On an afternoon early in May 2012, a meeting was held in the offices of Special Collections in the University of Nevada, Reno Knowledge Center, a gathering of six individuals seasoned in the history and ways of the UNR art department: Joan Arrizabalaga, Edw Martinez, Jim McCormick, Walt McNamara, Bob Morrison, and Fred Reid. Donnie Curtis, Head of Special Collections, hosted the event, and listened attentively for over two hours as this group reminisced about the department, in some instances dredging up anecdotes that hadn’t been told for decades. Their various perspectives, as students, professors and artists in Northern Nevada, will be the subject of the conversation that follows …
McCORMICK As we entered Special Collections today, we walked through the “Gates of Paradise,” the scaled-down replica of the famous Lorenzo Ghiberti doors, the bronze originals of which are located on the Baptistery in Florence, Italy. Given to the university by Grace Wilson Vanderbilt, wife of General Cornelius Vanderbilt, in 1948, they once stood in the family’s Fifth Avenue mansion in New York City. The two relief panels languished in storage in the Skunk Hollow Quonset huts for a number of years before being hung on the second floor of Getchell Library, around 1962. After Getchell closed, they were installed in the Mathewson- IGT Knowledge Center, in 2008, in a space designed for them, the year the building opened. There’s an off-putting backstory about these doors that I suspect few, if any, are familiar with today. Shortly after the doors were relocated in Getchell Library, a well-meaning yet woefully uninformed member of the university Buildings and Grounds staff took it upon himself to “clean up” the dark patinated relief panels. To him, they must have looked dirty, in need of some brightening. By the time the B&G crew finished the job, probably with cloth and a can of Brasso, the panels were shiny, like an oft-turned doorknob. Meanwhile, back in Church Fine Arts, word of the “restoration” reached art historian Dr. Calvin Gross. There is no record of how many seconds it took this mild-mannered scholar to rush from CFA to the library. I understand his first look at the gleaming gates was followed by an eruption to rival that on Mt. Vesuvius centuries before. “Who ordered these doors defaced? Why wasn’t the art department notified?” Each, a good question, neither ever answered to Gross’s total satisfaction. Thankfully, the surface of “Gates of Paradise” was carefully restored to what we see at the entrance to Special Collections today. Bob, your first perceptions of the UNR art department? What were they?
MORRISON At first, it was really confusing to me looking up here from Davis. I was a graduate student. Being an outsider, I had only a sense of what was going on. It seemed that the UN art department had some amazing things to offer. The exhibitions in its gallery were often ambitious, and relevant to the needs of undergraduate art majors. I was impressed with what the students were allowed to do in the way of exploratory projects in studio classes, and around campus. Trips to the Bay Area heightened awareness of current directions in the professional art world. There appeared to be considerable interaction between university artists and the Reno community.
McCORMICK You mentioned a student who played a significant role as far as your introduction to Northern Nevada was concerned. Tell me about him.
MORRISON Yes, there was a student I feel is very important to the Far Out story, but who is not represented in the exhibit. Regrettably, we have lost track of him over the decades since he left Reno. A remarkable artist and generous resource to his fellow students, his name was Art Schade. I suspect he now is living somewhere on the east coast, possibly New York. Early in 1968, Art and I drove over to Reno from Davis; Art’s intention was to introduce me to his Northern Nevada. From my experience, and what I have heard from others, this trip should have been called the “Grand Tour.” Over a one day period, we visited the sweeping shores of Pyramid Lake, with a side visit to Adine Stix’s studio at nearby Quail Canyon Ranch; Virginia City, with an obligatory draught (or two) at the Union Brewery, and a final stop at American Flat, below Gold Hill, the site of a huge cyanide processing operation back in the 1920s. Art warned me about walking around American Flat without keeping my eyes trained on the ground. The surface was pocked with holes everywhere. A fall through one of them could mean a drop of ten or more feet, onto crags of concrete below. However, the day wasn’t all play. I vividly recall that I had an intense toothache through it all. And, to make matters worse, we broke an axle on our way home.
MORRISON Growing up in Fresno was very much like being raised in Reno, in small town America. From my vantage, the beatniks were true believers, poets and musicians who held to a high purpose. I was fascinated with their pure idealism. I felt they really believed in what they were doing. This perspective carried over to my days as an undergraduate at Stanford, and later, during graduate studies at UC Davis. By the late 60s, I believed there was an important distinction between beatniks and hippies. I never truly got into the political activism or behavioral alignments of the hippie lifestyle. By the time I arrived in Reno in 1968, the beat generation had moved on. Even so, it was the beats’ independent nature and creative spirit that continued to inform my life in the years to come.
McCORMICK When I got to Nevada in 1960, having lived in Tulsa for the previous fourteen years, I brought with me distinctly Middle American tastes and values. Oklahoma had offered little in the way of offbeat experiences. In 1958, I had fl own to the west coast, and hung out in San Francisco for a while. I found the arts were alive, and one could hear a wide variety of languages in the streets, and often with the exotic attire that go with them. The restaurants were international in flavor, and had a clientele to match. I experienced seasonings while dining that I couldn’t begin to identify. While Oklahoma had its tornados, the Bay Area was accustomed to earthquakes. I confess that during this visit, I experienced a serious case of cultural whiplash. In 1970, I pulled up stakes, and moved my family from Reno to Silver City, in the once prosperous Comstock mining district. At that moment, I converted to half-hippie. While continuing to teach at the university, I purchased bare land in Silver, built a complex of geodesic domes on it, raised livestock, joined the volunteer fire department, grew long hair, and, in general, maintained an alternate lifestyle. For a brief period, I was the “mayor” of Silver City. I left the Comstock in 1975, because a divorce was imminent, and I settled back into the sameness of the Reno suburbs.
MORRISON When you and I arrived in 1968, Ed, we were considered the young Turks. Fresh out of graduate school, self-assured, even cocky(?); we were of a mind to shake things up around the department, and I think we did.
MARTINEZ It was a generational thing. Ed Yates had been on the faculty, teaching ceramics and sculpture, for going on twenty years. His expectations were modest in terms of invention, but long on quality of craftsmanship. He was definitely old school when it came to ceramics, a fine instructor if you wanted to throw on the potter’s wheel. Bill Bradford, who came for one year while Yates was on sabbatical, had expected large pots and hand built sculpture out of his students. And not just a couple of firings in the walk-in kiln over the semester. Bradford’s goal could be two firings a week, if the work was ready. What a clash of philosophies!
MORRISON I’d heard it said that for a first job, a new teacher generally relies on the last school he or she attended—for inspiration, assignments and theory. I guess what I brought to the sculpture program at UN was more conceptual, mind-bending, playing off my most recent experiences at UC Davis. Prior to my arrival, the sculpture classes that had been taught by either Craig Sheppard or Yates were rooted more in direct observation, figurative, mostly in clay, some wood carving. The differences between my approach to sculpture, and that of Craig and Ed’s, at least for a time, set up a then/now gap with the students. They had to adjust to my way of teaching, grudgingly or otherwise.
MARTINEZ I did not take art classes at Nevada until after Hartman left in 1961. I did have one night class from Yates (printmaking—the year before you arrived, Jim), and several from Sheppard. Later, Yates was dead set against me being hired for the ceramic position! I never forgave him for that. But of course, he was a Zen potter.
McNAMARA I remember the first time I saw hippies was in Virginia City, back in the early 60s, even before the Red Dog Saloon opened. I was walking down C Street one day, and these people just floored me. They were so … far out. They didn’t look like anyone I was used to seeing. Of course, by the time the Red Dog Saloon got going in 1965, it wasn’t unusual to see men with long hair, some sporting headbands, and wearing intricately embellished jackets, and women in long skirts, tie-dyed sashes or shirts, hanging plenty of beads – strolling along the boardwalk in front of the bars in VC. Chandler Laughlin, better known as Travus T. Hipp to underground radio listeners, called himself a “proto-hippie;” he died recently in Silver City. He, and a few others on the Comstock, Don Works from down in Silver City among them, pulled the Red Dog Saloon together. Located in an 1875 structure on North C Street in Virginia City, it evolved as a bar and live performance venue for many of the early San Francisco psychedelic rock musicians, first among them the Charlatans, later performers from Big Brother and the Holding Company, and others. The strange thing was that, in the midst of a conservative burg like Virginia City, this tight band of mavericks distilled their booze, light shows, pot and LSD into a foretelling of the hippie culture that would become a centerpiece of San Francisco’s cultural life in the 1970s. For university art students, Virginia City, and the Red Dog, in particular, became a favorite hangout, especially on weekends when the crowds were thick, and the music hot and heavy. The bars at times seemed to have a relatively lenient policy toward checking IDs. The students’ money most often looked as good as anyone else’s.
McCORMICK Walt, I remember we went up to the Red Dog once, to hang out at the bar, and to watch an off-beat 16 mm film that bartender Steve Henry was showing, one we knew would never be shown in a commercial theater down in Reno. If I recall correctly, we also had dinner at the Red Dog that night. Jenna McBride, a consummate chef, and earth mother to many Red Dog habitués, served us a memorable feast! Steve later took art classes at the university. He was a fine graphic artist, especially with pen or pencil. A few years on, his Reno friends took it hard when word reached them that he had committed suicide over in California, an unexpected exit for a man who always seemed mellow, with a knack for putting others at ease.
ARRIZABALAGA I never felt like I was a hippie during those years. I always thought of myself as more of a beatnik. The hippie thing was too vague and crazy for me; to my way of thinking, it was not serious.
MARTINEZ I seem to recall it was the San Francisco printmaker Tom Marioni who said, “I’m too young to be a beatnik, too old to be a hippie.” That described me exactly. And, of course, alas, none of those Bohemian artists had any influence on what I was doing in those days. And as Walter pointed out, I never went across the street to the Red Dog, preferring to sit on my stool in Gordon Lane’s Union Brewery. So I missed Janis Joplin … HA! But, that is the next book?
ARRIZABALAGA I had an exhibit in the Sheppard Gallery in the 1970s; I still look back on it with a degree of disbelief. The problems started with the poster for the show. When several hundred copies of the poster were delivered, it was noticed that my show was to be held in the “J. E. Church of Fine Arts.” It was suspected that most patrons knew that the gallery was not located in a church, but you couldn’t trust to it. The stack of posters was immediately returned to be reprinted, with little time to spare. During the months leading up to my exhibit, I had worked on a series of ceramic sculptures; each was a full-sized likeness of a slot machine. The roughly worked clay had been glazed in bright colors, akin to the one-armed bandits in the casinos downtown, with brilliant red cherries and symbols like black poodles that appeared in the three pay line windows. However, I never thought my idea for the payouts would be so disruptive. Rather than coins, the drop in the tray below was a pile of ceramic doggie doo.
McCORMICK Joan, let me pick the story up here. It wasn’t long before a member of the speech and theater department faculty complained, convincingly, that the show was an affront to him. What would a child think if he or she spied the clay excrement, in full view, on state property? A kind of doomsday scenario was suggested, particularly if a member of the board of regents or other dignitary happened across your show. Within a day or so, all of the faux slots were removed, tucked away out of sight. From the faculty’s point of view, we had a serious case of censorship on our hands. To my knowledge, no one in the department was consulted by the chair before the objets d’art were removed. The faculty was up in arms, and immediately demanded a meeting to consider the problem it had been dealt. When it was called to order, the tension in the air was palpable—could have been cut with a painting knife. Virtually every instructor spoke, some with a passion that was far exceeded their usual demeanor. The dean of the College of Arts and Science attended, to keep the peace in case things got out of hand. The meeting concluded when a decision was finally reached. The show would be returned to the gallery. The dean, in a successful attempt to ease the collective tension, had the last word: “That’s strange, I’ve never seen a slot machine that craps out!”
ARRIZABALGA One other thing I remember. When my show was returned to the gallery, the offending slots were displayed in a narrow side area, a mini-kitchen, with a curtain hung in front of them, surely intended to protect the eyes of any innocents who happened by. Most students thought this was a ludicrous tactic.
McNAMARA That reminds me of another case of censorship that happened on my watch, while I was Sheppard Gallery curator. An exhibition by Mel Ramos had been scheduled. Ramos was a major West Coast figurative painter based in Sacramento, called by most critics a pop artist. At the time of the show in CFA, he was painting large female nudes, in poses not much different from the girls on the pages of Playboy. “Tobacco Rose” was a luscious lady sitting on a package of Phillip Morris cigarettes. A consumable product, such as a piece of fresh fruit, was a favorite attribute of a Ramos woman. One of his models even popped out of a candy wrapper. As usual, a postcard announcing the exhibit had been printed; in this case, it had one of Mel’s seductive women on it. However, the postcard didn’t reach its intended audience by the day of the opening. The Reno postmaster decided the image on the cards was obscene, and intercepted them. The Ramos show opened with fewer in attendance than usual. When the censorship was discovered, a quick call was made from the art department to UNR president Joe Crowley, who immediately contacted the postmaster. Crowley vigorously objected to his interference, and in the process got the postmaster to agree to send the postcards on their appointed rounds. It turned out to be one of those better-late-than-never deliveries. I can recall only a few cases of theft or damage to art in Church Fine Arts during my time as curator. The most serious was the disappearance of a large charcoal drawing by the legendary Nevada painter Robert Caples. It was titled “Gambling Hands.” Caples, in his finest draftsmanship, had drawn fi ve or six hands playing poker. The picture was pure Nevada; at least it may have been to the person who lifted it off the gallery wall, and exited —probably by the north door of CFA. Police reports were filed, but there was never any luck in finding it. Where it is today? I can only guess. In a recreation room somewhere, away from the eyes of anyone who might recall its disappearance?
McCORMICK Architect Richard Neutra made a special trip up to Reno from Los Angeles, sometime in the late 60s; he had brought a photographer with him to take pictures of Church Fine Arts for his records. The night before they were to start their shoot, Neutra, then almost 70, placed phone calls to the three chairs in CFA, and asked each of them what they thought of his building. He must have regretted doing this, because, evidently, they were painfully candid in answering his question. Don Kerr and I happened to wander into the gallery the next day, just as Neutra’s photographer was beginning to take pictures. Don recognized Neutra immediately, and introduced himself as a member of the art faculty. I’ll never forget Neutra’s response: “Oh, you’re one of my victims!” A few moments later, Neutra pulled out his wallet, withdrew what looked like a business card, and passed it to us. It was a miniature reproduction of his portrait on the cover of a 1949 issue of Time. Don and I felt saddened that this world famous architect felt it was necessary to identify himself in such a manner.
MARTINEZ When a permanent member of the art faculty took a sabbatical leave, he or she was usually replaced by a visiting artist who picked up the absent teacher’s classes. Since this artist did not have all the responsibilities of a full-time instructor, more time could be spent in the studio, working on personal projects, and connecting with faculty and students on a more informal level. Over my years in the department, I can recall a number of these guest instructors. One that sticks out in my mind is John McCracken, who was in residence during the 1972-73 school year. In addition to fabricating large geometric sculptures in primary colors, which eventually brought him critical acclaim, and exhibitions of national importance, McCracken quietly studied various traditions of mystical thought. While he was in Reno, he spent many evenings with fellow artist Dick Peitz discussing ancient and Middle Eastern philosophy and practices. One day, McCracken enlisted his students in a directed group meditation, and, as a result, I’d swear on a stack of Bibles I saw him levitate off a table.
MCCORMICK Joan, I almost hate to ask this question. It’s not intended to suggest anything shadowy about your crypto-customs as a college student, but what can you say about the watering holes where you and your friends hung out?
ARRIZABALAGA Well, there were several. I’m sure Walter and the rest of you could help out on this. Shakey’s Pizza Parlor comes to mind first. It was located near 5th and Keystone, not too far from campus. Dark enough inside to describe it as a haunt, not a well-lit family restaurant. Once my eyes got adjusted, I could make out shadowy figures all around, leaning heavily on tables, filling mugs from pitchers; it was clear that Shakey’s was a favorite among university students, and their teachers. Over in the corner, several members of the English department faculty might be dissecting a subject that had carried over from a just-completed lecture, or debating an even more incendiary topic—department politics. I would sometimes spot Don Kerr and several members of a late afternoon painting class, emptying a pitcher before heading into the night, perhaps for home, or on to another friendly pub. One evening, there was a hot argument about two-dimensional verses three-dimensional art (painting vs. sculpture), with Kerr attempting to convince the rest of us ceramicists and sculptors that works of art in-the-round should be perceived as flat, all light and shade, as in a painting. He would give no credence to the tactile or material aspects of our discipline. The position infuriated us.
McCORMICK Do any of you remember that Shakey’s was sometimes the scene of a surprise raid by the police? Their mission was to card customers who appeared to be underage. These sweeps usually netted a few coeds. I recall once when the cops found more than the usual number of IDs that the Shakey’s people had failed to check. Articles in Reno newspapers stated that Shakey’s had been put on notice. The next time I went in, every person in the house was asked for an ID. This irritated most customers, except those over age fifty who thought it was hilarious. The Shakey’s on 5th Street closed in 1999. I wonder where students and faculty go to argue these days. Do they even argue?
ARRIZABALAGA I can weigh in on this business of watering holes a little more, since the rest of you guys are so quiet. The most popular college hangout in my day was, by far, the Little Waldorf Saloon on South Virginia Street, where the Eldorado is today. I can recall the first time I met Martinez; he drove up to the saloon in an MG. My friends and I decided he was an interesting guy, with a beard, but still OK. And it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. When I frequented the Little Waldorf, the place was a magnet for university football players and Sundowners who could turn the place into a deafening madhouse, if sufficiently lubricated. When the Little Waldorf got too crazy for us, we checked out Henry’s Corner Bar at Commercial Row and Lake Street. It was a narrow room with a few stools that drew the black trade. Owner Henry Lumpkin, ever the impresario, dressed in coat and tie, with a stick pin, was color blind. He always made us feel comfortable. The manager after Henry left was Riley; he remained a great friend of mine over the years. When I recall that neighborhood around the Corner Bar today, I think “What a time!” Henry’s brother, Kiah, opened the Squeeze-in up the block, and served anyone who wanted a plate of collards, okra, ham hock and black-eyed peas, or hushpuppies. Real soul food in a day when folks in suburban Reno mostly thrived on a diet of good old meat and potatoes. Bill Fong’s New China Club, which catered to most anyone who came through the door, survived in the face of white Reno’s color barriers. Cherk Chang is represented by two paintings in the Far Out show. His mother, who graduated Phi Beta Kappa from The College of William and Mary, and lived to 102, was a part owner of Cosmo Club on East Commercial Row. After her husband’s death in 1961, she was licensed and ran the casino. Even with racial lines clearly drawn in Reno, little seemed to get in the way when my friends and I from campus wanted to prowl around the neighborhood at Lake and Commercial.
McNAMARA Several of the art student tours to the Bay Area in the 1960s were underwritten by Lois Smith, an older painting student of Bob Hartman’s, and then wife of Reno gaming pioneer Harold Smith. The buses she rented would leave the art building parking lot on a Friday morning, and drop everyone off later that day at the Pickwick Hotel at 5th and Mission in downtown San Francisco. For some art majors, especially those from rural Nevada, it was their first experience visiting the City by the Bay.
McCORMICK For several years, I was the faculty person who made arrangements for rooms in the Pickwick. It was a seven-story hotel, built in 1926, slightly seedy in the estimation of some, with a modest restaurant off the lobby. One of its chief virtues the first year we stayed there was the three dollars a night room rate. I didn’t pause long, when the next year it was raised to four dollars. However, the rates were never increased to the point where we went to another hotel during the years the tours were taken.
McNAMARA I do recall being warned by faculty that going out at night was OK, as long as we didn’t exit the Pickwick in the direction of Mission Street, which was considered a “heavy” neighborhood. That warning promptly led some to check that street out at the first opportunity.
McCORMICK The San Francisco tours took place just as the era of strict, old-fashioned chaperoning was coming to a close. “In locus parentus” was a dying concept on campuses around the country, and while the faculty continued to look after its charges, it was with a lighter touch. I do know that after one excursion, I learned that several of our students had found their way to the roof of the Pickwick one night. To this day, my imagination races when I think about the possible fallout that could have come from that escapade.
McNAMARA Student shenanigans aside, what meant the most to us on these trips was the opportunity to see exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, de Young and Legion of Honor. The collection at the Modern included works by many of the abstract expressionists whom we were emulating, knowingly or otherwise, in our classes at UN. The Legion, a more traditional museum, tended to feature European arts and crafts from the 19th century, and before. The sweeping view from the front of the Legion, because it included the Golden Gate Bridge and the lush hills of Marin County, almost always caused us to stop and scan the northern horizon as we entered. Another important stop on our itinerary was the cluster of downtown art galleries near Union Square: John Berggruen, Wirtz, Triangle, and Charles Campbell on Chestnut Street. Usually, these galleries offered up solo exhibits that allowed an in-depth examination of the featured artist’s work. Gallery-going could be an intense experience, tiring on the eyes, feet and mind. Most faculty knew that it was an acquired skill. Most younger members of the group would have to learn about economy of such effort later in life. Usually, they ran at top speed when in San Francisco. Nightlife was easy. Topless bars and clubs with belly dancers were plentiful in North Beach. Dining at the Spaghetti Factory was a student favorite. Tadich Grill on California Street attracted more faculty than students, because it catered principally to noon hour business types. Nor did the prices always match up with a student’s travel budget.
McCORMICK I remember one night in the spring of 1967 when a group of us went to the Rock Garden on Mission Street. We were fortunate to be able to get in, because it was a bill that headlined the Grateful Dead. Once the evening got rolling, a long and complex psychedelic light show surrounded us. Following a set by the extraordinary jazz musician Charles Lloyd and his quartet, the Dead let loose with an hour or so of primal Garcia, Lesh, Weir and company—ripping up the house. I don’t know if the students who were with us that night remember that performance, but it is still indelibly etched in my mind.
MARTINEZ There was a shortage of classroom space in CFA, almost from the start. At various times, I used both men’s and women’s restrooms as photo darkrooms. It didn’t take much to fi x the wiring to control the lights. Fred Reid told me “they’re still messed up!” McCormick’s students used the restroom by the second floor printmaking studio for preparing photo etching plates, and I turned one women’s restroom into a mini-gallery. Each year, I’d silkscreen the final impression of my hairy red heart valentine directly on the wall opposite the stalls; after several years, a row of them was in place—to be contemplated by the coeds as they went about their business.
McNAMARA I remember that we always looked forward to the next issues of Artforum, ARTnews and Arts Magazine. In Reno, they were the windows to the art world beyond the city limits. On the local scene, Reno newspapers paid a meager $15 per column to reviewers who covered exhibits at the Sierra Nevada Museum of Art and a few of the more professional art galleries. Jeff Kelley was probably the toughest when it came to assessing these local shows. He left Reno for the Bay Area in the 1970s, where he continued to write criticism for major art publications. His specialty was scholarship related to Alan Kaprow, the father of happenings.
MARTINEZ At one time or other during the 60s and 70s, most all of the department faculty had a show in the old Nevada Art Gallery on Ralston. There was one big gallery in the place, the rest of the old house being made up of small rooms that were the original Cutts’ home. At the time of my exhibit, I had been making imaginative kite structures. I had directed that the gallery be blackened, and that the lights overhead angled for a dramatic shadow effect on the floor. A talk to the gallery docents about my work had been scheduled, and, as I arrived, I abruptly called out to the volunteers waiting around my paper and string pieces “Get off my sculpture!” I stated in no uncertain terms that they were ruining the cast shadows my kites were making. What might have been a teaching moment turned into an insult. Once word of my impertinence reached NAG officials, a firm directive was issued: “We’ll never let that artist back in this gallery!” I accepted this edict, and never again stepped inside the gallery, or any of the several edifices that followed. Even when there was a faculty group show at the museum on Liberty Street a number of years later, I dropped my work off at the door, and rushed away before anyone had a chance to open it.
McCORMICK This has been going on for how many years–thirty? Forty? You are certainly a person of resolve, Martinez. Let’s talk about another subject. During your tenure in the art department, you’ve seen many changes, both in terms of art movements, and as new media have come along. Talk about the latter if you will.
MARTINEZ Technology snuck up on the art department. There were no photocopiers in the department when I started here. I had been part of the ditto and mimeograph generation. As far as I was concerned, the first copier machine was like a printing press, capable of making multiples, with all sorts of manipulations and distortions possible. The copier turned the department office into a kind of after-hours classroom. I encouraged my students to come in when no one official was using it and play, as did I. We didn’t concern ourselves at first with the cost of paper and toner. It was just another art making tool, until we were officially reined in. We took to the early day video cameras with the same enthusiasm. At first, only a few were available for instructional use on campus. A teacher had to reserve a room in the education building to gain access to the TV facility and equipment. Before long, the audio-visual department started wiring rooms for television in buildings around campus, CFA included.
MORRISON Let me break in here, Ed, and say that Jim and I were among the first teachers to use one of these loaner cameras in class—in our team-taught beginning sculpture course. They were not like the compact digital kind we use today, weighing several pounds and requiring a tripod. We assigned each of our freshmen students a project—to make a two-minute video, an open-ended exploration of this new medium, in black and white, with sound. Primitive though these mini-productions were, Jim and I were more than satisfied with the energy and imagination each of our students invested in the assignment. One, in particular, remains our favorite to this day. Marilyn Matylinsky broke us up, with a deformed hardboiled egg, the cooked white bulging surrealistically out of a wide crack in its shell. She held it loosely in her hand, and bounced the egg up and down to the hypnotic beat of Ravel’s “Bolero.” Two minutes worth. It was so senseless, so dumb, that her fellow students didn’t seem to grasp the humor in it, which made Jim and me laugh all the harder. REID Technology wise, I’m in another century, and it’s getting worse and worse and worse. I’ve got a retirement meeting right after this one. Why do I even need to be there?
MORRISON At one point back then, I got into environmental modification projects in my classes. This was, after all, the era when happenings were an in thing. Artists would stage performances that were more theatrical, less product oriented—where “the separation between life, art, artist, and audience would become blurred.” Following the lead of the guru of happenings, Allan Kaprow, we put on spontaneous events that collectively heightened the imaginations of our students, in settings that also disturbed our comfort zones as teachers.
MARTINEZ One night, during a Wednesday night Art Forum, instructors and students staged a happening in the hallway that fronted on art and speech and theater faculty offices. Ear-shattering rock music was being played, students were painting words and symbols on paper-covered walls between doors, and, at one point, someone drove a three-wheeled Isetta into the hallway, and parked it. I recall a mock tar and feathering. A life-sized figure made of something soft was feathered; it had a piece of paper tacked to it with Bill Howard’s name scrawled on it.
McCORMICK In the aftermath of this event, there was a price to be paid—if nothing more, because several senior members of the department we shared the hall with registered vigorous complaints with our chair, who, bless him, defended the event as a legitimate art experience. A major messy art experience at that!
MORRISON Back to my environmental modification experiments—once, also during an Art Forum program, in the art history classroom, I took an audience through a series of “acts” intended to create a level of discomfort and puzzlement that had them questioning whether they were in fact witnessing the creation of a “capital A” piece of art. One of my favorite projects that evening involved loading my mouth with a tightly rolled up ball of string. I then pulled the end of the string out of my mouth, and directed someone to take the strand to the students in the front row seats. It took a few moments for the audience to cease being the audience; most began to make uncomfortable sounds as the string wound around them, becoming a web of spittle-laced gossamer over the entire room. The string in my mouth finally played out. The students then seemed to sense the difference between being the subjects, and the objects of my experiment. Once I had a sculpture class put vinyl tongues in urinals around CFA. The chair admonished me with “You can’t be doing this kind of stuff.” Then, there was the doorway made to look like a guillotine, a phony blade drawn up precipitously, and a challenge to someone thinking about crossing its threshold. I was called in another time, in the dead of winter, when a class of mine made a row of snow penises that lined one side of Virginia Street right in front of the art building. This time, my chair asked, “Did you have your students do that?” He knew! I thought to myself, “I am so fired!”
McNAMARA The 1970s was a period when artists shared studio space, partly to save expenses, partly to keep the clutter that goes with making art separate from their (presumably) more ordered domestic life. Jim and I shared a two-room structure out on West 4th Street for a year or two. The space served us well as far as working was concerned, and it was also an excellent place to store stuff that was in the way back at our homes. He set up his etching press, and, I split my time between drawing, collage and sculpture. In winter, the building could be very cold—in summer, oven-like. When we ended the arrangement, it was on good terms, with nothing owed. The university owned a row of old frame houses on Virginia Street, just north of CFA. Before they were demolished, several of these structures were used to store furniture and other equipment no longer needed by the university. One house served as the university infirmary. For a while, art students Roger Stapenhorst, Fred Reid and Zenon Michalak occupied one. Part studio, part refuge for partying, rumor has it that certain individuals, ever mindful of eating healthy, were known to lace their granola with LSD. When Ben Hazard, the first fulltime African- American professor in university history, came to the department in 1969, he experienced many problems while attempting to rent an apartment. Once identified as a person of color, Hazard would be turned away, usually with the excuse that the rental property had already been taken. In Hazard’s case, Nevada seemed to be living up to its reputation as the “Mississippi of the West.” One scheme that was tried involved making three phone calls to a prospective landlord. A friend of Hazard’s made the first call, to determine if the property was available. If it was, then Hazard made the second call, during which the landlord almost invariably told him it wasn’t. The third and final call was made by still another friend, who was told that, “Yes, it is available.” Another negotiation ended! Hazard eventually entered into a rental arrangement for a house on Holcomb Avenue near downtown Reno, with art major Barbara Hall, who today makes art in La Grange, Texas, and David Kladney, an attorney whom Senator Harry Reid appointed to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, in 2011. Hazard left after one year, and joined the curatorial staff of the Oakland Art Museum, where he remained for eleven years. Today, he is a member of the African Studies faculty at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
McCORMICK Early in 1968, I received a grant from Bob Laxalt and the University of Nevada Press to produce a portfolio of lithographs prints titled, Six Impressions: A Suite of Lithographs, and enlisted former art student Tony Ko to print the editions during the summer of that year. Following graduation from UN, Tony had gone on to the University of California at Davis for a master’s degree in printmaking, and had just emerged as a master artisan-printer from June Wayne’s highly respected Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles. At the time, Tony, a native of Shanghai, was between jobs, and headed for Erie, Pennsylvania to teach lithography at Edinboro State College. Six Impressions consisted of six color and black and white lithographs, each drawn by an artist who was associated with the art department, and who is now featured in the “Far Out” exhibit. Ken Carpenter, Head of Special Collections in Getchell Library at the time, printed the three documentation pages (title, table of contents and colophon) on an 1837 Columbia Press, which was located in the recently established Black Rock Press. Tony spent several weeks in residence working on the project. He encountered a number of problems related to Nevada’s dry climate, and it ended up that a humidifier had to be installed to rectify the situation. Participating artists would show up in the printmaking studio each night to work on their stones and plates. Tony patiently guided them through the various steps in the process leading up to his printing the thirty impressions of each of their editions. Tony’s son, Alan, was with his father in the studio one night toward the end of the project. Alan, about fi ve, had gotten a can of Coke from a dispensing machine in the hallway, and wanted his father to pop the top for him. Tony, in his usual highly focused frame of mind, told his son to open it himself, not mindful of the fact that all the tables in the studio were covered with finished, yet-to-be signed lithographs. Just as a soldier who pulls the pin on a hand grenade, Alan yanked the pull-tab; up shot a gusher of soda pop. Those in the room that night tell of the startled expression on Alan’s face, but even more emphatically describe the sudden look of horror on Tony’s. The gods of printmaking must have been looking down kindly on this scene of cola chaos. Not one print had been touched by the erupting soda. Tony lived and taught in Erie for a number of years. One day in 1984, I received word from his wife, Janet, that he had died, from liver cancer. I suspect that, in large measure, Tony’s death was the result of his own inattention to the toxicity of the chemicals he used in teaching lithography. Sometime later he was honored with a posthumous one-man show in the Sheppard Gallery.
MARTINEZ If there was ever a legendary figure around the Art Department, it would have to be Lucy Nieder.
McCORMICK I agree, Ed. Lucy first appeared in the department in the late-1950s, as a student in Bob Hartman’s painting classes. She must have been in her early 40s at the time. While Hartman and his students warmly welcomed her, she also appreciated the opportunity of having studio space at her disposal during hours when classes were not in session. MARTINEZ Hartman left to join the art faculty at UC Berkeley in 1961, but Lucy continued painting in Bill Howard’s classroom studio; she studied printmaking with Jim McCormick one summer, and maintained cordial relationships with most other instructors. Whether she was enrolled or not, everyone seemed to benefit from Lucy’s presence.
ARRIZABALAGA I’d swear Lucy had advanced degrees in garage sales and thrift stores. It seemed that when she wasn’t painting, she was running all over Reno shopping for bargains, not only for herself, but also for others. Her home was a testament to her range of interests in second hand goods. Camel hair coats were a specialty; her entry hall closet was lined with them. She had a discerning eye as far as old works of art were concerned. Wipe away the dust and grime on a framed print or drawing she recently obtained from St. Vincent’s or the Sally Army, and a work by a minor master might be uncovered. Her large collection of china place settings, consisting of many brands and patterns, was often loaned to friends who were serving a large crowd in their homes.
MARTINEZ Lucy looked out for bargains at thrift stores that she thought individual students or teachers could use: a stack of newsprint for a drawing class, slightly used paint brushes, picture frames, props for still life set-ups. And she seldom charged anything for these finds. She seemed to relish giving a second life to things that had been discarded.
ARRIZABALAGA I called her the “maven of thrift.” She would give great advice about sources for things if asked. One time, when I was in London, I saw Lucy walking along the street. Her shopping habits were really far out. REID I once had a dog named Bubbles. For some reason, after he passed on, Lucy continued to call all my dogs Bubbles, every one of them. What a character!
McCORMICK Lucy’s paintings now hang in homes all over Reno. Her style was definitely abstract expressionist: vivid colors applied loosely with second hand brushes. A short woman, she didn’t seem daunted by large canvases. One of them hung in the old education building for years; it was at least eight feet across. Her subjects ranged from flowers to still lifes, small animals and gawky geese; in other words, most of her inspiration came from nature. When it came to craft, Lucy didn’t seem to care much about how she stretched her canvases, or framed them, for that matter. The important thing was to paint. When a work was finished, she would slap on whatever was handy to make it minimally presentable. A frame might be nothing more than duct tape covering the edge of the canvas, or rough strips of lath.
MARTINEZ Lucy died in 2007, at 93. The minutes of the June 12-13, 2008 meeting of the Nevada Board of Regents includes an entry that reads, “Vice President Mike Reed requests the Board’s approval to accept an unrestricted donation in the amount of $1.1 million to establish a new endowment in memory of donor Lucy Nieder to award scholarships to students in the Arts Department who will meet the scholarship criterion.”
ARRIZABALAGA Of course, everyone here remembers “A Wreath o’ Franklins.” It’s really former photography instructor Ron Moroni’s story, but since he’s not here to tell it, I’ll give it a try. Charlie Varble had been a UNR theater and art major when she opened the Word of Mouth Gallery, a modest home turned gallery on Carter Drive, off West Plumb Lane in Reno. The spirited Varble pretty much ran it herself: arranging, publicizing and hanging shows. She alternated solo and group exhibits for a couple of years, the most remarkable of which turned out to be the notorious “Wreath Show.” It was an invitational exhibit, the theme of which seemed appropriate to the Christmas holidays; it challenged artists to come up with two or three dimensional works that had some connection to traditional wreaths, or not! For his entry, Moroni welded a metal wreath with stiletto-like points; it was about a foot in diameter, and painted black. It looked like a crown of thorns. Moroni had then impaled oversized phony one hundred dollar bills on most of the points (from the pages of a notepad with one side blank that he had bought at Ed and Pat Aimone’s Norfolk). The title, what else – “A Wreath ‘o Franklins.” “A Wreath o’ Franklins” was a genuine crowd pleaser. Moroni’s audacious pun did not escape anyone’s notice. A photograph of the piece was reproduced in a review of the show in the Nevada State Journal. It also caught the attention of agents in the local U.S. Treasury Department office. Two of them appeared at the door of the gallery a day or so after the opening of the show. Varble recognized them for what they were; looking and sounding like one might expect agents in a 1940s crime-fighting film might act, trench coats and all. The T-men grilled Varble, and examined the sculpture, looking for evidence. At one point, she was almost convinced they were going to arrest her for complicity in an act of counterfeiting. When they finally decided against that, the agents confiscated the sculpture, and the “$100 bills,” and left. When word of the “crime” was reported in the local press, the letters to the editor section was filled with expressions of outrage. Readers asked why their tax money was being wasted on such foolishness, especially when Reno had real funny money problems. The derision in print continued for several weeks. For years after, the “A Wreath ‘o Franklins” caper was a legend around the Treasury office in Reno. The sculpture was never returned to Moroni. Presumably, it was destroyed.
McCORMICK OK, can you name the various locations of the Piñon Gallery over the years? I remember the forerunner was in Gus Bundy’s stone barn on Pine Ridge. Linda Hale and Mary Lou Anthony were the founders and managers. I can’t remember what years it was open, must have been in the early-to-mid-60s. The exhibits in this small gallery were mostly representational, pleasant enough landscapes and figurative works.
ARRIZABALAGA My first memory of the Piñon was at Dorothy Benson’s cottage at the rear of Arlington Nursery. We presented mostly two-person shows, which, given the size of our start-up mailing list, attracted crowds on Sundays that taxed the gallery’s limited space. Not long before we opened at Arlington Gardens, there had been a gathering at Lucy Nieder’s home on Pueblo Street, during which a number of town-gown artists debated how they could put together a gallery that offered the community more thought-provoking shows: art that was edgy, and not available in venues such as the Nevada Art Gallery, or in exhibitions mounted by the more traditional organizations in Reno: the Latimer Art Club and Nevada Artists Association. The group at Lucy’s was clearly in agreement that a cooperative gallery would be the most workable format. This involved monthly dues, the responsibility for periodically sitting when the gallery was open to the public, and an occasional exhibition for each artist. Everyone at the meeting that night bought into these stipulations.
McNAMARA John and Bay Herman showed up in Reno just about the time the Piñon was ready to move from Arlington Nursery to a new location. They proposed that they serve as gallery managers, and agreed to live on site. A search around Reno led to a house on Washington Street, just two doors from the Truckee River. It was a typical southwest frame dwelling, with small rooms, and a front porch where visitors draped themselves, and drank punch during openings. The Piñon really established itself during the Washington Street years. Thanks to an expanding mailing list, we began to attract regulars to our openings; sales started to surge a little, which, when it came time to move to still another location, gave us the sense that it was economically feasible.
McCORMICK I can’t remember exactly how we found the next location. It was 1977. A local realtor named Bill Simon came up with a space on the second floor of a building at the intersection of South Virginia Street and Vassar. It was much larger than previous Piñon locations, with plenty of wall space, and good lighting. It even had an office where sitters could write, work on their own art, or nap. Openings were well attended, and we were inclined to think that it was more than the refreshment table offering cheap wine that kept our patrons returning.
McNAMARA When we were asked where the Piñon on Virginia Street was located, we said that it was at the top of a long flight of stairs —between two street level businesses: a dark, sleazy tavern to the right, and, to the left, a pornography shop. Nice neighborhood! When we finally closed this version of the Piñon Gallery in 1979, it wasn’t for the usual reasons coops go away—insolvency. Actually, our books told us we were in the black, and everyone still respected each other. No, we simply got tired of the commitment this kind of business demands. There was at least one more gallery in Reno that brought together many of the same Piñon artists, but it falls out of the time frame we have set for this exhibit.
McCORMICK There were a number of exhibition spaces around Reno where university students and faculty showed their work. Out-of-the- way venues that did not identify themselves solely as galleries. However, during the times we are considering, they played a significant role in getting student work before the viewing public. And when works sold, the commission was generally very reasonable.
McNAMARA I remember one of the earliest of these display opportunities was in Hal Eckstrom’s Crimson Steer at the east end of C Street in Sparks. Dark, quiet, featuring a high-end menu, the Steer had enough spot lights to illuminate student and faculty paintings over the booths. A few pieces were even sold before the restaurant closed in 1961, and Eckstrom moved on to manage the food service operation in the Club Cal Neva on East 2nd Street. For a number of years, Eckstrom hung works by university artists in the club’s Copper Ledge restaurant for budget-conscious patrons. We’re talking ninety-eight cent breakfasts here.
McCORMICK A couple of other Reno businesses that catered to students were Brundidge’s and Fenwick’s, both art supply stores. Brundidge’s, when it was located in downtown Reno, regularly exhibited local artists on posts, and on walls over racks that displayed brushes and paint tubes. Jerry Fenwick’s smaller store was off the beaten path, facing the tracks on Commercial Row. Fenwick struggled to keep essential supplies for students and professional artists. He didn’t outlast Brundidges, which eventually moved to a larger store on South Wells Avenue.
MORRISON Once, a major chemical company offered the art department a railroad boxcar full of free 1” x 4’ x 8’ sheets of styrofoam. Do you know how much styrofoam that is? For years, we had this stuff running out of our ears. It was used for everything from patterns for bronze casting to making large, yet lightweight outdoor sculptures. I understand that some of it even made its way to a few private homes—for insulation, if you can imagine. It took years to finally get rid of it all.
McCORMICK Don Kerr arrived in the Art Department in 1970, having served for fi ve years on the art faculty at Ohio State University. He brought with him what turned out to be a high ly innovative and controversial method of teaching drawing—the Flash Lab.
MORRISON Kerr’s Flash Lab was an extension of a systematic approach to beginning drawing that had been pioneered by art professor Hoyt Sherman at Ohio State. Sherman had developed a method that required a totally darkened room, and a projection devise called a tachistoscope, which could flash an image on a screen at measured lengths of time. In the case of Kerr’s version of the lab, he usually started by flashing high contrast black-and-white shapes on a large screen for a tenth of a second. Students were directed to quickly mark what they saw with large sticks of charcoal on 18” x 24” pieces of newsprint. Kerr’s plan called for these flashes to lengthen over the weeks of the course. He also made the slides that were more complex in terms of value structure and shapes. By the end of the semester, most students were rendering sustained images with an acuity that was exceptional for beginners.
McCORMICK I might add here that Kerr, in order to construct his flash lab, had to not only get the consent of the chair, but also convince other faculty who taught drawing that his was a valid approach. Kerr urged patience. The value of his method could only be evaluated by viewing his students’ work after a number of weeks working in the dark.
MORRISON Once the flash lab was approved, Kerr spent weeks setting up the room. Windows had to be completely sealed off from daylight, as did door frames and any cracks that might let light in from the outside. The lab was painted totally black and a tachistoscope obtained, and put in place. During all this prep work, Kerr remained in touch with members of the UN psychology department, notably Dr. Willard Day and two graduate students: Jim Schulze and Dan Gilmore, each of whom shared Kerr’s fascination with theories of perception. Schulze’s graduate thesis led to the publication of A Study of the Flash Lab Method of Teaching Beginning Drawing, in 1971. Kerr left Reno in 1970 for a new teaching position at Grand Valley State College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and with him went the concept and the flash lab itself. Opinions remained divided over its effectiveness following his departure. Many say the lab decisively influenced the way they worked, or, at least, modified their way of looking at art, and the visual world. Edw Martinez: “Through the years, I used a number of pseudonyms. Wiley Felts was one. The story involved a large sheet of felt that had a drawing by big time artist William T. Wiley on it. For some reason, it was hanging in an out-of-the-way hall in CFA. Once, I needed a small piece of felt, but not a good one like students used in the print room. For pure convenience, and a little devilment, I cut a small piece from Wiley’s drawing, and continued to do so as it slowly grew smaller.” Walter McNamara: “ I remember something William Wiley said when he was in Reno to install a show. “You can make art out of dust if you don’t have anything else.”
McCORMICK Fifi Day, widow of Willard, has two large figurative paintings of Kerr’s on the walls of her West Plumb Lane home. In fact, they are included in the Far Out exhibit. A few years ago, Fifi and I and my wife Loretta hopped a plane for Grand Rapids, and attended the opening of a major retrospective of Kerr’s work, which coincided with his retirement from GVSC. It was great reconnecting with him.
MORRISON Edw and I judged the student art show one year. We made a pact to select only things we really liked. We chose ten pieces. Where did we get the courage to do that? Of course, many of the rejected students got steamed, rushed out and hung their own Salon des Refuses in the hallway, just beyond our “official” gallery.
McCORMICK I remember when Howard Rosenberg was giving film reviews on local television stations. Every once in a while, he’d give a thumbs down to a movie star that would draw the ire of the public. Say something negative about John Wayne, and his telephone would ring off the hook. Once Howard gave a particularly scathing review that prompted the burning of a cross in his front yard.
MARTINEZ Do you know why I adopted the moniker Edw? My birth name is Edward Worden Martinez Jr. Once, when I was in a large group show at UC Riverside, the director called me and said they already had an Ed Martinez in the exhibit and could they list me as Edward. I said, “No, I never liked Edward. How about Eddie?”—which was my childhood name, and the name my father uses. “OK,” he says, “but you know there is a LA jazz musician and an artist named Eddie.” “OK, how about Edw … do you have one of them?” Today, I do not want to be confused with several other Edward Martinez’ who make art. Some of it, not so good. Also, two years ago, there was a J. Edward Martinez executed in Texas for shooting his ex-girlfriend, and her current lover, 22 times. How do you shoot 22 times? Reload?
McNAMARA We had some cross-state colleagues in the Art Department in Las Vegas. After Nevada Southern became University of Nevada Las Vegas in 1969, the visual arts began to thrive. A new wave of full-time faculty came on board: Mike McCollum, Tom Holder, Bill Leaf, Rita Abbey and Lee Sido among them. The department was located in Grant Hall, and, as the UN department in Reno had done earlier, it began to expand its offerings and degree programs. I feel it’s important to mention the Vegas art scene, because early on a strong bond between our two departments developed. It didn’t seem to matter that we were over 400 miles apart. This connection also included sharing solo and group faculty exhibits in our respective campus galleries. There are friendships that have survived to this day. It seemed ironic to me at the time that UNLV instructors spoke freely of their admiration for the Reno faculty; in their eyes we were a more together group, with less infighting than they were accustomed to. Now, years later, this north-south connection has changed. Most of the 60s-70s university crowd has retired. However, Edw Martinez and his wife Kay set up a second home in the Vegas area. One time art department technician John Kane and former UN student Claudia Cormier moved south, and still make art. Northern Nevadans have shown in Vegas exhibits: Dick Peitz and Walt McNamara at the UNLV art department gallery in the 70s, and Jim McCormick’s “Animal Pit” drawings at Allied Arts in the 1980s. Sculptural pieces by Virginia City artist Larry Williamson have been exhibited at McCarran International Airport. While I’m hesitant to say it, those times do sometime seem like the good old days.
MARTINEZ The late 1960s were years of extraordinary social and political unrest across the U.S. Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968 hung heavy on the conscience of a shocked nation and protests began to intensify among students who could no longer tolerate the war in Southeast Asia. They had taken to the streets in Berkeley, and on other California campuses, pressing their objections in a variety of peaceful, and occasionally violent ways. On the University of Nevada campus, students were more reserved, but hardly placid. It was an era of unrest among UNR black students, who formed an association to voice frustrations, and to argue for a black studies program. Another faction on campus openly expressed opposition to compulsory ROTC, and demonstrated at Mackay Stadium during the annual Governor’s Day ceremonies. The involvement of English professor Paul Adamian in the second Governor’s Day protest continues to be debated to this day. Several art students and faculty stood in solidarity with the idea that requiring ROTC was antithetical to the essential nature of a university.
McCORMICK The involvement of the art department in these various expressions of discontent was uneven. Ben Hazard worked closely with black students, both encouraging them to speak out about their grievances, while at the same time urging moderation where matters of law and personal safety could be factors in their actions. During a meeting of the UN Board of Regents, art major Noreen Temres cornered regent Molly Knudson in a women’s room in Jot Travis Student Union, and pressured her to bring up specific issues with her fellow board members regarding women on campus. It worked!
MARTINEZ Several art faculty and students joined several dozen others in the first compulsory ROTC protest at Mackay Stadium. They walked in a circle of protest carrying handmade signs that stated their opposition to male students being required to take ROTC, this, during the time when feelings about the Vietnam war were highly contentious. Looking around, it did seem like there were more onlookers than protesters at the entrance to Mackay that day.
McCORMICK Just prior to walking up to Mackay Stadium, several members of the art faculty gathered in the department office, and discussed the possible consequences of participating in the planned protest. Each of us knew we were in unfamiliar territory. Bill Howard and I were nervous, and talked through the principles that were on our minds regarding the ROTC requirement. We left the office with resolve, coupled with a sense of apprehension.
MARTINEZ Not surprisingly, in the crowd at Mackay that day were members of the local print media, armed with cameras, ready to record the protesters as they walked, or did otherwise. The front page of next morning’s Nevada State Journal featured a columnar photograph of Bill Howard, holding a poster aloft, singled out as the embodiment of the protest. How many John Birchers, and others of a “patriotic” persuasion said to themselves, or others, “See, there’s one of those liberal college professors, tearing down our way of life!” Of course, Bill’s choice to demonstrate in the face of such opinions had been a testament to our system of government.
McCORMICK One of the conditions of living in Reno during the 1960s and 70s was the shortage of movie houses showing anything but conventional Hollywood fare. There was an audience for experimental and foreign films among UN students, faculty and some in the community. However, to have this need satisfied, it was often necessary to read newsletters and posted notices, and to stay alert to word-of-mouth campaigns. If one lived in the Bay Area at that time, no problem! During the later 1960s, Dave Toll, the respected Nevada travel writer, managed the Sparks Theater on the west end of C Street. He regularly booked films by leading European directors: Bergman, Fellini, Godard and Truffaut among them. Japanese films like “Yojimbo” and “Woman in the Dunes” appeared for all-too-brief runs. The lobby of this theater often looked like a university faculty meeting in the moments before the doors opened. The university theater department offered a foreign film series for a few years, and the art department’s Wednesday evening Art Forum presented avant-garde motion pictures from the Museum or Modern Art in New York, and Blackhawk Films. The Forum usually ended the semester with an evening of silent films. I managed to locate a local woman, well into her 80s, who had played the piano for silent movie houses in the Seattle area during the early 1920s. At her first performance, she walked directly to the upright piano, waited, and jumped right in as the first flickering image appeared. The fifty years or so that had passed since she last reacted to the silent screen seemed to immediately melt away.
McNAMARA Perhaps the most out-of-the-way cinema in the region was in a former warehouse, near the entrance to the Sutro Tunnel. It had been the terminus of a drainage system funneling water from deep in the mines up in Virginia City. An ex-biker named Robin Larson leased the property in the late-1950s. The aging board structure was converted into a saloon, and Silver City entrepreneur Grahame Ross, and others, showed 16 mm foreign films on weekends, with the aid of a couple of squeaky projectors. Spirits and the silver screen mixed easily during its heyday. University art students, it turned out, were up to the long drive to catch a film at the saloon, which was destroyed at the hand of vandals some years later. Oh, and we shouldn’t overlook Lyndy Mercer’s Keystone Cinema. It was the movie theater in Reno that brought films that seldom, if ever, were shown on downtown screens.
McCORMICK I’m beginning to realize how much has been left out of this conversation: spring arts festivals on the quad; the excellent exhibitions in the Sheppard Art Gallery that Walt mounted for several decades, on a virtually non-existent budget; Kelsie Harder’s cartoons in the Sagebrush; Howard Rosenberg’s herculean efforts on behalf of his “kids;” and patrons like Fran and Bob Harvey who supported the younger artists by filling their walls at home with the paintings they purchased. Of course, there are many artists from that era who have left the region, or just dropped out of sight. We regret that available funds and limited space lessened our ability to reach out further. Fortunately, there are folks who have been just mean enough to stick around and remember some of this history for those who came along later.
Far out, guys!