The records of the Woman's Building feminist arts organization in Los Angeles measure 33.4 linear feet and date from 1970-1992. Originally founded by artist Judy Chicago, graphic designer Sheila Levant de Bretteville, and art historian Arlene Raven in 1973, the Woman's Building served as an education center and public gallery space for women artists in southern California. The records document both the educational and exhibition activities and consist of administrative records, financial and legal records, publications, curriculum files, exhibition files, grant funding records and artist's works of arts and prints. A significant portion of the collection documents the Women's Graphic Center, a typesetting, design, and printing service operated by The Woman's Building.
Scope and Content Note:
The records of the Woman's Building measure 33.4 linear feet and date from 1970 to 1992. The organization played a key role as an alternative space for women artists energized by the feminist movement in the 1970s. The records document the ways in which feminist theory shaped the Building's founding core mission and goals. During its eighteen year history, the Building served as an education center and a public gallery space for women artists in Los Angeles and southern California; the records reflect both functions of the Building's activities.
The Administrative Files series documents the daily operations of the Building, with particular emphasis on management policies, budget planning, history, cooperative relationships with outside art organizations and galleries, special building-wide programs, and relocation planning. Included in this series are the complete minutes from most Building committees from 1974 through closing, including the Board of Directors and the Advisory Council. The General Publicity and Outreach series is particularly complete, containing publicity notices from most events, exhibits, and programs held at the Woman's Building, including brochures, announcements, programs, invitations, press releases, newspaper clippings, and magazine articles.
The Woman's Building's educational programs centered on courses offered by the Feminist Studio Workshop and the Extension Program. While the Workshop provided a two-year program for women interested in fully developing their artistic talent, the Extension Program offered a broad range of classes, specifically oriented to working women interested in art and art vocations. The records fully document both programs, focusing on the course development and descriptions, teacher contracts, class evaluations, budget planning, and scholarship programs. Although the Archives does not have the entire slide library, there are files concerning the establishment and administration of the library, as well as a few folders of slides.
The Gallery Programs series houses the records of the visual, performing, literary and video arts events held at the Woman's Building. Administrative files detail the daily operation of the gallery spaces. The files in the remaining subseries are primarily arranged by event and contain proposals, announcements, publicity, and artist biographies.
The Women's Graphic Center became a profit-making arm of the Woman's Building in 1981 but the typesetting and design equipment had been used by staff and students since 1975. The records in this series focus on the work produced at the Center, including general projects and artist designs and art prints. Many of the design and printing examples were produced for Woman's Building events and programs.
The Artist's Works of Art series includes artist books, resumes, correspondence, postcards, and samples of art in the form of sketches, drawings, and prints. There is also material related to Woman's Building projects. Especially noteworthy is the "What is Feminist Art?" project where artists gave their responses in various formats and mediums from text to pieces of artwork.
The Printed Materials series contains feminist and art publications not produced by or for the Woman's Building.
The collection is arranged into 7 series.
Series 1: Administrative Files, circa 1970-1991 (Box 1-9, 32; 9 linear feet)
Series 2: Educational Programs, 1971-1991 (Box 10-14; 4.9 linear feet)
Series 3: Gallery Programs, 1973-1991 (Box 14-20; 5.6 linear feet)
Series 4: Women's Graphic Center, circa 1976-1989 (Box 20-23, 32, OV 33-50; 5.6 linear feet)
Series 5: Artists' Works of Art, circa 1972-1990 (Box 24-25, OV 51-53; 1.7 linear feet)
Series 6: Grants, 1974-1992 (Box 25-30; 5.3 linear feet)
Series 7: Printed Material (Not Woman's Building), 1970-1983 (Box 30-31; 1.3 linear feet)
In 1973, artist Judy Chicago, graphic designer Sheila Levant de Bretteville, and art historian Arlene Raven founded the Feminist Studio Workshop (FSW), one of the first independent schools for women artists. The founders established the workshop as a non-profit alternative education center committed to developing art based on women's experiences. The FSW focused not only on the development of art skills, but also on the development of women's experiences and the incorporation of those experiences into their artwork. Central to this vision was the idea that art should not be separated from other activities related to the developing women's movement. In November of 1973 the founders rented workshop space in a vacated building in downtown Los Angeles and called it The Woman's Building, taking the name from the structure created for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The FSW shared space with other organizations and enterprises including several performance groups, Womanspace Gallery, Sisterhood Bookstore, the National Organization of Women, and the Women's Liberation Union.
When the building they were renting was sold in 1975, the FSW and a few other tenants moved to a three-story brick structure, originally designed to be the administrative offices of the Standard Oil Company in the 1920s. In the 1940s, it had been converted into a warehouse and consisted of three floors of open space, conducive to publically available extension classes and exhibitions offered by the Woman's Building staff and students. By 1977, the majority of the outside tenants had left the Woman's Building, primarily because they were unable to sustain business in the new location. The new building was more expensive to maintain and the FSW staff decided to hire an administrator and to create a board structure to assume the financial, legal, and administrative responsibility for the Building. The funds to operate came from FSW tuition, memberships, fund-raising events, and grant monies.
In 1981, the Feminist Studio Workshop closed, as the demand for alternative education diminished. The education programs of the Building were restructured to better accommodate the needs of working women. The Woman's Building also began to generate its own artistic programming with outside artists, including visual arts exhibits, performance art, readings, and video productions. That same year, the Woman's Building founded the Women's Graphic Center Typesetting and Design, a profit-making enterprises designed to strengthen its financial base. Income generated from the phototypesetting, design, production, and printing services was used to support the educational and art making activities of the Building.
When the graphics business closed in 1988, the Woman's Building suffered a financial crisis from which it never fully recovered. The Building closed its gallery and performance space in 1991.
Among the other resources relating to the Woman's Building in the Archives of American Art is an oral history with Suzanne Lacy on March 16, 1990, March 24, 1990, and September 24, 1990. While not credited as a founding member, Lacy was among the first group of staff of the Woman's Building which she discusses in her interview.
The Getty Research Institute also holds a large collection on the Woman's Building which includes a wide range of material relating to its exhibitions, activities, and projects.
The Archives of American Art donated 5 boxes of video tape from the collection to the Long Beach Museum of Art, Video Annex in 1994. According to documentation, this was the desire of Sandra Golvin and the Board of Directors of the Woman's Building.
The Woman's Building records were donated to the Archives of American Art in 1991 by Sandra Golvin, President of the Board of Directors.
Arts organizations -- California -- Los Angeles Search this
Nonprofit organizations -- California -- Los Angeles
Woman's Building records, 1970-1992. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by the Getty Foundation. Funding for the digitization of this collection was provided by The Walton Family Foundation and Joyce F. Menschel, Vital Projects Fund, Inc.
1.31 Linear feet (2 boxes; audiocassettes, videocassettes, floppy disk, CDs)
Oral histories (document genres)
VHS (videotape format)
The Labat: A Creole Legacy project records, which dates from 2001 to 2004 and measure 1.31 linear feet, contain materials documenting the creation of artist Lori K. Gordon's quilt, titled "Labat: a Creole Legacy," and the life of Celestine Labat. The collection is composed of audiocassettes, videocassettes, floppy disks, CDs, transcripts, newspaper clippings, writings, notes, correspondence, notecards, and postcards.
Scope and Contents note:
The Labat: A Creole Legacy project records, 2001-2004, contain material related to the creation of the Labat: A Creole Legacy quilt. The quilt, based on the life and family history of Celestine Labat, was created by the artist Lori K. Gordon and acquired by the Smithsonian Institution in 2004.
Series 1: Writings contains correspondence, writings, notes, and speeches by Gordon her life, work, and research on Labat family history, and friendship with Labat.
Series 2: Interview Transcripts consist of transcripts of Gordon's interviews of Labat.
Series 3: Printed Materials consists of newspaper clippings and artwork related to Labat, Gordon, and the quilt.
Series 4: Audiovisual Materials consists of 21 audiocassettes and 4 videocassettes containing interview material.
Series 5: Digital Materials consists of 1 floppy disk and 3 CDs containing images and documents related to creation of the quilt.
Material in the Labat: A Creole Legacy project records is arranged into five series by subject and material type. Series 1 through 3 are housed in Box 1, and Series 4 and 5 are housed in Box 2. Where possible, material within series has been arranged by item type and date.
Biography of Celestine Labat -- Celestine Labat (1898-2002), educator and traveler, was born and raised in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, in a large Creole family. Her mother Leonora Fayard was a homemaker, and her father Joseph Labat, known as "Papa Joe," was a builder and engineer. Celestine Labat's education would have been limited to eighth grade due to racial discrimination, but she moved to Indianapolis and did domestic work in order to finish high school. Upon graduation, she returned to Mississippi and became a secondary school teacher. After a decade of teaching, her desire for higher education prompted a move to Washington, DC, where she attained a bachelor's degree in science during the years of WWII. She continued teaching, moving to San Antonio, Texas, then Los Angeles, California, where she got her master's degree in education at the University of Southern California. She again returned to Mississippi and taught at St. Augustine Seminary for twenty years before retiring at age 72. She remained active until the last years of her life, and at age 102 was the featured speaker at a Hancock County Historical Society luncheon where she met artist Lori K. Gordon. Their collaboration lasted until her death in 2002.
Biography of Lori K. Gordon -- Lori K. Gordon (1958-), visual artist, is originally from eastern South Dakota but now makes her home in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Her work reflects her interest in social issues and her environment, such as the "Katrina Collection," in which Gordon made art from found objects after her studio and community were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Her meeting with Celestine Labat in 2000 was the start of a friendship and collaboration that resulted in the art quilt, "Labat: A Creole Legacy," acquired in 2004 by the Smithsonian institution. Gordon's work spans arts forms including sculpture, collage, and painting, and is in public and private collections around the world. She is also the founder and president of Six Degrees Consortium, a nonprofit organization created to "enable the creation and dissemination of works of art that are socially relevant, timely, build bridges across cultures and that address the issues faced by humans in an ever-shrinking world."
Related Archival Materials note:
Related material held by the Anacostia Community Museum:
Lori K. Gordon collection
Other related material:
Lori K. Gordon website
The Labat: A Creole Legacy project records were donated to the Anacostia Community Museum in 2004 by Lori K. Gordon.
Use of the materials requires an appointment. Please contact the archivist to make an appointment: ACMarchives@si.edu.
The Labat: A Creole Legacy project records are the physical property of the Anacostia Community Museum. Literary and copyright belong to Lori K. Gordon or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information contact the Museum Archives.