NEWSMAKINGNEWS
 
 THE BAYCITIES OBSERVER Virginia McCullough

"Have I missed the  mark, or, like a true archer,  do I strike my mark?                         
Or am I a prophet of lies, a babbler from door to door?"
                                                     Cassandra, as reported by Agamemnon. 

FROM FAR RIGHT TO LIBERAL,
OR WHY I HAD NO FUN IN THE 1960'S

    This last Tuesday [2-8-2000] my daughter, Julie and I had a wonderful experience.  We went to San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art specifically to see an exhibit entitled: "Far-Out Bay Area Design - 1960's Art Exhibit".  The exhibit was a great adventure brought to the public by curator Aaron Behsky.

     Viewers must pass through seven or eight large rooms filled with paintings and sculptures by the masters of modern art.  These rooms were sparsely occupied by people reading explanations on neatly typed plaques explaining the intent of the artists.  In front of a large all white canvas occupying one entire wall stood an elderly couple with ear phones seeking an audio explanation and a young man staring at the painting intently while scratching his head.  They were sooooo serious; no one smiled.

     Finally, passing through a small alcove filled with interactive computers, we came upon the 60's exhibit.  The write up introducing the exhibit said it best: "This exhibit is meant to be fun".  Covering the years 1968 through 1973, the room is filled with gifts from the beat generation to the over-worked, stressed-out drones of the new Millennium.

     Julie, our artist, who truly should have been born in the 1960's,  stood awe struck in front of an offset lithograph on paper by artist Lee Conklin.  Entitled "Steppenwolf - The Grateful Dead [at] Fillmore Auditorium, August 29th to September 1st, 1968."  She made me stop and appreciate the intricacies of the design; like a patient teacher she pointed out the many faces nearly hidden in the thousands of pen and ink lines.  "Now that is really art",  she told me who, as a former conservative, couldn't possibly understand what she been born knowing.

     We separated, going down parallel outside walls filled with music posters, many loaned to the exhibit by ArtRock of San Francisco.  Music of that era played softly in the background.  Almost at the end of the room on the right hand side a poster spoke to me.  In large red letters sat an an angle it stated:

     "The streets of our country are in turmoil.  The universities are filled with students rebelling and rioting.  Communists are seeking to destroy our country.  Russia is threatening us with all her might.  And the republic is in danger - yes - danger from within and without.  We need law and order!  Without law and order our nation cannot survive."  Hitler --- 1932

     At the bottom of the quote was an American flag. The very words might as well have been spoken by US Presidents Johnson, Nixon or Reagan.

     My mind asked me where I had been during those violent, intense, passionate years.   Why hadn't I had any fun in the 1960's?

     Raised in a very conservative family, in 1968 I had a young daughter and had just married my second husband.  I wanted more children and he wanted a wife with a college education before having more children.  I was attending San Jose City College and writing for the school newspaper.  When the 60's students cut classes, protested or sat in on the college lawn, I condemned them -- each and every one.  My front page articles urged that protesters be jailed and banned from school.  In short, I was not having any fun because  I was to the right of Attila the Hun.  Upon graduation I chose California State at Hayward to complete my B.A. because it is built like a fortress high on a hill,  Governor Reagan could isolate it and keep the anarchists out.  Those were my priorities in 1968.  The realization saddened me.  I felt wistful knowing there was a magic I had missed and that era would probably never happen again.

     I noticed Julie admiring artist Lois Anderson's masterpiece called "The Throne".  In 1973, when Anderson created this intricate, detailed tribute to her times, she was known as "Lotus Carnation".  How appropriate!  It was her interview on a local television show that alerted me to the exhibit.  She had said, during that interview, that people think everyone involved in that era always walked around stoned.  Then Lotus/Lois accurately pointed out no one could accomplish the delicate art work produced in that era, such as The Throne, while stoned.  Take  a close look at all the various colors, shapes and textures glued patiently together and you will know what she said it true.

     If you are lucky enough to visit this exhibit before it closes on February 20th, be certain to carefully read the plaques.  Then you will learn that the exquisitely beautiful "Dutch Door",  topped with stained glass and crafted by artist Dave Garvy during the years 1974-1975,  normally resides in his home in Marin County.  As beautiful as that door is,  it is easy to see why the artist would not want to part with the essence of his soul.  Thank you for at least sharing, Dave!

     In 1997, while working on a sensitive story, this author's home was raided by the Alameda County Sheriff's Office and I temporarily resided in Berkeley.  This was my only "hippie" experience.  I reveled in those months - walking University Avenue, eating at Fondue Fred's, attending radical conferences, and enjoying the absolute freedom of that time.  I thought I had discovered an exclusive piece of heaven.  My curiosity was aroused; I had developed an itch I could not scratch.  I knew I wanted to learn more; I wished I had lived before.

     One of the highlights of the exhibit are two guitars crafted by Rich Turner in 1969 and 1971.  I longed to hear them played and wondered if their sounds were in the music we were listening to as we strolled through the exhibit.  I wondered if Julie had ever heard the haunting guitar sound floating through the air unamplified.  I wondered if this daughter I gave birth to at 36 understood how important it was for me to bring her here so that we could both step through this time door together in unison.

     Halfway down the central hallway there is an incredibly-beautiful,  hand-embroidered skirt and blouse skillfully executed by Artist Mary Ann Schildknecht while she was serving two years in jail in Milan, Italy.  If you visit the exhibit, please take time to read the plaques.  The impact and intensity of the exhibit are lost without the background of the time in which the art was created.

     During my 1997 "hippie vacation" in Berkeley, I lived just blocks from Wavy Gravy's headquarters.  It took me months to understand the importance of Wavy Gravy to the 60's.  Imagine my delight when appearing before me, encased in glass,  was the well-worn jumpsuit belonging to Wavy Gravy.  It was designed by Johanara Romney and apparently worn by Wavy between 1964 and 1972.

     As I circled the room, I found myself enchanted by a wedding gown designed and created by artist Debra Rapoport in 1971-1972.  I stood transfixed.  During that same era my husband and I had often attended an event called "The Sports Car Olympics"  held over Labor Day weekend in Squaw Valley, California.  It was a fun-filled, 3-day weekend  with a middle class following dedicated to what-is-now-considered  classic sports car events.  One such weekend found the all 350 attendees gathered for a wedding in a cow pasture with the majestic Sierras towering overhead.  The groom was casually dressed, but the bride was resplendent in a dress from the art of the 1960's.   This dress before my eyes brought back a flood of memories.

     So here we were - Julie and I together- surrounded by the art and music of an era that changed the world forever.  There is no more powerful forces in the universe than art and music and the unmistakable changes they can wrought when embraced by people of passion who truly believe they can change the world.  Did this mystical combination exist in the 1960's or did that generation simply drop out?  The answer is in the art and the music.  See this exhibit - certainly the answer exists here.

Footnote:  In 1993 this author became the curator and custodian of the Mae Brussell Collection - Mae lived and commented on this era.  Subsequently activists,  such as Paul Bernadino of San Francisco, contributed their poster and library collections on the gay and lesbian movement to the Mae Brussell Collection in honor of Mae.  To these incredible individuals who lived and formed the 1960's,  this posting is dedicated.

I also dedicate this posting to the generation, who like my daughter Julie, loved and appreciated the 1960's and  to their desire to preserve its lessons for future generations.  Hopefully the button she wears so proudly will one day come true:  Under the peace symbol it reads "Back by popular demand - PEACE!" 

Virginia McCullough © 2/10/00


Art Exhibit: "Far-Out Bay Area Design - 1960's Art Exhibit." was viewed at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, `151 Third Street, San Francisco, February 10 through February 20, 2000.

Quote of the Day (2/10/00): "The streets of our country are in turmoil.  The universities are filled with students rebelling and rioting. Communists are seeking to destroy our country.  Russia is threatening us with all her might. And the republic is in danger - yes - danger from within and without. We need law and order! Without law and order our nation cannot survive." Hitler, 1932.  At the bottom of the quote was an American flag.  The very words might as well have been spoken by US Presidents Johnson, Nixon or Reagan. My mind asked me where I had been during those violent, intense, passionate years?  Why hadn't I had any fun in the 1960's?  Virginia McCullough, 2000.