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A Treasury of Craft History in Los Angeles
For a model of extraordinary persistence, consider Joan Benedetti, who spent 14 years organizing the archives of the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles, now available for study at UCLA’s special collections library.
The archives include all of the museum’s files and photos from 1965, the year it began as a gallery/restaurant called The Egg and The Eye, until 1997, when money woes forced it to close temporarily. At that time Benedetti, who had been CAFAM’s librarian since 1976, volunteered to put the documents in order: “It needed to be done.” She fell into a pleasant routine, spending one to three days every week at UCLA, going through boxes. “Every archivist does this. You just go file by file.”
Their contents renewed her appreciation of the museum and its founder, Edith Wyle. “She was an amazing, charismatic person, with incredible aesthetic judgment,” Benedetti recalls.“She had this idea to combine what was, in the mid-1960s, a growing interest in both contemporary craft and international folk art.”
Then, in the early 1990s came the L.A. riots, coinciding with a national surge in awareness of ethnic and cultural identity. “Edith used to say she’d heard from then-Mayor Tom Bradley that there were more people from different countries living in Los Angeles at that time than any other city in the U.S.; that made her focus not just on the objects from those communities, but, more consciously, on the people.” Wyle died in 1999, just after the re-opening of the museum, which thrives to this day.
In 2007, Benedetti found time to edit Art Museum Libraries and Librarianship, regarded as the definitive book on the subject. She now lives in Santa Fe with her husband, Robert, a theater director, writer, and actor. She’s modest about what she accomplished, just pleased that it makes mining CAFAM’s history easier. Records may be searched by keyword via the Online Archive of California.
Researchers are used to digging, she says. “But they appreciate all the help they can get.”
Joyce Lovelace is American Craft’s contributing editor.