideas and abilities - segments of
society that have historically been sidelined. For example, our
, 2000, showcased the prestigious team of seven
artists from different cultures and generations who created the
monumental five-story mural Maestrapeace,
the first of its kind devoted to women's history. Maestrapeace
honors famous and unsung women, highlights political activism,
artistic and scientific achievements, and proclaims the healing
power of women's wisdom.
Juana Alicia, Miranda Bergman,
Edythe Boone, Susan Kelk Cervantes, Meera Desai, and Irene Perez.
©1994, 12,000 square feet. Acrylic mural on the San Francisco
Women's Building, 3545 18th Street. Photo by Marvin Collins. Exhibition
Responded to unusual questions asked by students, artists and
viewers, such as why there was no religious art in a modern art
, 1982), or why people feel the need
to pass for something they are not (Passing,
1999). We investigated issues and ideas in
Power of Cloth: Political Quilts (1845–1986)
, creek restoration
and the Needs of Children and Youth
and History of Place
Storytelling as Activism
We brought new perspectives to classic subjects: color, faces, landscape,
Developed an off-campus art exhibition program at civic, corporate,
and school sites, providing additional opportunities for local,
emerging, and student artists. We created collaborative public
art projects, murals, and a billboard (David Lance Goines).
Initiated the Euphrat Permanent Collection of Agnes Pelton
paintings, one of which was part of a 2009 exhibition at the Orange
County Museum of Art, and reproduced in exhibition books, such
, Palm Springs Desert Museum.
Participated in international exchanges, e.g. a trip to Taiwan
with Silicon Valley cultural figures, in conjunction with the
Distinguished Citizens Society International - Silicon Valley.
I visited a refugee camp in Thailand for
of the Refugee Experience
(1987) and brought back art created
in the camps that reflected life there.
, 1991. Mixed media installation for Euphrat exhibition
Freedom Views, 1991.
Initiated and Developed
the Award-winning Euphrat Arts & Schools Program
Reached out to local school sites. Directed by Diana Argabrite,
the program provided over 30,000 student instruction hours annually
(after-school, summer, winter-break camp), employing Artist/Teachers
and student interns.
Developed Teaching Tours and educational materials for all
and Fostered Campus/Community Outreach
Developed creative campus collaborations, e.g. working with
De Anza Student Body, Creative Arts, California History Center,
Black Student Union, Institute for Community and Civic Engagement,
Puente, with community service learning opportunities, events,
and the popular First Thursdays that featured open mic, poetry,
Developed creative community collaborations, e.g. with City
of Cupertino, City of Sunnyvale; Cupertino Union, Sunnyvale and
Fremont Union School Districts; corporations, service groups,
and non-profits. In the early years, we spurred the establishment
of the Cupertino Fine Arts Commission.
Developed relationships with many partners and collaborators,
both institutional and activist, including CADRE Institute (Computers
in Art, Design, Research, and Education), San José State University,
Chinese Culture Center, ZER01 Biennial, Silicon Valley DeBug.
Our past partners include Arts Council Silicon Valley, Smithsonian
Institution, United Nations Refugee Agency, WEAD, Oakland Museum
of Art, Precita Eyes, Women's Building/Maestrapeace, Bronx Museum
of Art, Rockefeller Foundation, California Arts Council, NEA,
and pace-setting corporations Apple Computer and Hewlett Packard.
Initiated museum instruction across disciplines, e.g. integrated
programming with class projects in Humanities, Language Arts,
Geography, Marketing, Political Science, Visual Arts, and Museum
Studies. We also presented workshops and offered local and state
Abe Menor, photographer, "at-risk"
youth case manager, and community organizer, connected with Silicon
Valley Debug, has documented a hidden San José: bboys presenting
their skills, Filipino veterans, marches and community activism,
street life, "all kinds of people." Part of In Between: The Tension
and Attraction of Difference, 2010.
Improved the Lives of At-Risk
Developed Euphrat Multidisciplinary Arts Bridge Program for
Foster Youth, in conjunction with De Anza Summer Bridge Program
for foster youth near emancipation. We addressed the youths' personal
challenges and built on college/community resources.
Developed the Euphrat Community Arts Mentorship Initiative.
Our work with at-risk youth included focused academic and community
Game of Life mural,
part of art from Euphrat Multidisciplinary Arts Summer Bridge
Program for Foster Youth. Juxtaposed with
(De Anza Restoring Education) Student Activist Art Show
Steered the New Building
These are just a few of our many significant achievements over a span
of 33 years and I am proud to have spearheaded a lot of them. We have
garnered numerous awards and commendations. Our efforts have opened
creative opportunities for hundreds of thousands of participants of
all ages, changing many lives, particularly those of youth, as told
in countless testimonials.
Guided the design and construction of the prominent new Euphrat
Museum of Art on the De Anza College campus, an uncommon occurrence
for community colleges. The strength and innovation of our 33-year
programming propelled this expansion.
Developed a unique architectural form for the construction
of new Euphrat with award-winning Mark Cavagnero Associates (recipient,
The American Institute of Architects California Council 2012 Firm
Award) that combines high external presence with high flexibility
for meaningful internal programming. Front View, West Gallery,
South Gallery, Project Space, Lobby, Patio, Workroom, and Storage
are easily accessed by sliding doors/walls.
Developed audio-visual, computer, and Flat Files capability
for multiple interactive exhibition formats. Our Come On Down!
Project Space has served as a work/exhibition space for countless
and sometimes spontaneous campus and community projects..
Ricardo Richey, front window painting for new Euphrat Museum's
second inaugural year exhibition,
Between, The Tension and Attraction of Difference
An early exhibition,
Visible: The Importance of Archives
(1981), included the work
of young Mildred Howard and research on, and collection of, Agnes
Pelton (1881–1961). Both are art stars today. The new Euphrat's inaugural
Back, Looking Ahead
(2009), evoked essences of Silicon Valley,
trans-disciplinary, depicting the historical and the contemporary,
serious issues as well as humor and satire, traditional art forms
alongside the latest technological advances. With student, academic,
and community involvement, these diverse elements came together. This
type of innovation and risk-taking distinguishes the decades in which
I was director.
San José Art History Up To
The First San José Biennial
Catalogue essay, Jan Rindfleisch, 1985, for San José Museum of Art and related series of exhibitions in San José
It seems to me that San José's first Biennial coincides nicely with
the progress this city has made from being a midway point on California's
map to a world leader in education, technology and communications.
This essay, then, in many respects, is a State of the City in Art.
But not every artist and art form will be recognized, not every controversy
chronicled and not every source of inspiration honored. Instead I
would like to take some time to present you with a history, highlight
some early players who helped to shape the art scene in San José,
and, along the way, ask some questions that might prompt you to think
about where our art is taking us. And where we, in San José, are taking
Cast Of Characters, The Early Players
"How far back do you want to go?"
asked me. "In 1875, The Art Association was formed
in San José and had its first show at the Normal School, now San José
State University, in June 1876." SJSU Art Professor John DeVincenzi
instigated and organized most of the committees and boards that have
produced the major arts organizations of the South Bay. His voluminous
files archive the South Bay art scene.2
In 1938, a group of San José artists, mostly San José State teachers
and students, formed the San José Art League to stimulate public interest
in art.3 In 1946, they began holding
public art shows at the City Library-a first step in what they really
wanted which was a decently large place for permanent and changing
In the post-WWII migration to California, houses and shopping centers
were built in outlying areas, and San José faced problems in the downtown
area that continued to escalate over the next thirty years. The Art
League believed in improving the downtown image, bringing culture
to the city center.4
The Art League started a building committee in 1950, followed by what
came to be yearly fundraisers,5
and organized the San José Art Gallery Association in 1952,6
but the City Council dragged its feet on the art gallery question
until 1957, when it appointed an official committee headed by attorney
Robert Morgan. The Building
Committee recommended to the Citizen's Committee that a Civic Art
Gallery, an Art Gallery Advisory Board, and a Fine Arts Commission
be established by the City.
On its own, in 1959, the Art League purchased the 73-year-old Francis
Bates home at 482 South Second Street and renovated the property into
its own gallery. Of course, art and visiting artists were continuously
featured in the SJS Art Department long before 1959, but displays
sprawled from classrooms to corridors and the library. In 1959, the
art building was constructed-containing the first professionally designed
galleries in the California State University System. Early exhibits
in the Art Department Galleries, under Director
, were of June Wayne's
prints and Mark Adams's tapestries.
The San José Fine Arts Commission was established in 19617,
and the City of San José funded the visual arts for the first time
current SJSU Art Department chair, recalls, "The sixties were a heady
time of growth and recognition. The artists who joined the SJS faculty
came from around the country. There was real ferment; every week something
happened in the studios of Sam Richardson,
, Don Potts (then
a student)… Critics and dealers would drive down from San Francisco.
For the first time, South Bay artists were considered for SECA (Society
for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art) awards. In 1966-67, the
Richmond Arts Center called attention to art of this area in a major
exhibition entitled Bay Area South;
most of the artists were SJS Art Faculty or alumni."
Artist enthusiasm didn't translate to City Council action on a civic
art gallery. A 1968 memorandum to the City Council contains a long
list of official committees authorized by the administrators of San
José over twenty-three years of planning and postponing. Perseverance
by a committee chaired by DeVincenzi paid off; in 1969, the City Council
approved the committee's plan to develop the old public library into
a first-rate exhibition space?
The library site was once the center of the old pueblo of San José
established in 1777 The Romanesque building, originally the post office,
was built in the 1890s and was the first federal building constructed
in San José. The old library was transformed into the San José Museum
of Art and declared a California Historical landmark in 1972. A major
renovation in 1975 provided functional contemporary gallery space
and space for an art classroom. A permanent collection began to take
shape, as forty of the area's leading artists donated works of art
Dr. Delmar Kolb
was the first director of the Art League in 1974; he also served as
the first director (1971–1973) of the San José Museum of Art-followed
by Albert Dixon (1973–1982)
and Acting Director Martha Manson.
Major shows of the 70s included the
? The eighth in the series,
, coincided with the bicentennial celebration of the
City of San José in November 1977. In 1979, the
José Mercury News
, a long-time contributor, sponsored
United States And The Impressionist Era
The SJS Art Department was closely aligned with the Museum, providing
artwork, staff, volunteers and support on a variety of projects. It
was the lifeblood of the burgeoning arts community and a great resource
when the city didn't have the money to support the arts. The Department
is one of the largest in the state and highly respected. Today, it
is the only publicly supported university art program in Northern
California that is accredited at the level of a professional school
of art. It was first accredited in 1973 when
chaired the Department.
During her term, 1972–1980, Cohen gave strong support to building
the Art Department Foundry and strengthened the Art Department Galleries
in part by developing a series of small galleries where students could
gather and find out what other students were doing. Throughout the
70s the Department sponsored over twenty nationally and internationally
recognized visiting artists each year, including
. Robert Irwin,
, Mary Beth Edelson,
and William Wiley.11
A growing development of the 70s was the training of professional
artists as opposed to artist teachers.
By the mid-seventies, artists, under the leadership of another SJSU
faculty member, Jessica Jacobs, were clamoring for city exhibition
space with more representation and freedom than the now "established"
Museum provided. Jacobs and a number of her students pioneered what
were really the very first modern art galleries in San José-starting
with the Merz Gallery, later replaced by Wordworks on San Fernando
Street, near St. Joséph's Church. When the building housing Wordworks
was torn down, Jacobs called a community meeting of artists and proposed
creating a significant "alternative" art space, democratically organized
and run. Enthusiasm was high-money was scarce. Meetings lasted throughout
the summer. A board of twelve was chosen, along with a name: WORKS.
That fall the WORKS Board leased the building at 248 Auzerais.
Within several months, Jessica Jacobs left WORKS arguing that a gallery
needed a director Board members, however, preferred the democratic
approach and chose to continue operating without an artistic director.
SJSU Professor Tony May became
the first president of WORKS (1977-78);
Thomas Robert Barth
, S. Barrett Williams
and Michael Selic have also
served in that role. Jacobs and the people who believed in a directorial
system founded a separate space on First Street and resurrected the
name which had become Jacobs's trademark: Wordworks.
After Jacobs left for Southern California in mid 1980, Wordworks was
reopened as the San José Institute of Contemporary Art, a.k.a. SJICA
(si-jeye-ca), with Founding Director
, followed by
(1983–1984). In 1981 and 1982, SJICA published Presentense,
an ambitious publication of art dialogue, documentation and politics.
SJICA has sent a travelling show to Europe, exchanged shows with Mexican
artists and linked up with New York in
's exhibit Correspondances.
WORKS/San José (to many artists, "WORKS" for short) exhibits are determined
by an Artist Selection Committee-three artists selecting and organizing
shows over a six-month period. This structure has provided a continuous
and changing esthetic format. To date, thirty-nine artists have served,
putting on more than 160 exhibits and events, including an early appearance
by Laurie Anderson.12
For this first Biennial,
many of the galleries selected shows that in some way help complete
the history of South Bay art.
1. San José ART LEAGUE
The Early Years 1938–1972
showcases seven name artists from the Bay Area and Southern California-artists
of diverse styles, media and imagery, who exhibited during the early
years of the League, before the Museum opened. Much of the imagery
is very reflective of the natural settings of the Santa Clara Valley
in those years. Artists include
(sculptor, printmaker, painter),
, Fran Malovos,
N. Eric Oback (watercolorist
and popular SJS professor, 1950–1979), John DeVincenzi and
San José STATE UNIVERSITY ART
School of San José
exhibit shows work from SJSU faculty influential
in the '60s-an exciting time of artistic exchange, discovery and experimentation.
In the catalog
Art of the Sixties
, published by the de Saisset Museum in conjunction
with a 1982 exhibit, Georgianna Lagoria
wrote about the Department's particular intrigue with industrial techniques
and materials: "teachers and students had gathered a library of information
on techniques of working with plastics;" artists' studios were "workshops
filled with sights and sounds commonly associated with industry."
Fletcher Benton used sections
of colorful plexiglas in his kinetic sculptures.
used plastics in his small-scale landscape sculptures.
John Battenberg developed a war theme in fiberglass and resin, in
aluminum and bronze. The activity even lured design majors over to
the Art Department, such as
, Jeff Sanders
and Robert Strini.
One could make some observations on the "School of San José": a preference
for materials and objects as opposed to performances, a balanced art-less
likely to be radical. "There has not been a radical movement," says
Fred Spratt. "Emphasis seems to have been on process-the making of
San José Mercury
critic Dorothy Burkhart
comments, "Most of the artists who work in San José came through SJSU.
In the '60s and early 70s, the instructors (mostly male) and their
students (also mostly male) earned reputations as producers of elegant
objects. Many of these male students, as they matured, continued to
follow their mentors' esthetic. The impact of the women's movement
hit the University in the early-to-mid 70s, with increased female
enrollment. Attempting to find a place for themselves and taking their
cue from the increasing number of professional women artists, women
students artists looked inward, making personal, often autobiographical,
figurative work." More recently, Burkhart sees San José artists "doing
their own thing;" she sees "widely varying esthetics."13
3. WORKS San José
The artists in
The Artist Selectors'
have already exhibited major art forms in the gallery
as curators of the creative shows they assembled for the Artist Selection
In the current exhibit, we see another side of these artists-their
own objects, installations, performances. Over 80% of the artists
who have served on the gallery's selection committees are participating,
including Gillian Ellenby,
, Tonia Macneil,
, Margaret Stainer,
Michele Thomas and
San José INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY
In New Sites, New Work SJICA
Director Loida Sorensen calls
attention to the far-reaching influence of artists who once worked
or lived in the South Bay-a group which has included
, sculptor of the monumental bronze gateway for the 1984
Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Exhibiting artists include
and Ralph Loynachan
(Los Angeles), Mark Calderon
and Robert Strini (Seattle),
(San Antonio), Jan Harrison
(Cincinnati), Peter Greene
(New York) and Mark Tansey
(New York), whose paintings were selected for the prestigious Whitney
Biennial in 1983.
Susan Sagawa, a SJSU art graduate who didn't leave San José, and composer
Brian Mitchell transform an adjacent gallery into a major installation
entitled Tonal Park, San José.
The work relates to both the specific architecture of SJICA and to
city sounds outside the gallery.
5. San José MUSEUM OF ART
The First San José Biennial: A
Contemporary Perspective and the Biennial
idea itself were
initiated by Russell Moore,
director from 1983 to 1985.14
Moore chose Julia Brown Turrell,
senior curator of The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, to
serve as guest curator.15 Turrell
has chosen an electric cross-section of recent work.
For the lovers of paint and color,
. For the lovers of paint and wood,
sculpture. For the lovers of paint, color and fabric,
the painted quilts of Therese May-
. For the lovers of color and photography,
's abstract prints of portions of walls.
Lusciousness of color, light-hearted titles, the emphasis on surface
richness and on content that seems accessible and then glides away-the
show lures the viewer to the artists' enjoyment of their media and
their personal visual languages
: eight-foot-high sculpture drawings-glazes, textures,
tonalities of white.
: abstract expressionism with symbolism galore, magical
statements, eye shapes-
Red Bird, Frog Prince
: an installation of river rock, leaves and other natural
materials behind a suspended door.
: pastel, finely surfaced ceramic men and women, with
flattened geometric bodies, a short line here, a dangling dab there
to show their sex. Diane Shultz:
large paintings with recurring anthurium flowers, reds, purples, triangles,
gangly bodies and weird perspectives, narrative titles-
Couldn't Fall Asleep That Night
Some remind one of Silicon Valley penchants or lifestyles:
, Bonnie Stone's
Celestial Futon. In "projections of the past for the future of San
José," Kim Yasuda projects
images, such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, on the faces of major San
José buildings (the Museum, Sears Office Building, Morris Daily Auditorium)
to propose a new self-image for San José.
6. THE INDEPENDENTS
Patterned after the French Salon des Refuses of 1874, an exhibit that
included some salon rejects who later became more famous than the
of 1986 includes artists bypassed by the "official"
San José Museum of Art exhibit. Approximately three hundred artists
active in the area applied for the Museum show; since Julia Brown
Turrell picked only twenty, controversy was assured. "A decrepit development,"
said one painter. The quickly titled Independents were the first to
question her criteria and artists.
, SJSU art history instructor, became the unofficial
was open to all artists in the area. Committees,
fund-raising packets, logos and t-shirts were developed. Vegter-Kubic
met with the Biennial Consortium and began to inspect spaces that
would ideally house some seventy artists with three to four works
apiece. "This Show covers a wider range of media than the Museum show-photography,
some with social content, more sculpture, fiber, installation."
Look for a Sharon Ingle installation:
bamboo, fiber, light-poetic and symbolic. And for an
paintings in real environments so one can't tell where
the painted area stops and starts. In their list of exhibitors, I
noticed that while a fifth are in school, half are between forty and
sixty years old.
7. AND MORE EVENTS
Some artists chose not to participate in the large unjuried
. Instead, they wanted the public to visit their
studios. Artists Robert Windle and
San José 1986
with about fifty participating studios. This
is a first-time event in the South Bay and, once again, conceived,
managed and marketed by artists. I hope it will become an annual event.
A great way to see art-peering into artists' studios and meeting the
Open houses include the studios in the Citadel building and the Fine
Arts in Metal Inc., Art Foundry, founded by
in 1979. The latter is the current center for metal
sculpture. The Foundry finished a major commission in 1985 for sculptor
Fiore De Henriquez from Italy;
upon completion, the Foundry had a jammed reception with Mayor
giving Fiore the keys to the city.
Do We Measure Up?
Cordell Koland, arts writer
for The Business Journal
and a former arts commissioner, sees a terrific, extremely talented,
art community here. He considers South Bay artists comparable to the
New York community. "They just get more money and promotion. We need
to educate the public, need more outlets and opportunities for artists
to make a living." There isn't a San José style; it's "all kinds of
things, realistic and abstract."
Vegter-Kubic, feels the time is coming when magazines like
will focus on San José as they do on Chicago and
Houston. She feels however that critics exaggerate regional style
differences-she too doesn't see a difference in art expression from
city to city-"the stuff is wild, interesting."
Dorothy Burkhart, art critic for the
José Mercury News
, is more critical. "With the greater acceptance
of California artists on the east coast, there's more interest in
California artists. True. But those being courted appear to be from
San Francisco and Los Angeles, not San José. Those who have left seem
to fare better…. Still, they're not exactly the big faces looking?
at us from the covers of glossy art magazines… San José certainly
is a boomtown, and its visual artists, riding on that coattail, have
a collective sense of inflated importance. But, in truth, there's
a lethargy here and a failure to grow."
THE ART LEAGUE continues to showcase established and emerging artists,
and to prod as well as cooperate with other organizations who feature
art galleries. Director George Rivera,
initiated the popular plan of having the downtown galleries hold their
exhibit openings at the same time. Rivera was also instrumental in
the early organization of the Biennial. The new director for the League
is Helen MacKinlay.
The San José STATE UNIVERSITY ART DEPARTMENT GALLERIES, counted as
one of the top five "major campus art gallery programs" in the State
system, provide over 25 different exhibits a month. The current director
is Andy Ostheimer.
The Galleries are an integral part of the changing role Fred Spratt
sees for the SJSU Art Department. Spratt has led the Department into
projects with foundations and the local community. He views the community
as an exhibit space and plans to use the Art Department to bring site-related
sculpture to new building construction in San José. Spratt also launched
the 1984 and 1986 CADRE Institute projects (Computers in Art, Design,
Research and Education).
The 1984 Conference, managed by Professor
, consisted of exhibitions, concerts, industry tours
and symposia. The First Silicon Valley Festival of Electronic Arts
in 1986 celebrated computer art and music through exhibitions and
performances at the area's cultural facilities. Both projects led
the way in joining the richness of the arts with the new processes
introduced by computers, forcing an age-old question: how are information
and perception related in art? (Catalogs are available for both projects.)
WORKS San José has just opened a new space at 66 S. First Street in
the Letitia building, built in the late 1800s by James Duval Phelan,
a California State Senator.
The gallery has had its ups and downs. A gallery directed by volunteers,
WORKS supporters are engaged in a labor of love. WORKS is special
because it invites more participation than other galleries. That's
what makes it chaotic and difficult to manage, but also what makes
it worthwhile. President Michael Selic: "What also separates WORKS
San José is the amount of responsibility the exhibiting artist has;
there is no all-powerful curator."
SJICA's new director, Loida Sorensen, sees SJICA as both backing the
local arts community and taking more risk than the Museum. The art
community is directly involved in several of SJICA's fundraisers,
including the Annual Valentine Exhibition and Auction. Sorensen likes
SJICA's current South First Street location. She would like to stay
there when the area is fully gentrified and "reap the benefits from
having developed the area."
The San José MUSEUM OF ART boasts an enhanced location, a building
project, a new director and chief curator. The Museum is the cornerstone
of construction now underway for the eight-block Fairmont Hotel retail-office
complex known as San Antonio Plaza. The city donated land for a new
wing, which will provide over 40,000 square feet of climate-controlled
gallery, storage and preparatory space. "There will be exquisite gallery
space, with a twenty-foot ceiling and skylight in one gallery. The
basement of the old building will house the art education functions;
the first floor, the bookstore, cafe and lecture hall"-new Director
John Olbrantz has worked with
Museum board members on the proposed design of the new addition and
on the creation of an ambitious comprehensive plan for the Museum's
Miriam Roberts from The Art Museum Association of America has been
chosen for the new chief curator. The exhibit schedule includes
, the first of an ongoing series focusing on different
cities. Opening May 1987 is
Nam: An Artist's Perspective
, a locally conceived exhibit guest-curated
by Lucy Lippard; Olbrantz's
plans are city-wide in scope, to coordinate the exhibition with offerings
by the San José Symphony and Channel 54. A source of continuing pride
is The Museum Art School, a very successful program currently under
the directorship of artist Ruth Tunstall-Grant.
The School offers students in the community an opportunity to explore
art as both creator and critic.
San José artists have developed a support system in galleries, museums,
publications, collections. As Fred Spratt remarked,"… the initial
and basic element in these so-called 'support systems' was the support
which the artists themselves provided each other." By "establishing
a rigorous, but amiable, testing ground…artists hone and certify
their priorities and gain the experience necessary for artistic maturity….
Out of this growth, not preceding it, communities fashion their character."
Artists don't automatically move away anymore. We lost
, Chris Daubert,
, Stephen Moore
But Scott Miller and
came back. And Museum ex-Director Russell Moore stayed
to open up Allegra Gallery on First Street.
The rapid cultural growth occurring in all the arts parallels the
renewal of the city's center. While organizations compete for funds,
there is a sense of the common good, of developing audiences, an increased
awareness of the need to work together, talk.
Cordell Koland reflected, "If there is a birth of culture in San José,
then the San José Fine Arts Commission is as responsible as any, with
a proud heritage. It has supported several alternative galleries and
minority programs. It has been courageous the last ten years, played
venture capitalist in the art world here and done so very successfully,
taken a chance on far-out ideas-WORKS, SJICA.
was a tremendous influence in getting the Commission
credibility, and a driving force in the early years.
was a person of vision, compassion-always
with the best interest of the community at heart, yet not afraid to
vote no when appropriate. In recent years,
has been a very good leader, tries to strike a balance
between opposing sides-is tremendously community conscious."
The Fine Arts Commission, now in its 25th year and giving three-quarters
of a million dollars to thirty groups, has placed major efforts on
Arts in Education Week, "1 % for art" monies, the hotel motel tax,
and arts advocacy in general. "They come out," said former Directors
George Rivera and Susan Kirkpatrick. "They attend openings."
The Arts Council of Santa Clara County, a relative newcomer in the
art-support network, was started in 1982. County Supervisor
sponsored the ordinance to create a local arts council.
Along with County and increasing business support, the initial budget
of $83,000 has grown to over $310,000. In 1985 the Council awarded
$40,000, providing financial backing for individual artists and arts
groups. The Council's new program, Business Volunteers for the Arts,
taps business expertise for the needs of art organizations.
As Hewlett Packard was instrumental in the technological growth of
Silicon Valley, so both the Hewlett and Packard Foundations have been
the greatest supporters of cultural growth. Other consistent givers
have been IBM, Saga Foods and the
José Mercury News
under the leadership of
a senior vice president at the paper, is chairman of the Museum's
Board. I hear compliments about individuals and companies:
, Santa Clara Land Title Company ("always there"),
, Pacific Bell ("consistent, helps large and small").
There is no reason to feel smug or secure however. Black states that
the business community in Santa Clara County is at the bottom rung
in terms of contributions to the arts when compared with other counties
of the same size. Drew Gibson,
as president of Koll Company, has been an important force. Gibson
was the first to establish a corporate art collection, both indoor
and outdoor, and was influential in making the display of art a standard,
legitimate concern of business.
, a member of the San José Arts Commission from
1977 to 1983 and former president of the California Arts Council,
often talks of the unique cultural identity that San José has developed
over the last few years. Killins identifies a 13-hour serial produced
by KTEH (filmed by Daniel McGuire)
as pivotal in establishing a local cultural identity, out from under
the shadow of San Francisco. Killins sees hope in the new galleries
(even the temporary ones as Aartvarks), projects like the CADRE Institute,
increasing newspaper coverage, the attention to art and design in
downtown-even in the prospects for murals on the walls of all the
construction sites in the city.
The process of choosing art specifically intended for a city identity
gets people thinking and talking.
proposes fluorescent lighting for the intersection
of freeways 280 and 101. Killins suggests painting all the rooftops
in one area, a block of houses, to look like a computer chip board
or a tech-age design, something beautiful, a trade-mark to be seen
upon flying into the San José International Airport. Mayor Tom McEnery
likes the idea. Then there's the Guadalupe River Project proposed
by Newton and
when they were visiting artists at SJSU. They saw
this project as a chance to enhance the beauty of the city with open
space and a sculpture park with an area for local artists. The Gateway
Project, the idea of architect
, a series of four archways representing the past, present
and future, is intended as entrances to the City. The current jury
has invited artists to submit bids, drawings and sketches. It is hoped
that casting might be done locally at the Fine Arts in Metal Foundry.16
Killins feels the new power in the Valley is allowing the arts to
breathe and grow more. But as far as greater cross-cultural awareness,
Killins feels further efforts need to be made in these areas. She
hopes that major institutions would consider serving as umbrella organizations
for struggling ethnic arts groups.
Certainly more measures need to be considered. From an early perspective,
ethnic representation is minimal in the Biennial; the exhibits do
not give a sense of our ethnic mix-and perhaps because of that, in
part, do not in any way reflect the experiences of a major portion
of our population-nor many of the problems or issues in this area-or
in the world.
The World, The Process And The Growth
Like trying to improve the world, problems might be "heavy" subjects-but
not necessarily. Says SJSU Professor Tony May, "In the fall of '84,
I taught a class called Town Improvements. Art should do something
to improve the world, rather than make it worse. We wanted to do these
non-denominational art shrines, inspired by Shinto and European street
shrines. It became a performance. And politically complicated. We
revealed our intention too early-to use a doorway on the back of an
abandoned building. We went at night and painted the area black-nice
and neat. Someone tipped off the owner. Proposals and refusals followed.
They led us along. Finally, on a Sunday morning, we just did it-a
polychromed spectacle, gold leaf, mosaic tile, mirrors, like a David
Best or Lois Anderson (sculpture). Anarchy was involved; it was a
process development piece. Nice contrast: a five-story building, five
floors of scum contrasted with polychrome tile on the stairs, copper,
mylar, mosaic door covering-like an entrance to a mysterious Chinese
health club. It's still there, at 3rd and Santa Clara, in the parking
lot. I wanted to do more but now they've torn down most of the derelict
buildings I had my eye on."
While some artists beautify corporations. Tony May targets deteriorating
buildings; he promotes an awareness of the city and the ability, however
small, to affect it.
"I think the
(1980) were my favorite. My Special Projects class
constructed them next to the Fox Theater-"the fox hole," a transient-haven
kind of place with one part at basement level. We built a formal garden
out of tumbleweed with arches and walkways-trimmed it with hedge clippers.
"Once, when I was out of town, my class decided to invent
a show for the main gallery at SJSU. They pulled stuff out of a creek
bed, went exploring hobo apartments. In the show called
, they passed these items off as museum pieces.
They used Plexiglas cases for such items as newspaper logs, set them
up in a dark gallery with directed light beams. We had a black-tie
reception with high-brow music."
What good can come from art? A Biennial is one opportunity to look
and comment. While art can be used to bring business people into the
cultural mainstream, art has also been known to separate people. Erica
Vegter-Kubic, originally from Holland, states, "In Holland, artists
are respected even if they're poor. Here there are fundraising parties
that artists can't afford; the fun part should be meeting the artists."
Someone who makes a point of bringing people together with art is
José Colchado, an artist and
an art educator, brought in six years ago to establish links between
the SJSU Art Department and secondary and elementary school students,
particularly Chicanos. Through interdisciplinary courses such as Community
Concepts 157, he and his student teaching assistants have addressed
social problems-gangs, latch-key children-and found art to be one
of the most productive ways to involve all ages.
a summer program for the East Side Youth Center and the high school
district, for students with difficulties who needed to pick up units.
We knew if the program were just academic, we'd lose them. Two graduate
students and I took on eleven kids-all non-academic, non-art 'throwaways.'
They wanted to do a mural on Hispanic cultural heritage and wanted
to research it but didn't know how to use the library. During the
six-week program the kids worked overtime on this 12 x40' mural. They
painted images on paper first, cut them out and moved them around-figuring
out the whole composition on paper at the actual size. They painted
it at Newberry's (department store at the intersection of Story and
King Roads) in less than two weeks. The mural surprised everyone,
even the students. People in the community would ride by and blow
their horns in support. Those who walked by would be given a brush.
It's still there.
"I often scrounge for supplies. Businesses
supply money and prizes. Local grocery stores give food; Newberry's
supplies most of the paint. These are not corporations; I don't even
try them. These are mom-and-pop small businesses. They give sodas
to the kids; they know the value of art."
Colchado talks in a barren office (rare for an arts person)-and he
has no desire to decorate. "I hate this office; I want to be out there
at East Side, Grant, and Independence (high schools).
"I am a facilitator; I don't paint murals. I could, but I have a different
purpose-the students, the process, the growth."
In many respects this Biennial is an opportunity to re-commit our
efforts and resources to art in San José. Our process and growth-ongoing
and unlimited I should think.
Art, Education, and Community
Building community begins with collaborations. We are not in a vacuum;
we learn from each other. Learning isn't top down. It goes in all
directions. Having an expanded vision of art, education, and community,
which included reaching out to many marginalized networks, was ideal
for De Anza, an open door community college. Some of the exhibitions
were based on an under-valued art medium. For example, in
Power of Cloth
(1987), we exhibited political quilts at the
Euphrat at a time when the medium and messages were little recognized
by the art world.
We also held exhibitions that included over-looked arts organizations
and programs related to health, art with at-risk youth, social issues,
politics, and community needs. Our early exhibitions included
Visible: the Importance of Archives
Roasts: 250 Feminist Cartoons
and Art by Hand
(1983). We featured groups and networks that
were marginalized in the beginning years: Physically Limited Program
at De Anza College, an untitled group of feminist cartoonists, Galeria
de la Raza, YLEM, SIGGRAPH, CADRE, and Creative Growth (San Francisco
We worked with visionaries at the Oakland Museum of Art, the Archives
of American Art, Apple Computer and Hewlett Packard, who were receptive
to "openness," to doing something different. The activism included
campus groups, academics at various universities, and community, whether
from farm fields or a suburban tract household.
The intersections of art with "real life" set a high bar. For example,
Stanford Vice Provost Cecilia Burciaga
, both former Euphrat Board members, chose to live
at Casa Zapata (1985-94), a Stanford dormitory, and make an inspiring
"home" for Latino students. José Antonio Burciaga continued
his activist murals, writing, and performing. They were guiding forces
in reaching out to the student in all of us.
Poetry readings and events were always part of our outreach and activism.
They were amazing, eye-opening, thought-provoking experiences.
, Pomo Medicinewoman, introduced us to our regional history
and Pomo spiritual life. She gave a basket-making demonstration in
1982 at Euphrat in collaboration with De Anza's Intercultural Studies.
In the 1980s, poetry readings included
, Quincy Troope,
, Elaine Kim,
, Gary Soto,
Jabba Jones, along with
, Margarita Luna Robles,
and Juan Felipe Herrera, who
both read and helped develop the presentations. South African poet
and activist Dennis Brutus
read in 1983, sponsored by the Dennis Brutus Defense Fund and the
National Lawyers Guild. He had just been released from Robben Island,
where he occupied a cell next to Nelson Mandela.
Art, education, and community came together in this collaborative,
organic way. By strengthening communal activities, bonds and structures,
and addressing shared values; we built community and a unique college/community
museum. We opened creative opportunities for hundreds of thousands
of participants of all ages. As told in countless testimonials, many
lives were changed, particularly those of youth. And this activism
, founder of Teatro Familia Aztlán at Euphrat's
Benefit for Art Education honoring
, January 1994. They were featured artists in the exhibition
Coming Across: Art by Recent
, center, with four "unsung heroes" in art education whom
we honored at Euphrat's
Fourth R: Art
benefit for arts and education in January 1992.
Hosts George and Judy Marcus.
Left to right: Nancy Marston,
founder, the Los Altos Art Docents program in the Los Altos School
District; Flo Wong, advocate,
Sunnyvale School District, Resurrection School, workshops; Ruth Asawa,
renowned leader in art, art education and public sculpture, SF Art
Commissioner, collaborator, advocate, alumna of Black Mountain College;
Talala Mshuja, founder of
Nairobi Cultural Center, East Palo Alto;
, advocate and teacher at Stocklmeir School in Cupertino
Union School District