Interview with Sheila de Bretteville, Co-Founder, Woman's Building
The following oral history transcript is the result of a tape-recorded interview with Sheila de Bretteville on June 22, 2019. This interview was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).
Sheila de Bretteville and Jenni Sorkin have reviewed the transcript and have made corrections and emendations. The reader should bear in mind that he or she is reading a transcript of spoken, rather than written, prose.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.
JENNI SORKIN: This is a recording for the CCS AS-AP project, on June 22nd, an oral history with Sheila de Bretteville about the Woman’s Building. Okay, so we were just talking about your Yale education before I turned on the recorder. Tell me when you were at Yale for graduate school.
SHEILA DE BRETTEVILLE: I came to Yale, actually, directly from Barnard. So I graduated in June from Barnard, in ’62, and I was here in September of ’62. Seems like a hundred-thousand years ago. [they laugh] Very, very long ago. And you know, I had a really wonderful— among the very wonderful faculty I had at Barnard was Barry Ulanov, who taught a class in literature and the arts. So it was a class that was actually across the arts. And I asked if I could, instead of a paper, do designs for some of the books that we had read. So he had suggested that I apply to Yale, because he knew there was a program here. He thought there was a program at Harvard, as well. In the Seven Sisters, they think of only the Seven Brothers.
DE BRETTEVILLE: You know, it’s a very limited, privileged group, after all. And actually, Harvard didn’t have something and Yale actually had a program for a very long time, since the Fifties. So I applied. I didn’t even come for an interview. I sent all the things I had done, even in high school—because I had paintings from high school and posters from high school—plus all the things I’d done at Barnard while I was at Barnard. I sent them and I got accepted and I didn’t bother to interview. [laughs] And I came. And I was one of two women in my class. One woman was there already. There were fifteen total.
SORKIN: And this was when Yale had no women undergrads, at this time.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yes. So in fact, actually, I was in the women’s dormitory at Helen Hadley Hall. And that’s where Naomi Schor and I became very close friends, because she too had not only graduated from Barnard but she, like me, had parents who were immigrants from Poland. We just shared— We were both Jewish. We were on the same floor. We became very close friends. And so shared a lot of things. I’m not sure what of that experience is useful to this, except that when we were talking earlier, just chatting, it occurred to me that the Albers color course, which was then taught by Sy Sillman, had an aspect to it that, in retrospect, does relate to what became to be my pedagogy. Because it’s an inductive method. It’s not so much a knowledge transfer, as much undergraduate education is; as a graduate course, it really was an experience, from which you then induced what you were looking for. So I mean, for anyone who knows, [laughs] this is not about any visual support. But if you’re trying to make one color look like two colors, you keep cutting little pieces of paper until it begins to happen. And when it happens, you begin to see why it happens. And that, basically, is a teaching-yourself kind of thing, although there’s a structure in which you can teach yourself. And so those kinds of assignments, that were not as strict as the other assignments I had in the graphic design department, I think really are part of my imaginary and how I would come up with something else. Because in fact, there’s such a marked difference with how you learn when you learn through your own making, as opposed to someone tells you to do something and you do it and then they reward you for having done what they asked you to do—which is pretty much what I thought the program [laughs] of graphic design was like. And also they were teaching us a certain version of Modernism that was reductive and simplified and elegant. And I resonated with that, the elegance part, because there’s some aspect of things being quiet and clean and refined that I wanted. And then you could ask why do I want it? That’s harder to answer. It probably has as much to do with the chaotic home environment in which I grew up. It also, I think, then, among the things that— I had a graphic design class in high school, taught by Leon Friend. And he showed us many different things—Käthe Kollwitz, Ben Shahn—but I really liked the things from Europe. I liked Cassandra[sp?], Savignac, Cappiello, all that Modernist poster work. I really, really liked that. And I think I’ve always preferred, for some reason, the unadorned things, things that are visually arresting but unadorned in some way.
SORKIN: And you ended up translating a lot of those formal qualities into your own feminist brand of graphic design.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah. I think it’s because that is what I aspire to. It’s not part of my conscious intention; but when left to my own devices, if I can get it to happen with less of my doing and more of someone else’s doing, in some way, in some relationship, I tend to like those kinds of things. Even my work now has some of that quality. Yeah.
SORKIN: Okay. So then you left the MFA program in, I guess…
DE BRETTEVILLE: ’64.
SORKIN: …’64, and you ended up going to Europe.
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, I went first to New York. I worked for a European publisher, though. I worked for Chanticleer Press. And basically, I was doing books because that’s what they did. I did kind of coffee-table books. Some of the books were really extremely interesting to me. There was one that used—and now I don’t remember the name of the person who did it—these endpapers that were paintings of the globe from different perspective. As if you were sitting on the globe in Vladivostok, Russia, looking down at Italy and Africa. And you’d say, Oh, I can get around those alp mountains and go right in there. You know, it was very much the topographical aspect of the globe. So you could see how ideas that were political could be affected by the physical of the globe. There were just many things about the books that I was interested in that had nothing to do with [laughs] anything specific, other than I was learning how books were made.
SORKIN: Well, and also the physical manifestation of design work.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah. And I had done books at— Did that come first? Yeah. And then I came back to— After that job, actually, I came back. Peter and I were married and I came back to Yale. And so I ended up getting a job at the Yale Press, because I now could bring all this skill of how to put a book together, to that usage. I did several books here at the Yale Press. I also did all their advertising for the Yale Press. And Chester Kerr was the head of the press and I got along very well with him. So it was a totally pleasurable experience. I did the design of the series of younger poets. And things happened, like there was a snowstorm. And so I lived around the corner from Yale Press, so I gave the party that— Yale Press gave me the money and I— How are you going to get people to go to the party? I went over to the art school, got all the artists and the architects to come and hear this poet, James Tate—[laughs] who I knew, actually, for several years after that—because he was giving a talk on his poetry. And I made friends here who are friends for life, as well.
But then after graduating and working at Chanticleer Press and coming back for Peter for finish his architecture program, we left and we went to Italy. And this is the time of revolution, so the politécnico [polytechnic university] got painted red. I worked for the Communist Party, doing a poster on freedom of the press. I did it collectively with someone named Emanuel Sandreuter. We painted it and it was in my window. He’d come back from Pirelli and go up into our apartment; he’d paint it. I’d come back from Olivetti and paint some more. And we made it into a poster.
SORKIN: And this is where you first started seeing sort of Italian architecture and the— Is it Archigram?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Archigram. Yeah, Archigram, at exactly that year, was doing Twelve Cautionary Tales. It was published— I don’t remember— I think it was in Domas.
SORKIN: So is this ’67 or ’68?
DE BRETTEVILLE: That’s ’68.
SORKIN: So you were there from ’67 to ’68?
DE BRETTEVILLE: I was there— We left here— Hm. Probably ’67-68. And at the end of ’68, we moved— No, it has to be— We moved to New York for a little while. I worked in New York. I did freelance for John Sandine, who had graduated in painting, but he had transformed himself into a interior designer, and I did all his stuff. I did work for Creative Playthings.
SORKIN: So you were freelancing.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, I was basically freelancing. And then we were asked— Actually, and I worked in the same space as Robert Mangurian and Craig Hodgetts. And Craig was made associate dean of the design school at CalArts. And so Peter and I were asked to come to CalArts. I was asked to do all the graphic design, as the in-house designer for CalArts, for all their materials; and Peter was asked to work with Craig, to do the furniture and all the physical things that had to be done for the first building— for the new building. And so I arrived in December of 1969. We stayed with Craig and Vicki in Silver Lake, until we found a house to rent—which I remember was $275 a month. Can you believe it? Which was really cheap.
SORKIN: I know. [they laugh] And the new campus wasn’t open yet, so we’re—
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, we were actually down on MacArthur Park, planning CalArts. And because Herb Blau who was the provost, and [Robert] Corrigan, who was the president, and all the deans were too busy planning it, they gave me lots of things to do and nobody bothered me about them, pretty much. [laughs] And so I had that taste of extraordinary freedom of doing what you want to do with whatever you want to do it with.
SORKIN: And were you the only woman on the faculty at that time?
DE BRETTEVILLE: There was no faculty yet. They were first planning the faculty. I wasn’t even thinking about teaching. Actually, I became pregnant and I was pregnant during that whole nine months. But they had arranged for doing a special issue of Arts in Society, and they just handed it to me. Said, “Will you please do it? We can’t be bothered with this.” And they gave me the women who was secretary to the PR person, Marianne Partridge, and she’s become not only my life-long friend ever since then, but she’s also the godmother of my son. Self-appointed, because there are no god-women in Jewish culture. But being Catholic, she wanted to be the godmother. I said, “Sure. Great. Jason’s godmother.” And actually, Jason came out before the book came out. But the book is— That particular magazine, I think, is extraordinary for the time and extraordinary for me.
It’s a corrugated publication that has—
SORKIN: Corrugated cardboard?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Corrugated cardboard.
SORKIN: And it’s got orange writing.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah, it’s neon—
SORKIN: Yeah, neon orange.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Neon orange silkscreened type, which says— Once I did it, they named it because once I did it, they saw what it was, they called it Prologue to a Community.
SORKIN: Was it a real— like, was it a print run? Or was it hand-done, like—
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, it was a print run. In fact, it was an ongoing— This was a special issue. So they had, obviously, a little extra money because I did something extraordinary. It was just a regular, you know, perfect bound— a magazine of art and culture that came out of the Midwest. I think out of Minneapolis. And I decided— Like everything I was doing, I was extremely physical. So it was very physical, because it was corrugated. It’s flexible corrugated, so it’s actually soft. And it starts with images from television, and no words so you don’t know what it is. You have to begin to think, What is this? And then you see correspondence between Herb Blau and one of his friends, Ed[?]. So in their correspondence over the ten years that CalArts was being created, what was going on in the world. Like Altamont and…
SORKIN: Civil rights.
DE BRETTEVILLE: …Martin Luther King, the Civil Rights movement. All of the things that were happening around the world are the context for this school in California. Nobody had told me to do that; I just did it. They made us take out one picture of Nixon; but they left in Hubert Humphrey and Reagan and Stokely Carmichael and all of the things that really should be there. And it was all linked with gestures. So there were all the hand gestures of that time, like a fist in the air and a hand out and shaking hands.
SORKIN: So it was all those kinds of archetypes and symbols.
DE BRETTEVILLE: All those archetypes made the different kinds of content link together. Because there’s nothing— And then there’s nothing that told you— There was no table of contents until you got to the center of the book, which had everybody in alphabetical order; you didn’t know the student— This had student applicants’ work, too.
SORKIN: And so what was the reception for this book?
DE BRETTEVILLE: It won awards. [laughs] And I did send things from California to New York. I was wondering what New York would think about what I’m doing. Because I did a participatory newspaper at Aspen, which was all— I gave out the pieces of this paper and put them back together. And these things were much less— they were much more gritty and less elegant.
SORKIN: And that was an Aspen Design Conference?
DE BRETTEVILLE: That was the International Design Conference in Aspen, in 1971. It turns out, unbeknownst to me—
SORKIN: That’s the famous design conference, right?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, I’m not sure if that was the famous one or the one before it. The one before it, evidently, the populace who came as an audience revolted against the people who put it together and really complained about everything. I didn’t know that. I came in like— Because I was in Italy at the time. I came back and the person who was organizing it was a social psychologist.
SORKIN: Richard Farson.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Richard Farson. And so again, they asked me if I would put a publication together while the conference was going on. I gave a talk on sexual politics at the conference. And I had an eleven-month-old baby. [laughs] I was thinking, ‘how am I going to do this thing here with Jason’s there, Peter’s there?’ But you know, it goes on for a whole week.
SORKIN: And Farson was a CalArts person, too.
DE BRETTEVILLE: And Farson was the dean of the design school at Cal Arts. Which tells you a bit about the notion of design being something that’s socially engaged. Design isn’t only about how it looks, but what it means, who is affected by it. Just to have a dean who is a social psychologist changes how a student might look at what design is. And that was fine with me because I all open for what design is and could be. And so I did a shrink-wrap poster. That’s what you’re remembering is…
SORKIN: The yellow.
DE BRETTEVILLE: …the yellow thing. That’s the one that Kelly Jone’s is going to put…
SORKIN: In the show.
DE BRETTEVILLE: …in the Dig This show [Ed’s note: exhibition at the Hammer Museum in 2010-11, a part of the Getty-funded Pacific Standard Time series]. That’s what she chose.
SORKIN: Which is at the Hammer Museum in the fall of 2011.
DE BRETTEVILLE: And I’m really delighted because she said, “I want to put you in a show on African American artists of the seventies.” And I said, “Mm. [laughs] Where do I fit into it?” “And their friends.” Oh, now I know how I fit in.
SORKIN: That’s funny. That’s good.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah. I’m really glad. Because I really like that piece. Farson wrote the text, but it’s something I believe in. It’s more didactic than I would ever speak of in my own work, but it says the taste nostalgic[?] [inaudible] is the last line, which I definitely agree, and certainly informed my work.
SORKIN: And so the school opened, I believe, CalArts opened in the fall of 1970.
DE BRETTEVILLE: It opened in the fall of 1970, yeah.
SORKIN: At the Valencia campus?
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, it didn’t. It opened at a place called Villa Cabrini, which had been a nunnery, I believe, or some kind of religious…
DE BRETTEVILLE: …order building. But it had been vacant or they wouldn’t have gotten it. The planning actually went on at Chouinard itself. In the office of Chouinard is where the planning went on. Which is how I knew Marianne, because Marianne actually was not only—
SORKIN: Who’s Marianne?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Marianne Partridge was the…
SORKIN: The secretary…
DE BRETTEVILLE: …the secretary—
SORKIN: …who became the god—
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yes. But not only that, she’s an— I mean, that she and I worked on this together is amazing because she became— She’s a phenomenal editor. Unbelievably talented editor. But nobody knew. [laughs]
SORKIN: Because she was working as a secretary.
DE BRETTEVILLE: She was working as a secretary.
SORKIN: Yes. That’s what women did in 1969.
DE BRETTEVILLE: And she was married to somebody who actually would not in any way honor that she knew anything. Luckily, that marriage did not last, which is also very good.
SORKIN: But Chouinard was still running till ’72, I believe.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I don’t know how long Chouinard was going on; I knew Marianne— Marianne taught classes in Chouinard, and then she became a secretary. Or she did that currently. That I’m not so clear on.
SORKIN: But did you start teaching then that fall, when CalArts—
DE BRETTEVILLE: I taught [inaudible]. Jason was born July 28th of that summer, and they hired me as the only female faculty, to teach in the fall.
SORKIN: And what were you teaching? You were teaching, like an intro to graphic design, or were you—
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, that’s good. That’s a very good question. I thought, Now, I’m going to be teaching; what will I be teaching? [laughs] And I called my friend Wayne Peterson[sp?], who I’ve stayed in contact since school, and I said, “Wayne, help. I didn’t keep all those damn assignments. You, I know, kept a really diligent collection of them. Could you Xerox and send them to me so I can see what we were assigned?” And so I got all the assignments from Yale. I said, “I wouldn’t do any of this.” But it really was interesting to me that I looked at how I was taught and did not want that to be a model of how I taught.
SORKIN: And did it feel like that was not a model that was appropriate for that particular place and time?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, I just felt that one of the things I was missing from it was a quality of the individual person who made the work. And how was I going to add that component within those assignments? So I looked for how I could torque those assignments so that the individuality of the students would be at the center, as well as the formal experimentation that is appropriate to an undergraduate program. And I don’t actually remember what I asked, but probably Bea[sp?] does because she was in that program.
DE BRETTEVILLE: And so was Bernard— Oh, God, now I can’t remember Bernard’s last name. Cooper. Bernard Cooper was in that class. And Bernard—
SORKIN: The writer.
DE BRETTEVILLE: The writer. Both of them were writers, which is—
SORKIN: And Bea Low[sp?] is the other person we’re referring to.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yes. Yeah. And there were other people, too. I mean, there were other people in it. But that was my very first teaching. I really don’t know that I would stand behind whatever it is I asked; but I got lots of different things back. And one of the things is something Bernard Cooper did. And I think I still have it somewhere in the garage. It’s this piece— And I think it— When Yale shipped me here, we didn’t have to go through everything, so they just shipped everything here. And among those things was this box that Bernard had designed. And I was in a very physical— The kind of graphic design I was doing was just much more physical. It was not—
SORKIN: Because it was not digital.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I don’t think it’s only the lack of the digital. I really can’t explain why all the things I did had to do with some kind of physical— Like I did a— I did all the posters for all the schools of CalArts. So the one for music was actually something that you could play; it was a record that you could play, with vinyl. I did one for another school that was in a yellow transmittal thing with the holes, so you could see these cards were in it that got pinned— The pin went through the reinforcement stuff. Everything had some kind of existing way of making things—
SORKIN: So it was kind of object-based, or sculptural, even?
DE BRETTEVILLE: It was very object-based in some way that translated into graphic design. And I can’t explain it because I don’t know anybody else who was doing it. I just was sort of— I was in that physical— Now, maybe it’s because I was pregnant, for all I know.
DE BRETTEVILLE: That I was much more aware. I’d look in the mirror and say, “My God, is that me?” [laughs] That kind of thing.
SORKIN: But it was also a time when graphic designers were still doing— You had to learn how to do— Is it typeface, type— What’s that called? Letter type?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Letterpress?
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, actually, at the time, I was actually— They had already began to shift from letterpress, which I had learned to do here at Yale, which is a very, you know, analog and physical way of setting type and then putting the paper down and pushing it through. And I made Christmas cards that were shrink wrapped and silkscreened. I was just trying all the physical methods you can make things while I was still here at Yale, while Peter was in school. And then when I got there, I continued it.
SORKIN: And they set up a print shop for you? Or [inaudible]?
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, they asked me to buy the equipment for CalArts. So I was given—and I actually remember the amount—I was given $53,000 to buy the equipment for the print lab.
SORKIN: Which was a ton of money at that time.
DE BRETTEVILLE: A ton of money. And I bought. I bought a Vandercook, which is a flatbed printing press, a letterpress, but one that you could make very big plates on. You could do lots of different things on it. I bought a Rotoprint, because Emett Williams’ wife Ann Williams was coming, and she had experience on a Rotoprint so she could teach how to print. I mean, I forget— Mimeographing. If you don’t want to do that, we have offset. [laughs] So we had an offset press, we had letterpress. I don’t think I got a Chandler and Price, but I did get the flatbed. I bought all the diazo printing, because that’s how architecture does its prints, but there is a way to make film positives and print individual posters or a whole run of posters on diazo.
SORKIN: In color.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, the color is actually the emulsion that’s on the paper. So that you have blueprints, you have also sepia prints; there’s also red prints, I found out. So I just got— every kind of making that I could find, I got. And you also could set type with a thing called a Diatronic. You couldn’t see that you were doing it, but you typeset it and it was exposing a film negative; and then the output was photographic printed paper with your type on it. And so I got that machine, as well. And so the following year, when we moved out to [inaudible] building, all that equipment was there.
SORKIN: And so then you ended up— So you basically stocked the lab at CalArts in Valencia.
DE BRETTEVILLE: In Valencia.
SORKIN: And then—
DE BRETTEVILLE: But I was shopping for that equipment during Jason’s first year, because I remember I nursed for nine months and I had to be home at three o’clock because I squirted milk. It was just like— It was a totally crazy time. I mean, [laughs] the first year I was pregnant; the second year I was nursing; and the third year I was— next[?] I was teaching. It was just totally crazy.
SORKIN: And so you taught at CalArts from ’70 until the Woman’s Building opened…
DE BRETTEVILLE: In ’73.
SORKIN: …which was in ’73. So that was three years. And there was a lot of— I’m very interested in sort of that compressed space of ’70 to ’73, because simultaneous to you teaching at CalArts, something must’ve happened among the women, or you, and meeting Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro. Some sort of discontent must have set in that you were already planning an institution elsewhere.
DE BRETTEVILLE: But there was a lot going on that preceded that.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Joyce Kozloff and Max— Max was hired as one of the faculty in photography, and they moved onto the street that I lived on, on Waverly Drive, initially. So I actually invited them— I went over to their house—
SORKIN: Was this ’71 or ’70?
DE BRETTEVILLE: This is ’70.
SORKIN: ’70 still.
DE BRETTEVILLE: ’70. Because I was pregnant. I went over to her house and I—
SORKIN: Jason was born when?
DE BRETTEVILLE: ’70. The summer of ’70.
DE BRETTEVILLE: So they came in the summer and I went over to their house and really liked them both and invited them to dinner, and had Jason before the dinner happened. [laughs] That’s how pregnant I was. I think I invited on Thursday; on Tuesday I had Jason. Because he was a month early. But at that time, women artists were organizing, had already begun to organize. And I began to be involved in those meetings. So I went to all the meetings on the Westside with all the—
SORKIN: So were you in a CR group at that time or no?
DE BRETTEVILLE: I was in a CR group with Miriam Schapiro. I can’t remember too many other people, but she loomed large in that particular CR group. [laughs] But I remember Vija Celmins was part of that group and a really nice woman who was married to Ry Cooder, whose name I don’t remember right now. There were just a lot of— like hundreds of women. And we met on the Westside. We met in my house, also because I had a very big first floor.
SORKIN: What made you find a CR group or a feminist sort of network? How did that start?
DE BRETTEVILLE: I didn’t exactly have to find it; it just was. [laughs] It really was what was happening.
SORKIN: But I mean, like in your work life at CalArts, that wasn’t present in the culture there.
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, but CalArts was being planned and people were coming to be part of CalArts. Miriam wasn’t part of CalArts initially, it was actually Paul Brach…
SORKIN: Paul, right.
DE BRETTEVILLE: …who was a part of it. And Joyce wasn’t really part of it. I was like the lone woman who was actually a part of it. But the women who I was with were the wives of men who were part of it.
SORKIN: So it was like the artist-wives of the powerful men who were there.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah, but they didn’t see themselves that way…
SORKIN: Of course not.
DE BRETTEVILLE: …they saw themselves as artists and—
SORKIN: Well, and they were artists.
DE BRETTEVILLE: They were artists.[laughs]
SORKIN: But they weren’t included in the planning because there was a larger sexist…
DE BRETTEVILLE: System at work.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah. Because they really— They did have Bella Lewitzky, who was a dean of dance. But it was largely a male group. But I have to say for Richard Farson, Dick actually said to me, “Before this year is out, you’ll be into feminism.” Because it was what was happening. It was predictable, and from his mind; but my mind was on a lot of other things. I mean, I know that once you asked me something about had I thought about who had formed Chouinard. And I thought, Why didn’t I think about the history Chouinard? I said, “I was thinking about everything I could possibly think of.” I think it’s hard to understand in that particular period, none of us had au pair girls or family. We all took care of our children. [laughs] We just simply schlepped them everywhere with us. I mean, I took Jason to every meeting. Luckily, he was a great kid. He went everywhere. He was brought up by the people at the Woman’s Building, he was brought up by the people at CalArts. We had campaigned for daycare when it was still at Villa Cabrini. So we had daycare the first year of CalArts, and I used that daycare.
SORKIN: Which is kind of amazing, that CalArts had a daycare. I mean, at the—
DE BRETTEVILLE: And that’s how come we had a daycare; we had campaigned to have it.
SORKIN: But who was the— it was you and other women who—
DE BRETTEVILLE: It was me and the women students. Everyone. I think actually, male students were part of it, too. I think it was that the student body complained to them male upper echelon, whom I’m actually a part of, that children should be taken care of; they’re part of our existence.
SORKIN: And there were actually women students with babies?
DE BRETTEVILLE: I don’t know there were women with— I don’t know. Well, I don’t remember who had— There had to be other people with babies, because Jason was in daycare; so somebody else had to have those other babies. [laughs]
SORKIN: Right. There had to be babies with Jason.
DE BRETTEVILLE: There had to be other babies with Jason, because Jason was just a baby. He was in a baby chair in my car. You know, a car seat. So I do know that they were there. But I have to say, I was hanging on by my fingertips, is how it felt to me. And I really don’t know who the other babies were or who were the mothers of the other babies. I do know Joyce’s baby because he was only a year older than mine. But I don’t know whether Joyce brought Nick or not. I really don’t remember that.
SORKIN: And they were just there for the year?
DE BRETTEVILLE: They were just there— Like Kitaj. A lot of people only were there for the first year.
SORKIN: And did you know Lynda Benglis when she came for the year?
DE BRETTEVILLE: No. No.
SORKIN: Because she came in ’71. But maybe—
DE BRETTEVILLE: In ’71, I was teaching the Women’s Design Program. Well, I should back up a little bit.
SORKIN: Yeah, let’s back up.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Let me back up a little bit because— I met Miriam Schapiro through Joyce, separate from CalArts. And that’s how I got into that whole set of women artists.
SORKIN: In the Sierra[?] Group.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Sierra Group. And then Miriam suggested to Judy, obviously, that I design this special issue of the newspaper, Everywoman. Because I had already done the special issue of Arts in Society, so she knew that I did that kind of thing.
SORKIN: So the feminist art program moved down to CalArts.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, it was still in Fresno. I went up to Fresno and—
SORKIN: When you designed this thing.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah, I went up there and met all the women who were in that program and designed that—
SORKIN: And that was the fall of ’71? I’m just trying to keep the chronology here.
DE BRETTEVILLE: When was that? It’s before CalArts— It’s before we moved to Valencia, so it has to be during the Villa Cabrini [inaudible].
SORKIN: [over de Bretteville] Villa Cabrini, which is the fall ’70 to spring ’71.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah. It was that year.
SORKIN: Okay. So that year, which is your first year of teaching at CalArts.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I went up to—
SORKIN: The inaugural year of CalArts, you went up to Fresno to see the feminist art program.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Exactly.
SORKIN: And you were invited up by Vija, Miriam—
DE BRETTEVILLE: To do this thing.
DE BRETTEVILLE: And so I saw that thing and I put together— Actually, Judy was so busy doing that, again, I was totally free to do whatever I wanted. So I modeled the newspaper on a CR group. Every woman had, instead of her own five minutes, had her own double-page spread, a picture of herself, and some piece of work or what she was talking about in her article. And then the center spread was the “Give me a C, give me a U, give me an N, give me a T” cheer that the Fresno program did when Ti-Grace Atkinson came to Fresno.
SORKIN: Which was the Cunt Cheerleaders.
DE BRETTEVILLE: The Cunt Cheerleaders. And actually, whenever any event happens and they show my work, they show that center spread, as if it was what was the most important thing. And in fact, it was just an obvious thing to do, make the center spread be that; to take what’s always a putdown and make it a celebration and make it the center spread, which is always a spread-eagle woman, to be actually instead, cunt as a cheer. But that isn’t really my tone. My tone is much more what came before and came after that, which is the consciousness-raising tone, where people— The structure allows for an equality among the people, which is what I’d been doing in my work before and what I’ve done ever since, so—
SORKIN: And in previous— in that other newspaper.
DE BRETTEVILLE: In the other newspaper, and also in the Arts in Society issue. But in fact, you know, when you look for something which is vivid as an image, the C-U-N-T cunt cheer is what is shown. So even when I won this thing for AIGA and they showed my work, what do they take from that newspaper? The center spread. [laughs] And of course, Peter always shrinks a little bit. Because he knows how unlike me that is. But it’s what people want to see, so they do it. At any rate—
SORKIN: It’s also a little bit funny, though.
DE BRETTEVILLE: It is totally funny.
SORKIN: There’s humor.
DE BRETTEVILLE: It has a sense of humor and it’s— Everything about it is right to do. It was just the right— It was an obvious thing to do. I didn’t even think twice, it was just so obvious. Whereas the other thing was not obvious, from my perspective. It’s obviously the thing you can miss. So anyway, the next— So over that summer is when Judy was asked to come and do a class. And so she did the feminist art workshop with— no, Feminist Art Program…
SORKIN: Art Program.
DE BRETTEVILLE: …with Mimi Schapiro. And at the same time, I did the Women’s Design Program in the design school.
SORKIN: So when did it shift from just being design to women’s design? Was that just a natural shift?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah. [laughs] Yes, it was a natural shift. It was simply that I— Well, it wasn’t so simple, let’s put it that way. I went to the dean and said, “I would like to teach a two-day program for women only.” And he said, “You can’t do that.” I said, “Why can’t I do that?”
SORKIN: Was this Farson?
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, Farson had left. And much to my dismay, Victor Papanek was hired. And the dismay actually came for lots of reasons, because there’s something not truthful about him. I didn’t really know what it was, but I have a sixth sense when someone is not telling the truth, for some reason. And I knew that I just really didn’t want him there. But I couldn’t do anything about it because he had written this wonderful book, Design for a Small Planet or something like that, which is really about how people are making shoes out of discarded tires and all kinds of recycling ideas that really were part of the thinking of that time. But he published it, so he became famous for it. But there’s something not good about this guy; I didn’t know what it was. Well, I found out what I wanted to do [laughs; inaudible]. Because his next comment, when I said, “Why can’t I do that?” He said, “Well, then none of the guys would have you as a faculty member.” So I said, “So you hire another woman.” I said, “I want to do this.” He said, “Well, it’s not a good idea.” I said, “Why isn’t a good idea?” He said, “It’s like the Jews; you don’t want them in ghettos.” I said, “This is not a ghetto. We’re not killing the women, we’re empowering the women.” It’s like, you’ve got the wrong metaphor.
SORKIN: What a terrible thing to say.
DE BRETTEVILLE: It’s a totally terrible thing to say. You know? Utterly terrible, on every level. And I was really furious. At any rate, he relented and so I did it.
SORKIN: So you taught two days a week.
DE BRETTEVILLE: So I taught two days a week, and just women. It was for women.
SORKIN: Were you the only designer on the faculty, or had they hired Lou Danziger by then?
DE BRETTEVILLE: I wasn’t the only designer on the faculty because Keith Godard was on the faculty, also. I don’t remember when Lou came [inaudible].
SORKIN: In the larger, in sort of the—
DE BRETTEVILLE: I think later.
SORKIN: Yeah. In the design sort of history standard, he gets credited as teaching history of graphic design, like ’72 and ’73, at CalArts. That he’s the force that teaches the history of graphic design as a— I don’t know if that’s true or not.
DE BRETTEVILLE: That’s probably true because I know he was also asked to go— I have more history with Lou; I can come back to that.
DE BRETTEVILLE: But I don’t remember when he came, I have to honestly say. There was a certain amount of focus I had that didn’t— I didn’t mean to be blinkered, but I think that my peripheral vision wasn’t encompassing other faculty that much because there was so much to do what I was doing. Suzanne Lacy was accepted into the design school, and so she was my teaching assistant.
SORKIN: And she was a grad student.
DE BRETTEVILLE: She was a grad— I’m not sure she was a grad something, because I’m not sure there was a graduate department…
SORKIN: At that time.
DE BRETTEVILLE: …at that time. But she came with Judy, from Fresno. She’d been in that program, and I thought that would be a good thing. It was a very polyglot group of people who were in that class, people who came from all different kinds of backgrounds, who had all different kinds of focal[?]—
SORKIN: Was Faith Wilding in that?
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, she was in the art program.
SORKIN: With Judy.
DE BRETTEVILLE: With Judy.
SORKIN: So she was doing the Feminist Art Program in the fall of ’71, and you started doing this Women’s Design Program.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Okay[?].
SORKIN: And they were concurrent, but separate.
DE BRETTEVILLE: They were concurrent. They were separate and concurrent. And so I think CalArts at that time attracted a lot of people who weren’t your basic dyed-in-the-wool designers. And the program itself had only two people in graphic design. I’m not even sure that Keith came to the Valencia program; I think he may have only been that first year, at Villa Cabrini. At any rate, maybe that also informed why they didn’t want me to do a class that didn’t have men in it. I said, “I want to focus on what the fact that we are women—.” I don’t think I used words like gender or sex. I think I simply said, “I want to focus on what role does the fact that we are women have to do with the fact that we’re doing graphic design? And I don’t know how those two relate, so it’s as much— I’m going to learn as much as the students will, doing this class. The tradeoff is that we will look at it together.” One morning we had readings and we discussed the readings. One afternoon we had a sort of group process that actually, Suzanne knew more about that I did, but it was on consciousness-raising format for a group process, so that any kind of inequities or problems could be discussed. And then one whole day was actually making work. And the kinds of assignments I gave, some of them were relational like, Do a photographic— Get into pairs and do a photo essay on each other. So that women were looking at each other through the lens of their own lens and through the lens of photography. I did some basic design things, but I made some shifts in them and I really didn’t know what the effect of the shifts would be. For instance, I had had assignments and there were assignments that were given, where on the same size paper, you move dots around and you try to make a random display of dots, an ordered display of dots, so that— But I gave out red dots. So of course, it evoked certain kinds of—
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah, it evoked other things like blood and things of that sort.
SORKIN: So it was a formalist exercise with a twist.
DE BRETTEVILLE: With a twist. And then I did another one where— I had been given a quote from Alfred North Whitehead on style. I asked the women to choose a quote that they related to. Gave them a length requirement; couldn’t be more than thirty words. Well, I learned a lot. And then I tried to help them create typographic— move the type around; again, to learn how to isolate things. And actually, Bia [Lowe, a student of de Bretteville’s at both Cal Arts and the Woman’s Building] is very articulate about it because she— And I have her quote, if you were interested, where she basically—
SORKIN: I am interested.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah. She chose the rape of Tralala from [Hubert Selby Jr.’s novel] Last Exit to Brooklyn. And she kept isolating the verbs or isolating the nouns or making axes along the verbs and jogging the sentences so that the acts of the what happened in the rape were what were accentuated. And then the last in the series was you were able to either make a text and image or entirely image, based on what the content was. What I discovered in some of this stuff is that when you choose your own content, sometimes the emotional connection with the content is so powerful that it makes it harder to focus on the formal attributes around it. On the other hand, rather not take the part that you feel away from it, so that you could just play the formal. So it’s a kind of difficult situation, because at the same time, there was a young man named Dan Friedman, who published in the Journal of Typographic Research, a similar exercise that comes from doing the weather. He’d give them the weather report and they did all the typographic things and then made images of it. And again, you know, there’s some people who do it better than others, but you don’t ever get a sense of the person. Whereas in the ones that my students did, you really got a sense of what they’re interested in. You know, one woman was interested in very spiritual things, one woman was interested in very physical things. You got a sense of the person. So it was of interest to me. And I think it worked for them; though nobody, I think, from that class became a graphic designer, to my knowledge.
SORKIN: But they ended up learning to think as a graphic designer.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I think so. And one went to medical school, one went to a school of economics afterward; people did go on with their education and became whomever they were going to be. It was the very beginning of the school.
SORKIN: Right. And did people read— did you assign them, like Paul Rand? Or how did—
DE BRETTEVILLE: No. The reading I assigned was the reading I wanted to do. So we read Shulamith Firestone, we read Eva Figes. [laughs; inaudible]
SORKIN: So you were reading feminists.
DE BRETTEVILLE: We were reading feminist literature. I figured I was the graphic designer, I could make that bridge; but I was trying to figure out, What does the fact that I’m a woman have to do with being a graphic designer? I didn’t know what the answer was, and I was look for as much the answer— Maybe I was looking for it in a way that wasn’t as available to my students. Because I didn’t know the answer, I was just looking for it.
SORKIN: Well, you were making the answer.
DE BRETTEVILLE: [laughs] Yeah, I was trying to find out, What is the answer around that?
SORKIN: Okay. So you were running this design program, and then how did the Woman’s Building— How did you merge with Judy?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, since I knew Judy from the Fresno program, I helped them out. They did Womanhouse during that time, and one of the students who had graphic design skills—not from my program, but—freaked out and she didn’t do what was needed, so I took her design and I helped it happen. So that was like it’s my design. But I did the Womanhouse…
SORKIN: You did the exhibition catalog.
DE BRETTEVILLE: …catalog. But it’s not my design; I just cleaned up what she was supposed to finish and I did it, so they had one. And so in talking to Judy—
SORKIN: And CalArts printed that catalog or no?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Probably. It was part of that program.
SORKIN: Right, but you didn’t—
DE BRETTEVILLE: I printed a— we printed a broadsheet, which had all of our pictures together in front of the press, and had quotes from all the students about their work. And that actually got published in Icographic 6, with an essay that I had— a talk I gave at the time, of looking at the physical world from the perspective of a graphic designer.
SORKIN: Is this the British magazine?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah.
SORKIN: Okay. I’ve seen that.
DE BRETTEVILLE: They published the thing. And actually, the editor, he called me a bluestocking. [laughs] Hardly. I’m actually fumbling around trying to figure this thing out; I don’t have the answers kind of thing. But I looked at the way in which the city is arrayed, I looked at advertising and the way in which women and men were depicted differently; I looked at everything to try to figure out and understand how gender—although I didn’t call it gender—how men and women are represented, basically, and what the differences were. And so I found things, of course. Lo and behold, if you look you find kind of thing.
SORKIN: And as long as we’re on the topic of Womanhouse, can I just ask you what your experience of Womanhouse was?
DE BRETTEVILLE: I knew some of the women who did it, because Naomi Schor’s sister Mira came. And I had all this correspondence with Mira when she was a young girl, about it, and so I knew her. And also Vicki Hodgetts, who is Craig Hodgetts’ wife, was a part of it. So I saw the work as it was being made and I saw the final product, and I thought— You’re asking me what I thought about it?
DE BRETTEVILLE: I thought it was great to take over a home, because women are ascribed as that being their domain, is the home, so I thought that was smart. I thought that enacting physically these ideas— It’s pretty untransformed, as a work goes, pretty direct and raw. But for the time, I think it was great that they did it, I thought it was great what they did. I think it made everybody pay attention; it got a lot of press. Everything about, I think— I have no criticisms of it. For its time, it was really terrific.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Absolutely terrific. But I didn’t have much to do with it, really. I mean, I didn’t have anything to do with it; I just was supportive of it. But all that time, Judy and I— And then Arlene[?] moved to the West Coast. I don’t think she ever taught at CalArts. Or if she did, I don’t know about it.
SORKIN: She did not.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I think we just met together. She had recently been raped and was pretty traumatized by that experience. And since I’d had a rough time getting this program— And I was fired from CalArts after that program.
SORKIN: I didn’t know that. Why were you fired from CalArts?
DE BRETTEVILLE: The why, I don’t know. I think they had some budget tightening. Well, that was the excuse, but I was fired. But I was going to leave anyway, so I wasn’t traumatized by the firing.
SORKIN: Were you fired, or were you just let go.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I was let go.
SORKIN: So that’s not being fired.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, if you’re not continuing— It felt like I was let go [inaudible]. I think that may be when they hired Lou Danziger. I think that he may have come replacing me, is my guess.
SORKIN: So you left in the spring of ’72.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I left at the end of seventy…
SORKIN: Three or two?
DE BRETTEVILLE: …two. I’m not sure.
SORKIN: The Woman’s Building opens November ’73.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I must be there another year.
SORKIN: I think you were there another— I think you were teaching simultaneous to planning the building.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah. So I was there another year. And I negotiated with this guy Jack, who was the provost, in order to get the building. Because that building was—
SORKIN: The former Chouinard.
DE BRETTEVILLE: The former Chouinard. CalArts had been planned in it. I knew that building, I knew that it was empty. I said, “Can we get that building?”
SORKIN: And they were the inheritors of the building and the lease because they took over from Nelbert Chouinard.
DE BRETTEVILLE: That’s right. But I didn’t know all that. All I knew— I knew very little about Chouinard. In some way, I think I thought Chouinard was absorbed into CalArts. I don’t know how many faculty or anyone went with it. I really didn’t—
SORKIN: No one, I think.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah.
SORKIN: Almost no one.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I didn’t get— I really wasn’t paying attention to that, I have to honestly say.
SORKIN: There were probably other politics at play that you were concerned about that since you weren’t an old timer from Chouinard, you didn’t have to concern yourself with.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, it wasn’t like not concerned, I think I wasn’t— I was focused, actually, more on the larger— on those ten years that it was being planned, in a way, and a larger context than Los Angeles. I really was a foreigner to Los Angeles. I didn’t even drive when I got there. I had to learn to drive because it was necessary. I think as a foreigner, I didn’t really identify with Los Angeles or its history or anything about it. I knew nothing, actually, about the entire— I didn’t even know where I’d gone, which is—
SORKIN: Did you know that there had been this huge advertising program at Chouinard? Or that was not known to you at that time either?
DE BRETTEVILLE: But I wouldn’t have been identified with advertising because there was no advertising at Yale. Yale was graphic design and differentiated itself from advertising and illustration. No advertising, no illustration.
SORKIN: No commercial art.
DE BRETTEVILLE: No. But you had Paul Rand, who considered himself— He studied Dewey and he really believed in the Dewey idea of education. There was a kind of, I would say, an elitist perspective about Yale that didn’t allow for being clear that this was a corporate visual language we were learning or that Paul Rand did commercial design, that Alvin Eisenman worked for Morgan Stanley. All of those things were just sort of not really talked about.
SORKIN: So it was not transparent.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, it may have been transparent; either no one talked about it or I didn’t look at that. You know, I remember someone came by and had a SNCC button and I was more interested in what SNCC was about. I just really was not—
SORKIN: What is SNCC?
DE BRETTEVILLE: SNCC [Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee] was something that Ella Baker did as part of the Civil Rights movement. The women of the Civil Rights movement were actually involved in SNCC. They were[?] created by a woman, Ella Baker.
SORKIN: I know Ella Baker. She is amazing.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yes, she is. She was off-the-charts amazing. So I was more interested in that. I mean, I just didn’t pay attention to what I wasn’t interested in. What was I? I was twenty years old, twenty-one.
SORKIN: You were very young.
DE BRETTEVILLE: [laughs] When I first got to Yale. I turned twenty-one at Yale. Because I had to get guys to get me beer, because I used to wash my hair in beer to give it some body. [inaudible; laughs]
SORKIN: Okay, so let’s go back to ’72.
DE BRETTEVILLE: So ’72. I actually don’t— That year of planning the Woman’s Building was really Judy, Arlene and I. And actually, one of my graduates from the Yale program sent me this image that they had at CalArts. It’s of me, it’s from the Feminist Studio Workshop brochure that I designed that year, because my hair was short and I was actually running a 102 temperature when we took those pictures. And for some reason that’s up there as a kind of— With Baldessari as— He said, “That’s Baldessari in the corner, Sheila. You’re the big picture in the middle of this montage.” I said, “Well, I didn’t do it; I have no idea who did it.” But it’s there at CalArts. And so we took these pictures that Lloyd Hamrol took of the three of us.
SORKIN: Who was Judy’s ex-husband.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, who was her husband at the time, yes. And she lived in Pacoima. And I drove out in my 1964 mini and it broke down [inaudible].
SORKIN: [over de Bretteville] Did he continue[?] to teach? Lloyd was also teaching at CalArts?
DE BRETTEVILLE: He probably was, I really don’t know.
SORKIN: And Peter kept teaching at CalArts after you—
DE BRETTEVILLE: Peter, no, left. He taught at UCLA, then he taught at USC; I don’t know which order of those. Over the years, he [inaudible].
SORKIN: So he left CalArts about the same time you did.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Pretty much, I think, to go to UCLA. I think Craig [Hodgetts] left, too. I think a lot of people left for different reasons. I’m not sure what went on that year. We’d have to go and see what the hell was going on at CalArts. [laughs] I don’t know.
SORKIN: So it was like ’72 that there was like a mass exodus.
DE BRETTEVILLE: There must’ve been, yeah. There had been little exoduses of different people. I think Peter Vanreiger[sp?] and Alison Knowles and Dick Higgins of Fluxus left. Lots of people left. But I don’t really know whether it was economic, it was [inaudible]—
SORKIN: Idealistic? Yeah.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I don’t know what it was driven by, because I was on to something else, you know? [laughs]
DE BRETTEVILLE: I mean, I sound so selfish. It seems to me that I just went where—
SORKIN: You don’t sound selfish at all. You sound, actually, very steeped in the history.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I was just focused— When I was thinking about it at that time, I—
SORKIN: You also had a really small child.
DE BRETTEVILLE: This is true, who was going everywhere. Nan Fried I have enormous feelings for because she and Frank took care of Jason. Because I brought him to the Women’s— I brought him everywhere.
SORKIN: But you also were one of the few women who had a small child.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah.
SORKIN: And were a practicing artist.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah. So we just brought— I mean, Joyce [Kozloff] did that, too. We just brought our children wherever we went because there really wasn’t an alternative. [laughs] If there was an alternative, I didn’t think about it. I hadn’t thought of what it was.
SORKIN: So you and Arlene and Judy met regularly at her studio in Pacoima.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Or in my house.
SORKIN: Or in your house.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Actually, when we sent that brochure out— Judy was already giving lectures all over the country. My lecture, which was printed in Icographic, unedited—which is horrifying—I gave, actually, as my first talks to people, slide talks. And I have to admit—which really helps me with my students now—I was terrified. I don’t know about Judy, but I was off-the-charts scared. Scared to death the first time I stood up in front of, like 250 people and talked about what I was thinking about and showed all these images. I thought I was going to die. I came home, threw up and had diarrhea. I was just completely terrified. But then I realized I didn’t die, obviously.
SORKIN: Right, so it was okay.
DE BRETTEVILLE: It was okay; I didn’t die. [laughs] I can do this again. But it took about three times before I realized I really wasn’t going to die. I wasn’t convinced after the first time that I wasn’t going to die. So I know when my students are afraid, I know what that fear feels like.
SORKIN: But you didn’t have stage fright teaching.
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, that’s different. Well, also we sat on the ground together, you know? My teaching was, if you remember, it’s really— Teaching right after the sixties revolutions, we were not supposed to be, like, standing up on the—
SORKIN: So there was no hierarchy.
DE BRETTEVILLE: There was no hierarchy; we were just all sitting on the ground. There’re pictures of us in the Feminist Studio Workshop where none of us are standing.
SORKIN: No, everybody’s on the ground [inaudible].
DE BRETTEVILLE: [inaudible] sitting in circles [inaudible; laughs].
SORKIN: Which is the architecture of the program, was the circle.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah. Yeah. We and the gang before [laughs] were doing this, a la Tenaisay[sp?]. But I think it was just a very— It was so much the aesthetic and attitude of the time. I think some things are gotten in that way. I wouldn’t call it intellectual. I mean, it’s really the spirit of the times, the gestalt of the time. I don’t think I thought, Alright, we all have to sit down. I mean, I taught— When were at the Woman’s Building, I remember, all of us had to have other jobs because we weren’t making hardly any money at the Woman’s Building. And I taught other places. And I’d go into, like a long classroom at San Jose State, and I’m not going not sit in front or stand in the front so everybody could see me. I went and organized all the desks so that I was in the middle of the room and everybody was like…
SORKIN: Was around you.
DE BRETTEVILLE: …around me. And then I get a letter in my box that says, “You’re not allowed to do that because the people who come in after you don’t like it,” kind of stuff. And so my friend Jane[sp?] always said, “You always change everything and you expect no one to be upset about it. [laughs] And then you find out that it is upsetting to somebody that you did that.”
SORKIN: Do you think that it was also an importation of, like, the consciousness raising circle, in some way?
DE BRETTEVILLE: You know, I would say so, but I don’t— Because there’re a lot of things about it I didn’t like.
SORKIN: The CR group?
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, not the CR group. There were a lot of circle stuff I didn’t like. I mean, if we really want to talk about what went on at CalArts, there were loadsof things I really didn’t like. Because Dick Farson and Mike Murphy and Jennifer Jones created Esalen [Institute in Big Sur, California] at the same time as CalArts was being created.
SORKIN: The Esalen Institute in Big Sur.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah, that one. And we had a faculty meeting there. You know, like, there was a lot of nude swimming, we were nude in the hot tub. There was just stuff that— I was having a very hard time navigating who I am and how I want to be as the only woman.
SORKIN: Well, it sounds like the sexual politics were really problematic. [laughs] Everybody was new[?].
DE BRETTEVILLE: It was not only problematic, there was— No, it was more the boundaries were really, really not clear. I didn’t want— Like, I wouldn’t go to the pool because I did not want to be everybody’s first experience of a pregnant woman. I’m sorry, let somebody else be that person. And then he had Bill Schutz, whom I called bullshits, come down from Esalen and do a workshop. And I think that was still at Villa Cabrini, where we were supposed to mill around with all the students and the faculty, and then stop in front of someone and then explore their face. Well, I’m sorry. I’m, what, twenty-nine years old, and I really don’t want a student exploring my face. [laughs] I don’t care. Because there’s some level of trying to have some distance.
SORKIN: And privacy.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah. It was just, like, almost impossible to do those things. First of all, I was the only woman. So any time— But I was trying to figure out— I wasn’t sure— Also, this is when Dylan is singing you don’t know what’s happening, Mr. Jones. All that kind of trashing of people who are out of it. So you try to figure out, Am I in it? Am I out of it to have this— You know, where does this perspective that I’m having fit into what’s going on, is really not clear. And especially because I had come from Europe just shortly before that and had never— I found Europe much more like New York than Los Angeles. I thought Los Angeles was weird. And foreign. And so they had these foreign practices that I really didn’t know how to— I really wasn’t sure how to fit in or what it was to fit it, or do I even want to fit in? What is this?
SORKIN: And Farson was one of these pioneering—
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, he’s a social psychologist and he’s part of the touchy-feely stuff, which I really didn’t like. And I reallydidn’t like it at the Woman’s Building. By then I knew what I didn’t like. When it first happened at CalArts, I wasn’t sure, except that it felt uncomfortable to me. If it feels uncomfortable to me, it can’t be alright.
SORKIN: And it was mixed gender at CalArts.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, mixed gender, but I’m representing…
SORKIN: And with just you.
DE BRETTEVILLE: …the only woman there.
SORKIN: Yes. Well, so it’s all men.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah, it’s all men and me. And then when the students— And it just was extremely hard to find my place among them. Also, I never taught before. I hadn’t been in an educational institution, except Barnard and Yale. I really didn’t—
SORKIN: Which were very elite, non-experimental, traditional institutions.
DE BRETTEVILLE: So it was like just— I wasn’t really— I was trying— We were all trying.
Anyway, so I was interested in everything, anywhere. I’ll try most anything that seemed[?] to make sense. My friend Deena [Metzger] wanted to have peyote, all women come over to her house when she turned fifty and we’d all stay over. We cooked together and we stayed over, you’ll[?] take peyote; I did that. [inaudible; laughs]. I tried all the little things.
SORKIN: That was Deena Metzger.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Deena Metzger.
SORKIN: And she was teaching at CalArts, too.
DE BRETTEVILLE: She was teaching at— And I met her right away, because her mother and my mother were friends in Brooklyn.
SORKIN: So was she a part of those early faculty meetings, as well, or no?
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, she was in critical studies and I saw her socially. And I brought her into the Woman’s Building to do writing workshops.
SORKIN: Right, but she had started— you’d met her at [inaudible] CalArts and—
DE BRETTEVILLE: [over Sorkin] I met her at CalArts. Well, I had met her as soon as I came to California because our mothers knew each other.
DE BRETTEVILLE: But I didn’t see a lot of her at CalArts. I saw her outside of CalArts.
SORKIN: Okay, so she was not part of that initial CalArts [inaudible].
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, she had older children. But she helped me— When I wrote that article, she looked it over. And she wrote a lot herself. Her writing is not academic, it’s very much this kind of ecrit feminine kind of thing, sort of more like [inaudible] kind of idea about women’s writing.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Very layered and very— like, very long. And so I think if I had a different editor, maybe my article would be way better. [laughs] And it’s nothing against Deena, but I really needed some serious editing.
SORKIN: Right, and she was more of an experimental writer.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah, and I had no idea how to write an article. I don’t think I’ve ever been a better[?] writer, all through Barnard or all through Yale. I don’t think writing was ever my gift of things. I had ideas, but I really didn’t know how to express them in writing well.
SORKIN: But then you ended up writing a bunch of articles later.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yes, but none of them— I don’t like any of them, as articles. [laughs]
SORKIN: Well, we will get to the parlorization later.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah. I think writing is extremely hard for me. You know, when I read good writing, I know what it is, and I can’t do that. And it bothers me. [laughs] I just admire when it’s really beautifully done. And I have friends who do it really, really well, but I don’t do it well.
SORKIN: Yes, you do.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I don’t think so. I’m just very— it just makes me uncomfortable. And I’m very unsure of it. Both my son and my husband are much more sure of themselves as writers, and my friends are all better at it than me, too. But at any rate, I really think I could’ve done with some editing. I would’ve been grateful if somebody had edited for me. [laughs] It’s actually in the Women in American Architecturebook, too, and I think that maybe got a little edited in their writing, I hope.
SORKIN: I think this is a common insecurity among visual artists, that they don’t know how to write.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Really?
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, Joyce writes beautifully! She writes incredible travelogues and everything. My things are, like, written with spelling errors, written with typos.
SORKIN: That’s not true.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I’m the typo queen, I swear! Jason even says to me, you know, “Mom, what were you trying to say in that email?” And I look at it; now, how would anybody know what I’m saying? Because now, of course, now I have a spell check thing. Part of it is—I can blame it on this—my mother and father both worked, and so I had to cook. My mother would cook all weekend, and then I parsed it out and had to add to it all week. And she would write what I was supposed to do, in phonetic English. But actually, I know how to write. I knew it was phonetic and not actual English. But I just never spelled properly. Just never learned to spell.
SORKIN: That’s okay. Alright, so ’72. Or do you want to take a break?
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, I’m fine.
DE BRETTEVILLE: ’72. So we planned— Actually, you know, Judy’s idea of leaving CalArts was we’d throw patriarchal education into the garbage pail and we’d create feminist education; that would be my metaphor. Because I got a lot from my education that was really important to me, and thank God, I survived it [laughs] and was still alive and well. And I had really good teachers. So I don’t think that I— And I understood what was good about their teaching and what I didn’t like about their teaching. So I got something from my patriarchal education. I wasn’t ready to throw it in the garbage pail. But I really was interested in— The thing I was interested in most was the freedom of it all. The freedom of doing what I wanted to do with the things that I made, and also the freedom of trying to teach in a different kind of way and have an institution where there wasn’t a hierarchy that was all male—which would be definitely novel and to be experienced. And so we actually had to have a corporation. And so we drew straws and I landed up being the president of the corporation.
SORKIN: Can I just stop here and ask why— Was it a generational thing or just a personal thing that Mimi Schapiro was not involved with the Woman’s Building? Or was it because there was already a split with Judy?
DE BRETTEVILLE: I’m not even sure— No, I think—
SORKIN: Because she continued to do the Feminist Art Program an extra year, another year past Judy’s involvement at CalArts.
DE BRETTEVILLE: That may be her desire, I don’t know. Mimi is very complicated. Judy is totally transparent; Mimi is anything but transparent. She’s actually brutal, in some way. I mean, like in the consciousness-raising group, everyone in the group but me had been through psychoanalysis, or at least therapy. I knew nothing about it. So if they asked a question, I really had to search for an answer. I didn’t have any readymade answers for anything. And so if they asked, What do you think about your mother?, I hadn’t even thought about what I even felt about my mother, let alone what I think about what felt about my mother. They could just spill it all out, and I was, like, a little slow to figure out what I wanted to say. Because I knew that my mother had been traumatized by the movement to the United States. She’d been in Gymnasium; she was going to be a lawyer. And suddenly she was a factory worker. And I don’t think she ever got over it. I mean, she was also out with morphine every month, with her period. I mean, she just— There was a lot. And she was an incredibly silent person, which I think is her response to dealing with what she didn’t know how to deal with. So I didn’t have a lot to give. And meanwhile[?], there was Mimi saying, “You’re being—” What was her word? She had a special word. I’ll remember it later. But it was a word that comes from psychoanalysis that was a putdown, basically. Because I wasn’t—
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, it’s a dis word, but I— She was dissing; that part I know. I don’t remember which it was. It had to do with withholding. And I said, “I’m not withholding. I don’t have the answer. You know, I really don’t know what I think yet about it. It’s complicated.” I felt rather abandoned, you know? And I felt on my own. So I don’t really know what I think about my parents, except there was definitely a struggle. It was a struggle for them. I grew up in an extended family. I don’t know what I think about it. I know it’s not the same—Because people were romanticizing in our—
SORKIN: Was she the matriarch of the group? Was she the oldest in your CR group? Or Vija Celmins?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Could be. Could be.
SORKIN: Vija Celmins must’ve been her age, roughly, too. No?
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, she’s much younger.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I actually don’t know. I mean, I really wasn’t thinking about age at the time. I was thinking more about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, how it shaped— how it supposedly relates to the Chinese method around it.
SORKIN: But you, Judy and Arlene were all part of the same peer group. You were all peers.
DE BRETTEVILLE: We were peers. Actually, I went to a consciousness-raising group once with Judy. I don’t think Arlene was there with her. African-American men. Maybe some white women were there, too. So it was a male-female thing. I think it was also gay-straight. Now, I know it was awkward, because I remember someone said something and I touched him. You’d think I was electric, that I touched him. So I think there was a lot of experimenting with different groups.
SORKIN: So different kinds of models for consciousness.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah. Well, it was the same pattern for what you talked about and that the end result would be an action, but not the same consistent group. I also don’t know when Mimi left. Because I know she wasn’t around when we were at the building, so she was—
DE BRETTEVILLE: So the actual planning of the thing and why she wasn’t involved, that I don’t know. I really don’t know.
SORKIN: Okay. I don’t know when she left L.A., but they stayed at CalArts until ’75. And then [inaudible].
DE BRETTEVILLE: [over Sorkin] Well, I wasn’t there, so I really—
SORKIN: Right. No, I know that.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah. I don’t know. I really don’t know. I mean, I had very little contact with her beyond the consciousness raising group, which just didn’t last all that long. And I don’t remember its dissolution or why or who was in it besides her—other than my own sense of liking the format, but not really having the kind of easy answers to the questions.
DE BRETTEVILLE: And I was in other groups, as well. I thought it was the right way to have a conversation. It seemed like until we can find a way where people will respect everybody, this one will stand in really well [laughs; inaudible] this one, which is structured to make everybody equal.
SORKIN: And everybody talked for equal time in all the CR’s.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah. It’s the equal amount of time, which is really what was interesting to me. Because you could be silent for it. It’s very hard on Mimi for someone that had chosen to be silent or to have not been as vocal as she. That was just something that was very hard on her. And so she reacted to it.
SORKIN: And so then the three of you started planning the building in ’72.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Dissembling, that’s the word. Dissembling.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I think I actually said something like, It’s not assembled, so I can’t [inaudible]. I’m having trouble assembling it, let alone— I haven’t got around to dissembling it yet. I mean, it was really the language of psychology that a lot of people participated in at CalArts, that was not my language. I had read Freud. I actually read Freud at Barnard from a kind of cultural perspective, which was the way it was being taught. I took some psychology, also, which is much more rat[?], you know, rat and experiment-oriented psychology. And then I wrote a paper, which I still have here somewhere—I came upon it—that compared advertising, also. Same thing. Comparing Family Circle to Fortune, and the way they represented people in the advertising. But I really didn’t— That wasn’t my language. I mean, Civilization and Its Discontents doesn’t have a theorizing language or a therapy-oriented language. Whereas therapy was a big thing in California. So people did it and they knew about. I didn’t. I was first [inaudible; laughs] feminism. That was big enough for me, thank you very much.
SORKIN: Well, and then it becomes interesting how therapy plays out in the Woman’s Building, which we will get to. Okay, so.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Okay. So then we send out these brochures. The people who chose to come— Actually, I know that Susan King had said this, that she came for Judy and stayed for me. But I think that they came for Judy is really accurate. People really came for Judy because she’s the one who proselytized the Feminist Studio Workshop, whereas I was actually proselytizing looking at everything from a feminist perspective. That’s not exactly a commanding, You should come and study with us. [inaudible] for that. And so they all came, but we didn’t have the contract signed so we all met in my house, in this Spanish-style house in Echo Park, while we were still negotiating the Woman’s Building. And there are pictures that Maria Karras took, who was in that first, of that.
SORKIN: Yeah, I’ve seen some of those. And you’re all sitting on the floor in your living room.
DE BRETTEVILLE: And we’re all sitting on the floor. Well, actually, I didn’t have furniture. All I had were these yellow cushions that strapped together. So some people could sit on them and the other people sat— We had a rug that Peter and I, [when we were living?] with Naomi Schor— We were living in Italy and Naomi came to visit us. We met in Greece. We traveled in Greece together. We bought a rug. And so I had this rug, this white rug everybody could sit on. It was very easy, nice and comfy rug. We shipped it back and we got to have it. So everybody sat there. And then we didn’t have to do that much to the Chouinard building because it was in pretty good shape; it had been used up until recently. And it had a really wonderful egalitarian aspect to it because it had a courtyard, and then all the spaces were off of that courtyard.
SORKIN: So the courtyard was the center of the building.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah, it was really terrific. And it was also on a street that was busy. It faced MacArthur Park. There were buildings next to it that were occupied. It was a street that there was a lot of street traffic. So we were part of the world, but we were a building dedicated to women’s culture. And that combination of being in the world but also dedicated to women’s culture is something that I really liked about that particular setting. Unfortunately, after the first year, CalArts sold it to a Korean church that was gathering up buildings in that area of the city and we lost it.
SORKIN: That still owns it till this day.
DE BRETTEVILLE: And they still own it.
SORKIN: And Otis was down there, too at that time, right?
DE BRETTEVILLE: If it was, I sure didn’t think about it.
SORKIN: Somewhere off the park.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah, it’s on MacArthur Park, but I didn’t— We had no truck with it, no sense of it. Not even in our public events. I don’t think we even tried to engage it. I think we really saw ourselves as a separatist organization inside of the larger society. And it had a public function because we called ourselves the public center for women’s culture, except when we for the L in the public, [inaudible; they laugh]. Or a slip of some sort. Or just my usual typo or whatever.
SORKIN: I’m sure it wasn’t yours. I’m sure it purposeful and somebody else’s.
DE BRETTEVILLE: [over Sorkin; inaudible] I’ve done it. I mean, it just happens.
SORKIN: It’s very apt.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Very apt. But anyhow, I replicated a lot of things I did when I started CalArts. I immediately got a Rotoprint, because actually—
SORKIN: How did you raise the money to fund the press?
DE BRETTEVILLE: The students all came to come to the Feminist Studio Workshop.
SORKIN: So they paid tuition.
DE BRETTEVILLE: They paid tuition. I actually am not sure what the tuition was. I remember $3,000, but I could be wrong. That could’ve been the rent; I don’t remember.
SORKIN: The rent was definitely $3,000, because you negotiated very cheap rent.
DE BRETTEVILLE: But I don’t remember what they paid. But with the money from that, we bought a Rotoprint. Because Helen Ulm[sp?] was a student in my Women’s Design Program.
SORKIN: At CalArts.
DE BRETTEVILLE: At CalArts. And she learned to print from Ann Williams. And so she came as the printer, came to the Feminist Studio Workshop, and she could run that press.
SORKIN: So did she come as like a TA? Or she came as a paying student?
DE BRETTEVILLE: I don’t remember. I think she came and taught. I don’t think she was in the Feminist Studio Workshop, but I’m not entirely sure.
SORKIN: And nobody was actually making much of a salary, is my guess.
DE BRETTEVILLE: No. No.
SORKIN: So you were taking on outside design work?
DE BRETTEVILLE: I didn’t do so much outside design work as I did teaching. I taught architects. I was really hooked on this red diazo paper, so I taught— There was a transportation system in Los Angeles that was— during the time that cars were developed, they lost the right of way to the cars. But until the rights of way were sold[?] to the cars, these Red Cars went zipping across the city. You could get from Pasadena to the ocean in twenty minutes, because they had the right of way. And I was just fascinated by these Red Cars. So I did a project on the history of the Red Cars down at USC. I did another red print at Cal Poly Pomona. I flew to work at Berkeley, the University of California Berkeley. I taught at San Jose State.
SORKIN: So that was hard.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah. I did all this.
SORKIN: So were you gone a lot, or you were there? You were there.
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, I flew up and flew down in a day. I drove out and came back in a day. I didn’t stay over. Actually, I kept getting lost. I’d come back to Burbank and I couldn’t figure out which way were the Hollywood Hills, because the airport had such a disorienting thing. No, it was very, very hard. It was just really hard. It was all too much. And then actually, Lou Danziger—which is why you brought up Lou Danziger—Lou Danziger was at CalArts, and he had a job— He had been asked in the summer to go and teach the history of graphic design at Harvard. And the L.A. Times needed someone to redesign the L.A. Times because the scion of the family had taken over the L.A. Times. And so Lou said, “Could you do it over the summer?” And I said yes, and then they asked if I would stay. So I got that job. But that was at the very end of being at the Woman’s Building, so it was in 19…
DE BRETTEVILLE: …’79-80, yeah.
SORKIN: Okay, so ’73, the building opens and you’re teaching all these other places, which I don’t think anybody actually knows that you were teaching all these other places in order to make ends meet.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, we all did— I wasn’t alone. I mean, Arlene did that, too and Ruthie did that, too.
SORKIN: I know. This is totally left out, this has dropped out of the history completely. Can I tell you, this is honestly the first time I’ve heard this in all of this time, about the Woman’s Building.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah, well, you know, you had to earn money, you had to do other things.
SORKIN: Yeah, I know, but nobody ever talks about that aspect of the building. I know the building was always broke, but it was unclear that the— I knew nobody was making any money from the building, but—
DE BRETTEVILLE: We used the students’ stuff, students’ payment, basically, to do everything we did.
SORKIN: And did they complain? They complained that they paid tuition, though, at some point.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I don’t even remember that. I think it wasn’t very much.
SORKIN: It was cheap.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah. It was inexpensive. I don’t remember. You know, we weren’t accredited.
DE BRETTEVILLE: But we actually talked about accreditation and whether that was anything to our advantage, and we just decided that it would just bring too many strings, so we didn’t do it.
SORKIN: But did it feel like a leap of faith that all these students were moving from— Because there were students coming from all over the place. Like Cheri Gaulke came from Minnesota and Susan Mogul came from maybe New York; I don’t know where she’s from.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I don’t remember.
SORKIN: But I mean, did it—
DE BRETTEVILLE: People came from all over.
SORKIN: Yes. And I’ve seen your papers, so I’ve seen the letters that people were writing you, and that you were answering with such diligence.
DE BRETTEVILLE: [laughs] Yeah.
SORKIN: And I don’t know how you had the energy to do all that correspondence.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I don’t either. I think I was exhausted all the time. Actually, at that time, I went— Jason was two, was this time that I went with Joyce, met Joyce and Max in Mazatlan and— No, is that right? No. Not that time. Anyway, Jason was younger than that. He was still in diapers, so he was below two. I went with my neighbor we built those houses with. We went to La Paz? Yeah, La Paz.
SORKIN: In Bolivia?
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, La Paz in Baja, California. And I was exhausted. And the guy in the other family, Roger Simon, who’s now a neo-con—hard to believe—he went up; he was down in the South for the peace movement, registering people. How would someone who did that become a neo-con? It’s like, I can’t believe. At any rate, we were down there. And he is from Scarsdale, so it’s like everyday was another thing. We have to go to the beach, we have to go to the rodeo, we have to da-da-da. I didn’t want to go anywhere. So I said, “Everybody, you go home. I’m staying here with Jason another week.” So I stayed with Jason another week. And I was sick. And I was coughing up blood. And I ran out of money and I ran out of diapers. And so I went to go home, and Peter had gone back with the card we had to get that we had him, had Jason on a visiting [inaudible]. And my bag had already been taken for the plane. So I had nothing. [laughs] And they wouldn’t let me on the plane. And I had no money to bribe them. So there was another guy there who— he said, “Why don’t you just go back to the hotel?” I went back to the hotel and tried to call and they said the lines were down. But it was the saints day of the owner of the hotel and he said, “Ah, just stay.” So I had margaritas, Jason ran around nude. [laughs] Peter, of course, goes to pick me up and I’m not there. The bag is there and I’m not there, and he can’t get through, and he went completely ballistic, crazy. And it turned out I tested positive for tuberculosis, but I had—
DE BRETTEVILLE: I didn’t have TB, I had— I forget what they call it. I forgot it now. It’s also a lung thing, but they can get rid of it. Pleurisy. I had pleurisy. So they gave me drugs. And everybody called, “What drugs did they give you?” That’ll tell you how much of a drug culture— There was a guy who had been in one of the— I did all the sets and costumes when I was at Barnard and he was in the plays, so I knew all the people who were actors [inaudible]. [inaudible] actor in Los Angeles. So he called up immediately. “What drugs? What drugs?” I said, “Darvon.” “Oh, that’s good. That’s really good.” But I’m glad [inaudible] not her. [laughs] But my doctor said, “You either have TB, pleurisy, or it’s just that you have too [inaudible]. I was just blacked-out exhausted. I was completely exhausted. So it wasn’t like it didn’t take a toll, to do all the—
SORKIN: And then so the building was up and running in the fall of ’73 and you were teaching, and you were there all the time, right?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah. All the time.
SORKIN: But I mean, can you sort of talk about it as a— I mean, it feels to me, as a historian of the building, that it felt like sort of a twenty-four hour culture, even though we didn’t have a twenty-four hour culture then.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, I think it was more twenty-four hour for the lesbians who were there because they really didn’t have someplace else to go; they were their family. Whereas I came home and I was with Jason and Peter. So I was probably— I think the students had a culture that was theirs, and I think that’s also—
SORKIN: And they all lived together. Most of them.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Many of them actually lived near me, Laurel Canyon. There was a castle that everybody lived in. Linda Proust[sp?] was in that, so she would know the actual address of the castle. But they wouldn’t let Nathan[?] live in that castle, but not all. And Arlene [Raven] and Cheryl lived downtown. But Ruthie [Iskin], when she was with Ruthie, lived on the Westside.
SORKIN: But I mean, everybody was spread out in the city, and then the center of the culture was the Woman’s Building.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, the people at the Woman’s Building was one culture; there was another culture, which was the Westside Women, who were more radical, more political. And I think the people who— like Leslie[sp?]— God, I’m having a senior moment. I can see them very clearly. Shirl Bus and her partner Leslie were both in both places, so they would be able to talk to the differences about it. Because Shirl became— There was a group called Women in Construction, and they were women who came and helped at the new Woman’s Building, when we moved.
SORKIN: Okay. Before we get to [inaudible]—
DE BRETTEVILLE: [over Sorkin; inaudible] go back to the other thing[?]. So one of the things that I really loved about the Woman’s Building was that you could just begin. You could invent all these things, what you could do at the Woman’s Building. So I invented a continuing education program and invited lots of people to come and teach in it.
SORKIN: And that was for no credit, also, but tons— It was the extension program.
DE BRETTEVILLE: It was the extension program.
SORKIN: I have a late schedule. This is a ’77 schedule.
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, but I remember what it was in the beginning. In the beginning was my friend Martha Ronk, who I just was talking about, who got her PhD in literature. She taught a class on Virginia Woolf. This is before there waswomen’s studies. This was like the first women’s studies program.
DE BRETTEVILLE: At the Woman’s Building. So some of it was academic work and some of it was making work. So Johanna Demetrakas taught a film class; Deena Metzger taught a writing class; Martha, as I said, taught a Virginia Woolf class.
SORKIN: And what were you teaching? Were you teaching all— You were teaching design.
DE BRETTEVILLE: They were teaching whoever wanted to come to take those classes. There was a stipend. I don’t remember; maybe it was thirty-five dollars, I don’t know. I really don’t remember the cost of it. I didn’t teach the night program until I left in 1980. I taught the day program, because I had Jason and I had to go somewhere else, be somewhere else.
SORKIN: But the day program, you were teaching design and graphic design classes.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I was teaching graphic design. And I did— Oh, we’re still at the Grandview building, right?
DE BRETTEVILLE: At the Grandview building, we had a women’s graphic center. We also had an exhibition of Eileen Gray that I imported from England.
SORKIN: [over de Bretteville] Yes, and the exhibition program at the building was really important and crucial to the space. So could you actually talk about who instituted the exhibition program, because it’s very unclear.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, it had many parts, because there was a triple-X gallery that was, I think— There was a gallery that was women-run.
SORKIN: There were other tenants in the building; I guess we should say that. There were other tenants.
DE BRETTEVILLE: That’s right. Well, the tenants in the building— And actually in the poster that was to get everybody to come to the building, in the spandrels are all the names of the different organizations that were in the building. Sisterhood Bookstore was in the building; there was a shrink who was in the building—
SORKIN: There was a travel agency.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Estilita Gramaldo was the travel agent.
SORKIN: There was Olivia Records, at some point.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Might know, but I don’t think from the very beginning. Actually, that poster has it. If we could just go look at the poster, I’d remember all of it. I remember trying to get all those people to come. And Sisterhood really did pretty okay. They had a Westside store and they were able to run the store there, as well.
SORKIN: There was a café. Or that was the second building?
DE BRETTEVILLE: I don’t remember there being a café in the first building.
SORKIN: Then there probably wasn’t.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Because I remember what space it would be in. I know what space it was in in the second building. There were a lot of tenants and there was a Board of Lady Managers meeting, and I was on the Board of Lady Managers, and I was the president of the corporation.
SORKIN: And the Board of Lady Managers was initially based on this 1893 conception of the Woman’s Building.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Woman’s Building. We didn’t actually do much about that until the second building. In the first building, we just picked up that language—which was very odd because people had that language detached from its context, and nobody really filled in that context all that much at the first building.
SORKIN: Oh, and there was no research that had been done to that point on the Woman’s Building at the Columbian Exposition.
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, I think Ruthie and Arlene had done that research, it just hadn’t been put into a physical form, like published or— From all I know, Ruthie and Arlene taught it, in some way; but that wasn’t what I taught. I taught a class that was similar to one I taught at CalArts, which was called the object class, where all the women brought in an object and talked about it.
SORKIN: It’s importance to them. And so it became—
DE BRETTEVILLE: Actually, well, I had a different structure for it because that was so traumatic, what I did at CalArts. Traumatic to me. It wasn’t traumatic to anybody else. Because what happened was I had everybody— It was a co-taught class. It was taught between me, Siobhan Tavivian[sp?], who was a political scientist, and Ben Lifson, who wrote about photography and was a photographer, and was the husband of one of my friends, the same Martha, who was then Martha Lifson; now she’s back to her maiden name.
SORKIN: Martha Ronk.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Martha Ronk. And I was trying to figure out what I could do as a designer that would bring home the meaning of physical and visual forms. So I asked everyone to bring in some thing that they could carry, that they felt somehow identified with or they felt connected to. And they all brought in objects, and I sat there and I realized they were talking about themselves. And I just didn’t know what to do with the information. For instance, there was a woman who was the wife of the one of the members of the board, and she brought in bread that was in a plastic wrapper, and she talked about it as being of the earth and all these sort of earth muffin kind of things. And I’m thinking, It’s in a plastic bag that’s sealed. When is she going to get to the plastic bag? [laughs] So I said, “What about the plastic bag?” She said, “Oh, that’s just what I have it in.” And she wouldn’t address it at all as like— There were things like that going on and I just didn’t know what to do with the information I was getting. And I just was on overload. I remember I left there and I drove up on the freeway. And I was giving a lift back to L.A. to Keith Godard, and I just pulled over and cried. It was just too much. I didn’t know. Just overload. Couldn’t handle it. But I knew I was onto something, I just didn’t know what exactly to do with what I was onto. So I tried it again at the Woman’s Building and the same thing happened. I remember there was a woman who came to the class and she had black hair and she had blue eyes, and she brought this geode which was black on the outside and blue in the center. And she’s talking about how she hated it. And I was thinking, I just don’t know to do with— I don’t know what to do about self-hatred, if someone is not talking about it in a way that’s conscious. And so I just— The same thing happened again. So I put it on, like, hold as an activity. And I had become friends at CalArts, with a woman who was a psychologist, Jane Stewart, because I did a project at CalArts on menstruation, in which I brought in all the things that were given to girls to introduce them to—
SORKIN: Was this the video?
DE BRETTEVILLE: It resulted in a video, but I thought it was going to be a print piece. I thought we were going to do a booklet that was different than the booklets that were given out, that would really explain it in a different way. But in talking about it, it became clear that it’s the sharing of the information that was, for me, the buzz, and seemed a good thing. So we started to do a videotape.
And we did all these videotapes. We did one of girls and boys and eleven to twelve; we did one of girls and men in their twenties; and then I did another one of older women. But everyone seems to be most interested in the—
DE BRETTEVILLE: —twelve-year-olds.
SORKIN: Because it’s very radical. And it’s very early.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah.
SORKIN: It’s like 1971 or something.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. It’s very early.
SORKIN: And it’s like a public service art piece.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah, but they didn’t— We tried to get it used in the schools and on television, and nobody wanted to. They didn’t like that the older women were smoking. They thought that the video was too all over the place, because the kids get lost for a while; they start talking about birds, and then the birds have only one hole [laughs]. It didn’t keep them on the topic.
SORKIN: So you were trying to direct them from off camera.
DE BRETTEVILLE: [laughs] But at any rate, that kind of— using the thing made to inquire, as opposed to tell, was something that really captured my imagination. I just really didn’t know all the ways in which to do it. So then the same thing happened. So I asked Jane if she would do the class with me. I said, “Look, you’re a shrink. I seem to be onto something which opens people up, but I don’t know what to do with it. And I don’t want to traffic in people’s unconscious, as a person who knows nothing about it. So how about I do the opening up and you handle what they might do with it, in some way?” So we cooked up this workshop called Feeling to Form. And so it worked that people would come, just— they’d take the class. And we’d ask them to pick something that they have that they really like, that was with them. So usually it was a ring or a shirt or something like that. And then write, describe it physically. So, blue, green, whatever it is. Soft, rough, whatever it was. It had ten adjectives. And then we asked them to own the adjectives. So to say, I am. I am blue or I am rough or I am all these things. Which always brought up feelings. And then Jane led them in— We had everybody lie down and close their eyes, and Jane led them in a kind of relaxation thing, just to get relaxed. You know, until you’re really relaxed with your eyes closed. And then you got up and you just did a drawing. And then I—
SORKIN: So it became an automatic drawing and it became—
DE BRETTEVILLE: It became an automatic drawing. And then I analyzed the drawing, only in formal terms. So this shape is under that shape; this one comes to the surface. Just formally. And then Jane took the formal analysis and helped them understand what might be going on in it. And so we did that on and off for quite a few years.
SORKIN: And that Feeling to Form becomes sort of a crucial pedagogical structure. I think it becomes a strange metaphor for the larger pedagogy of the building, because it becomes about deriving form from content, versus the sort of Modernist trope of content from form.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah. And it did—
SORKIN: It’s a reversal.
DE BRETTEVILLE: It’s a little bit what I was doing at the Women’s Design Program when I had people choose their own quote, because you have a connection that’s personal to you. The object is just a shill; it’s the same thing. It’s something that you have a connection to that if you can identify it in some way, you hear something about yourself you might not be as in touch with or able to utilize in your drawings. And we never considered the thing that you drew a drawing that you pin up or give or show or anything. It’s a drawing from which you could then develop other work.
SORKIN: It’s a process. It becomes the beginning of a process.
DE BRETTEVILLE: It’s a process. And the people enjoyed it, people felt connected to it. Jane is not judgmental. And it’s very facilitating. I wasn’t try to— The whole reason I brought Jane in is because I didn’t like what went on at CalArts. I didn’t want any part of that kind of invasiveness or boundaries being crossed, when people didn’t really make any agreement that they would allow that boundary to be crossed. And so I wanted something that was like that. And I also didn’t like what Judy did. I mean, I really felt that Judy talked about women as being damaged and she was reconstructing them, and I didn’t see women as damaged. I saw women as resources. They didn’t have access to themselves or anything else, but they were resources. And so it was much more interesting to me to get at the resource that you are in some way, and to use it in your work. And I really just didn’t want to do— I didn’t want to pretend to know what I didn’t know, and I didn’t want to use what I was hearing; I wanted someone else who knew how to do it, to do that part. So Jane and I did that together. And also she was very helpful to me because I found— She came sometimes to the board of lady managers meetings at the first building, and she could see what was going on for me and helped me with it, because it was just— I would find the way which women were with each other just so destructive I didn’t know how to handle it.
SORKIN: Because there was a lot of infighting?
DE BRETTEVILLE: But it wasn’t ever about what it was about. It was just this extra anger that just came out in all kinds of other forms. So that I didn’t want to deal with the content, because it wasn’t the content. The content was the thing that fueled the comment. And I could see that, but I didn’t know what to do with it. And it just had a very bad effect on me because I felt closed down by it. I just didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t know what to do and I just didn’t know how to handle it.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I really didn’t know how to handle it.
So it was really very helpful for me to have Jane there. And it was very helpful to Jane, because she was actually in a marriage that wasn’t all that terrific. It gave her— Her husband was a reporter, so there was stuff around when I went to the L.A. Times around that. And she can speak to all those things. But we worked together on Feeling to Form.
SORKIN: Which was great.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah.
SORKIN: So how did you create boundaries? Because you had mentioned earlier this idea about the Woman’s Building as a space for lesbians. So because there were—
DE BRETTEVILLE: It wasn’t only a space, it was basically—
SORKIN: I know that. So I’m trying to get at this idea of CalArts as a boundary-less place. And then you come to the Woman’s Building and there’s all these very young women, and this is a separatist space of all women dealing with women’s issues and—
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, I wouldn’t describe CalArts as a boundary-less place except— It’s more a boundary-invasive place, in certain forms.
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, I think that I didn’t pay attention so much to the sexuality of the individual women initially. I just was— Because there was a range of sexual involvement at the Women’s Design Program, too. There was one woman who had been a prostitute. There were people who were gay and people who were straight. I just didn’t pay attention, I think, initially.
SORKIN: But they were all very young, also. There was a lot of—
DE BRETTEVILLE: Not all of them—
DE BRETTEVILLE: Not all of them were young. There were women who had children who had left their families— There were women who had married, who had left their marriages; there were women who had children, who had left their children. There was a really wide range of people who were there.
SORKIN: So how did you deal, as a teacher, with this huge disparity of experience and level of difference among students? Or was it baseline because everybody was learning new skill sets through design?
DE BRETTEVILLE: I just didn’t see it. It’s like I didn’t notice, in the CR group, that Mimi was older. Just there’s some things I wasn’t paying attention to. I didn’t pay attention to it.
SORKIN: But maybe that was a good thing, not to pay attention.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I don’t know if it wasn’t or I was paying attention to something else, I was looking somewhere else or whatever. I just wasn’t.
SORKIN: So it was a non-issue.
DE BRETTEVILLE: It wasn’t an issue for me. It may have been an issue for someone else. I was really excited. I mean, at that point, I didn’t— And I was able to bring people to look at Eileen Gray’s work, which I thought was really spectacular work. I just felt empowered. And I was interested in— We had conferences during— I chose a week in that spring— Because Judy left right after the first semester. She was just gone. So it was easy to do everything I wanted to do. So I created a week of conferences. There was one Women in Film, Women in Writing, Women in Design. Those are three I remember, but there may have been others that I don’t remember.
SORKIN: And those were really well-attended conferences.
DE BRETTEVILLE: From people all over the country. And the Women in Design one was really just for women who— Even the poster says, “For women who work with visual and physical forms.” It wasn’t specifically anything, other than I had made— I’d noticed that the I-bolt[?] looked like a woman’s— symbol for women. And I had put those I-bolts into the landscape, a landscape that’s very much informed by Superstudio’s…
DE BRETTEVILLE: …grid. And the grid, in Superstudio, they wrote as meaning an equal distribution of goods and services, so that’s a meaning I thought the grid could have, instead of the grid that organizes everything on a vertical plane. This is a grid that creates a landscape. And I put Angelica Kauffman’s design inspired by poetry [inaudible] up as the phases of the moon. So it was a very evocative landscape; it wasn’t specific. And we sent it everywhere because I heard that [inaudible] came to the architectural league and thought that it was, you know, these hard women marching across the country. It never even occurred to me that was a reading.
SORKIN: Well, you changed the grid so that it was not vertical; it became a horizontal.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Horizontal plane, it became a landscape.
SORKIN: Right. And that’s been sort of a very iconic image of the building, is that poster.
DE BRETTEVILLE: At that point, yeah.
SORKIN: And it was on blue diazo maybe?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Blue diazo paper. We actually printed it, also in I think sepia, as well.
SORKIN: There was a brown one?
DE BRETTEVILLE: And we gave it out. That was the poster— everybody who came to the conference got that poster and got the necklace, which was an I-bolt on a key chain.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Of course, you could go to any hardware store and, for like under fifteen cents, you could equip yourself in the same necklace and come for free; if you were so ambitious to come, you could get in that way. And yeah. So I did the design conference. Deena [Metzger] did the writing conference.
SORKIN: And what happened at the conferences? Was it people presented their own work?
DE BRETTEVILLE: People presented their work. I had, actually, a belly dancer at night. And there were some people who didn’t like that. I remember that one of the local designers, who’s very well known, actually, Deborah Sussman, had shown images from her trip to India, and talked about it only in terms of the color of the spices and the color of the people, and not the fact that they’re impoverished and skinny people. And I think Susana Torre came down on her with [inaudible] that, you know, there is something you’re not seeing, as well as something you’re seeing.
SORKIN: So was critique an immediate part of the conference, and then the program at large, or no?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Critique was part of the Feminist Studio Workshop, it was part of the design conference; it wasn’t necessarily part of the other parts of the conference. But I think that the women’s writing thing had people who were more like minded, whereas the design conference had people who were very various. I mean, Dolores Hayden and Gwen Wright and Deborah Sussman and Susana Torre were there. So you had a wide band of skill sets and knowledge bases that were being shared, and people were coming from those different perspectives, and they spoke from those different perspective. I think if you get women’s kind of writing writers, they had more in common and they tended to be more sharing, I think.
SORKIN: And so what did it sort of mean to have— So that after, I guess, the first year— I’m not sure when the Feminist Studio Workshop actually starts, but that becomes— I think it’s ’75.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Feminist Studio Workshop was what we called the one that we started, in the brochure that I designed.
SORKIN: So it starts right away.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Right away.
SORKIN: In ’73.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah. We went it out in ’73.
SORKIN: Okay, so ’73, the Feminist Studio Workshop is the studio—
DE BRETTEVILLE: We might’ve sent it out earlier than that, I’m just not sure. It started in ’73; it had to go out in ’72 for us to get the students.
SORKIN: Okay. But so that becomes the educational arm of the building.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah.
SORKIN: When there were other tenants in the building, and this is the art school that happens within the building.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Exactly.
SORKIN: Which is a separatist feminist art school.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yes.
SORKIN: And that get accredited much later, I believe. Finally you choose to have accreditation through Barnard[?].
DE BRETTEVILLE: I don’t remember. I remember the discussion; I don’t remember the solution.
SORKIN: I don’t remember what year it was. I think it’s ’76, maybe.
DE BRETTEVILLE: It could be, because it was in the second building.
SORKIN: Yes. So that would be—
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah, because then there was a legitimacy already, because there were women’s studies programs by then, I think.
SORKIN: Yeah, by ’75.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Because then I think, also those classes tended to be more how-to classes and less critical classes, because those critical classes could be gotten elsewhere. Although I’m not entirely sure. But I did not run those. I only ran them at the Grandview Building, the first one.
SORKIN: Right. And the Grandview building is the Chouinard building.
DE BRETTEVILLE: The Chouinard building.
SORKIN: Just so we’re clear. And so then the building gets taken back in the spring of ’75, I believe.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yes. We actually knew about it in the fall of ’74.
SORKIN: So that you could plan.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I knew that we could plan. And we started looking for a new building. We knew how much we could pay. And we couldn’t find anything. And actually, Judy— It’s like all I would talk about is that we’re going to lose the building, so Judy said—
SORKIN: But this was an established program by then, and people had known about— I mean, people had come to these conferences and Kate Millett had been at the building and—
DE BRETTEVILLE: Mmmm.
SORKIN: Not yet. She was at the next building.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Next building. I don’t think she was at the first building.
SORKIN: Okay. But there were very famous people who came to the first building. Like Jill Johnston came.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Jill Johnston came. All the famous writers who I’m forgetting their names [inaudible].
SORKIN: Adrienne Rich came.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Adrienne Rich came. I don’t remember all the people who came.
SORKIN: But a lot of people. Audre Lorde came, I believe.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Audre Lorde came, for sure. I think we also had— I don’t remember when. It may’ve been in the next building. We had a fundraiser that Cheryl [Swanack] organized, because she went to work for…
SORKIN: Lily Tomlin.
DE BRETTEVILLE: …Lily Tomlin. I don’t remember when that conference was. I think there was a fundraiser— There were fundraisers, I think, while we were still in the Grandview building, but I’m not sure.
SORKIN: In order to raise money for the second building.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, to raise money, period, because the building always needed money. But definitely for the second building. And it was a fair amount of strain on me because I know that Arlene wasn’t thinking about that. So it was left for me to think about it, and Cheryl. So Cheryl and I went around and looked at buildings all over the city. We looked at one in Pasadena that was really gorgeous, but it had been a—well, and it— but or and; depends what you’re looking at—and it had been a garage. The but part is that there’s probably all kinds of gas and stuff like that from it being a garage, a service station. But also it was in Pasadena. And everybody said it can’t be the L.A. Woman’s Building if it’s in Pasadena. Yeah. And then Judy was suggesting places that were on the second story. I said, “No. Whatever it is, it has to be its own building.” And we just couldn’t find one. And then—
SORKIN: Which was part of the idea of having your own space.
DE BRETTEVILLE: A space of your own. And it’s not a space of your own if you have to share it. [laughs] Sorry. You know, I had a bedroom like that, that got shared with every person who came from abroad who managed to get through the Holocaust. So it’s not yours if everybody’s sharing it all the time. So I think we just— But it had to be distinct in some way. And I thought the Grandview building or the old Chouinard building was ideal in that way because all the spaces were open to one space. Just a nice metaphor. Couldn’t beat it. Couldn’t find it. So we found this really more dignified building, more dignified than we needed to have, that had been the Standard Oil Company of California’s old building. It was a warehouse, at the edge of Los Angeles, near the bridge that goes over into Lincoln Heights. And I remember Judy Baca saying, “You don’t want to be there. You’re between the Crips and the Bloods. They’ll figure out that women are here.” And I said, “We don’t have a big choice here.” You know, so I said, “I have[?] Cheryl. We’ll be able to handle it.” So we moved to that building. And there were lots of women who came. And there, we had a lot of work because the place was filthy. And we had to clean it and we had to build—
SORKIN: Sheetrock. There’s all these images of you holding sheetrock.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Mm-hm, yeah. Well, it’s also because this had been a warehouse, so it was like it had been open through the center to a skylight and space above, but then it had filled in to become a warehouse. And we needed to have some spaces closed off, but being a Modernist at heart, I wanted it to have an open plan. So I only wanted there to be, like, gates, so you didn’t have to close in [inaudible].
SORKIN: Like no doorways.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah. But the Sisterhood Bookstore said we have to have more than the gates crossing it. And actually, they couldn’t sustain being there. But anyway, they were there. They came with us and we had a café. That’s about the only other entities we had. The rest of it was really the Woman’s Building had to hold its own.
SORKIN: And all the cooperatives did not move.
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, none of them. I mean, Sisterhood tried. On their behalf, it just was too much of a strain because there was no foot traffic.
DE BRETTEVILLE: People didn’t want to come there. It was really a struggle to get people to go.
SORKIN: And it was sort of a crappy neighborhood.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, it wasn’t a neighborhood, it was a warehouse district, which is not chic in that period of time. People have since found that to be chic, but it wasn’t chic then.
SORKIN: Right. And so it was an industrial—
DE BRETTEVILLE: [over Sorkin] It was like nothing.
SORKIN: It was a raw industrial space.
DE BRETTEVILLE: A raw industrial space in an area that was on the train tracks. That was the good part, because there was actually railroad police and so the train tracks are policed, so the parking was policed. And actually, you can hear here the train. I like the sound of a train. Or you’d be giving a talk at the Woman’s Building and then you’d hear the train go by. Very nineteenth century, nostalgic feeling.
SORKIN: Did you have to put in the floors, or the floors were there?
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, the floors were there because they were there for the— But I had to negotiate the lease. That was my job, to negotiate the lease with the guy who was there.
SORKIN: And did Standard Oil still own the building at that time?
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, this guy Levine owned it. And he rented it to us. So I had to negotiate with him each year when the lease was up. But I had to get permission from plan check to do any building there. So I went down to plan check and I looked at all the people behind the desk and I picked the guy with the long hair and the necklace [laughs; inaudible] by chance.
SORKIN: What is plan check?
DE BRETTEVILLE: You cannot build in Los Angeles without having your plans okayed.
DE BRETTEVILLE: So that I knew. So I went. And we ended up doing very little building, just a couple of walls. And he said, “Well, how many people will be there?” And I told him. And he said, “Well, then you would have to have parking for those people. You don’t have enough parking.” I said, “Well, how did they handle it before?” He said, “Well, it was a manufacturing.” I said, “Well, we’re manufacturing strong women. [laughs] Can you put us down as a manufacturing place? We’re manufacturing art and strong women.”
SORKIN: And did they really do that? Wow.
DE BRETTEVILLE: He did. He bought into it. He bought into it.
SORKIN: But that’s kind of— I mean, that’s an amazing metaphor, [de Bretteville laughs] to say that you’re manufacturing strong women and art. I mean, it does describe the—
DE BRETTEVILLE: It’s like, duh, what am I supposed to say? You know, we can’t get more parking; we can hardly afford to get the building. So he was sort of [inaudible].
SORKIN: And there’s all these pictures of moving the press.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Moving the press, painting—
SORKIN: The walls.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, actually, first washing with— What was that called?
SORKIN: Lye? Soap?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Lye, it’s a lye-based cleaning thing, which is not so good. That’s why we had masks. And we scrubbed everything down and we painted everything. And the women from the Westside contributed to it. So they had every reason to make their points of view known, because they contributed to making the building, this building. They weren’t involved in the other building, but they were involved in this building.
SORKIN: So the Westside Women came and—
DE BRETTEVILLE: They came. We had gay-straight things, we had black-white events, we had subject-oriented things.
SORKIN: Did you try to replicate the first building as much as possible, in terms of, like, doing the stenciling on the wall and creating a graphic design workshop?
DE BRETTEVILLE: We had a really big graphic design workshop. We had more.
SORKIN: Because it was the entire first floor, right?
DE BRETTEVILLE: [over Sorkin] We got more. The back of the first floor. There was an entryway, and then there was an office—
SORKIN: So this was a much larger space.
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, it was—
SORKIN: Like square footage-wise? Or no?
DE BRETTEVILLE: I don’t think so, no. It was about the same. It just didn’t have an open area. But it was all into one volume. And we didn’t have other entities, other than— We did have Chrysalis started there, but it actually didn’t meet— It met there sometimes, but it wasn’t, like, out of that place, although we met there.
SORKIN: And Chrysalisis the feminist magazine that comes out—
DE BRETTEVILLE: Chrysalis was created with Susan Rennie and Kirsten Grimstad who came— They had done the New Woman’s Survival Catalog , modeled on the Whole Earth Catalog. They had done that already and they were interested in creating a different— They came to Los Angeles. I actually don’t remember if they came because of Chrysalis or we came up with Chrysalis while they were there or they just had moved, but somehow this group coalesced. And it was Arlene and Ruth, me, and Deborah Marrow.
SORKIN: And Susan, you actually knew in college or graduated with.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Susan and Kirsten went— Susan was my year at Barnard, graduated my year.
SORKIN: Did you know her there or no?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Not really, no. And Kirsten also went to Barnard, so three Barnard women and two— Or three from— Where did Arlene go, Johns Hopkins?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah, so three Barnard women. [laughs]
SORKIN: Was there a tension between sort of the East Coast women or mentality—
DE BRETTEVILLE: No. No. No, absolutely. The great thing is that Susan is very, very bright, and so is Kirsten. And so the quality of the editing and the thinking about the magazine was really, I thought, very good.
SORKIN: And the Woman’s Building— the Feminist Studio Workshop women were not involved in the planning for Chrysalis.
DE BRETTEVILLE: No.
SORKIN: It was a separate entity.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Totally separate entity, which also didn’t have enough money. [laughs] I mean, that seems to be the marker of all the things I’m involved in. There’s never enough money. Even the art school here at Yale has the least money of any school, you know? [laughs]
SORKIN: It’s true.
DE BRETTEVILLE: At any rate, no, we were separate and we were collectives. We read all the submissions and all the articles that went into the magazine. And I felt like I was responsible for finding straight women’s work, but it’s really not so easy to find straight women who were writing about women’s issues at the time. I found everybody I could, but I just wasn’t so good at it.
SORKIN: But it was a really important magazine that was on— I mean, it’s often compared to Heresies. It’s like the lesser-known version of Heresies.
DE BRETTEVILLE: But it’s a very different…
DE BRETTEVILLE: …thing than Heresies.
SORKIN: It’s almost like a women’s studies—
DE BRETTEVILLE: It’s more like—
SORKIN: A literary journal.
DE BRETTEVILLE: It was an academic journal without an academic environment to support it, is what we were. And I treated it like an academic journal. I treated it as the word was most important. And I really wanted everything— We typeset it on an IBM Selectric Composer in my house. We had the best copy editor on the face of the earth, Margaret “Peggy” Kimball. And actually, I quote her regularly because she said, “We only get to perfection halfway, each time we try.” Which was so good because it’s so accepting of the fact that there’ll be errors. Because we were always, you know, finding errors at the very last minute. Finding them and hand cutting little letters in there to make it be perfect. That’s where the dissention came, because when you publish, there’s always somebody who gets left out; there’s always someone who thinks you should’ve published it differently or you should’ve printed it differently or done something differently. And there were some pretty nasty interchanges from East Coast-West Coast about it. Heresies was a different group each time, to some extent. And formally, it was more like a patchwork quilt, where mine was more like an Amish quilt, I guess,.
SORKIN: What did it mean to have sort of— you were teaching simultaneously in the Feminist Studio Workshop, you were doing the design work and sitting on the board of Chrysalis, and you were doing outside design work, too, to make a living. How did sort of all these three activities influence each other? Or what did it mean to have sort of a pedagogical model which was your teaching— Where was the place for those women within, I guess, the larger community of feminism in Los Angeles? Or were they their own community?
DE BRETTEVILLE: I was more focused on them doing graphic work where the form and the content was their own, and that it deal with urban space, that it deal with the world beyond the Woman’s Building. My focus was there. And that was the nature of the kind of classes or projects that I did with the women who came to the Woman’s Building. Anyone could choose to be in it. There were some classes that were in the extension program, and then there were some things that were in the Feminist Studio Workshop. And that was all self-selecting. Somebody could do— you know, someone like— Anyone could do anything with anybody.
SORKIN: Right, but if this was their sort of art school education, they weren’t getting a liberal arts education. Many of them came from— they’d already been in universities.
DE BRETTEVILLE: They’d left the universities, either by graduating or by being in sculpture programs where they felt they couldn’t possibly be who they were. So people were leaving wherever they were to come to the building. They came to the building for what the building offered. And in graphic design, I was on that kick of—which I still am, here at Yale—that individual voices of society don’t get heard unless you let them speak whatever they want to talk about. So this was a vehicle for doing it. The oppressors are part of that. So I didn’t really talk to people about the form languages they chose unless they asked me, because it was more important that they got their information out than it was that I give my voice to how well they were getting it out as a formal activity. But when I taught a class, we did talk about the form. Because it shouldn’t be about a subject. What it’s about should be what it is. So if you’re going to make what it’s about what it is, then if you’re talking about places you feel angry about, you make it in a red diazo paper and you tell people how you want them to treat you. And then you put it up, you get permission to put it up. Because if you put it up without permission, it’s illegal. I found that out the hard way at CalArts because I did these very shocking pink labels. They came out with a fem spray, which I was really offended by, so I made these labels that said, “Your vagina smells fine just the way it is.” But you couldn’t just get like twenty; you had to get like 500. So I had these huge rolls of these labels. And so my students put them up in the supermarkets, wherever they were selling fem sprays, and one of them got tagged. And I found out it’s illegal to do this. [laughs] Someone it never even occurred to me that it was illegal.
SORKIN: Someone got in trouble.
DE BRETTEVILLE: And actually, some students were over here, they were looking at our LPs. And my son had found all these things and had stuck one on a Ritchie Valens LP. [laughs; inaudible] I forget all about— Because they were in a drawer that he could get ahold of. There’s more other things that happened. Because they were around the house forever.
SORKIN: Because you had so many of them.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Nobody could use them, [laughs] as many as I had. They didn’t last that— The only one I have is the one that’s on La Bamba kind of thing. But anyway, I had learned that you can not put anything in anyplace in the city or on any object that’s for sale, without breaking the law. So you’d better do it either where no one’s looking, so that you get away with it— But you can’t say that I told you to do it.
SORKIN: I think it’s really interesting that there was so much design work that was happening and women were trained— The women you were training, as part of their, like— Even though there were lots of performance collectives that came out of the building, so many of them ended up making graphic works. Like, they learned how to write press releases at the building to support larger endeavors in large public spaces. They learned to do poster campaigns because you had trained them to make posters.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, I didn’t see it as training, but definitely, they learned.
SORKIN: But I’m saying that there was this graphic component to so much of the work that seems non-object-based.
DE BRETTEVILLE: What do you mean not object-based?
SORKIN: Well, they weren’t—
DE BRETTEVILLE: I consider a printed piece an object.
SORKIN: Well, I do, in the sense that when you make a performance, that becomes a non-object event.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Oh, sure.
SORKIN: But in fact, they were making objects all along the way, because they were infiltrated with this kind of design training, in which their voice had to— They had to realize some sort of idea graphically or through another form.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah. And some people who were trained as graphic designers came. Like Judith Lawston[sp?] came to all of the—
SORKIN: Or Suzanne Lacy, for instance.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, Suzanne was in that class. She was in the Women’s Design Program.
SORKIN: Yes. Right. But she becomes, like, maybe one of the most famous performance artists from this building.
DE BRETTEVILLE: But she also did a lot of things in print. She did [the] Rape Is booklet as a student, in class.
DE BRETTEVILLE: She did several artists books that are part of that. She did the Travels with Mona. That was [inaudible].
SORKIN: But when she does her Three Weeks in May, what becomes sort of the centerpiece of that project is not— I mean, to me, it’s not just the, you know, women in public on the city’s steps saying, we will fight back or whatever they chant in their black cloaks; they also put up a map. And there’s a graphic orientation to it, where they map out and stamp in red where women have been raped, all over the city. And that becomes a crucial centerpiece of the work itself.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah. I mean, I appreciate that because I didn’t know where it all went. Like Bia Lowe did, when she was in the Women’s Design Program, a dystopian— I asked the women, actually, to all do an idea of the future, make an image of the future. I showed what Superstudio had done to show what not only would be a positive view of the future or one that they wished would happen, but also a cautious— twelve cautionary tales of different environments that were dystopian in spirit. And women had a very hard time imagining a positive future or creating an image of a future. In fact, the one that I remember most was Bia’s because she used images from the film Metropolis, of these mechanized women in a landscape. So you know, it wasn’t such an easy thing to have women give visual form to what they did. And perhaps performance was— Maybe performance then was what video is now, a kind of fault other[?]— This sounds terrible, but it may be possibly true. It was a default and easier way to act out than it was to act out formally. Because if you don’t have real confidence in your formal skills but you know how you feel, that maybe performing is a more natural and easy way—
SORKIN: It’s intuitive in a different way.
DE BRETTEVILLE: It’s intuitive in a different way because my students were doing that. They’d set up the camera and they’d just performance in front of it. And in fact, most of the work is very un— It’s not sophisticated. And I’m having a devil of a time creating a kind of program here now at Yale that will help the graphic designers do videos that are stronger. Because in fact, they’re also doing this kind of default performing.
SORKIN: But also I think a lot of the performances at the Woman’s Building become about— They become based on iconography that’s already in the culture. So like you have the collective The Waitresses.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Sure.
SORKIN: They’re already using sort of the idea of women’s work in the larger world.
DE BRETTEVILLE: But you could say the same thing is true of Jerri Allyn’s— When I did these public—
SORKIN: Public Announcements.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Private conversations, public announcements. She did hers on being a wait— Actually, she didn’t do it on being a waitress. She used the vehicle of the apron as a way of talking about what it is she wanted to be understood about herself when people were coming on to her or just acting toward her in a way she didn’t like, at this cappuccino stand downtown. Because the assignment was, you know, make a map of the city; locate the places you feel uncomfortable; choose one and make a poster about how you would like to be treated in that place; and get permission to put it up there. And we’ll all come with you; don’t worry. So they worked on it in class and then they put them up in those places. Not everybody did. You know, some people aborted it part of the way.
SORKIN: But it was about trying to create safe space and then make a form that commented on the idea of safety or non-safety.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, this is also, by putting the poster up and negotiating with the guys around it, dialog comes of it. You have to explain what you’re doing. They look at it, What is this? Because it’s not like where to go at what time and what place kind of poster, it’s a poster with—
SORKIN: Right, and it’s not a commercial poster. It’s not an advertisement.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah. And actually, Jerri did hers in both English and Italian. Other people did other things. I have all those slides from it. And actually, one of the women who was is it, Elan Lee[sp?], I found out from my son. I met her when I was in Los Angeles last. So to somebody who’s an urban planner[?], [inaudible]…
SORKIN: That’s great.
DE BRETTEVILLE: …stuff, she had put up the word woman in all kinds of places, using the character for woman for the W and the M. And she put it up where it says, you know, L.A. Woman, where it says L.A City Woman or Oriental Woman, she just put it up all through Chinatown.
SORKIN: So it became a symbol.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, it became—
SORKIN: Or a brand? Not a brand.
DE BRETTEVILLE: It became, actually— I’m not even sure you would call it a brand, but it certainly formed in that way of transforming the meaning of what was there to include women, that hadn’t previously included women, and transformed the meaning, in a way, about women. So you are an L.A. City Woman, just not L.A. City Bus or whatever she covered over with it, or Oriental Café is Oriental Woman.
SORKIN: And this Private Conversations, Public…
DE BRETTEVILLE: Announcements.
SORKIN: …Announcements, does it span both buildings? Or was it just in the second building?
DE BRETTEVILLE: I think the object thing and the Feeling to Form— Feeling to Form was in both buildings. The object assignment was in both buildings. This, the Private Conversations, Public Announcements was all in…
SORKIN: The second building.
DE BRETTEVILLE: …the second building.
SORKIN: So that was post-’75.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Post’-75.
SORKIN: And was the Feminist Studio Workshop run on, like, a quarter system, a semester system? How did it function.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, I didn’t have a system. We just had classes for as long as they were. You know, I don’t remember how many sessions the classes were; it may have said on the brochure. I mean, I don’t think I did that for, like, sixteen weeks; I think I did it for some period of time. I taught them how— And I wasn’t the only person teaching.
DE BRETTEVILLE: So there were ways to teach— People did silkscreening and drawing onto the diazo-printed posters. And they learned silkscreening.
SORKIN: From somebody else.
DE BRETTEVILLE: From either Frances Butler, [who] came down from Berkeley and taught printing, and Helen Alm taught printing and Cindy Marsh taught printing. We did all those things together, some of those. We had posters that Phranc, me, Linda Nordling[sp?] and Cindy Marsh did together, the same poster, for the Women’s Graphic Center, since we all added one thing to it and it became the poster for [inaudible]. We had posters just to say, you know, This is your broadsheet, what would you say? There were chosen people[?]. We just invited lots of people to come in to do that. And I really didn’t run it; I just simply made the space and made it possible for people to do it. And then if they wanted to learn more, to take one of these classes like Private Conversations, Public Announcements, then they took that class. And people from outside could take that. That’s how Judith Lawston took that and— Actually, Dolores Hayden took it, other people.
SORKIN: And there was still an exhibition program in the second building.
DE BRETTEVILLE: There was a huge exhibition program. It opened with Ree Morton which— a really beautiful show of her sort of—
SORKIN: And it was her only West Coast show, I believe.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Is it? I didn’t know that.
SORKIN: Yeah. It’s her only—
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, she was fantastic. She was there hanging it, really beautiful work. And we had—
SORKIN: And it was right before she died.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah.
SORKIN: Because she died in ’77, I think.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah, just shortly after. It was really shocking. Joyce Kozloff had just done some work up [inaudible] printing house up in San Francisco. We had a show, her show was there. And what I really liked about it, we could have several shows at the same time. We had a show in the Woman’s Building, the History of the Woman’s Building, with panels that told the whole story. Finally, it made sense what the Woman’s Building was.
SORKIN: Right. And there’s a video of you and Arlene going around talking about it. [de Bretteville laughs] And it’s really bizarre because it’s shot that you can’t actually read any of the panels.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Oh, God!
SORKIN: So it’s like somebody’s bad camera work. Because I’ve seen the video in the archive.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Oh, I didn’t even remember that was done.
SORKIN: But you guys are explaining everything, but you can’t see anything. [they laugh]
DE BRETTEVILLE: Bizarre. Well, at least we had that show. But we had, like, that show and— I don’t remember which ones were concurrent, but we did the Grandma Brisbrey show and—
SORKIN: She was a Los Angeles outsider artist.
DE BRETTEVILLE: She was an outsider artist who had built a village out of bottles, called Bottle Village. And we recreated one aspect of it as Bottle [inaudible]. We brought her there.
SORKIN: Was she still alive?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Oh, yes. She came to it. And there should be slides of her, I think, there. [inaudible].
SORKIN: And there was some kind of Georgia O’Keeffe—
DE BRETTEVILLE: There was some Georgia O’Keeffe thing. Susan King was really, really interested in Georgia O’Keeffe. I know that she [inaudible]—
SORKIN: She did a book of Georgia O’Keefe.
DE BRETTEVILLE: She did a book on it. But I think Arlene may have gone and other people went to see her. I was interested in other people. Everybody had somebody, some woman who we tried to get to say that she was a feminist. And I tried with Eileen Gray and they tried with Georgia O’Keeffe.
SORKIN: And there’s a story about Imogen Cunningham coming to the building. Do you know this one?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Anaïs Nin, I remember, I don’t know Imogen Cunningham.
SORKIN: Okay, what’s the Anaïs Nin story?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Oh, that’s such a happy story. Anaïs Nin came to my house and then to the Woman’s Building. I think it was— Because her writing and Deena’s have things in common, it’s that kind of—
SORKIN: And Judy [Chicago] was really taken with her.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah. I thought it was a bit much, myself. But at any rate, I was interested in her; she’s someone who was out there taking chances and being a risk taker. But she came to the building and a lot of people came to see her, but some people really didn’t like her.
SORKIN: It was a reading, then. It was organized as a reading.
DE BRETTEVILLE: You know, I don’t— What I remember was the discussion, because it was so ungenerous. You know, you don’t really— It would seem more valuable to critique her when she wasn’t there than to critique her while she’s there. She doesn’t need it, at that point in her life. She was really quite old by then.
DE BRETTEVILLE: And it just seemed like she had been through enough already, you know? Why do you have to— You could ask a question about why this or why that, but it wasn’t done in that spirit.
SORKIN: So was she being attacked, then?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah, I would call it an attack, yeah.
SORKIN: And how did that manifest itself? Did she get defensive, or did she respond in a gracious way, or—?
DE BRETTEVILLE: My memory is that she was startled, that she was hurt. Whether she was defensive, I don’t recall. I was just sorry that it happened that way because I didn’t think it was necessary. When you’re critical, it’s— I feel that same way with critiquing students’ work. Judy and I are, like, on the opposite poles on it. The only way to critique it is to go the way the student’s moving and try to help it, move it better, stronger, be able to fill out what it wants to be, not to make it like you. That’s not the goal. I didn’t need to make students make work that looks like mine, and I didn’t need to make them do anything but what they wanted to do, but do it as strongly, as well as they could. And that’s just not always the way people teach. It certainly wasn’t the way it was taught at Yale, either. It was very much people wanted you to become little acolytes of who they were. And some people are still angry. Like recently, the Doonesbury cartoonist…
SORKIN: Garry Trudeau.
DE BRETTEVILLE: …Garry Trudeau came, and he was all filled with how he wasn’t able to do what he wanted to do and is doing now, while he was a student at Yale. That doesn’t happen now. I came back so that couldn’t happen again. [laughs] But it was just simply Yale had a perspective and you made things so that everyone— according to a certain prescription. And they all argue that they didn’t, but it’s not true. You know from the people who experienced it, who felt— I mean, I remember when Paul Rand [At Yale] told Vivian Yu[sp?] “Take it down. I can’t bear to look at it.” I mean, this is not a useful way to talk to a student.
DE BRETTEVILLE: This is not going to get them to be better at what they do.
SORKIN: No, it’s very negative. It gets them to recede and not do anything.
DE BRETTEVILLE: That’s right. It’s a good way to stop somebody.
DE BRETTEVILLE: So I’m not interested in that kind of education. So even if the work was not as— Because I put in— there was a competition, and East Coast competition for assignments. And I sent in the Private Conversations, Public Announcements, and it didn’t get included. So people were genuinely not interested in that work that we were doing. But I was interested and I didn’t give a fuck. I sent things on and off, just to find out whether the people on the East Coast were interested.
And when they were, I actually thought less of my work. Because if it’s okay with them, then it can’t be all that radical.
SORKIN: Do you think, though, that your— I mean, your graphic design aesthetic and sensibility is very geared toward a large public and to the idea of having a real conversation or some sort of a dialog in public. And I’m wondering how that clashes with the larger history or sensibility of, like, straight-up graphic design peers, like Steven Heller or Lou Danziger; how sort of the male history of graphic design, shall we say, ends up— [sounds like power tools in background] Hey, Peter. It’s okay. [laughs]
DE BRETTEVILLE: What are you doing?
SORKIN: He’s blending, that’s okay.
DE BRETTEVILLE: She’s taping.
PETER: I’m sorry. [inaudible voices]
SORKIN: Okay, now we’re recording again and we’ve moved on to talking about the pedagogical mission of the Woman’s Building and educating young women and having a public center for women’s culture, which was the catch phrase of the building, used on all of the stationery to describe what the Woman’s Building was.
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, it’s not on the stationery, but it was on the entry as you enter the building, it said that.
SORKIN: It was on all your grants.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Hm?
SORKIN: It was the way that it was described on all the grants and everything.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Oh, that kind of writing.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah, it was a public center for women’s culture. In retrospect, I always felt it was more essentialist[?] than I really intended, because everybody asked, What’s women’s culture? And why isn’t that culture and politics? There was a critique around that phrase.
SORKIN: Women’s culture?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Mm. Why was it women’s culture? And we would’ve answered in probably sensuous terms. Because I think we gave— I don’t think, I know that we put conversation as a format that was lionized, in some way, because you don’t know where a conversation will go. It’s an improvised way of engaging with someone, where someone speaks and what the other person says make you think the next thing that you think, which you might not have thought if you hadn’t had the conversation.
SORKIN: But then also conversation becomes sort of the primary vehicle of the building, in the sense that everybody is always talking at the Woman’s Building.
DE BRETTEVILLE: This is true.
SORKIN: That there was always some kind of level of verbal engagement happening, whether people are speaking, whether there’s a CR session happening, whether there’s a public dialog or a speech or a reading.
DE BRETTEVILLE: But I’m not sure, if you were trying to track every minute, where those minutes went. I think there was an equal amount of making. The presses were often going, people were performing. Discussion was often about the work being made or how to make the work. Some of it was discussion that led to making work.
SORKIN: But were these critiques sort of— Like, was it impromptu dialog, or were there specialized times for, like, Let’s have a critique in somebody’s studio?
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, I don’t think that’s precisely— I think there were performances, and then we talked about the performances. I know that there were posters or books made and we talked about those books and how they were made and why they were made the way they were. But those things happened in the place where they were made, not— And in that way, the Woman’s Building was like one big studio that different people did different things in.
SORKIN: But did people have individualized spaces in— No, right?
DE BRETTEVILLE: No. But you used the spaces that facilitated the thing you were doing. So people made their work [inaudible]—
SORKIN: At the building.
DE BRETTEVILLE: At the building, I believe. I mean, even though people probably, when they went home to the castle or somewhere else, they may have tried out some parts that I don’t know; I’m not privy to what they might’ve done there. But in general, I think things were worked out at the building. You’d have to ask someone else where they did it.
SORKIN: I guess the other issue I wanted to bring up, because I think it’s very interesting, is this split between professional and amateur.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Oh, Howdy Doody. [they laugh]
SORKIN: And the ways in which there were students, but they were not— it was a student program that was not an accredited program, for much of its life, and yet people were paying tuition. And yet many of those students ended up teaching in the program. And then there was a level of professionalism that many of the students did not achieve or were not old enough yet or were not peers, like sort of the Chrysalis women. The Chrysalis women were more established women with careers elsewhere. And that the students in the FSW were still amateur, in the sense that they were learning and struggling to establish themselves as professional artists. So I guess how did this all play out?
DE BRETTEVILLE: That’s a very good question. I don’t think we ever thought about it in those terms. I mean, even just to use Chrysalis, which I know better because I was part of it, the women who did that, didn’t have other work that they— I mean, that was their work. We were trying to make Chrysalis a self-sustaining activity, but it wasn’t. And much of our other work was done to sustain ourselves so we could do Chrysalis. So it wasn’t like— I mean, Susan and Kirsten came— they left the things that they had were they were and came to do Chrysalis in Los Angeles at the Woman’s Building, where— I don’t know. To some extent, we met at the Woman’s Building, but actually, the production of the issues was at our studio, which was part of my house.
SORKIN: And you produced ten issues.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah, but I only liked the first three. [laughs]
SORKIN: And you designed the covers for many of them, right?
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, I designed the whole thing for many of them. I don’t remember if it was all of them. When Joanne Parrent came, and she came to help us economically, she tried to make it a more commercial entity. But it wasn’t formatted to do that; it was formatted to be a journal. And so then doing the covers just was, I felt, distorted. It just felt weird. The inside didn’t match the outside, but we didn’t have the money to do anything flashy. It just really wasn’t— For me, the things— It’s not that the content was less, but rather that the form of it, I lost real interest in because it really wasn’t expressive of an idea; it was a crossover activity that I wasn’t in charge of and I didn’t have under control and I didn’t like.
SORKIN: But you became, actually, a contributor to Chrysalis and you published a number of articles in Chrysalis.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Not just one?
SORKIN: Not just “Parlorization.” But would you like to talk about that article at all? [de Bretteville laughs] Because it’s sort of a crucial—
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, actually, I started to talk about it. But I formatted different people’s writings, but that’s the only thing I think I remember writing the whole thing.
SORKIN: It’s a long article.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah.
SORKIN: And it’s called “The Parlorization of Our Homes and Ourselves.”
DE BRETTEVILLE: That’s right. Ugh. [laughs]
SORKIN: Why are you making faces?
DE BRETTEVILLE: I’m making faces. It’s just I don’t like long titles. [laughs]
SORKIN: Okay, so maybe it’s a clunky title, but it’s a really interesting concept. And it’s a historical article about domesticity and the spaces of nineteenth century domesticity, and how they have somehow prevailed in the consciousness of contemporary women.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, I was absolutely fascinated by— I mean, I’ve been fascinated for a long time about the way in which public and private are bounded. And especially at a time when you’re trying to not have either/or situations. I mean, I have always been more interested in, rather than this whole thing about gender, I just loved when they found out that doctors had been nipping and snipping because they didn’t want anybody to be too mixed between the genders. We want it clear; you’re either over here or other there. And that kind of either/or situation is not my fave, to say the least. So I was really interested in why— Some of the only critical comments, when I gave that first lecture on— I forgot. Design from the perspective of a woman; I don’t know what I called it.
SORKIN: Was that the conference in ’71? No.
DE BRETTEVILLE: It’s the one that’s in Icographic 6 and also in Women in American Architecture. Because that, I just was looking at all the public forms I could find, from the perspective of a feminist woman. But this was different. I just was— I gave a lecture because one day, going down the street in Los Angeles, I saw a red couch on a corner. And I, at the same time, saw it as prostitute. And so that kind of mapping of an idea against an object which isn’t really about that idea caught my attention. And also the fact that that couch is— it’s odd for that couch to be in the public sphere, just as sexuality in the public sphere is odd, as well. And so I just began to look around and I found— I had read Mechanism Takes Command, which has Catherine Beecher’s work in it. And everyone knows Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. But there’s a lot[?] about the work that these Beecher girls have done, [laughs] to say the least. And so one of them is actually talking about the parlor. And not that I ever— I didn’t grow up in a house with a parlor and I didn’t live in a house with a parlor, but the parlor as an idea of being an intermediate zone between the public and private spheres caught my attention. And I haven’t read the article in a long time, although Joyce just recently gave it to some students and they all made work from it, which I found really interesting, at MICA [Maryland College Institute of Art].
SORKIN: That is interesting.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I was just really wanting to pay attention to the way in which we transform ourselves in public, or what— Some of the odd behaviors that we find so offensive are because women are so associated with the domestic sphere that our presence in the public sphere brings out the worst in the guys who look at us, as far as I’m concerned. So there seemed to be just a lot of material around that boundary zone. And so I gave this talk, which— I went back and looked at all the images I could find of chairs and couches and how people sat inside of homes in different cultures. I’m not sure which ended up in the article or not, but in the lecture I had all of it. Because I was looking at floor cultures, where people don’t have chairs and couches, where everybody sits on the floor, of course; as we talked about earlier, starting with[?] the women’s movement and the hippie movement in California was very much a floor culture.
SORKIN: Yes, that was a prevailing—
DE BRETTEVILLE: The prevailing format was sitting on the floor—which is fine with me. It’s the holding hands in a circle I have trouble with; the sitting on the floor part I’m 100% behind. And now I’ve lost my track. But it just seemed like a vehicle for attitudes around gender. Because it didn’t take very long before I found that very few women ever are sitting on a chair, unless you’re a queen—that’ll help; you get to have a throne. Mostly it’s women or gay men are on couches. So a couch is obviously another format for a kind of floor culture or nature or being-on-the-ground culture. So I looked at all that material and assembled a lecture with all those images all gathered in little groups. And then when I finished giving the lecture at a bunch of different places, I thought I should write it up. Which is a much harder activity. Somehow, putting images together and talking about them and revealing it over time seemed to me a lot easier than revealing it over time in words. Something that people already noticed, words predominate in my own graphic work, but they don’t predominate in my lived work.
SORKIN: So you did contribute to Chrysalis [inaudible].
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, I contributed a ton to Chrysalis because I read every single thing that came in and I was part of discussions about everything that was chosen. But the writing of this was really more just something that had occurred to me as a visual idea, and then I needed to find a way to root it in language.
SORKIN: And did you end up using that article in your teaching? No.
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, I gave— I think maybe the first time I gave a talk was at the building. Then I gave it at the Architectural League of New York, because I know Max and Joyce were there. And I’m not sure where else I did it. It just caught my attention that suddenly—huh—how come women are always on couches and men are always on chairs? And it’s true. It’s true in the advertising, too. It was just true across the board. It’s like we’re the only people who lie down? Doesn’t seem likely.
SORKIN: Well, I’m citing it as another activity that you did in your litany of activities at the building. The Feminist Studio Workshop stopped in about ’77, I believe. It ran from, like ’73 to ’77 are the technical dates. What happened that made the program sort of dissolve, in terms of— Was there low enrolment, was it—?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, basically, I think the building itself took over, in some ways, from the Feminist Studio Workshop. At least in my life. Because it was constantly— just paying the rent was almost impossible. And then we were trying to have a more diverse population. And we were able to do that through the SITA grants, and then the SITA grants— First of all, the SITA grants created a hierarchy because—
SORKIN: And what does SITA actually stand for?
DE BRETTEVILLE: All I know is it funded working people. I’m not sure exactly what the letters—
SORKIN: But it came from the City of Los Angeles.
DE BRETTEVILLE: It was a city-funded vehicle for paying people. So we were able to pay a director of the building, we were able to have people of color who were students, paid for their tuitions. Allowed us to have more African-Americans in general in the program. Not a lot because we didn’t have that much money. And of course, it ran out in that— But while I was there, it sort of was an odd thing because it meant many of us weren’t paid and some people were paid. That’s not exactly—
SORKIN: So there was an income disparity, then, because you were bringing in low income, semi-low income— or not low income—
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, the income had to do with who got the money, but within the building, they had work or we had work; only they got paid. Some got paid and some didn’t. But it was a subsidy, basically. And it helped the building. On every level, it was helpful to the building. And it was helpful to the people who came. What was not helpful was when they didn’t pay. Because sometimes the money was slow in coming and they didn’t get paid by the city; that put them in jeopardy, it put us in jeopardy. It was an erratic— it was a political football between the right and the left.
SORKIN: But then it also seems that the core group of sort of the building’s own home-grown constituency, which had been there since the earlier part of the seventies, like ’73, the people who had sustained— You know, they’d studied at the building, they were teaching at the building—like Sue Maberry and Cheri Gaulke and Terry Wolverton—that they became unpaid; they were not paid, then, for their work at the building.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I don’t know if that is true. I’m actually not sure all of them were at the first building, either.
SORKIN: No, they weren’t all at the first building. A lot of them were at the second building.
DE BRETTEVILLE: [over Sorkin; inaudible] second building. Yeah, they didn’t come; they didn’t have the experience of the—
SORKIN: First building.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I think the people at the first building who came to the second building are Cheri Gaulke and Helen Alm. And I’m not sure— And Susan [inaudible]…
SORKIN: And Suzanne.
DE BRETTEVILLE: …and Susan King and Suzanne. And Deena.
SORKIN: And Faith [Wilding] did not.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I don’t think so.
SORKIN: She did not come to the second building.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I don’t think so. But I’m not sure. I mean, I didn’t keep track. I think my energy went into the Women’s Graphic Center, the shows, and keeping the building alive. And at a certain point, I began to think, We are supporting an institution; does that institution really support women?
SORKIN: And the Women’s Graphic Center also became the support of— that became the profit arm of the building toward the end.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Toward the end, we tried that. I helped in the creation of that, but I wasn’t— This is like the opposite of what I wanted. I did not want to run a studio of my own; why would I want to run a studio out—
SORKIN: Well, you didn’t want to be a commercial press.
DE BRETTEVILLE: No. I wasn’t interested in that. But I certainly didn’t want the building to go down. And Linda Proust was going to be part of it and Sue Maberry was working on it. So I gave some form to it and I helped on some of the work that was there, but I really wasn’t— That really wasn’t what I was— I wasn’t going to be doing that.
SORKIN: Right. So what made the building so much poorer starting in, like ’77 and through the end of the seventies?
DE BRETTEVILLE: I think there wasn’t income to support it. Just really— I don’t know whether things got more expensive or there were fewer people to do the work or what. Just everything got harder. I’m sorry that I don’t know precisely why it got harder, but it was harder.
SORKIN: But do you think it was the larger, like, political and social climate? That things were markedly different at the end of the seventies, or no?
DE BRETTEVILLE: It’s hard. I’m caught between the things that we did so well— I mean, like I know from the night when I went to work at the L.A. Times, redesigning the L.A. Times, that the women who wrote on incest survival did it because they could go to a show at the Woman’s Building and that gave an excuse for writing about it. There were things that we did that were just so much what the building was about, which is bringing into visibility women’s experience, in a way that it could be understood differently. But it was a struggle to get people to come to the building. It just felt very far away. I tried to bring people who I met through other things that I was working on…It was just a struggle, a constant struggle to get people just to be there.
SORKIN: To come through the doors.
DE BRETTEVILLE: To come through the doors. It was just— Because it’s not a place anybody would be there by accident. This had to be a destination or you weren’t going to be there. And even though we tried— I got money. I wrote the grant for Las Venas de la Mujer, and we had an exhibition of Latina artists dealing with issues of being stitchadores [seamstresses]. And Isabel Castro was in it and people who hadn’t really been seen by— It was one of the ways in which—
SORKIN: You were expanding the audience?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, it’s not so much only expanding, it’s by having like Las Venas de la Mujer, and say Joyce Kozloff at the same time, people would meet them in the bathroom. People who would never be in the same place at the same time could meet each other. And it’s that kind of mixing of shows I was looking for. But actually coming up with the shows and funding for the shows and then getting people to come to the shows was like a full-time job. And it wouldn’t always work, either. There are a lot of other competing things in the city of Los Angeles, to get in your car and all the way come to lower—
SORKIN: Lower downtown.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Downtown, yeah. Downtown itself was not a destination, let alone outside of downtown.
DE BRETTEVILLE: So it just got harder and harder and harder. Arlene left in ’75. So there were just fewer people trying to do more, in a very difficult situation. And by that time, a lot of things were happening elsewhere.
SORKIN: And you were the primary pedagogical figure all through the rest— ’75 on.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Till ’80, till 1980.
SORKIN: And then what happened in 1980 that you decided to—?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, part of it is I thought that it made sense for the next generation to take it over. And maybe they’d have fresher ideas or a way to relate to the community that they felt stronger about coming there. I know that I couldn’t do it anymore. The Women’s Graphic Center as a commercial entity just didn’t capture my imagination in the way that the Woman’s Building as an entity did. It just simply didn’t. And it’s not that I wanted to get a job at Otis/Parsons. It’s more that I wanted to go somewhere else, do something else. And I like beginnings, and it felt like endings to me. And I didn’t have a graceful way to do it. I thought that actually, Sue and Eloise Klein Healy and other— I mean, Eloise has a whole circle of writers; Sue had a whole circle of people that she was involved with. Terry was hungry to run things. I didn’t see any reason why they shouldn’t run it and see where they go with it. And if I step away, then there’s more space to do that in. That I only came if somebody asked me to do something or [inaudible] had another idea about a lecture, I’d come down and give a talk or something. But I didn’t want to be there full-time.
SORKIN: And so you stepped away and took the job at Otis, running their public communications—
DE BRETTEVILLE: I created their communications, design and illustration department, so it would be a parallel department to the Parsons one, because David Levy was the head of both and he was making parallel structures that could allow people to travel from one place to the other. It took a while for me to figure out only the flights[?] travel, because actually, a sustained program makes a lot more sense at that age level. But I didn’t know that at the time, and it was another activity. And actually, I stayed there ten years. I think, also those were really hard years on lots of levels. And I did other things that were fun for me and right for me to do. Leslie helped me make these boxes. made a box for [inaudible]— I saw that you have Arlene Raven’s At Home, but I did a box for that project.
SORKIN: Which Leslie are we talking about?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Hm?
SORKIN: Which Leslie helped you make boxes?
DE BRETTEVILLE: What’s Leslie’s last name?
SORKIN: Not Labowitz[sp?].
DE BRETTEVILLE: No. She’s a Leslie who was with Shirl Bus. She’s a terrific woman.
SORKIN: I don’t know who that is.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I’ll get her name.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah. But the At Home thing, I did a box for. And [inaudible]…
DE BRETTEVILLE: …the first one I did.
SORKIN: Well, let’s talk about At Home for a second, because this seems to be the sort of culminating— It’s definitely the first large-scale culmination exhibition of the Woman’s Building, in 1983, at the Long Beach Museum of Art. And it’s happening while the building is sort of in its decline. Right?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, I think I was enough out of it, on some level, to just do a piece for it. You know, I really wasn’t involved in it as an organizational thing.
SORKIN: You just went to the opening then and—?
DE BRETTEVILLE: I did a work that was in it and I went to the opening.
SORKIN: And you designed the catalog?
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, I didn’t.
SORKIN: You didn’t design the catalog.
DE BRETTEVILLE: And actually, I had a wonderful experience there with Allan Kaprow, who looked at my box and said, “You know, you could do anything you want.” And I really liked the box a lot. I gave it as a gift.
SORKIN: What was in the box?
DE BRETTEVILLE: I have even a postcard of it, I think, too.
SORKIN: Is it in here?
DE BRETTEVILLE: I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the catalog.
SORKIN: Oh. Well, now you can see the catalog.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I guess it was enough distance from it at the time.
SORKIN: But you were still living in L.A.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Oh, yeah.
SORKIN: You lived in L.A. until ’90.
DE BRETTEVILLE: ’90, yeah. I even know what’s in here. [inaudible; laughs]
SORKIN: Okay. Judith Lawston designed that; I was wrong. I thought— I mean, I saw it and it says in the beginning. I guess we could stop, or do you want to talk about sort of the— Were you contacted at the very end of the Woman’s Building, like in ’91, when they decided to shut everything down, finally?
DE BRETTEVILLE: I actually heard from Eloise [Klein Healy] during that time, because I had a very good relationship with Eloise. And Susan King and I did Life in L.A., that…
DE BRETTEVILLE: …that book. Or a fine arts thing. So I knew about the difficulties. I didn’t know what the solution would be to the difficulties. Sometimes things are over. I have to say, I really did talk about and think about the role of institutions because it seemed to me that that struggle to keep the building alive, if the building doesn’t have a function that people really want, there isn’t a reason to keep it alive. Because then the money is going to keep the institution alive, it’s not going to the women.
DE BRETTEVILLE: It just seemed that you could— There’s an argument for why the building is over that seemed— Even though I know here at Yale and other places, there are women’s centers and it’s a really important place for women to have someplace where they can talk about themselves as being separate kinds of people from other kinds of people, I just— I have nothing to do with WGSS, other than this event that I just went to. I feel like I did a lot of these things already, a time ago. And I’m sure what the new— I feel I transferred all the things I cared most about to a not-gendered environment. My thing may not even be in here, for all I know.
SORKIN: Do you think you could reflect on whether or not the Woman’s Building was— I mean, it eventually institutionalized, I think, in a way, but do you think it was— I mean, when you look back, do you think of it as an institution? Or was it an alternative space? Or was it both? Or was it something else altogether? And how would you characterize— I hate to make you characterize the building, but in retrospect, how would you characterize the building?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, if I characterize it from my own perspective, it was a metaphor, but a living metaphor, for a kind of uniqueness and an honoring of contributions that women had made, without— I thought it would be dangerous to not have something like that because, in fact, the women just get absorbed back into the culture and then what women are doing gets disappeared again. So the only way to, in some way, keep what women are doing alive is to have periodicals, to have institutions, to have events, to have spaces which are designated for women only, all contribute to reminding people that women are around and they’re doing things and you should pay attention. And I don’t know that it was or wasn’t an institution, until it felt like the institution took primacy over women. At some point, around the middle of the seventies or toward the end of the seventies, it just really felt like the institution was a strain on the idea of the institution or the metaphor of the institution, and I felt disconnected from it. Because if the struggle was only for money to keep the institution alive, that’s not the struggle I want to be engaged in. So it’s like I didn’t care about the institution once the needs that it seemed to be fulfilling for me and other people around me stopped being vital. So it didn’t feel wrong to me that it ended; it just felt like if it’s not sustainable, sometimes that’s okay. I mean, I don’t know that I’m being thoughtful enough around it because it probably left a lot of people in the lurch. But I think they were all beginning to find— each were finding their own set of people that they would be with and how they were going to function in society. And I don’t even know, to be truthful, if the comment I made at plan check, that we’re manufacturing strong women is really apt, because you can’t manufacture that. Nor, whether the goal of all these women were to be women who were professionally artists who would be acknowledged by the mainstream and who were going to keep developing their work so the mainstream eventually might, at some point, pay attention to them. I’m not sure that even was what the goals were. I mean, it’s probably Suzanne’s goal and to some extent, it’s also Judy’s goal; but I don’t think that’s really—we were talking earlier—I don’t think that was Arlene’s goal. I think she felt liberated by the building to do the work the way she wanted to do it, whether or not being a critic is lesser than being the academic she started out [being], which may have been during a period where she felt so constrained in every other way that she would just as soon leave it behind.
SORKIN: And many women developed skills and ended up not making art. They became arts administrators, they became publicists. I’m sure somebody became a lawyer, out of the building.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Some of them became— actually, I see names of women I recognize when the credits roll for films. They’re not the stars; they’re either doing the makeup or the— You know, they’re just doing other things. Because I recognize names every now and then, from things that are from L.A., that are the women’s things. No one became amazingly famous that I know of from it, but everybody has lives that they’re living. Bia, I’ve stayed in contact with, and she keeps writing. She actually owns the Mill on Long Island. I went there; it’s a very good restaurant. Because she actually— Peggy Deamer, who teaches in the architecture school, and Bia went to elementary school together. [laughs]
SORKIN: That’s funny.
DE BRETTEVILLE: And Peggy wanted to go to see— I said, “I’ll go with you. We’ll go together. We’ll go see her.” And I began to wonder, Is our goal that we can claim who among our students are famous? That certainly wasn’t my goal. They have lives that they can live. It should be that the skills that people have are viable. But this is a culture now [in] which a lot of people are not viable. A lot of people don’t have work. This is a really dark time for a lot of people. So I don’t know that the women are having a harder time putting their professional lives together than a lot of other people who thought they were going to mainstream forever are having trouble.
SORKIN: Right. And in terms of the alternative space and the idea of the Woman’s Building replicating other places, I know there was a women’s building in…
DE BRETTEVILLE: San Francisco?
SORKIN: …San Francisco that was sort of modeled on—
DE BRETTEVILLE: I don’t know how much it was modeled; it took the name. I think it was more of— that sounded to me like it was more an alternative space. I think we had some other aspirations than being an alternative space. It was really intended to be an educational facility, one that was open to both people who were there for a lot and people who were there a little; that it could ask difficult questions. I mean, many of the things that we did at the first building, like the conferences, were really, I think, incredibly— I want to say, not earth-shaking, but—
SORKIN: Well, vibrant.
DE BRETTEVILLE: They were definitely vibrant, and they definitely— there hadn’t been anything like then before. Or since. Because I think to have an exhibition is not a brave new thing to do. For me, to have multiple exhibitions that are wildly different, that bring entirely different populations— The museums have only just figured that out.
DE BRETTEVILLE: We were doing that at the second Woman’s Building. And doing it intentionally. So that we would have the Latinas there when the straight women were there, when the lesbians were there. To have wildly divergent groups that had been ghettoized and to break down those ghetto boundaries—that was really a part of what the second building tried to do, from a very difficult position of being, like, in the middle of nowhere, to a large extent. And I think Los Angeles has now actually colonized a lot of those nowheres into being somewheres. But I can tell you, it was not anywhere when we were there, [laughs] because just downtown wasn’t a destination, let alone where we were. So I don’t feel badly about any of the things that occurred. What’s hard on me is when the building is represented as entirely a lesbian enclave of bare-breasted women were goddess worshippers. That I have trouble with because I don’t fit that category at all, and I was there, entirely there, till almost the very, very end, in one way or the other. So that being the sole vision of the Woman’s Building—and I see it in places—just makes me not very happy.
SORKIN: Where does it get characterized that way? Is that like an ignorant sort of—
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, I don’t say ignorant; I think it was that for a lot of people who where there, or some people who were there, and it mattered a lot that they got a chance to be that. But I’ve seen it represented that way, I’ve heard it represented that way. And I keep saying, well, I guess there were a lot of different Woman’s Buildings, in a way, depending on what part of it you partook of and what you remember. It isn’t my memory. Or I’ve done a very good job of expunging it from my memory. And memory itself has a memory. I’m not the only one who has ever said that. And people remember in a way that serves their purposes. I’m probably doing that right now. When I had this conversation for publication with Bea, she remembered things that I knowaren’t possible, but are part of— Because she remembers me being pregnant. Well, it’s not possible because actually, Jason was born before I started teaching at CalArts. She came as a student to CalArts. But the notion of that— Or there was one, say, performance where someone did a performance with a banana and— That’s what I was thinking about when Peter was asking those questions, because I remember all the discussion around the banana and how it represented a penis and who would or would not suck a penis. And it just was a really very odd kind of conversation to have. And I didn’t say anything because I felt, as a straight woman among so many gay women, I’m not weighing in here.
DE BRETTEVILLE: [laughs] I’m just not. But actually, Bia remembers me weighing in something that I could neverhave possibly said. So people were ascribing thoughts to me, whether I thought them or said them. And I think those things happen whenever you’re somewhere. I mean, people always have some idea of what someone else is thinking or doing; it isn’t necessarily what they’re thinking or doing.
SORKIN: Well, and also I think that there’s clearly a group psychology that happens at institutions. Well, if we’re going to say that the Woman’s Building was an institution, it was a place with a kind of group think, I think. Even if people felt divergently, there was a core group of women who took over the building, who decided to sort of turn the building a certain way.
DE BRETTEVILLE: To be the way the Woman’s Building was for them.
SORKIN: Yes. Which is sort of the lesbian women. Or as Arlene—
DE BRETTEVILLE: But it isn’t— it can’t be said it’s the lesbian women, because the lesbian women is a huge group of people who don’t belong to that group.
SORKIN: Yes. No, I know.
DE BRETTEVILLE: [laughs] So it’s not fair to those lesbian women who don’t belong to that group…
DE BRETTEVILLE: …because they existed.
SORKIN: So it’s not just lesbian women. Although Arlene Raven, when she was alive, did once say to me that it was only lesbian women who did the work at the building, because everybody else had families and children to raise.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, I think that wasn’t one of her best moments, [laughs] because it’s not true. First of all, she was not exactly a worker, on a lot of levels, because she took a lot of time for herself in different ways. So why is the time that she takes for herself different than the time that other people take for themselves? I think it’s just a way in which separation— like, I’m not like you, as an idea. I even hear it now here, where we have men and women, gay and straight, you name it, in the program, and I watch the cliques develop. They just do.
SORKIN: Well, maybe it’s about self-differentiation. When you’re in a sort of group, you have to find ways to self-differentiate—which is what women were doing in their own artwork and in their own art practice.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I agree, but I think a lot of this other thing had to do with breakups between lovers, between who has family and who does. I mean, Arlene can say that, but a lot of these women are now married to other women and have families; what would she about them? And there’s a similar thing that I went through when Arlene had an affair with Cheryl. I said, “Why is it suddenly okay that a teacher has a relationship with a student, when we would have a shit-fit if it was a guy?” I mean, there are these ways in which what I do is fine and what everybody does is not? I think some of that’s awkward in that comment.
SORKIN: Well, and it seems like there was probably a certain amount of tension or unresolved tension between the building’s leadership at various points.
DE BRETTEVILLE: There was some of that. But I think, also it’s the fact that— Something just flit across my brain. I mean, it’s very dangerous that Arlene says a comment like that because that’s what the men say about women architects. Men architects say that about women architects, when they have children. I mean, that idea, if you pass it along other groups, you find that women are on the wrong end of that stick an awful lot of the time. [Sorkin laughs] You don’t want, as a woman, to participate in those kinds of behaviors and statements because you’re just perpetuating another kind of inequality. I just don’t see the benefit of doing that. And it certainly leaves out a lot of lesbian women. So to have—
SORKIN: And a lot of straight women who did participate in volunteering and doing things.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah, who volunteered and did a lot of work there. And whether you like their work or not, there are plenty of lesbian women whose work you might like and not. These women don’t get honored because they were not part of the inner clique or the clique that holds to themselves as a group, or the clique that feels isolated and then deals with that isolation or wants a larger purview or recognition than they’ve got. At whatever they were working, I think it’s not part of the most generous part of themselves, that they come to statement like that. And I don’t really resent [it], but I have feelings about hijacking the building and giving it a singular way of being read. That’s not what it was ever about, in my perspective. And I don’t mean a singular reading in terms of it being about women; I mean a singular reading about it being one group of women and their thoughts about how to be in the world.
SORKIN: Right. Versus a multiplicity and series of generations and different iterations and phases of the building.
DE BRETTEVILLE: And also different kinds of women. Women are not the same. This idea that all lesbians are the same isn’t any more accurate than all women are the same. It’s just not the way to go, baby. It just isn’t.
SORKIN: Let me ask you one more question about labor because you brought up this idea of labor and I’m really interested in this notion of which kind of labor— If there was a privileged labor, was it building labor and working for the common cause of the building? Or was it doing your own artistic work, meaning like artistic labor, engaging in artistic labor? And was their a hierarchy around labor at the building, or was it all equalized?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, nothing’s as equal as anybody might think. But I don’t think that we really thought about it so much as labor as being cultural workers. So that if everyone is a cultural worker, that means that you’re doing some aspect of cultural work, whether that’s writing work, performance work, making work, administrative work. In that way, I don’t see it as differentiated; I see all of it as equal. I think some inequality happened when we had a director of the building who, if we didn’t acknowledge her administration skill as also part of cultural work, that would’ve been a problem. I don’t know that— I think if you’re talking about absolutely physical labor, the number of women who did that labor was quite large. And a lot of those people were straight. Even kids are doing that labor. So I mean, we brought our children; the children were there knocking on nails. I think the Women in Construction from the Westside did a lot of the building of the second building, and they had the skills. I learned how to mud sheetrock from them. How else would I know how to make— I mean, I need someone to say, Here’s the tape, here’s the mud, here’s how you do it. And I loved doing it. I mean, so they knew how. They had skills from it. And we had car— I think in the first building, in the old Chouinard—or I call it the Grandview building, because I don’t feel identified with Chouinard but I feel identified with the Grandview building—we had people teaching car repair. I mean, some of that stuff was part of the educational program at that time. Women were trying to take over more parts of their lives. I was always amazed when I went to Susana Torre’s house that she would take the plug and take off the plug and pull the wires apart, put another plug on. I mean, everyone really took, I think, pleasure in seeing women [do work] that you’re not used to seeing women do.
SORKIN: So it was empowering—
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah, I think so. I mean, I don’t think that cultural work— To make a statement like that, from someone who lay down most of the time, is pretty odd, I have to say.
SORKIN: I think you’re talking about Arlene now.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah. [laughs] I think that’s not quite a fair statement.
SORKIN: But in terms of this idea of making the building happen or putting work into the building, there was a lot of that. And what happened to the— I mean, did people disappear from the building because they didn’t want to help run things? Or was it just they went to school, they did the program and then they left?
DE BRETTEVILLE: I think people go on and— Like some people like Ruth Iskin and Helen Alm got very involved in EST. People got involved in all different kinds of things and they—
SORKIN: What is EST?
DE BRETTEVILLE: EST was something training. It was a guy named Werner Erhard tells you what to do, and you do it. And it’s empowering to some people. One of the things that—
SORKIN: Like a therapy? Like a self-actualization therapy?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no. No self-actualization and that guy makes a lot of money, that kind of thing. And I heard that we weren’t enough like that at the building, we didn’t perform in that way, as a kind of— For me, it’s like a Jim Jones thing. And if you want…
SORKIN: It’s sounds like a cult.
DE BRETTEVILLE: …us to be like Jim Jones, are you out of your mind? So I don’t know, some women need, want— Excuse my saying this, but I think a lot of the women who were working with Judy [Chicago] wanted to have a Capo who told them what to do. I don’t want to be that capo, and I don’t want to create an institution that is that, or a place, or even a program. Like Yale is not that. I mean, I’m the director and I call together the faculty meeting, but I’m not the leader of the faculty necessarily. I want the faculty to talk about what are the really interesting and challenging issues of this moment, because that’s what the program ought to direct to. And at the Woman’s Building, what were the really interesting and challenging ideas around women at that time stopped being interesting to the women who were at the Woman’s Building. And then it was like, This is a mistake. But it wasn’t where they were going and it wasn’t easy for me to do on my own, and I was actually in physical and creative trouble. At that time, I was getting involved in public art. I just— I was changing in some way; I just really didn’t know what. And the building stopped being the place where I was going to be able to act that out. But since it was something I created and I was the only person of the three who started it who was still there, I was willing to do whatever was needed. But I wasn’t going to run it any longer. And I don’t think it’s— It’s not Sue’s fault, it’s not Eloise’s fault, it’s not anybody’s fault. Things change. Times change. People change. And that particular entity wasn’t needed.
SORKIN: So maybe it, in a sense, had self-actualized, that it wasn’t needed anymore; maybe it had entered the culture in a more dominant way.
DE BRETTEVILLE: I don’t know about that, but I do— Because when you think of all the things that are not changed— I mean, I’m at a very male institution now. I certainly know that it hasn’t changed. There are women permeated all the way through the institution; they do some of the worst things here, too. Just as Margaret Thatcher did. I mean, women are not universally perfect and do the right thing all the time, and if we were to run the world, I’m not sure we would run it better. Because something happens when you have power. There’s something not always so good [that] happens with power.
SORKIN: So empowering to create power doesn’t necessarily work.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Well, empowering had more to do with actually self-actualization, probably, to use a word I don’t like. I would rather say coming into your own. Doing what you can do best, the best you can do it, would be more what I would say we were trying to do. And I feel fine with that, absolutely fine with that. I don’t think it has to be that you become world famous or that your run the
universe; but rather that you do what you can do the best way you can. And you don’t step on anybody else while you do it would be nice, too. [they laugh]
SORKIN: Alright. Do you want to add anything? I think that’s a very good place to stop, the advice not to step on anybody while you get to your own space.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah. I think stepping on— What I feel bad about is I think that those women have no clue how when they say things like that, they step on my dreams. Because I had a dream around the Woman’s Building that I wouldn’t have put all that energy [into it] if it didn’t matter to me. So when they misrepresent it as the creation of a very small group and assign a level of work to only a small group, they are stepping on other people’s dreams—among them, me. I don’t know how many others. So I think that’s not a particularly— In getting your own, it shouldn’t have to— And it’s also— I am participant in it, because they’ve always asked me to write for these things that they do for the books on the Woman’s Building, and I, A, don’t want to write what they want me to write. Like they wanted me to write an article on design. I just couldn’t imagine what that was. I’d rather not do it. But I was interested in having a conversation with Bia, because it meant I would understand better, perhaps, what— If both of us talked about the same times and the same places, I would see it from another perspective. And that’s just more what commands my attention and it’s more what I want to do in the world. So I can’t blame them for taking the reins of history and deciding they’re going to insert themselves and their vision as being thehistory of the Woman’s Building at times; but I don’t like it and it does feel like a trashing of something that I really feel was much more diverse and had a more forgiving aura, if not method. I think it had a method, too. It may not be that the women who are doing that really felt that as the most ascendant aspect of what they experienced, and so they go for the one that they want to remember or do remember of there.
SORKIN: And everybody’s experience is— nobody can pretend to understand anybody else’s view of their own experience.
DE BRETTEVILLE: No, they can’t. I agree. Luckily— I mean, I feel like many of these women do have subsequent lives of their own that are full. Why they need to do this, I don’t get. [laughs] You know, they too have really fantastic professional lives of their own. It’s just they want something more. And I think that more can never be filled the way that they seem to be shaping it.
SORKIN: Well, do you think that there’s a nostalgia around the building, now that it’s closed?
DE BRETTEVILLE: It’s been closed now for what?
SORKIN: Since ’91.
DE BRETTEVILLE: Yeah, that’s like twenty years. I don’t know if nostalgia. I think it’s revisionist history.
SORKIN: Alright, should we stop there?
DE BRETTEVILLE: Okay.
SORKIN: Thank you. [they laugh] Thank you very much, Sheila, for your time. I’m pressing stop.