Brown, William J. (William Joseph)
Arts administrator, Designer
Active in Del.
Sound recordings: 4 sound cassettes (ca. 5 hr.)
Transcript: 47 p.
Format: 2 of the cassettes are 60 min. and 2 are 90 min.
Due to difficulty in transcribing this interview, the transcript will not be completed.
Collection Summary: An interview of William J. Brown and his wife Jane Brennan Brown conducted 1991 Jan. 19-1991 March 2, by Jane Kessler, for the Archives of American Art.
Brown and his wife Jane discuss his childhood in Michigan, his early interest in sculpture and his attitude towards education; military service in WWII; studies at Cranbrook Academy; designing for Steuben Glass; working with Francis Merritt at the Flint Institute of Arts and at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts; teaching design at the University of Delaware and working summers at Haystack;
Robert Gray, director of the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild; first impressions of The Penland School of Crafts and its founder Lucy Morgan; the development of the Penland School and its various programs; craftspeople who taught at Penland; and relations with the Penland board of trustees.
Biographical/Historical Note: William J. Brown, art administrator and designer. Director of the Penland School of Crafts (formerly Penland School of Handicrafts) from 1962 to 1983.
This interview is part of the Archives of American Art Oral History Program, started in 1958 to document the history of the visual arts in the United States, primarily through interviews with artists, historians, dealers, critics, and administrators.
Funding for the digital preservation of this interview was provided by a grant from the Save America's Treasures Program of the National Park Service.
How to Use this Interview
- A transcript of this interview appears below.
- Transcript available online.
- The transcript of this interview is in the public domain and may be used without permission. Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with William J. Brown, 1991 Jan. 19-Mar. 2, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
- For more information on using the Archives’ resources, see the FAQ or Ask Us.
Also in the Archives
This transcript is in the public domain and may be used without permission. Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with William J. Brown, 1991 Jan. 19-Mar. 2, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Interview with Bill and Jane Brown
Conducted by Jane Kessler
At their home in Bakersville, North Carolina
January 19 & March 2, 1991
The following oral history transcript is the result of a tape-recorded interview with Bill and Jane Brown on January 19 and March 2, 1991. The interview took place in Bakersville, NC, and was conducted by Jane Kessler for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
JANE KESSLER: This is an interview with Bill and Jane Brown at their home in Bakersville, North Carolina. I want to begin this conversation asking Bill where you're from originally and how you became interested in the craft. We know about you when we ran into you up here but I don't know a lot about you before that.
BILL BROWN: Well: when I was in first grade, it rained, (JANE KESSLER laughs) And my younger chum there, when it rained their mother gave soap and we'd go down in the basement and she would give everybody . So when we got all of them would pick up pieces of leftover Ivory soap and she'd do the laundry.
JANE KESSLER. But you really liked doing those forms, right?
BILL BROWN: Nobody knows, nothing like that, we were just making the things and that's why we sat on the floor or whatever, that's OK.
JANE BROWN: When you were l4 -- your dad was a dentist, and a woman came and saw one of your pieces -- it's really outside right now, isn't it. And said, "Who on earth made that?" And he said, "My son."
BILL BROWN: Oh no, you've never seen that one.
JANE BROWN: Oh, OK. Well, at any rate she liked it.
BILL BROWN: What am I talking about? This dumb thing, I gate Pop a fisherman --
JANE KESSLER: That you caught?
BILL BROWN: -- in soap. He had it in his place there and it had a little bit of a thing there to hold it up. So then --
JANE BROWN: This woman that came to see Pop [Bill Brown] was having her teeth
said she would like to see Bill. And the reason I'm talking about her is that
she ends up on one of the major TV programs about Diego Rivera, and her name
is Lucianna [phon.sp.].
And Bill saw that a few months ago and said, "That's the lady that came to Pop's office." She then became a major apprentice of Rivera and she talked approximately one-third of the time on this particular TV program. She's the one who found Bill and said, "I'd like you to come to my studio."
BILL BROWN: She came to Pop, my father, to get her first all ready, and they got talking to me, and then she looked over to the things and said, "Who did that?" And so she said, when she came back again, " doing anything", and she gave him a key to get into the whole place . "Doc, give him this, and if he wants to go in, , anywhere in there." (mimicking stern tone of voice) "Well! I'm not going to be a sissy, and anyway, what the hell am I doing?" I did some other things and then she gave me (he laughs) a piece of marble. It was this wide, not , so she the thing to go in and out. If she was there, fine, or if she wasn't there --
JANE KESSLER: So this was a studio?
BILL BROWN: Well, no, the Flints --
JANE KESSLER: Flint School?
BILL BROWN: No, well, they had things up on the thing and people had a little thing, they could get in and but down in the basement kids were getting things on and --
JANE KESSLER: That was his first piece with his radio.
JANE BROWN: This was at Flint, Michigan, at an art academy.
BILL BROWN: And now it's big --
JANE KESSLER: Yes, sure.
BILL BROWN: -- so she gave me that block -
JANE BROWN: Whatever it is, it is marble --
BILL BROWN: She did things for me and sometimes she'd be there and I would
be, and nobody would be around. And she'd , "it's coming, coming, good."
"What the hell do you mean? I can't see it." You know, I just tried
to do it. [location of quote marks conjectural]
JANE BROWN: Realist. [?]
BILL BROWN: Yes. Ah, terrible. We'd argue and she'd "That isn't a person" --
JANE BROWN: That's a representation of.
BILL BROWN: I was trying to and she standing there giving me hell. So that's, well, that's what happened.
JANE KESSLER: That's when you began your modern art or sculpture.
BILL BROWN: A pain in the ass but it was fun anyway. She was about this big but BOOM in the ring.
JANE BROWN: Then you went into the War --
JANE KESSLER: So you were interested in sculpture, you really started out being a sculptor.
BILL BROWN: Well, I never knew what it was --
JANE KESSLER: You didn't have a name for it.
JANE KESSLER: [inaudible]
BILL BROWN: This is the best thing you ever had. I can't because I've got this in my mouth (both women laugh)
JANE KESSLER: So you went to . Got a great big house And so all of us kids were there and went to --
JANE BROWN: School in Flint Michigan.
BILL BROWN: -- it was only about a block away so everybody's everywhere.
JANE KESSLER: Is this high school?
BILL BROWN: No, (pause) I came out of there when --
JANE BROWN: Well, he graduated finally from , we know that --
BILL BROWN: No, I did not.
JANE BROWN: You didn't graduate from School?
BILL BROWN: Oh yes, --
JANE BROWN: Not college.
BILL BROWN: I didn't do anything --
JANE BROWN: Oh, you did nothing while you were there. (she laughs)
BILL BROWN: Yes. But Jane, I'm not going to go to a new place and have anybody think that I did these things very serious. (incoherent phrases spoken emphatically)
JANE BROWN: So you didn't tell anyone you liked doing anything in the arts.
BILL BROWN: No. And in the house, (overlapping voices, unintelligible content)
JANE BROWN: They put in a l2-room steam plant that they ordered from Sears and it came in all of its parts and Bill, who was l2 years old, he and his father, who was a dentist, worked at night with his son and on Saturdays and Sundays to put that thing in. So he was learning how to make things .
BILL BROWN: I just pulled. (all laugh) A little bit -- "there, there, I got it." (emitting sort of roar) Oh gosh --
JANE BROWN: When he got to Penland, this all made a big difference because he knew how all the They were all cold. He knew well how it worked.
JANE KESSLER: Great finding. You didn't know you were going to use --
BILL BROWN: Dentist, see? "Clean this?" my dad would say. "Look,
buddy, it's all right but it's black." "What?" "See that,
Henry, it's terrible but you can't get it off while it leaks [?].
JANE BROWN: You get on your hands.
JANE KESSLER: And you're also getting your hands dirty.
BILL BROWN: Yes. Everything goes .
JANE BROWN: After high school, did you go into the Army?
BILL BROWN: Yes, yes --
JANE KESSLER: Then you went to Kalamazoo, Michigan.
BILL BROWN: No, no --
JANE KESSLER: You went to the Flint something-or-other, some little school in Flint, first, right?
BILL BROWN: Oh yes, --
JANE KESSLER: It was a technical school in those days.
BILL BROWN: No --
JANE KESSLER: Junior college, Flint Junior College.
BILL BROWN: Yes. And I didn't get anything.
JANE KESSLER: He was never doing very well in Philosophy.
BILL BROWN: all of the time if it gets something the guy that it, the hell with it, you can ask him.
JANE KESSLER: He says he decided that in the first grade. If all the other kids knew the answers, why did he have to bother to get it from them.
BILL BROWN: That's dumb.
JANE KESSLER: But really what it was, they checked him in second grade. He was sick a lot, with rheumatic fever and boils and different things that he had in second grade. By the time he got to third grade, the IQ test, he had the highest IQ score of any child in Flint, Michigan at that point but he was not achieving in school. I presume that he was dyslexic. anyone in the family. Anyway, he didn't get a basis, because he wasn't in school, but they kept saying, "Oh no, this boy's so bright, send him on." But he never achieved well in school. And he didn't like school, he thought school was pretty dumb, it was uninteresting,
JANE BROWN: Your attitude about the school came out, some of the feelings that you had of your own education and how you learned.
BILL BROWN: Oh well, yes --
JANE BROWN: And how dull it was; how dull.
BILL BROWN: Yes, sure, for the kids to do [mimicing bossy voice] "Drawing work. Open the doors and let them et -- "
JANE BROWN: At Flint Junior College, it was a joke of his daddy's, that "if you keep going this way, you're going to go backwards or something in your grade." So then the War came and he volunteered.
BILL BROWN: Two years
JANE BROWN: Going to be a pilot.
BILL BROWN: We got too many --
JANE BROWN: They washed out his whole class. So then they asked him, "What would you like to be?" And he said he would either like to be a mechanic or a pilot. The pilot was out now so he said he'd rather be a mechanic. And they said, "Wait a minute. Mechanics are not officers." And of course he was to be an officer. And he said, "It doesn't make any difference to me, I know that the most important people are the pilots and the mechanics."
So then he became a very unusual thing called a "mobile trainee". It was to bring in about ten men. It was started, well, a couple of years into the War, I guess; anywhere it was started by a man who later came to Penland, which is again kind of fascinating -- that the head man who thought up the idea. They had these mobile training units --
BILL BROWN: Right.
JANE BROWN: -- and they, Bill at l9 years old, would teach a class with mockups of the airplanes, but they didn't want to send the pilots back to the United States, they wanted to train them over in the Pacific. So Bill, with nine other people, with the head man who had a card saying, "Give these men absolutely anything they want, anywhere in the world" (Bill Brown echoes her words "anywhere in the world"). Because you see they'd have these massive mockups of airplanes and when the whole troop would move out, mobile training unit , they needed their own trucks to move them wherever they needed to go. So Bill would then be training generals. Generals were being hired and he would tell them, he was their boss and he was teaching -- l9-year-old Bill who had (she laughs) not done well in school but now was telling them to shut their mouths and listen. Which I'm sure he did well even though he was only l9.
BILL BROWN: (reflectively) They don't know anything. (after several phrases) what's his name, guy, but I was just going to eat or something and he and I says, "Come on!" "Woo-hoo, who are you??"
JANE KESSLER: A general?
BILL BROWN: Yes. And I says, "OK, what do you want?" He says, "How come do this and that there?" because [incoherent] But anyway, then he says, "All right." And then, now, we know him, see --
JANE BROWN: He's been . But did you stop and tell him? Or did you say, "I have to eat first"?
BILL BROWN: I ate. (all laugh heartily)
JANE BROWN: So they had a pretty amazing time in this war. And later, at Penland, a very handsome man who'd been in the military all his life started talking about living in town. He was a man who was described as ideal in mobile training with Bill. (inaudible sentence follows)
So, after that you go back, and then you go back to Kalamazoo, and then you decide you will be an artist, right? You've come back from the War and all your friends are in , Michigan, talking about being --
BILL BROWN: Well, we went up to the Chicago Art and they were full of too many guys coming and so I went, Buck and I, in his little thing, we got to Chicago and couldn't go there for nine years.
JANE BROWN: The enrollment was so "over" after the War.
JANE KESSLER: Was that the GI Bill?
JANE BROWN: Yes. Everybody was on the GI Bill. So he and Buck both wanted to go to the Chicago Art Museum --
BILL BROWN: But they said, "Oh, we'd like to have you about ten miles -- " (he laughs) And so we'd come back --
JANE BROWN: And an uncle out in Kalamazoo said, "Why don't you come to the University of Kalamazoo" -- (Bill speaking along with her as she speaks; unclear)
BILL BROWN: So I said, well, I don't know. But they said, Well, you could walk around the place like a damn fool --
JANE BROWN: Go look at it anyway.
BILL BROWN: Look around. Well, anyway, so I did it --
JANE BROWN: One semester. Mrs. S was head of the art department.
BILL BROWN: She was great, great big mother. (inaudible passage)
(after intervening remarks, something about plaster)
JANE BROWN: Is that when she came in and said to you --
BILL BROWN: Well, she'd been --
JANE BROWN: Watching what you were doing .
BILL BROWN: And the other guy, who was a great too, he had things for the rest of everybody but he said "just do what you want."
JANE BROWN: projects
BILL BROWN: I didn't know what it was they wanted anyway. And then Miss S goddam, she was great, and so she I was sitting there and she got a lot of papers. She says, [banging on something] "All of these, and I'll be back in an hour." In a short time we were doing. "It doesn't mean ." Just [he makes sharp sibilant noise] Well, I think I wasn't going to get thrown out of the place. Then she says, "OK -- "
JANE BROWN: Cranbrook. She wanted him to .
BILL BROWN: I don't know what the hell to do with that.
JANE KESSLER: So that's what the papers were you were signing?
JANE BROWN: Yes. of Cranbrook .
BILL BROWN: And then I had to --
JANE BROWN: And she knew Wiley Mitchell, the registrar.
BILL BROWN: Oh yes -- so I said, "What are we doing here?" (in very commanding voice) "Don't say anything, get in the ca and go over there and get it in by ten past. And that's it." German, she is.,
JANE KESSLER: But you did it. (she laughs)
JANE BROWN: She told him anyway.
BILL BROWN: (decisively) So I go down there and I've never seen this place.
JANE BROWN: Nor heard about it, probably, very much.
BILL BROWN: No, I guess not much. And good Lord, I'm going up and down the road --
JANE BROWN: The beautiful main road at Cranbrook --
BILL BROWN: There's all kinds of stuff, you know. So finally I got into --
JANE BROWN: Wally Mitchell's office.
BILL BROWN: There was this big box --
JANE BROWN: They were all trying to get into this box; big paintings all packed up in crates.
BILL BROWN: I said, "Well, I don't know if I don't like this place." (laughing) He says, "Don't worry about that." (unintelligible passage)
JANE BROWN: And did he tell you not to send anything more?
BILL BROWN: No, no don't. Afterwards all of this stuff all around and I didn't know even what it was.
JANE BROWN: You said, "Do I call you again?" And he said, "No, just wait, I'll write you." Right? I remember your saying, "Don't worry, I'll I'll write you" and you thought "he'll never write to me, forget that." Right?
BILL BROWN: (unintelligible)
JANE BROWN: What happened is, Mom got the mail and called him wherever he was and said, "You have a letter from Cranbrook." And you said, "Well, you can open it". (Bill Brown is heard laughing) But he had been accepted, he was pretty shocked.
JANE KESSLER: Then you went to Cranbrook --
JANE KESSLER: Five years, altogether. A rare "beast," if there's such a thing.
BILL BROWN: He said, "Don't say anything, you jackass, you're in!" (all laugh)
JANE BROWN: And he washed dishes there and he raised his own GI Bill. His major was Design, but then he was also major minor Sculpture and Metal. And Wood also?
BILL BROWN: Yes, you had to make the stuff.
JANE BROWN: And then an important thing that he did, again connected with Cranbrook, at the end of the four years the Corning Glass people decided that they wanted l0 or ll designers across the United States who would come in and design glass for them, especially . And they looked around and found there wasn't a glass departments in the United States to choose. So then they went around the U.S. and chose -- was it ten or ll?
BILL BROWN: Ten.
JANE BROWN: So Bill was one of the ten. And he'd just done three of his four years and now he was --
BILL BROWN: And I said, " do I do now?"
JANE BROWN: He spent three months in Corning, New York, with nine other people.
BILL BROWN: They let you go anywhere you want.
JANE BROWN: Absolute .
JANE KESSLER: What year was this, Bill? When would that have been?
JANE BROWN: (conferring with Bill Brown) (unintelligible exchanges)
came to all ten of them and asked them to sign a paper that said that anything they designed while they were there would go to Corning. And Bill read that very thoroughly -- this was the kid who wasn't supposed to be doing very well in school -- he read that and went back and said, "I'm not signing this." (Bill Brown injecting something unintelligible) .... said, "I wouldn't begin to do that because I'm a designer of ."
BILL BROWN: (in loud tones) "Why do we do with this?"
JANE BROWN: Poorly written, because Bill designs anything in any material.
But then they had a wonderful year and at the end of it there was this big problem
for the head man that Bill admired a great deal --
JANE KESSLER: Who was the head man?
JANE BROWN: Was his name Jack? It was Jack Somebody, it'll come to us. In '55 when Bill and I were married, he wanted Bill to come to head up Corning's Design.
JANE KESSLER: Was he the head of Design at Corning?
JANE BROWN: Yes. Back to the three-month, this man named Jack had to decide who would be the head.
BILL BROWN: (unintelligible)
JANE KESSLER: It got down to three people: OK.
BILL BROWN: I said, when they talked about it, "Well, wait a minute, you can get one maybe because I don't want to do this." (laughing)
JANE KESSLER: (unintelligible query)
BILL BROWN: No I didn't.
JANE BROWN: He wanted to go back and do his Masters at Cranbrook. They also showed up a year or two later when they called him and asked him to be the heading of Corning Design and live in New York City and so forth.
BILL BROWN: No way.
JANE BROWN: "I don't want to just design glass," and yet he had a tremendous devotion to glass.
BILL BROWN: (after long unintelligible passage) "What? You don't want the ?" Then and now they know that I'm crazy. (everybody laughs) And I said, "No, I can't.
END OF THIS SIDE, A of TAPE 1
BEGINNING SIDE B
BILL BROWN: he says, "Are you gonna" I said "Well, in a little while I'll look it over." He said, "Are you leaving? "
JANE BROWN: Cranbrook. This is his fifth year.
BILL BROWN: (laughing) He says, "My God. Well, we're gonna miss you." (he laughs) I had a car with Mr. Saarinen --
JANE BROWN: He drove Mr. Saarinen around, as chauffeur.
JANE KESSLER: Well, I did want to find out about Saarinen, because I know he influenced you and how you thought about what you did at Penland. Didn't he?
BILL BROWN: (incoherent)
JANE BROWN: He never gave you answers, right? He gave you questions.
BILL BROWN: Yeh, yeh.
JANE BROWN: Did you find out while you were at Cranbook that education was fun? Would you say that? That when you got to Cranbrook you realized this was good education.
BILL BROWN: could do anything we wanted to do.
JANE BROWN: It was open-ended.
JANE KESSLER: So that was (voice overlap)
JANE BROWN: affect you
BILL BROWN: Oh, well, yes.
JANE BROWN: You bet.
JANE KESSLER: This is a quote that I got from you when I was here before, you said about Saarinen, you said that he said, "You may do anything at Cranbrook, gentlemen, if you do it well."
BILL BROWN: Yes, . (after several unintelligible remarks) "Yes, that is a good one." You're scared to death, but then you find he doesn't know, I told him, "I'm not even going to let you come back."
JANE KESSLER: You told him that?
BILL BROWN: Yes. (all laugh)
JANE BROWN: And he went to Saarinen's funeral in his white bucks. He thought that was very appropriate, to not wear black to Saarinen's funeral because there was nothing dark in his whole makeup, Saarinen was such a bright person. And later, when Bill was with me at Haystack and we were newly married, in about l955, there was a job open in the Design department. Bill had always talked Cranbrook up to here with me, you know, I thought I'd almost gone to Cranbrook I'd heard so much. And I said, "Bill, would you like to go back and teach Design at Cranbrook some day, wouldn't you?" And he looked up at the stars and he said, "Oh no, I don't think so, I think I'll build my own." I had no idea what a strong statement he was making to me at tht time.
BILL BROWN: Well, I don't know what I'm doing, so I just say things like that and everybody thinks I knww what I was doing.
JANE BROWN: But you knew what you thought was right. You found out what education could be. Right?
JANE KESSLER: So you graduated --
JANE BROWN: He graduated and he did not have a job, he had not filled out application, he was not one bit worried about it. And when he got in the car after graduation, he said to Pop, "What do I do next?" And Pop said, "Well, you've never starved yet, have you? You've never missed a meal. Come on home." That was only an hour away, so they drove on home and he started doing .
BILL BROWN: I was doing
JANE BROWN: Designs for your garage. Oh, was that when you were doing scarves? (she laughs) You were printing scarves, which was a big sale item --
BILL BROWN: (unintelligible) I took the car out of there and put that stuff in there --
JANE BROWN: You see, printing was another one of his majors.
BILL BROWN: (deprecating tone) Well, you just make a mess.
JANE BROWN: So then the phone rang. It was Francis S. Merritt, who was then the head of the Flint Institute. And he said, "I called Cranbrook to find out, I need some help, there's a show I have to do and I need two days of help." No? You promised to help two days.
BILL BROWN: (unintelligible) He had forty dollars, and then the girl that was secretary had to go away because the guy --
JANE BROWN: Moved people around --
BILL BROWN: And he's got me and I can't spell. Or anything.
JANE KESSLER: So you were to be his assistant?
BILL BROWN. Yes.
JANE BROWN: Well, it started out just, "Will you come and help for two weeks with this design thing?" He was supposed to go for two weeks to help Francis do wheelbase to wheelbase shows, which is a big thing in Flint, Michigan, at Ford and Chevrolet And it was a fantastic show and they fell in love with each other and were great friends. Francis was raising children, living in Fenton [?] Michigan, working in Flint. But anyway the secretary quit and he said to Bill, "Here's this 40 bucks for the secretary." And Bill said, "I can't spell." Fran said, "Well, I'll learn how to type." (BILL BROWN laughing) "I expect to keep you, I'd rather do without a secretary."
This is the Flint Institute of Art, which has now become a great big school in the center of Flint. It must have been a year you worked with him. He then is asked by a woman named Mrs. Bishop in Flint, if he would come to Haystack Mountain School of Crafts and run a school up in Maine. They had hired somebody else but he was coming down from Canada and the visa didn't come through, so Mrs. Bishop, who's one of the big industrial widows in Flint, has money of money, has been at Penland. You see, there is a hooker, a connection.
Mrs. Bishop had come to Penland in l949 and had fallen in love with Mrs. and she lived over the Lear House, with her great friends, they were Christian Scientists, she had an ex-doctor with her who was now Christian Scientist, Nellie Everett. So the two of them had come to Penland, fallen in love with it, then one of Mrs. Bishop's children or grandchildren called with somebody in Maine at Haystack Mountain, at Liberty, Maine, and Mrs. Bishop goes to visit in the wintertime and says, "This is where I should start a school." And she put $l0,000 in the bank to start a school called "Haystack" because all this little community in this wonderful area where there's now going to be a new in-law have always dreamed of having a school also. So perfect! Mrs. Bishop wants to start a crafts school like Miss Lucy, this group at Haystack wants to, so she decides to put the l0,000 smackers in, which was then like $l00,000 today.
So then she goes home, hires the man from Canada, and that guy can't come, so she loves Fran Merritt and she's on the board at Flint Institute, so she asks Fran, "Will you do it?" So in June and July Fran goes up to the school, which started off like you couldn't believe it, and Bill says he'll stay at the Flint Institute in , till August first when there's a vacation.
So Bill and Mom and Pop drive up to Maine and their island to see what Francis is doing. So they all go up together, Fran Merritt is driving on Route One showing them the territory and -- this is a very good part of history -- Fran is stopped by a policeman and goes into a telephone booth to find out who on earth is calling a major emergency to stop him on a road by a policeman, and Bill and Mom and Pop are there too.
And Fran goes in and is told by the acting board person at the Flint Institute of Art that he's being fired and he'd better resign quickly. Did Fran resign or be fired?
BILL BROWN: I don't know.
JANE BROWN: Fran was pretty damn mad, but Bill was (laughing) wild, because his favorite uncle, Uncle Jerry was on the board, and Mrs. Bishop was on the board -- no one was there, it was a summer meeting, so they did Francis in. So now Francis could be whole 24 hours a day all year than the director --
JANE KESSLER: Hate that.
BILL BROWN: He had no nothing offer you want but it's snowing. (he laughs)
JANE BROWN: So Bill goes back to the Institute and tells them off --
BILL BROWN: I sure did.
JANE BROWN: -- and then within a few months the University of Delaware called Cranbrook to ask, "Who do you think could work as a design instructor at the University of Delaware?" And they chose Bill . This would be the Fall of l950 and I'm at the University of Delaware, which is where I in. Bill is then teaching Design at the University and every summer goes to to Haystack to continue working with Francis. Which is where he's also building his dreams of how he wants a school . Fran and Bill together were doing
BILL BROWN: The two of us, nobody knows what we're doing (laughing) and we don't either.
JANE BROWN: So all were just three weeks long,
JANE KESSLER: But you taught that whole summer?
JANE BROWN: Yes. In the woodshop.
BILL BROWN: With not much to it.
JANE BROWN: I was out there in '52 because I was a student of Bill's at the University of Delaware and I went to be a Fellowship student in '53, I guess. And then the next year I graduated with and back to Haystack every year.
JANE KESSLER: Was that where the connection with Penland came, then, through Haystack?
BILL BROWN: (tentatively) Yes --
JANE BROWN: Well, not a connection so much as learning what you felt a
school could be and should be. Fran was stuck with only a wet summer. So the way Penland evolved was --
BILL BROWN: (unintelligible)
JANE BROWN: Fran started it, really, from the beginning, except that there were four people in the community that wanted to do certain things, so they got unhappy with Fran bringing in so much really vital thinking, but they pretty quickly backed off. And then Mrs. Bishop -- by the way she's a Christian Scientist and can't ever be angry or upset about things, right? and if you are, you're ill -- so the local people who'd been so interested in starting an endowment for the school, found that their vision was not very broad but they were very effective, good crafts people in all sorts of ways. They were nice people but they didn't have any knowledge of the arts.
BILL BROWN: Nice people but what they were getting into was something they never did.
JANE BROWN: They built a studio that would take care of one person. (Bill laughs) Mrs. Bishop dropped her $l0,000 at the bank in April and by June 20, Fran was starting the school. They built the four buildings people because they were in no larger vision than for one person to work in studio. So Fran met a lot of those kinds of problems. And by about the sixth or seventh year the pain that was suffered by these people that wanted to be a part of Haystack was making Mrs. Bishop miserable, so she went up then towards Deer Isle, Maine and found land up there and bought 60 acres for $3,800, which was the start of Haystack that you know today and its famous beautiful views of the island.
JANE KESSLER: So that's where was at that Haystack, supported by, and you were there too.
JANE BROWN: Yes. Bill stayed there till '62 when he was invited to come here. So what we did in the interim, we left Delaware and went to Oswego State Teachers College where Bill was offered an associate professorship and a $l2,000 shop. And after one year Bill just said, "you're not trapping me, I am not going to get a house and two cars and a garage and a lawnmower to cut my grass" (he imitates sound of a motor) "I will not get caught in that. You aren't doing the right thing for your students, you're locking all the doors and you're putting them in a box that will not allow the creative mind to work. I won't have anything to do with it."
BILL BROWN: (unintelligible) storing [?] things.
JANE BROWN: Yes. They said, "You've got to lock your doors when you leave because they'll steal things if you don't lock them."
JANE KESSLER: And you didn't buy that.
BILL BROWN: I told them, "Look, (unintelligible)
(voice overlap: Bill trying to explain something, Jane Brown interpolating; his voice drowns out hers)
BILL BROWN: I went over to the President and (overlap) and if we have to buy one, I'll buy two of 'em. just so dumb that I can't stand it.
JANE BROWN: So he went back to the President and told him that he had done that.
JANE KESSLER: Well, that really ties into your attitude about Penland, too, that you kept everything open, you believed the best about people, you believed that people would be honest if you -- that's how you viewed people and life, period.
JANE BROWN: Yes. They wanted him to stay at Haystack and put up a flag on the stage (Bill laughs loudly) for graduation, that kind of thing and he blew it. (laughter) When his job was to be the designer and to connect the art department with the design, and this was New York State Teachers College at Oswego, which has now become a very big department. There were only four or five of us there, then.
And he then would set up a project and he'd ask the kids to go over to the other departments and the departments would say, "No, Mr. Brown! you can't do that." And he'd ask them why and they'd say, "You can't use our wood. Two years ago we made the order for the wood that these kids are going to make certain lamps to teach seventh graders to make certain lamps, in industrial art, and if you sent your students in and they use that wood, then you've blown a course, we don't have our requisition, we'd have to wait two more years to get the materials."
JANE KESSLER: That was also your open studios with the exchange of media --
BILL BROWN: (unintelligible)
JANE BROWN: What they did, two years prior to Bill's getting into that classroom they had ordered cabinets: pink, blue, gold, they were pretty goodlooking cabinets, that came in two years later when Bill was there. All of a sudden Bill wants the kids to have room to move and walk and they've just got all these damn cupboards that he could care less about -- you know, who cared about those.
But when he left, what he did, he chose to go to the Worcester Craft Center which does these and the Worcester Craft Center was run by a man named Robert Gray, who later became the head of the Southern Highlands. And he took $4,000 for a job, (voice overlap) and Bill was in love with it, and it was a school that he felt had much potential --
JANE KESSLER: Wait, wait, let's stop for just a second --
JANE BROWN: He left Oswego --
JANE KESSLER: Now you were at Worcester and Bob Gray was there --
JANE BROWN: And that was '56.
JANE KESSLER: And then Bob Gray came south --
JANE BROWN: In '6l.
JANE KESSLER: And left you at Worcester, you were still at Worcester --
JANE BROWN: For three years. (Bill confirms) The only reason he left was, the board was saying (imitating argumentative tone of voice) "How many wastebaskets shall we buy this year??" Everybody was quibbling and arguing, and Bill just wasn't about to sit in that kind of . He guessed it would take them ten years to straighten it out, and it did.
JANE KESSLER: OK, let's get back -- was Bob Gray then a good friend of Lucy Morgan's? Were they connected?
BILL BROWN: No.
JANE KESSLER: So the Southern Highlands Handicraft Guild --
JANE BROWN: They hired Bob Gray in '6l, and then do you remember what happened was Miss Lucy had been asking her board to let her retire, for four or five years, and that she had started the Southern Highlands Craft Guild. Bob Gray was the new man in town and she went to Bob and said, "Who do you think should be the head of my school? I've got to leave." And he said, "Well, there are two men: Bill up in Worcester, and Joe Trapetti [phon.sp.], who was in Worcester, moved to New Hampshire and heading the New Hampshire Guild."
So Trapetti was a very Catholic name, (Bill laughs heartily) and Lucy honestly said later, "I have to tell you I decided I didn't want to see him." And of course she didn't know he was fallaway Catholic and Bill was a Catholic! (laughter) The head of her board was Sid Montague, he wasn't president, he was one of leading helper people. So she said, "Bill Montague, would you look up Bill ." And he said, "Yeah, I have to be in Massachusetts because I'm running a mica company and I have mica up in Massachusetts, I'll go visit with Bill in Worcester."
JANE KESSLER: OK. And tell me what that visit was like. Can you tell me what your response to that visit was? Were you taken by surprise?
BILL BROWN: Well, I knew that he was coming.
JANE KESSLER: But were you taken by surprise by the invitation to or the sort of idea of Penland School?
JANE BROWN: oh, my heavens, and he said what did you think of Penland School and you said, "That's where Christ lost his galoshes." (laughter) "Something is wrong," he said.
BILL BROWN: And I said, well, the lady that is there has been here there for 30 years and she's done things that never in the world could do. It's her thing and she's getting tired, I think, from what other people And "Goodbye, go home."
JANE KESSLER: Mr. Montague now?
JANE BROWN: By then, sweetie, he'd begged you and pleaded with you to come down and see Penland too .
JANE KESSLER: Did you understand though, was that you saying that Miss Lucy that was her thing and that she was getting tired? Is that what you knew about --
JANE BROWN: Well he said that, didn't he?
BILL BROWN: He did.
JANE BROWN: He had a very good friend in jewelry who'd told him there was something, they weren't keeping up with things and he didn't understand the arts at all, he was a businessman, but he said "this good friend of mine I respect and she's saying that something is wrong. But we love Miss Lucy." And then he said the good things about her. And the reason Bill said "Christ losing his galoshes" was that the one thing they had done visually that I think had caused some trouble for quite a few years was they had the same advertisement with a silhouette of a woman sitting at a little
JANE KESSLER: Loom.
JANE BROWN: Right. And that's really what Bill and I both immediately thought of when he got the letter, we'd like to see (inaudible).
JANE KESSLER: And that was the image you had.
JANE BROWN: Yes. He had been at Cranbrook, he was now at and Haystack where everything was just getting wilder and more wonderful and exciting and creative (overlap)
BILL BROWN: And what now? (more overlap)
JANE BROWN: and now they want you to come back here --
JANE KESSLER: This would be pretty much --
JANE BROWN: Let's say "staid," that would be another word. That would be another word about Christ losing his galoshes. In other words, it was a staid school in comparison. But he didn't know, you had no history on it, Bill, you had no knowledge --
JANE KESSLER: Had you heard of Penland School before?
BILL BROWN: Yeah, a long time ago, that that's where God lost his galoshes.
JANE KESSLER: (laughing) That's what you'd heard.
BILL BROWN: All over it was true. Everything was nice and clean and quiet and --
JANE BROWN: Loving.
BILL BROWN: -- very nice people, that had a nice time, but I don't think (inaudible)
JANE KESSLER: It was sort of like a very quiet community --
BILL BROWN: I would like to have it now. (hearty laughter)
JANE BROWN: Years later he found it good now.
BILL BROWN: What the heck could I do?
JANE BROWN: Years later, he said, after quote: We had a parking lot full of Cadillacs, and we gave 'em all up, and here we are with motorcycles, everybody's at Mass when we got here and went to bed early And now we've got these kids going around that we can't hold down. Why did we ever do that?"
BILL BROWN: I don't know! (hearty laughter again)
JANE BROWN: No one sleeps now. Instead of taking Mass, they don't even go to bed. say that with enmity [?]. And Miss Lucy would have wanted it that way. We found that out as soon as we met her, because she fell in love with him.
JANE KESSLER: Now, wait, let me hear, let me see -- OK, so you at this point, you've been invited to come down and you've decided, "Yes, I'll go down and take a look at Penland School."
JANE BROWN: Because he's been forced by Montague, Montague really pushed and begged -
BILL BROWN: If I was going to try it or think you'd do, go, whatever I thought, but if you you've got to have the guts to do it. (unintelligible) and Fran and the guys I'd been with and if I said, one comes up and if I said no, no I don't want to (making noise as of a tire letting out air)
JANE KESSLER: You'd be chickening out.
JANE BROWN: This is what he finally said after he talked to Miss Lucy, in your speech of apology. When you first went down, you really were just doing it to be nice, February, and you'd see Bob Gray your old friend who was now down here. And you didn't say I should go, you didn't think it was going to be that interesting, so I stayed at home.
Then you came back and said to me with a twinkle in your eye, "You can't believe it, all these buildings and all this material --"
BILL BROWN: Falling down.
JANE BROWN: -- "and nothing's being done, everything is neat and clean and the halls are all waxed but nothing is being done." That's when he said what he has said to you, which was, "Look here, if I've been trained by Saarinen and Francis and Bob Gray, we've all worked together all these years, and I've been the renegade, always told them what I thought should happen. And now I've got to put my money where my mouth is, you can't just keep talking loudmouth and not put your money where your mouth is." So that's why he .
JANE KESSLER: Do you want to say something else about that?
BILL BROWN: I don't know. You're lucky if you get little bits, not big ones. (he laughs) (unintelligible) You know, you catch things I find things "Oh yeah, sure" Well and then you talk some more and --
JANE KESSLER: Fill it in.
BILL BROWN: -- and fill it in and it's way back here now. What the hell were we for? We've gone by the thing and what's the difference.
JANE KESSLER: But that's OK. I feel like we'll do that a little bit during this thing. When you first met Miss Lucy, though, did you have a really positive response to her? Did you feel immediate warmth toward her, or --
BILL BROWN: Oh yeah, sure, she's crazy and old but something else --
JANE BROWN: She invited two men.
BILL BROWN: -- she better to make things work nicely for other people and stuff like that. And then she had a plant --
JANE BROWN: Violets?
BILL BROWN: Yeah. They were all over the place.
JANE KESSLER: All over Penland?
JANE BROWN: Yes. And people played cards. And she said to you, isn't that what she said to you, "Well, we just all got gray hair together"? He liked Miss Lucy, I think, a lot.
JANE KESSLER: I thought you did. Well, it would probably be pretty hard not to like Miss Lucy.
BILL BROWN: didn't give a shit. If you wanted it done, or she wants it done, it's going to get that way. (he laughs)
JANE KESSLER: Yes. She was a determined woman.
BILL BROWN: And she was only about this high.
JANE KESSLER: Yes, a little woman.
JANE BROWN: She told us that there was a mimosa tree outside in front of "The Pines" ] which was in the beginning just a little farmhouse and it had burned down. She said, (in emphatic tone) "You know, everybody was just standing around mourning and in grief after this explosion, the building burning down, we were all so upset. And" she said, "I just saw a whole bunch of boards they had thrown over on that mimosa tree and I went over and I pulled them off." She was standing near this beautiful mimosa tree, which has now been because of disease, but in l962 it was still there. And she said, "I just looked at the situation and got in my car and drove down to the lumber company to Mr. , who was on our board, and said, 'Let's start building.' And we did.
BILL BROWN: And they do. Everybody says 'OK, c'mon, let's go!" (he laughs)
JANE KESSLER: Well, that stayed the same, didn't it Bill? I mean, that was something that you certainly preserved at Penland School, was, like, when you needed to get something done --
BILL BROWN: We never had any money.
JANE KESSLER: -- yeah, and you just did it anyway.
JANE BROWN: With everybody's help.
BILL BROWN: Lumber --
JANE BROWN: Mr. ? [proper name of the board member who had lumber]
BILL BROWN: He'd wear that hat.
JANE BROWN: He always wore a man's hat, one of those dressup hats you'd wear to church, and suit and tie --
BILL BROWN: Not his best, now --and he looked like --
JANE BROWN: His tree firm.
BILL BROWN: Yeah. He's got to go play my way or his. And so one day I come
in which it did We got not right stuff and --
JANE BROWN: A lot of direct stuff that came from the lumber company.
BILL BROWN: He's got his hat on and he's working on stuff and looking at the thing. And "Hey! Where do I put this damn stuff??" And he said, "What?" We were hollering. "Is this the real stuff to get the good stuff?"
JANE BROWN: Could we also tell this? This is really important. When you first got there, they were having lunch, it was Saturday noon and Bob Gray picked him up at the airport and then drove him on up here. Bill took pictures, that you brought home to me. But he gets into "The Pines" to eat, and this Mr. Deeton [phon.sp.], who's head of the School, the superintendent -- this is Miss Lucy's Board, that she has built, you see, of people that will just constantly help her, who can never get in her way and they just met once a year --
JANE KESSLER: And they were all white.
BILL BROWN: Old, most 80.
JANE BROWN: They were all older. Mr. Deeton was still superintendent --
JANE KESSLER: So this was community members that were really making it.
JANE BROWN: Yes. This was the board, and they only met once a year and they heard what Miss Lucy did and cheered her on. But they would come in at a special moment like this, and so it was Montague, who had met Bill in Massachusetts around the -----
BILL BROWN: He's the one that got me in it.
JANE KESSLER: -- And . was the man from Tennessee, who was kind of making a link between Penland and the University there so there could be some credit. So Bill sat down and looked at them all and said, "I want you all to know something, that you shouldn't hire me." Isn't that what you said?
BILL BROWN: Yes.
JANE BROWN: Do you want to take off on that one? "You shouldn't hire me." Why not?
BILL BROWN: Well, I forgot.
JANE BROWN: You said, "You should not hire me because I don't like the [inaudible word]."
END OF THIS SIDE, B of TAPE l
BEGINNING SIDE A, Tape 2
JANE BROWN: (beginning mid-sentence) ... because I was hearing this when he got back to Worcester, Mass., to tell me. He just said that he was very firm with them, saying that he didn't feel that he was going to be able to work with a board that well, but that he would be fine if they worked --
BILL BROWN: They had me on anyway.
JANE BROWN: -- but they'd never had him on anyway, he understood that. But you see Miss Lucy had run the school from the start, you read her book and find out she forced a man to come and join the board and that the lawyer in town told her she was unwise to have one because they would stop her in doing what she needed to do. And they, luckily, came and met once a year, and now Bill was talking to them and saying, "I don't think I can work with a board, I don't think it would work, I can't function very well." Unless they say the persons on the board stay behind Bill every day and are walking around the grounds with him to help make decisions, and then it would be fine.
So he was showing them, he seemed pretty tough with them right from the start in saying, "I think they're unwise to hire me." Then he turned to Miss Lucy -- oh, people on the board, one most important person I should have mentioned was Bonnie Board, who was the secretary and treasurer of the school and was the first child of the neighborhood who went to Berea College because of Miss Lucy's work with the native people. And it was her mother, the Willis [?} family, who agreed to be the first weaver in Miss Lucy's favorite project of the mountain region, weavers.
JANE KESSLER: So Bonnie Ford was on the board, or --
JANE BROWN: She was on the board, she was also secretary and treasurer of the board, and she was Miss Lucy's righthand man. Had Bonnie Ford not been the steady pace behind Miss Lucy's great, exciting, experiment, the school would not be here today. But Bonnie is one of those important silent people -- comparatively silent, but when she had to speak she spoke with great clarity, but she basically was one of the hardest workers and dedicated workers that Penland ever had.
So she was there at that meeting too, and a board member. So, then Bill, after making the statement to the board meeting -- a thing that shocked them a little bit -- he turned to Miss Lucy and said, "Now, where is the nearest Catholic church?" Later, Miss Lucy said, that really threw her, but she already knew she wanted Bill to be her director but she didn't quite know how to handle that, because she had been raised first as a Baptist and then went to the Episcopal church, and then with the Episcopal missioner who found Penland and built the children's school, and that's why she was here. So now she had a young Catholic on her hands and she hadn't shown him to Preacher Petty [?] -- (laughter)
JANE KESSLER: Then you knew about that beforehand?
JANE BROWN: No, we didn't know any of that.
JANE KESSLER: Oh, you didn't? So this was just out of the blue, that --
JANE BROWN: Yes, well, because his Catholic church was very important to him and he wasn't sure there was a church close by. There was only one, in Spruce Pine, with 40 parishioners --
JANE KESSLER: So how did she overcome that, or how did you overcome it?
BILL BROWN: (breathing heavy sigh) Whew! It was a process.
JANE BROWN: She didn't say anything to you that day about it, did she??
BILL BROWN: No.
JANE BROWN: So it wasn't till February of '62 when we got here in August '62 --
BILL BROWN: She got on the telephone from here to where we were --
JANE BROWN: In Worcester?
BILL BROWN: (unclear)
JANE BROWN: And asked you what?
BILL BROWN: ... something "Do you think you'd be happy or something ab out being a Catholic?" And I said, "Yeah, sure" and she didn't say anything much, she said, "Well, I guess that is " And we just talked and that was it.
JANE BROWN: But do you remember the question she asked you, now I do remember -- she asked you, "Will you hire only Catholic people?" That was her big question before she said, "Yes, you're the man I want."
JANE KESSLER: So you think that actually was her concern, then, that it was going to become a Catholic institution?
JANE BROWN: Right, yes. So then she called the local priest, and then she called the priest at where her nephew Ralph was. And she talked to Ralph, and finally Ralph, who was a great Episcopalian himself, sat her down and said, [in stentorian accusatory tone] "You are being a bigot!" (Bill laughs heartily)
JANE BROWN: She can repeat these three or four strong sentences that her favorite nephew said to her, and she said, "Then I knew that I was really being a bigot, he was absolutely right, and everything would be all right." So she hired Bill.
JANE KESSLER: So then she called you back and said, "Come on down here."
BILL BROWN: "Y'all come."
JANE KESSLER: And you said "OK"?
BILL BROWN: "OK."
JANE KESSLER: Were you thinking in the meantime about it? I mean, did you want to come by that time? Or were you still --
JANE BROWN: It was a duty for you, don't you think?
BILL BROWN: Yes, (unclear)
JANE BROWN: Once he said he would do it, he'd never change. But also I think ,as you said earlier, that you felt that it was the next thing you should be doing, since you had been (Bill overlapping) it was now time to put your money where your mouth was, right?
BILL BROWN: Right.
JANE BROWN: It was a combination, yes, he would never back out. When his wife came out on the steps one night at Worcester and said, "I just decided I can't do it," he just looked at me like a big father and said, (in firm tone, slowly) "We have already said we would, there is no debate about this." And he said, "We can try it for a year and if you don't like it at the end of a year's time --
JANE KESSLER: Why did you think you couldn't?
JANE BROWN: Well, I had hair that I could sit on at that point, it was long and in long braids, and I'd just combed it and put it in long braids, and Selma, Alabama was going on and I felt we were moving down to the South and the black problem, and I will be the first one running around with a placard trying to help the black people -- I will never be able to be the directress of anything. This is crazy, this is not my thing, I'd better not do it; and I lost my nerve.
Earlier, however, when he first came home, I knew the jig was up when he walked in to me from his airplane trip and told me about the food, and told me about Miss Lucy and the trips they had taken around the grounds, which was only l2 acres then but it sounded a lot to me. I just looked at him and thought, "Oh, this would be a wife of the 50s." Bill was totally devoted to this, I could see the gleam in his eye, I could see he was starting to do sculpture. So I knew there was no more debate, that Bill Brown was going to take the job. I didn't give him any flack about it.
My education worries, my concerns about education for our boys, who were then five and six, were paramount in my mind and I knew coming to the South wasn't going to do much for them. But even though I had those fears, I did not quibble for one moment, until about two or three months later, I walked in and said, "I can't do it, ."
JANE KESSLER: And you did! (laughter)
JANE BROWN: Yes.
JANE KESSLER: What year was that that you actually moved down here?
JANE BROWN: '62, on August 20.
JANE KESSLER: And was Miss Lucy still -- she was still very much, though, on the premises before you got here? She was still running the school?
JANE BROWN: Bonnie Ford --
BILL BROWN: She runs everything.
JANE BROWN: Bonnie really ran everything. Miss Lucy was the color.
BILL BROWN: She was great. Wow, wow.
JANE KESSLER: But Bonnie stayed on and was your --
JANE BROWN: If we hadn't had her, we could never have done it.
BILL BROWN: You can't do it, because there's all kinds of things other than I ever heard (unintelligible)
JANE BROWN: Then when Miss Lucy handed you the keys to Penland on, what, September lst? somebody, one of the kids made a big key but we do have these kids, one of the kids -- there was only one kid there (laughter) --
JANE KESSLER: That's what I wanted to ask, too -- when you got here, it was older students, older faculty --
(an exchange of remarks, word "Chicago" occurring)
JANE KESSLER: Edward Wirst [sp?] --
JANE BROWN: Anyway, yes, they were all older students. There was one young
woman -- by the way, Miss Lucy ran the summer program as a
major thing and they did it in two weeks , pretty much, and August 28 was the end. What they would do then, they showed us their system, and that was to have a show -- three weeks, I guess -- and they had it in the craft house. They had punch with sherbet in it and the women literally came with white gloves and hats on. That's how formal it was.
JANE KESSLER: So what age range are we talking about?
JANE KESSLER: Over 50, at least. There was one young woman in her 20s and she would no more walk into the dining room in shorts than the man in the moon, she'd go change -- if she had the audacity to wear shorts, she'd change before she went into the meal.
JANE KESSLER: Now, the classes that were being taught here when you came were metal -- copper -- weaving, clay, hand-dyeing --
JANE BROWN: And they taught something they called "related arts" (voices overlapping) and they said they taught 60 different related arts or something. (Bill interjecting, unintelligible)
JANE KESSLER: What did that include?
BILL BROWN: There isn't that many in the whole world.
JANE BROWN: Flossie taught dolls, one of the main arts.
JANE KESSLER: Printing was a related art, wasn't it?? Didn't they do some blockprinting or fabric printing?
JANE BROWN: That was the summer faculty that came in and did those things, you see.
BILL BROWN: We had lunch and then they -- what is this thing?
JANE BROWN: Radio? (Bill says no) TV? Bill says yes, sure)
JANE BROWN: TV?? In '62??
BILL BROWN: Yes, and they listened to the news and whatever they're doing and they go back to their things about four o'clock or something (laughter) "Oh yeah, OK."
JANE BROWN: And they locked the studio. Everybody had requisitions, anything without requisitions then.
BILL BROWN: Oh my God, but you know you've just gotta say "Wow" --
JANE BROWN: You kept saying, "I'm not going to do a revolution."
BILL BROWN: You do, do get killed, so, you know, they're nice people but they don't know what the hell they're doing or something.
JANE BROWN: They weren't very educated in the arts. The man teaching anatomy had been a milkman up in New Hampshire and then he picked up some courses at Penland in anatomy and now he was teaching anatomy. His wife was a weaver and they were now living in Florida and the mountains in the summer. Very important . So also Miss Lucy had asked Bill -- Miss Lucy and Bill were just getting along beautifully, I'd met them together when we got here on August 20 -- and she said to Bill, "The faculty members I always invite them back" -- she had such a twinkle in her eye, "I always invite them back and I ask them for the same salary." And of course the salary was nothing. So she said, "I always go around in the afternoon the last day of classes and I invite them back. Bill, would you go with me?"
BILL BROWN: Sure.
JANE BROWN: So I walked behind. Now, this has been the Bill that I had known as a renegade. I had to just swallow my own and think, "My Lord, he's going to do this. How could he change overnight like that??"
BILL BROWN. Turn around.
JANE BROWN: I was kind of shocked. So he went from room to room, building to building and asked them back, and I can remember a couple of them looking up with their bright eyes, white-headed Floridians saying, "Oh, thank goodness you've invited me back, Mr. Brown, because I couldn't imagine spending the summer in Florida."
JANE KESSLER: Well, you let them come back as long as they wanted to, didn't you?
JANE BROWN: He didn't ask anyone to leave.
JANE BROWN: And some continued to teach right on --
BILL BROWN: And some of them got getting better and better, you know, doing whatever they're doing.
JANE KESSLER: So they grew?
BILL BROWN: I hope (he laughs)
JANE BROWN: And here was the next landmark: The summer people left and then it left a structure of people who lived on the hillside, like Flossy Perishon [phon.sp.] who was Bonnie's sister, and Adelaide Chase and Eric Picker who all summer now -- the summers had divided up the day in ceramics. Eric taught, for instance, in the morning, Adelaide in the afternoon, and altogether in the entire summer they used 900 pounds of clay, which was what, within a year, we were using within a week, wasn't it?
BILL BROWN: Yes --
JANE BROWN: Or in a day. It was an amazing change. Then the summer people leave and we have about eight people living on the hillside. And Flossie -- oh, first thing Bill asked of people was, "Would you mind leaving the doors to the studio open?" And Flossie, fired up and said (in bossy tones) "I don't wanna leave the door open."
BILL BROWN: (imitating same tones) "Yeah, what're you doin'?"
JANE BROWN: And Bill said, "Why not?" And she said, "People are going to come in and take stuff and tomorrow morning when I want to come in and work it won't be here. That's why, Bill , I don't wanna lock it."
BILL BROWN: And she had supposed to money.
JANE BROWN: Yes, and she'd have to pay for it, otherwise.
BILL BROWN: And I said, "You saw anything you like in this school for all of you, that's yours. You don't have to --"
JANE BROWN: You can use it as a faculty and you don't have to pay for it.
BILL BROWN: You can show them how to do things or make things of yourself. (he makes derisory sound) That! All right.
JANE KESSLER: So she said OK?
JANE BROWN: So you said to Flossie if she wanted to she wanted to leave the doors locked she could do it, and and then she wouldn't put any pressure on .
BILL BROWN: Yeah, sure, no, no, no.
JANE BROWN: And Flossie did lock it as far as I know for the next couple of days.
BILL BROWN: (deprecatory tone) Yeah, but she --
JANE BROWN: And then she decided that was stupid. So then the summer people had gone, things are calming down, the summer program starting which would end up with almost nobody, and Flossie comes to Bill and says, "You know, we've all been here since the year one. And if you want to use us, you'd better train us. You're the big man in design (Bill is laughing) why don't YOU give us a class?"
And by the way, they decided he was a "big man in design" because Mr. Montague had asked Bill to please send down a show of his work and that show was put up in the craft house for the summer. And we think it rattled the faculty members, it was too finely high-design stuff and it scared them. So I think when we came in they were being pretty fearful. So now Flossie's willing to have the guts to come up and see "we need help." So he started a class on the third floor --
JANE KESSLER: And the "we" that was left with Flossie was who? Adelaide Chase and --
JANE BROWN: Yes, Adelaide and her husband (Bill echoing the phrase) Harvey, who was a photographer, a very good one. And Eric Picker the potter --
BILL BROWN: Picker picker potter -- (laughter)
JANE BROWN: -- and Mattie the weaver --
BILL BROWN: But she only came up once --
JANE BROWN: But she came the first time, she (overlapping voices)
So that was the group. I thought, now, big Bill the design teacher -- he had taught me and so many good people and I thought, what will he do? Will he send them off -- and his own idea was, like, take clay and now build it up into a certain size and then take it up modularly, you know, three inches bigger and then three inches bigger and three inches bigger -- in those days way-out ideas for design -- what you do with these people?
Again, as a wife I couldn't believe that the man who'd been the big noise in design now said, "Everyone of you has worked in the medium for umpteen years and you're excellent at it at this point. I'll venture that each one of you had a dream that you wish you could (imitating conspiratorial kind of suggestion) get the nerve up to try something that's a total experiment and something that you're almost afraid to even try. We'll lead it out between this Tuesday night and next Tuesday."
JANE KESSLER: If that's not a key statement -- !
JANE BROWN: That's right. And they took off with it. And the next week -- I went upstairs and Flossie's door was locked -- she was the lady who'd said she wouldn't lock her door, she would lock it, then she wouldn't, and now she's locking it again. And I'm thinking "we're going backwards." (Bill talking along with her, unintelligible) But it was that she was so excited. She and Lester had been doing for a hundred years lamps of fibreglass that were all very much made like what you'd see in seventh grade, kids had to make, you know, as a new project to learn how to make a lamp and it ended up class. And then they'd put these little lamps on it and there would be a lanyard around it.
So she took it and she made a lamp that was, well, kind of a takeoff on the kind of thing, it was, like, this big (Bill laughing) and this shape, in clay [?] --
JANE KESSLER: And that came out the first time you said to her "have the freedom to try something that you've always wanted to try"?
JANE BROWN: The first week. Well, she was so embarrassed she closed the door and locked it so no one would watch her, that's why it was locked. (Bill laughs heartily) So, when she opened it on Tuesday (more laughter) when the class went on everybody was trying experiments. Bill was just knocked out. So he said, "Floss, let's put that down in the dining room" where against the ceiling ten round tin vases and from it came a globe, a bulb with nothing around it so the glare was atrocious. "Let's hang one of those and now make six more and make them every one different --"
BILL BROWN: Different because they don't have to be that --
JANE KESSLER: They don't have to be a light.
BILL BROWN: No. So they did. And she did and they loved it.
JANE KESSLER: And did they keep on doing that?
JANE BROWN: Oh yes. They met on Tuesday night and they just went further and further. Harvey Chase had been ill for l5 years and he had a new glare and excitement in his eye, and he tried experimental photography and Adelaide said everybody had a ball. So, by summertime they loved Bill!
BILL BROWN: And they had Skip and sports came in --
JANE BROWN: That's right. Came Skipper, coaching, college team? For the summer jumping -- (overlapping voices)
BILL BROWN: "Get your down here" (laughing)
JANE BROWN: By spring he was asked to jury a show in Ohio on a jury with a man named Schless. [phon.sp.] I know the question you're going to ask -- how did you bring new people in?
JANE KESSLER: Let's go back, I want to pick up one more piece of Miss Lucy, which was the conversation, another quote from you in that early one where you said you asked her why she didn't have a woodshop and she said "because it's dangerous." And you replied, "Everything you learn is dangerous."
JANE BROWN: Education is dangerous.
JANE KESSLER: Education is dangerous --
BILL BROWN: She stopped and looked at me, "I think you're right" (he laughs explosively)
JANE BROWN: She decided at the moment he was going to be the new director. They were touring the school at that point.
JANE KESSLER: So that was before you were hired, before you had accepted?
BILL BROWN: I dunno.
JANE BROWN: I think so. Then, also, she sat you down on that wonderful old bed-chair thing that we had in the hallway at the time and said, "Will you take the school?" And you said, "Oh Miss Lucy, I shouldn't. I just don't think I'm the right one for it." And she kept saying, "Why aren't you?" She was really the one who made you talk it out. And you finally said, "Well, I guess it's true, I've talked so much up to now, it's time for me to put my money where my mouth is." I wish I had more knowledge about that conversation, but that was the gist of it.
When we got here by the fall, by the way, Miss Lucy had agreed to leave within two or three weeks. Then she was in with her nephew, and then two weeks later she asking to come back. So she'd drive herself back. And she'd be with Bonnie, her favorite, just like her child. And then people were beginning already to stir up -- Bill's analogy was, "Every time she comes back I have this pot of beans, and the beans are bubbling and we're doing all right. And stirring them this way. And then all of a sudden Miss Lucy comes back and she just stirs it a little bit that way and it goes over the edge! And so I don't know what to do."
So he was suffering a lot with her return, yet knowing how hard it
was for her not to come. So finally I went to Bonnie one day and said, "Bonnie, you know this isn't going to work. As much as we love Miss Lucy --" And Bonnie said, "I understand what you mean. I've talked with Lucy and I said, 'Lucy, would you like to come back next month and see it all boarded up? Or would you like to give this young man a chance to do what he needs to do??' And she said, "Lucy looked at me and said she knew it had to be. So let him do what he needs to do." And Bonnie said, "Yes, we're going to have to get Miss Lucy to stay away."
She promised to stay away for a year. Then she got an onslaught of letters -- letters and letters and letters that year -- and finally told her people to not write her any more, that she still believed in Bill. So she wasn't going to listen to the really crank letters.
JANE KESSLER: By that time, of course, you were winning over this poor faculty anyway. So you were really --
JANE BROWN: Yes. That's the name for it. The "poor faculty" she's talking about are the winter people too, the winter-summer. Then he asked everybody back that had been there before, then in Ohio in March we will hire Roy Flint, who is the head of the Athens Museum -- 48 board members, which really put Bill into (laughter)
BILL BROWN: He was a painter.
JANE BROWN: Right. And Skip Johnson, a friend of ours, who had said he had been wanted to be in on the beginning of this, could he come that summer? And Bill by then had devised a graduate program which we'll tell you more about. But Roy Flint -- this is about Bill in Penland and said "I'd like to come down and help you." So it was Skipper, who had moxie about the way you treat people, and he and Roy Flint could deal with 48 board members, and she could really handle all feelings, because everybody's feelings obviously Bill knew were worthy.
So they were the only two new ones. And Skipper taught down in that dark, dank place --
BILL BROWN: Nothing there. And finally got --
JANE KESSLER: OK. And Skipper was a wood worker --
BILL BROWN: Yes.
JANE KESSLER: -- but you didn't have the woodshop yet.
JANE BROWN: (overlapping with Bill) He decided wood that summer, that was the only --
BILL BROWN: Then I went out with --
JANE KESSLER: The lumberman.
BILL BROWN: -- and I told him, "we've got to get a saw, gosh, you can't hardly do anything" And Mr. said, "How big you want it?" I said, "As big as you are." (laughing) I knew what was the one needed. It came in about two months or so. And then -- (unintelligible exchange w. Jane Brown about something dangerous)
JANE BROWN: That was a new course offered then. And painting with Roy Flint.
JANE KESSLER: So those were the two new courses that were added the first -
JANE BROWN: You see, he couldn't drop anybody out then, by doing that he brought new people in but he didn't say, "You leave, Joe, because I want Mary to come." He didn't wish to throw anybody out. And he let them run it entirely the way they liked to do it in the summer, in their classes, and they did their little, at the end of the sessions a dramatic show where the teachers usually spent two full days just preparing the craft house show, which then would be a white-gloved kind of thing. And he just let them go their own way. But of course we thought we were being very easy, but I'm sure in ways we weren't that we didn't know.
One thing that freaked him out most of all -- this was much part of the story of that first year -- our cook and her mother, who was 90 years old, had been Penland weavers and they did quilts and they were doing an ordinary quilt. And Bill got really turned on with that in the fall after we got here. And he said, "Gee, could you do a quilt for me?" And they said, "Sure, Mr. Bill Brown." Mabel had great . She said, "Sure, Mr. Bill Brown, I'll get you our cook." She was in the painting room, she was now cook, didn't know anything about cooking but she did this quilting on the side.
So they start doing it and Bill runs downtown to get the material -- I still have it but it doesn't have its pep any more -- he chooses magenta and light sort of pea green and an off-blue, a wonderful off-blue. And he brings it home to them and then he draws this kind of shape, wiggly all the way down, so that one -- pink is the background, and then this wonderful blue and this wonderful green, and they set it up in front of the window of The Pines. Later, Mable, when she knew me better and had the nerve to say, said, (in rich deep voice) "Ah thought ah'd go blahnd!" "Mr. Bill Brown, I thought I'd go blind." It was such a , it was a knockout, the best-looking, it was 20 years ahead of its time.
The violet shelves had been where the milkstand is now, that was all violet. And things that Miss Lucy had picked up were all in different places that were not students. So Bill took all those things out and had a , so when you walked in , that's the first thing you saw. Later, we realized that was probably not a very smart thing to have done because it really frightened the faculty when they came back in June, but it showed them where Penland was going.
JANE KESSLER: Of course, that's true.
JANE BROWN: which you couldn't believe but apparently we scared them. Along with the chips --
JANE KESSLER: I did want to ask about the poker chip story. Can you tell me what that was or what that was meant to accomplish?
BILL BROWN: Well, before I came
JANE BROWN: What they'd do they'd just set the tables out, fully, --
BILL BROWN: And then they'd go around it
JANE BROWN: Yes, you'd be seated, given a seat, find a seat when you came.
You would be assigned a seat and you knew your whole three weeks you sat in that seat. And when you got to the table, breakfast, lunch and dinner, all the silverware and the plate and the little milk container and a glass. So you knew you were to sit in that seat. And then the work came in, each person had a job. Today you would have your job, tomorrow if I sat next to you I'd be in charge, all three meals my duty bound was to take care of that table and be a good moral person.
JANE KESSLER: So that was Miss Lucy's system for dinner seating. You felt like that needed to be changed.
JANE BROWN: Yes. That was the only thing other than the doors being left open.
JANE KESSLER: And what was your method then?
BILL BROWN: (garble)
JANE BROWN: Poker chips.
BILL BROWN: So when they put up before dinner or wherever you
JANE BROWN: would leave the chip under
JANE KESSLER: Under the plate?
BILL BROWN: Then that you got it you got it and you'd take care of them, get their milk and stuff. And they all came out and Before that it was a big thing to do that.
JANE BROWN: It was very embarrassing. If you took somebody's seat by mistake if you were a visitor and sat in someone else's seat, you'd feel a tension around the room and didn't know why.
And then there was a funny thing that the chip would be put under the wrong scholar's seat and then the kids would get smarter and smarter and they'd look under the plate and if they saw a chip they wouldn't sit there. (laughter) So the last person at the table invariably got the chip. And then it became a BIG joke.
JANE KESSLER: Oh sure, it got to be a game, didn't it.
JANE BROWN: At lunch, though, you turned lunch into buffet in the first summer, which was a shock too, because then everything was up for grabs. Those things must have rattled the older people an awful lot.
JANE KESSLER: You felt like the food needed to be changed, too, when you got here, didn't you.
BILL BROWN: Well yeah (garble)
JANE KESSLER: Just the way it was served you mean?
BILL BROWN: No. It wasn't no good. (he laughs)
END OF SIDE A, TAPE 2
BEGINNING SIDE B, TAPE 2
JANE BROWN: The people that Bill brought in that next summer, I might add, was the famous Pete Voulkos who's a very famous potter and back in the 60s and 70s, he's always been very loud and very strong. And he now does great big sculptural stuff; in those days he was a potter. So he met de Chicco [phon.sp.] with Bill and de Cicco and a couple of other guys at a conference in New York and Peter got all excited about what Bill's dreams were for Penland. And he said, "Oh I want to come help." And Bill said, "No thanks." (Bill laughs) Just flatly to one of the even then most famous men in ceramics. And Pete said (mimicking very loud voicer) "Why not, Bill, why not?" And Bill said, "Because I just can't use you yet. What we're doing there has to be done as kindly as we can. You're not going to help me do that." (she laughs)
Somebody asked Pete one day, "How do you wedge your clay?" And he said, "I burp a lot" or something like that. He was a very gruff, coarse kind of guy but absolutely wonderful, a wonderful guy, but Bill knew --
JANE KESSLER: That Penland wasn't ready for him.
JANE BROWN: -- that Penland would be blown apart to have him there. And he
had the will to say "No thankyou." De Cicco, of course, he took immediately
and de Cicco came in right from the start to help us.
(voice overlap, mention of a woman's name) Yes, she came right away to help but Peter got left out of the scene and we never grabbed him later. But Bill loved him and would not have said an unkindness to him, he could be open with him.
JANE KESSLER: Well, that was a sensitivity to the human aspect of Penland and the faculty which was, I think, where you and Miss Lucy had definitely very much in common, real sensitivity to the people as opposed to the objects, they were what was important.
JANE BROWN: Right from the start, you're absolutely right, Jane. You betcha.
JANE BROWN: In the Fall what Bill did, by the way, within two or three weeks
of getting there he formed a Fall session which only had four or five people,
on October 7 we started. We had the brochure on it too. And he got those winter
faculty to teach it and they were very proud to be invited to do that, you know.
But it was -- is that when we right away or was that the next year?
(after pause) It must have been the next year for . Well, let's wait for the next year for that.
But in the meantime the winter went by and you kept trying to figure out how do you use the grounds , twelve acres and all these buildings and nothing's happening in the winter? And you went off and you met Roy Flint at the show but then you also knew that a big problem was that we had a registration form that had "Race" on it and you knew that that meant they were keeping black people out of the school.
So you went to Bonnie Ford, who was your righthand "man," so the depth and life of the school had continued all those years, and you said, "I will not be able to run a school with 'Race' written on it, so I think if you want me to stay you'd better take that off. Let's do it, and I'll tell the board when they meet their one time a year in June." Which was like June lst, and who was going to start on like the l8th??
So Bonnie just gulped and went right ahead and did what he wanted to and we never felt a quiver from her. We didn't understand that two years prior to this event, Miss Lucy had invited a wonderful black woman to spend the year at the school, and then she proceeded to go off on one of her trips with her fairy godmother and was not there all year. And when I later read the board meeting notes from Bonnie, it said on it that the population of the school had just gotten totally out of hand, Bonnie had to take the black woman down to her house -- to show you how she would love the person anyway, and yet she felt that for the school it was seriously a mistake and that black persons were not going to come in here again and that it was not a wise thing ever for the school to do again. Yet when Bill came to her and said "take 'Race' off" she said not one word about it.
JANE KESSLER: And then when you offered that to the board did they also go along with you?
BILL BROWN: They just go (he makes several noises clearly like croaks) (laughter)
JANE BROWN: Bill just said, "I'll quit right now if you want me to. I'll leave right now. I'm taking it off," he said.
JANE KESSLER: You still had the same original board?
JANE BROWN: Right. And he just said, "If you don't like it I'm sorry and I'll be glad to leave. But I can't run a school with that." Now Bonnie was so cognizant of everything going on in the black world and the white world and everywhere else that when she got two applications that summer from two different people connected with what she knew was a school for the black, she looked into it very thoroughly, mentioned to Bill that they were coming, made sure that they had private rooms and that it was done with great decorum all the way around. But she got more and more nervous about it and said, "You know, I'm just not sure that your faculty will even stay" or whatever.
So now he'd gotten over the board thing and then finally in about July the two black people come for the same session, they're not married, and we also have two Catholic nuns --
BILL BROWN: (laughing) Oh my
JANE BROWN: -- this being the 60s they were still wearing long robes and habits, the whole works. And they all just by chance came on the same Sunday, the same session. From the start Bill and I did everything. He was cutting the ham for that Sunday evening dinner, and I was out on a path and all of a sudden I see this Mister Merritt come roaring down the pathway -- he used to teach lapidary -- and he is ready to kill. I've never seen a guy that mad. He comes up and he says, (mimicking furious voice) "I need to see Mr. Brown! I see that there are black people coming into this school and I'm not going to have anything to do with it."
I had never experienced this whole prejudice thing before, so I sort of stood quaking and thought, "Let me go get Bill." So Bill went out and all I heard him saying was, "I understand how you feel, and it is your right. If you don't want to be around blacks I would never force you. You have an absolute right to leave right now if you wish to. But the black people are not leaving. That's all."
And Merritt is mumbling around and he said, "All right, I will not teach."
Bill said, "I don't even know if they're in your class.
You can find that out tomorrow morning." And he just held his ground. And I went in and cut the ham (laughing) while he handled this wild hornet. And I come out again, and I find the two sisters and the two black people, and the sisters, luckily, walk into dinner. Now, remember we don't have chips under the plates for the first time in the session, and now nobody knows where they're going to sit.
Now I understand why they like that secure feeling of people being told where to sit, because now everything is loose. I walk in with the two black people feeling just mortally sorry and wounded for them and I'm kind of breathless and I look around the tables and think, "Oh boy, this whole faculty members have built their staunch support at a corner table where they usually sat." And I look and I see the two nuns in their habits and I think, "I'm Catholic, I know they're going to put up with black people." So I walk over and sit next to them. So we get through a wonderful meal. And one of the sisters happens to know one of the black people by somebody else and then after dinner we all go home.
There's a man named Vic Papenac [phon.sp.] who is a designer, later wrote a very famous book on design, he's visiting Skip Johnson and we're over at our house sitting up on the steps looking down on the grounds of the school and the black people are walking along with Bill, who's trying to explain to them the nightmare he's just gone through and how sorry he is but they just want to stick by him. And they're saying, "Mr. Brown, you mustn't worry, we're used to this. You're experiencing it for the first time but we live through this all the time. So you don't worry, and thanks for your help." They're both Phi Beta Kappa, dressed immaculately and are just neat people. It was real wonderful.
Bill then comes up and sits on the steps with Skip Johnson and Vic and myself and wives, and Victor says, "Oh, Bill, it could have been a lot worse." "What are you talking about?" "It could have been two black Catholic nuns." (all three laugh heartily)
JANE KESSLER: So you felt like you had leapt a hurdle there, I guess.
JANE BROWN: Yes.
JANE KESSLER: (still laughing) That's a wonderful story.
JANE BROWN: One more little thing: I found about two months later that there was a bus of black children being taken every day down to Marion and I got annoyed by it and thought, "My Lord, this is incredibly awful. My kids are getting shots on Monday afternoon and hate coming home late at night and every night these black kids do."
So without telling Bonnie Ford, I go to the town to the superintendent -- I tell Bill, which is all right -- I go to the superintent, who's right away very edgy, and I tell him an NAACP person, I'm not a placard carrier, but I would like to know why are children being dragged down to Marion on icey roads to go to school. He said, "Mrs. Brown, I want you to know that next year this will not go on any longer but I want you to know we are an Aryan race." And with that he was just shooting arrows through me and by next year we cut out of school would be closed otherwise till the end of school.
So I think, well, I did my duty. And I go home and I tell Bonnie about two days later. She got as white as a sheet, just pure white. "Do you realize, Jane, that if news gets out that you've done such a thing, the people from this community would come in and burn every building down in this school??" Well... it just took my breath, that was my realization from that moment on that I was now not fully my own master, I was running a school with my husband and that our first allegiance had to come to the school, not to what Bill and Jane Brown wanted.
JANE KESSLER: But you didn't hear any repercussions?
JANE BROWN: Nothing happened afterward.
JANE KESSLER: Was he not on your board now, the superintendent?
JANE BROWN:, That man wasn't. This was a -- it must have been -- Dean [?] must have been the past superintendent and the most beloved superintendent they ever had here. Now Mr. Thomas was the superintendent. Thanks for catching me on that. Dean was doing, he was doing all kinds of programs when the Democratic Party got in and they were using him in lots of very exciting ways.
My sons just heard this story last year, they hadn't heard it before.
JANE KESSLER: I want to make sure we talk about the residence program. That must have started right about this time. Is that right? Wasn't it April of the first of -- which session? Let's make sure --
JANE BROWN: That would be '63 -- (trying to recall) It wasn't a session ... Let me straighten this out, I can do this fast. In November the head of our board was Nils Larsen [phon.sp.] and he and his father were architects and they were the greatest friends of the Babcock people. Babcock had been giving the school $5,000 as a pure holding the shoestring together. And so Bill said, "I want to go talk to him" and Nils said, "OK." And he's like his uncle.
So they go to his door and he's in his bathrobe, and he comes in and looks
at Bill and says, (mimicking combative tone) "So what is this school anyway??"
He was putting $5,000 in for ten years --
BILL BROWN: Yeah because he'd put money in it, hell yes, for ten years he says, "I just keep it going. What the hell is now?"
JANE BROWN: He said, "Is it a waystop between Michigan and Florida? Is it a restaurant? Is it -- " he gave three bad names, and Bill said, "I dunno, maybe it's a little bit of all that, it may have been along the way that, but from here on in it's going to be the best goddam school in the nation. In the world!"
BILL BROWN: (laughing) He said, "NOW I got things going." (laughter)
JANE BROWN: "I like that!"
BILL BROWN: He said, "OK."
JANE BROWN: Right. So then Bill told him, "I have this idea of bringing residents into the community." You take off on that --
BILL BROWN: Well, we got a lot of land and we got places to sleep and all that kind of and there's all kinds of people around that need to have a place to work.
JANE KESSLER: You wanted to set up a program for crafts people --
BILL BROWN: Well, people in the crafts what that is, it's probably you don't make much money if you're really good they get out of school, all these kids, or people, and there's nothing for them to go --
JANE BROWN: To go to work at Penney's, they could do the show windows for Penney's --
BILL BROWN: So I think that's a good thing to get going on because nobody does this.
JANE BROWN: And you said, "Like a lawyer has an office to go to. And a medical person has a good doctor to go work with as an interne."
BILL BROWN: And so we got money --
JANE BROWN: $2,000 a shot, and/for [?] six people each, and it was called "stretching a rubber bands." So a resident could come and work, and buy his materials, and we even paid the food money in those early years.
BILL BROWN: Because they didn't have any.
JANE BROWN: And they paid $25 -- it couldn't have been that much, could it? Was it $25 for their studio and $25 for their house, and they paid $50 a month?
BILL BROWN: Oh I don't know.
JANE KESSLER: That was a phenomenal amount. (all three voices overlapping)
JANE BROWN: So that was $2,000 they paid. We were doing the right thing exactly.
Skip Johnson was the first one. We knew Skip was going to come. Now, April came
and Bill's family lived in Flint and he decided to go home and we met Dick Devore,
[sp?] who was at the Flint Institute, which was now a big and Dick was later
the teacher of ceramics at Cranbrook, so he was a real good teacher.
He had had a man named Ed Brinkman who worked with him. Ed Brinkman, he knew, was dyslexic and he was the smartest guy in the world and he had made five kilns for them and this guy was the perfect person for Bill's program.
JANE KESSLER: Resident program?
JANE BROWN: First resident program. So Ed Brinkman goes to Penney's and buys himself a $l3 seersucker suit -- he was from Frankenmuth, Michigan, very German background, and very clever and wonderful as our first resident.
JANE KESSLER: Before we go further with that, then, you only had in mind as far as the residents went that these were people that needed help getting started and they needed support, they needed a place to work --
BILL BROWN: Sure, goddammit -- (continuing, unclear)
JANE BROWN: And it might take them two years to get on their feet and it might not.
BILL BROWN: (mostly unclear) but everybody else gets --
JANE KESSLER: Gets help.
BILL BROWN: Yeah. And then they can go by themselves.
JANE BROWN: By then it was not to prove that they would become craftsmen necessarily but to prove in their lives what they needed to do, so iof they did not end up staying in the craft world, or if they didn't start their own studios, it didn't make any difference.
JANE KESSLER: How did you think you would find these people or choose them?
BILL BROWN: I don't know (rest unclear)
JANE BROWN: He never wanted to plan ahead how he was going to do it.
JANE KESSLER: So you didn't have a set of -- like, "we look at your work" or "we look at -- "
JANE BROWN: Well, you just took a gamble on the person. But they needed the help.
BILL BROWN: Sure, yeah. I don't know what I'm doing, those people needed help --
JANE KESSLER: Sort of a person-by-person --
JANE BROWN: And the way they were going to do this at Penland, physically, was in the summer they'd have to stop working because they worked in the winter months. But that didn't happen till years later. This is now '63, so you felt a little bound about that but they could only work from October lst to May lst. But then they could be monitors, and they could teach, and they could teach --
JANE KESSLER: Let me get that clear: that they could only work during the term here, because then when you had to have that space for students --
JANE BROWN: Right.
JANE KESSLER: -- so then they had to quit but then you'd let them work as --
JANE BROWN: Monitors, or anything they could figure out --
JANE KESSLER: So you made sure that they could stay through the session --
JANE BROWN: Yes.
JANE KESSLER: -- even though they couldn't work --
JANE BROWN: On their own stuff, yes.
BILL BROWN: (mostly unclear) you have to be this
JANE KESSLER: Beginning and --
JANE BROWN: Yes. Nor how long -- you didn't tell them how long. You guessed it might be two years but you weren't sure.
BILL BROWN: Sure, because it's easier at least for anybody is a real person and if you muck-a-muck you gotta go now and (rest unclear)
JANE BROWN: Ed Brinkman and Skip Johnson. Then by the summer Ron Burke, potter, that we'd known in New York State -- Skipper and Ron Burke were both students that saw the fallacy of what was going on at Oswego and they were way up in their 30s when they came.
BILL BROWN: And I had them too.,
JANE BROWN: They were your students too. That was the first time they'd found education fun, so that's why they wanted to come.
JANE KESSLER: So they followed Bill here.
JANE BROWN: Right. Ron Burke redid an entire building to live in, here, and
got his work going just beautifully. Within a year had just gotten it all rolling
real well, he goes up to New York state to sell some of his very big pots and
it's very obvious in his car, and he drives into a gas station and a lady says,
"Are you a potter??" He says, "Sure." She says, "There's
a pottery for sale, over right near this gas station, you ought to go meet the
Well, the men fell in love with Ron Burke. They said, "We will sell it to you, like, instead of a hundred thousand we'll sell it for twenty thousand, and we want you, Ron Burke." So Ron had to come back and tell us, "Well, in a year's time I've done all of this and now I've got to leave." And Bill said, "You do it! Of course go."
BILL BROWN: (laughing) They're going to help you all of it
JANE BROWN: This was in New York State. He later went to Maine, lives in Maine or New Hampshire. He's still living on his own work. There were never any strings attached.
JANE KESSLER: Other residents?
JANE BROWN: Another person, by the way, who left later -- this was be about l970 -- David Cornell and Judy came. He was a glassblower and she was a potter. He was invited after less than one year to become the head of Archie Bray. The flukey part was that nothing in their lives had gone on schedule, they were very neat, careful people, they wanted this done and this done, and finally the only thing that went on schedule was their card that said Judy Cornell and -- And they came in and then that day the phone rang and Archie Bray said, "Would you come and be the directors of our school?" (BILL BROWN laughing heartily) And he came to Bill and said, "Gee, we've just spent these many months getting all ready and now the cards are here and nothing else is totally -- we're just almost ready to swing --" And Bill said, "How could you not take it??" So they left. This is an example of how the resident program went.
JANE KESSLER: I guess that was the thing, where was this other that you said that 98.6% of all the residents that went through were successful, meaning that then they got out on their own. They did what you wanted for them to have happen, was to get out and go on and do what they needed to do.
JANE BROWN: Skip Johnson went back and worked as a teacher at the University of Wisconsin, where he has now just retired this past year. So he found out that he really needed to be a teacher. And when he said, " do it?" Bill said, "Of course, if that's what you need to do you've got to do it." That would be one of our 98% successful, he chose what he wanted to do, and he's encouraged people to be craftsmen in their own shop ever since. He knew that they had to bed a particular personality.
JANE KESSLER: Well, at that time, building-wise, the barns were not part of Penland at that time, were they??
BILL BROWN: No
JANE BROWN: Where we are is '63, the resident program begins, and '64 it goes on the wame way, in '65 Appalachian School for Children came up for sale. It was a unique school and when it was finally bought in '66 while we were using it the first time. So in '65 we are told we need $l00,000 to buy it.
BILL BROWN: (loudly) Ha ha! I love ya.
JANE BROWN: That's when Bonnie absolutely was getting our salary out of the Coke machine one time, that really did happen, she was counting the pennies, she never wanted us to kind of know how low we were. But Bill always knew, he had a smell for the finances coming in. And by the way, you I think at one point asked in salary, Bill took $6,000 to come here as a first salary, and before that year was over Sid Montague wrote us this very polite saying "Bill , we're very glad you're here and we're proud of what you're doing. We have collected $5,000 for you but there's no way we'll find the last thousand. If you want it you'll have to find it for yourself." Miss Lucy had been paid one year for $700 but they'd never paid a director. $5,000 was the tops they could find. So of course I wasn't paid anything, I wasn't paid anything until '69, my first time to get a salary.
BILL BROWN: But look at all the fun you had. Ha ha!
JANE BROWN: So now, in '64 and 65 and just adding in on us about this wonderful 240 acres of the Appalachian School and that whole hillside in front of us, it was the Corner Hall, it was the , it was the barns which were dilapidated and decrepit just-falling-apart barns... So, one day in the Spring, a man named Phil Haines drove up. What he was asking Bill to do run a meeting for arts people like Tom was going to on it and all these people that he felt should get the crafts and the arts going together in North Carolina and thought Bill should be the leader of it.
Bill said, "I'm not going to do it," and Phil said, "But you could have the meeting here." So the two minds met right then, they were great friends from there on in.
JANE KESSLER: But Phil Haines had not had any involvement up until that meeting?
JANE BROWN: No. Already he had met Clementine Douglas, who was a board member from back in the 20s, and Clementine was on the boat that Joan and Bill had had their honeymoon on. They had heard about Penland School and he had never forgotten about it, he was always kind of intrigued. So Clementine Douglas was one of the most supreme, beautiful women you'd ever meet in life. She was very hunchbacked and a spirit that was absolutely incredible.
So she knew of the school and knew wouldn't have said anything stupid and I was coming to get Mr. . "He's in a meeting." Then, "Let's go to dinner at the New Ray Inn." "OK, OK." And with that started his and excitement for Penland School.
JANE KESSLER: Then was it Phil Haines who made it possible to buy that land that was available?
JANE BROWN: Do you remember, you were up on the third floor of the linen house? (no reply) You were up on the third floor of the linen house and Phil Haines was looking around the grounds and the hills and stuff in front, and he's saying (mimicking declamatory voice) "This is incredible, I think this place is act of God." And Bill says, "Yeah, it's great, none of that land do we own out there. They want $l00,000 for it, too." And Phil said, "We'll figure out a way to do that. Sure, let's go to dinner at the New Ray Inn." And he just wouldn't stop talking.
JANE KESSLER: That seems like Providence showed up at exactly the right time!
JANE BROWN: Right. Prior to that Miss Lucy had been there during the summer -- we now, the way, could visit very easily. She stands outside and a man comes up and says, (portentous tones) "Put it in your heart, Miss Lucy, that this land will be bought and it will be bought." So now Philip comes in a few months later and then Phil goes to his cousin Gordon, and he shouts, "Gordon Haines! We need $20,000, I need it immediately, I mean go write the check right now."
BILL BROWN: "I'm not going to listen to you now."
JANE BROWN: And Gordon says "I'm not going to listen" (Bill laughing)
and then he sees Bill a few months later and he says, "I have never given
$20,000 to anybody for anything that I didn't know why it was going. You're
the one who rooked [?] me." So that plenty. .
BILL BROWN: (unclear)
JANE BROWN: Yes, that's when he told you but he had already done it when he didn't even know you. In the end, what Bill did was, the church kept hassling back and forth about the $l00,000, and finally Bill wrote to the bishop one day and the head of the bishopric financially and says to him, "I have $40,000 in cash and I happen to know that you would be a lot smarter if you took this $40,000 and you put it in the bank and you have defunct school from you. Forget the $l00,000." And the guy looks at him and finally he says, "You know, I think you should be on the other side of this table. (Bill laughing heartily) You've got a very good idea, let me go talk to the board."
Prior to that, by the way, when they had board meetings with the bishopric it was marvellous, Mr. B s of the lumber company had been taking care of both schools, so when the bishop was saying, "Well, we have this wonderful school with these l2 buildings on it" and Mr. B --
JANE KESSLER: This is the Appalachian School?
JANE BROWN: Right. They had a meeting of both boards -- of the Appalachian School and our school and of the bishopric. And B s of course was there, and he then caught the bishop and said, "You just wait a minute. I'm the one who's taking care of that Appalachian School all these years and I happen to know that leaves come through the walls. That's how badly it's insulated. The waterpipes all need to be redone --"
BILL BROWN: Oh God yes.
JANE BROWN: -- and he just laid it on the line. And I think where Bill's board was really doing what it needed to do at the right moment. And that's what Bill would always say: "That's why you need a board but you need them at particular moments." And he got it for $40,000.
BILL BROWN: How do you like that?
JANE KESSLER: Not bad!
JANE BROWN: Philip didn't give anything to it but Gordon gave something and -- oh, that's when you sent out -- see, Bill had already sent out three letters asking for help . The first year he got there he went to town and took a cup of coffee for ten cents one day and thought, "That's how I can get the money" and he goes home and writes a letter called "Hey Rube" and I have it -- that's the old circus call "we need help" -- and couldn't you give a dime a day to Penland School?" And altogether the dime a day would be $36 a year something like that.
Mrs. Bishop got the letter at Haystack and she sent him $360. (Bill laughs) (voices overlapping)
BILL BROWN: When came back we were upstairs and
"don't you know how to do anything?" (all laughing) hit a ball of nothin" "Look at what you've done" and she said, "what are you doing" --
JANE BROWN: She laughed --
BILL BROWN: -- she said, "God"
JANE BROWN: -- she sent $360 but everybody sent $36 and it all added up, you see. Then the second letter that goes out is saying the Appalachian School is up for sale, we have some people that want to help us but we're really in trouble. And we've got -- only about $l2,000? I'm not sure about this number, maybe $l2,000 from people. Which really impressed Phil Haines. He couldn't believe that one letter going out could get that
END OF SIDE B, TAPE 2
BEGINNING SIDE A, TAPE 3
(voices begin very faint, almost inaudible)
JANE BROWN: and Bill has convinced the board of the Episcopal church (several inaudible sentences)
JANE KESSLER: And was not living here.
JANE BROWN: I guess really Phil Haines came about, the first time --and he comes to visit and Philip must be in charge and he says, "We're going to walk around the grounds." And Bill says, "No we're not." And Phil says, "Yes we are" and Bill says "No we're not." So back and forth these two men are hitting each other about it. And finally Bill says, "You're getting into the jeep, Philip." So he gets into this jeep with him and they start at ten in the morning and they continue all the way until six in the evening, going into every nook and cranny of every building. And Philip really did look into private areas -- Morgan Hall has a lot of wonderful kind of maze-like areas.
So he was just knocked out. He came back and sat down on the front porch of our house and put his head down and said, "Now I know what my dad meant." (Bill laughs) "Well, you're such a great guy, Philip, you get Bill and $40,000 money to buy the school, and now look at the problems he's got." And now Philip knew. Every single one of those buildings had bad electrical systems, and so on and so forth. John did come that weekend and it was the weekend that --
JANE KESSLER: John [proper name] did?
JANE BROWN: -- and he had a bad tooth and disappeared Saturday morning. So he didn't go on the trip with us. And I got the wedding . So Bill and Philip were just sort of going in and out with me as I was going off to the plane [?]. Philip was just stunned (Bill laughing) most of the day. "Now I've really got to help him/them." ." (overlapping voices, laughter, obscuring)
JANE KESSLER: Well, that was a good response.
JANE BROWN: "Now I really have to help." So Bill decided to go ahead
and make a program to Reynolds and to Reynolds Babcock, that now they had a
real project of embellishing these buildings. pull together photographs But
during the summer, weemr (much of this paragraph l r
This transcript is in the public domain and may be used without permission. Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with William J. Brown, 1991 Jan. 19-Mar. 2, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.