I arrived at UCLA in the fall of 1971 for graduate study in Design. In the previous year, I graduated from Cal State Northridge, got married, and worked in our family business, while my husband finished law school. In another entry, I will delve into the family business, Billy Woolf, House of Motion Picture Accessories. We supplied furniture, and just about everything imaginable, to the movies, theater, photo shoots and TV commercials.
When I came to UCLA, it was in October of 1971. I felt as though I had magically arrived at the perfect place. The exhibit Deliberate Entanglements had just opened at the Gallery at UCLA. Exhibiting in this show were the likes of Sheila Hicks, Jagoda (you must come to my villa in Dubrovnik) Buic, Magdalena Abakanowicz, and a list of fiber stars from Europe, South America and the U.S. like you wouldn’t believe. And if that were’t enough… a retrospective at the Pasadena Art Museum, now the Norton Simon Museum of Eva Hesse. Holy Toledo! In those days, the artworks were enormous installations, (we called them “environments”), room size, gigantic. I was blissed out. I remember sitting on a courtyard bench at UCLA outside the gallery in the warm October sun, thinking OMG I am in the right place at the right time. My classmates at the time were, Barbara Yamadera, now Barbara Cabot, Yael Bentovim, Maren Hassinger, Kristine Dey, Carol Mondt, and Holly Burgin. Many of us have changed our names, including me. In those days, I still had my given name Debbe, which I changed to Daniella, and my married name Moss, which I changed back to my maiden name, Woolf.
Our instructor was Bernard Kester. He knew everything and everyone, and was an aesthetic wonder. He was a Mick Jagger look alike, with big lips. I was terrified of him. He was intimidating and imposing for a slight guy. He used to say things like, “It’s very well what you’re doing with your hands and arms to describe your project, but I have no idea what you’re talking about.” It took me about 6 weeks to get un-intimidated, a huge turning point and relief. I think he saw a certain raw talent in me that he could shape and refine. He took me under his wing in a particular way, for which I am grateful. He’d chat with us about our assignments in our little weaving studio on Sunset Boulevard, and then say to us, Now ladies fly to your looms.
I graduated in 1973 with a Masters Degree in Design with the sub category Textile Structures. I had my MA show down at the Faculty Club building on Sunset Blvd, at UCLA. I exhibited three pieces that were enormous. The forest, the dome and a series of arches in space, crocheted of miles of picture framing wire. All my pieces were crocheted, using many, many miles of elements.
My dream then was to get my first art commission from an architect or designer. I thought I’d die if I didn’t have one from my grad show. Well I didn’t, and I didn’t die, and it actually took several years for the first commission. Funny how, after a while, the excitement waned and it became not such a big deal by the time I did receive my first commission.
When I started school, sisal jute and manila fiber was 30 cents per pound. Two years later when I graduated, they were a dollar a pound. I needed many long miles of continuous elements, and wanted it to be cheap! Thus began my quest for recycled materials and trash! That’s another chapter.
The major element that emerged for me from my UCLA experience was that I now knew how to be critical of myself in my studio. I’m not certain I knew how to do that when I got there. I was not:
- equipped to make working drawings
- read or draw blueprints
- budget a job
- make a proper presentation to an architect
- deal with galleries or agents
This all came by me going back to school after my degree at UCLA to get the practical experiences I needed. I attended Santa Monica City College, and learned drafting. I took rendering at UCLA extension, and classes like alternative architecture.
I applied to the Lausanne Tapestry Bienniale in 1974 at the ripe old age of 27. To my amazement I was accepted. 64 people worldwide selected from a pool of 800 give or take. I remember getting the very thick powder blue envelope with red and navy diamonds around it, too fat to get out of my tiny mailbox. I knew that if I were rejected the envelope would have been skinny. My heart pounded out of my throat as I opened this envelope. Congratulations from Claude Ritschard, the director of CITAM. Oh no, Oh no, this isn’t supposed to happen to me till I’m 42, I thought. Some magical age, a mid life career age, when I would be at the pinnacle of my career, and it could be my time to be accepted into the Biennial.