Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Fruit Room

In the years 1966-69, my (then) husband and I lived on campus at UC Santa Cruz, as preceptors in the dorms (translation = house parents). We were in our mid 20's barely older than those crazy young students we were supposed to be watching over. The late 60's on the West Coast was the apex of the hippie era, and Santa Cruz was definitely on the map for the flower-power generation. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll was the mantra of those years. Cowell College had an amazing mixture of creative and eccentric intellectuals. Living in the dormitory next door to us were Philip and Beatrice Terzian Thompson, and we four became the closest of friends in those years. Philip was an amazing poet. (A book of his brilliant work, Dusk and Dawn, has just been published by Cowell alumnus, Gideon Rappaport.) Beatrice is an artist, and taught students how to draw - first at Cowell, and then for many years at the Brearley School in New York. She also is the author of a book about Drawings by High School Students. We entertained each other wildly, cooking huge Italian and Armenian meals, reading aloud to each other, looking at art, socializing with the faculty, and marveling at the student world swirling around us.

During spring break, 1969, when all the students and faculty had vacated the campus, the four of us got a notion to undertake a fun project. The college had an unused room underneath the Cowell Dining Hall. For some reason we decided to decorate this empty room while everyone was away, and then throw a surprise party there when they all came back again. For two weeks, we barely slept. We drove all over 3 counties going from super market to super market begging for the colorful food advertising that, in those days, was common throughout grocery stores. Sometimes we scored big - whole rolls of oranges, for example, that we used to cover the ceiling and floors.
For days and nights we cut and arranged and glued our food art onto the walls, ceiling, and floor until every inch of the room was completely covered in colorful food. It looked so terrific, but lacked a certain finishing touch. So we bought a large piece of green astro-turf for the floor, and hauled a couple of large rocks into the room, to complete the artificial "dejeuner sur l'herbe" effect.

When spring break was over, we sent invitations to the whole of Cowell College to come to a party in THE FRUIT ROOM. Nobody was allowed in until the party began. Meanwhile, we had set up huge bushel baskets of fresh fruit as our only refreshment for the party. In the photograph below, Philip and Beatrice Thompson, our co-creators, sit along the wall at this party.
Page Smith, founding Provost of Cowell College, below, has a piece of fruit.
Jasper Rose, art historian, joined the party.
In the photo below, Mary Holmes, Professor of Art History, sits with Professor Jasper Rose.Below, Sara Holmes Boutelle (author of the book Julia Morgan, Architect), with Philip Thompson.
Philip and Jane, with Keith Christiansen (now the Curator of Italian Art at the New York Metropolitan Museum, but formerly a Cowell College student and pal).
A writer from American Artist magazine came to view the room soon after it opened. He was very excited about it and wanted to do an article for the magazine. However, once he determined that we had not been using any drugs while we created the Fruit Room, he declared that it was "not significant" and went away! It didn't matter that we were high on the creative process. The late 60's were all about hallucinogens, and we were not!

Several years later, long after the four of us had left the college, Cowell covered up all the fruit in the FRUIT ROOM and painted it white again. No trace of it remains now, except in the memories of those of us who were part of it.

28 comments:

Endment said...

thanks for sharing this delightful and creative memory

Wish I had seen it!

adagio said...

Sigrid, this is so fantastic. I love it! Love it! Born in 1960, I missed the conception and first fruits of the 'hippie' era. However, come the mid-70's I was flying on the movement's tailwind and stayed there for several years. Even now, I can still feel the 'bones' of the era under my skin and carry a very warm affection for stories such as this. Upon hearing them, something resonates deeply within. How wonderful to have all these marvellous photographs to 'groove' on every few years.

Rexroth's Daughter said...

Oh Sigrid. This is the most beautiful and touching post. I wish I had seen that piece of room art. I've walked around Cowell, and loved Page Smith (but never met him). I feel the passion of that time in this art project so much. You have captured the intensity, the dream, the belief that we could remake the world, or even more boldly, see it in its natural beauty. I wish we could do it all over again, that awakening, those dreams, that heart-opening gorgeous time. Thank you for posting this.

roger said...

stunningly beautiful!!!!

hats off to you all. what a time. the zeitgeist, as we say in clicheland, did not depend on drugs.

Anonymous said...

Wow! This room is so amazing...so much fun. What a wonderful time to be young. Thank you again for sharing!

Jean said...

During the years 1960 -1975 France knew one period hippie like the USA, that it are in music, clothing, sex, dance, work... education of the children, life of couple... Your room devoted to food is an idea of genius. Food, greediness, are concrete, real things in our so subjective current world!

Pendant les années 1960 -1975 la France a connu une période hippie comme les USA , que ce soit en musique , vetements , sexe , danse , travail , ...éducation des enfants , vie de couple ...
Votre salle consacrée à la nourriture est une idée de génie . La nourriture , la gourmandise , sont des choses concretes , réelles dans notre monde actuel si subjectif !

TDharma said...

Inspired and inspiring. I can't imagine something that creative happening at Cowell at this time....

the room is beautiful...how I wish I had been in it, surrounded by all that color and juicy-ness. And Jasper is so young!! I had many an art history class with the old fellow.

thanks for the wonderful post.

Yankee T said...

Excellent, wonderful, terrific post. I'm here via Dharma Bums. Thank you for this piece!

Sigrid Jardin said...

Thanks to all of you for your great comments. I'm happy that it stirred memories of those magical, mystical days. The 60's were an amazing time to be young and free and full of energy.

Pam in Tucson said...

What a joyful post!

The Fat Lady Sings said...

Just stopping in from Dharma Bums. I grew up in and around Santa Cruz - I'd take HWY 9 up over the Summit and on down to the beach – with a mandatory stop into The Cooper House first, of course. My heart broke looking at all that crumbled concrete and wood after the quake. *Sigh* I'm a 'Wonder Years' kid - so the time period you reference I was aware - but too young to actively participate, I’m afraid. But if you remember - in that special part of Northern California - the sixties lingered well into the 1970's. It was an oasis of liberal thought, and all the best that that implies. I know that campus well - I used to attend SCA meetings there. How wonderfully you put it - capturing the ambiance of that era with warmth, grace and humor. Somehow I think you managed to get that room to reflect your souls - bright, fertile, multi-hued. What a wonderful memory piece!

kate said...

Ha! I always wondered how the Fruit Room got it's name! I was a Cowell student from 1988-92 and my pals used to use that room for band rehearsals. No one ever knew where the name came from! I LOVE IT! And love the photos. I used to attend the Penny University with Page and Paul Lee and Mary and Sara. I miss them dearly. Thanks for this inspiration!

pat coughlin said...

Last night I was on the phone with a friend, trying to sketch in words the brilliance of Beatrice Thompson's teaching. So today I've googled her and found this. I was at the opening of the fruit room, and I am so glad to see the pictures again. what a wonderful time it was... I should remember you but I'm not sure who you are, Sigrid.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. It's great to see the Fruit Room again having visited it often while at Cowell from 69-73. Good seeing pictures of Jasper, Mary and Page as well

Phyl said...

Wonderful fruit room.

My high school art teacher at Marshall High School in LA was Beatrice Thompson, and she was Armenian.

She taught an art history class that was to have taught us world history but we never left 1. Byzantium and 2. Sienna. The figures in the paintings looked a lot like Beatrice Thompson.

Is this the same Beatrice Thompson?

Phyl (Bissell) van Ammers

phylvanammers@gmail.com

GRap said...

To Phylvanammers: Yes it's the same Beatrice Terzian Thopmson; she now lives in New York City.

And in case anyone is interested, the young fellow to the left of Jasper Rose is Peter Jorris, a student at Cowell at the time, who I hope is alive and well.

Philip Thompson's book is available at www.onemindgoodpress.com

Gideon

G. Rap said...

Yes, Phyl Bissell van Ammers, Beatrice Thompson is the very same. She now lives in NYC, retired from The Brearley School.

The young fellow sitting to the left of Jasper Rose is Peter Jorris, who I hope is alive and well.

Philip Thompson's book is available from www.onemindgoodpress.com.

G. Rap

nobby said...

Great. It's where we gathered to find out what number our birthdays were assigned in the draft lottery. Thanks for the memories Dick Nixon.

Buf said...

I was at Cowell from '68 until '73 and I remember the Fruit Room very fondly. I always found something new to see on those walls. Thank you for bringing it back.

David Zinn

DouglasR said...

I trust you will get many thank-you's for this. I was at Cowell then, but think I was on a Herman Blake project in North Richmond when the Fruit Room happened (I do not recall an openning). The photos and history are FANTASTIC as are the comments. Thank you! Douglas Smith, Cowell, '70 (I teach pre-school in Oakland.)

Sigrid Jardin said...

Thanks to all those of you Cowell alum who have posted in the last few days. If you're trying to figure out who "Sigrid" really is, back in those days I was Kim Boutelle - worked in the college office with Jasper Rose, and was a preceptor in both Adams and Parrington houses at Cowell between 1966-69. I still live in Santa Cruz and recently retired from a long career at UCSC (3 years ago). I'm so glad you're still enjoying this "fruit room" post!

Sigrid Jardin said...

Thanks to all those of you Cowell alum who have posted in the last few days. If you're trying to figure out who "Sigrid" really is, back in those days I was Kim Boutelle - worked in the college office with Jasper Rose, and was a preceptor in both Adams and Parrington houses at Cowell between 1966-69. I still live in Santa Cruz and recently retired from a long career at UCSC (3 years ago). I'm so glad you're still enjoying this "fruit room" post!

Anonymous said...

The genius of Beatrice Thompson! She gives generously with all her heart, vision and light. I remain grateful for having been her student. Gaye Higgins Martin

Phil Bebbington said...

I really enjoyed this post - I see Jasper Rose often. Now as you can imagine quite elderly, sitting on the canal bank near my home. He paints there most days when the weather permits and is as sharp as a tack - I stop often and talk with him - to see him back in the 60s is a joy. Thank you

Phil

Deborah Eve Alastra said...

This was a lovely flash of the past...i grew up in Santa Cruz, the daughter of one of the early profs, Max Levin who began a class called Utopia which is still there today...i helped build the A Frame with Nobby Brown, and my stained glass piece is in the Cowell Library...we visited the Rose's in England and i would love to email them...i took my first painting class with Jean Rose, and bought one of her watercolors when i was in high school..i'm an artist myself now...living in Portland Oregon; can anyone help?

Deborah (Levin) Alastra
artsala@cruzio.com
PORTFOLIO: http://www.alastraart.com

Kris said...

June 2, 2009

What a wonderful story and experience. I was fortunate enough to have had Beatrice Thompson as a teacher at John Marshall High School in 1963-1964. I don't know exactly how this time line works, but she was an inspiration and joy to know and I wish I could have seen this amazing room in person - and have worked on it too! What fun! I think of her often and the good times we had those years, they were the best. I knew she had gone to New York but wondered if she was still here on earth with us. A true shining light.

Sigrid Jardin said...

Yes, Beatrice is still living and still in New York. She taught for many years at the Brearley School there, and is now retired. Thanks for writing, so nice to hear your memories too. I loved the Thompsons so much, they were the best!!

Kathleen Sam Roberts said...

Thank you so much for photos of this room! I remember it well! I am thrilled to have photos of anything from our time at Cowell in the late 60s. The photos show it was even more amazing than my memory.