Interview with Walter Hyleck Part I

Kentucky Historical Society

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0:25 - Early life and exposure to the arts / Art Educator

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Keywords: Air force; architecture; art educator; art history; Berea College; ceramics; Duluth (MN); Glenn C. Nelson; International Guard; Minnesota; painting; printmaking; Tulane University; University of Minnesota Duluth; Wisconsin

8:06 - Tulane University / Influence on art making

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Keywords: ceramics; Communist; father; Navy; Newcomb College; pottery; racial discrimination; segregation

15:40 - Interest in ceramics / Teaching job at Berea College

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Keywords: Berea (KY); Berea College; ceramics; Dansk; design; Glenn Nelson; Native American art history; New Orleans; Newcomb Pottery; Scandinavia; sculpture; University of Minnesota Duluth; Upward Bound

24:25 - Social Commentary in work / International Guard

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Keywords: Berea(KY); Berlin Wall; Cuban Missile Crisis; death; International Guard; John F. Kennedy; Martin Luther King Jr.; Native American; New Orleans(LA); pilot; protest; Vietnam; war

35:13 - Choosing to study art / Form over function

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Keywords: architecture; engineer; environment; father; Glenn C. Nelson; Native America; political commentary; politics; sculpture; social commentary

42:52 - Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen

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Keywords: art fair; Chester Cornett; craft fair; Fred Sheperd; Home Ledford; Indian Fort Theater; Lester Pross; Richard Bellando

0:00



WILLIHNGANZ: This is Greg Willihnganz and I’ll be interviewing Walter Hyleck today at his home in Berea, Kentucky for the Kentucky Craft History and Education Association. Thank you Walter for --

HYLECK: Good morning.

WILLIHNGANZ: -- welcoming me, good morning. Let’s just start by talking a little bit about your history and -- your growing up and how you got into the field that you’re in and the work that you do. So -- maybe you can just -- tell me a little bit about where you grew up and -- how that affected your choice to get into the artistic endeavors that you’ve done.

HYLECK: I was born in Wisconsin, and raised in Wisconsin and Northern Minnesota, Duluth, Minnesota. We -- moved to Duluth, Minnesota in the late fifties, early ‘60s, and -- became quite aware at the University of Minnesota, 1:00Duluth and the Art Department there. When -- as a high school student we made field trips to that University Art Department, I was really quite taken by the energy in the ceramic department, and the gentleman who was coordinating that department at the time, who had a significant international reputation. His name was Glenn C. Nelson and he wrote one of the very first textbooks -- about ceramics. My high school art teacher was a -- a, a graduate of that University and he made sure we went up there often and schmoozed with the, with the university students. Actually, I joined that University, or, or went there for my undergraduate degree after a stint in the Air National Guard and, in the Air 2:00Force in the early and mid sixties, not intending to be in art at all, actually intending to be in architecture, and found that architecture was, was really not my calling at all, and -- I was having some success in, in the Art Department, and they offered me a scholarship to join that Department, although I had, had been quite enamored of the ceramic field initially, I actually worked in painting and printmaking and pursued painting, printmaking and art history as, as a primary endeavor, and -- it was only at the last minute when I decided I wanted to go on to graduate school, and I wanted to teach at the un -- university level, that I decided that maybe I should go to graduate school in ceramics instead of, you know, in, in printmaking. That story is, is, is really 3:00rather peculiar and, and I don’t know that it has a whole lot of merit here, but it’s one of those cases where -- you do something because you’re good at it and then discover being good at it isn’t necessarily a life calling, and , and -- when it comes down to spending your life doing something, you find that you attach yourself to people that you truly enjoy rather than -- an activity that you’re, you’re particularly good at. But -- when I made that switch to ceramics, Glenn Nelson said, “well, I know what graduate school you’re going to,” and, and at that time -- students really didn’t choose their own school, their mentor chose the school for them and -- wrote recommendations and the next thing you knew you had a letter saying that that school wanted you to come. So I found myself going from the University of Minnesota in Duluth to -- 4:00New Orleans and Tulane University where I did my graduate study. I think in hindsight that was probably not a very wonderful choice, I should have picked one of the other ones that I was thinking of, but -- New Orleans was certainly stimulating and, and it altered -- life directions for both myself and my wife. When we went there in -- 1965, New Orleans was just integrating its school system and -- as a result was very desperate to find teachers who would be comfortable in integrated classrooms. I guess I could say tolerate into the, integrated classrooms, and finding this young woman with a quote, Minnesota education background as soon as she wrote them and said, do you have any 5:00teaching positions; my husband is a graduate student at Tulane. They immediately snapped her off, so she had one of the very first integrated classrooms in, in New Orleans for the three years that we were there. When we were ready to leave -- Tulane and, and New Orleans, we thought of ourselves as going North and, and not staying in the South, although we had come really to love the city--we hated it at first but over the time that we were there we, we became to love the city and the people, and the culture, and the, and the uniqueness of that environment. We still felt a, a very natural affinity to, to the North. You have to understand that Duluth, Minnesota is like living in the arctic circle and , as, as such, if you don’t have two distinct seasons, that 6:00is spring for three months of the year, and winter for the rest of the year, you’d really feel shortchanged, and -- we made every effort to, to go North without realizing that a graduate degree from -- from a southern Harvard meant that you really didn’t have a lot of connection to the North anymore, and, and there was a, a tremendous bias I found on the part of northern universities against southern education, and I could have had a degree from Mississippi, and it would have been the same, the same issue, I think we understand that certain attitude today. But anyway -- this, this--I got two -- real -- interesting letters, one from the University of Tennessee and one from this very odd little college in Kentucky called Berea, which I had never heard of and -- both wanted 7:00interviews and -- we, my wife was, as I said, still teaching there, so she couldn’t come on the interview, but -- I flew up to Lexington and, and flew into this beautiful airport that is surrounded by wonderful horse farms, rented a car, and drove on the interstate that ended at Berea. It just…I-75 just stopped at Berea and -- went into this little town that, that didn’t seem to exist except for the college. There was just nothing there except the college. I spent two days interviewing there and discovered -- a tremendous amount of potential, a, a rich craft history and, and art history as well as a fine -- facility, a facility that hadn’t been particularly well developed at the time, but had significant potential.

8:00

WILLIHNGANZ: Now your concerns, if I may be just break in for a moment, your concerns with Tulane…were those just in terms of it being a southern university, or with the programmatic training and work that you did there?

HYLECK: Yes, good question. Tulane is a fine school, a fine school. Tulane’s art program was in the historic women’s college, which is Newcomb College and -- Newcomb College had a very rich history in ceramics. I think people probably today are aware of Newcomb Pottery through Antiques Roadshow, which was mostly run by and, and decorated by…made by women, but at the time the art department did--had no -- mindful connection or respect for that rich history and the people who were in the ceramic department -- were both Europeans 9:00-- both interested in the Bauhaus approach and -- is a matter of fact, neither of them achieved tenure after I left, and the Department kind of rolled over and gave up its ceramic program in favor of a glass program. My, my frustration with that program was that it, it seemed to be in a transition when I was there, and it seemed to be going through a lot of those unnecessary struggles of one media versus another for square footage and budget and -- the sculpture program was fighting with the ceramics program for square footage, even to a point that they painted lines on the floor saying, this is my space and you can’t occupy 10:00it. And it was silly, just absolutely silly, but -- it has since -- tried to get itself back together unfortunately with Katrina and all, Tulane is, had a lot of struggles just to survive as a physical presence, let alone a, a, an endowed presence. But -- no that was, that was my objection. It was also a culture shock for me -- academically a fine school, but just as the New Orleans public school system was going through the early stages of integration, so was Tulane. If you can imagine women’s dormitories with black maids who, who cleaned the rooms, changed the bedding, took care of these young wealthy white girls, you can imagine what a shock it was to a f -- to a fellow who had grown 11:00up in the north and, and had never seen that kind of -- racial -- discrimination and then segregation. So it was during the time that we were there that they eliminated this idea of, of black maids for the white women’s residence halls, and the first black students were brought into the university, token students I would say, just as it was throughout the South, and you have to add to that -- the fact that my military career had transferred over into the Na -- Air National Guard and I was active in the, originally in the Minnesota Air National Guard, then transferred to the Louisiana Air National Guard during the early stages of the Vietnam War. So, I found myself in an extremely conflicted 12:00position, associating with people who were actively pro -- protesting against the war, who were actively protesting against in -- segregation, and in the, in the deep South, when I didn’t have, let’s say, a cultural dog in that fight, you know, I was kind of an outsider finding my own way and having a very different value-structure from most of the people who, who were there. So I would say it, it was a, a -- growth period for me, it was a growth period for my wife. But, as I look back at the value of the graduate education to my own medium, I think I could have picked a better place. In terms of growth as a human being, it was, it was worth a million dollars, and I, I couldn’t -- couldn’t have gotten better.

WILLIHNGANZ: But, do you, do you feel it contributed to your, your work as an artist?

13:00

HYLECK: Absolutely, it, it did, and, and -- you know, I have never, I had never thought a lot about that. The, the contribution I think is that it focused me on issues and ideas to drive my work as opposed to just a medium, as opposed to -- just a collection of skills that you repeat over and over again. By the time I had come to Kentucky, the, the big discussion that went on among craft people was the relationship between art and craft, is your craft an art, or is your art a craft, and -- all of the national conferences would have panels associated 14:00with that. Well, as I look back at my experience in, in New Orleans -- it; I really felt that it forced me to put myself outside that debate. I was really interested in issues, and I was interested in political issues, and social issues, and how a person in the arts related themselves to those issues and how a citizen of the, of this country positions themselves related to those kinds of issues. So yes, I think definitely it, it did form me more than my undergraduate education had, more than, more than--well I won’t more than my past, I, I think -- I was also formed by my father, my, my father was a, after he came back from the war, he had been in the Navy during the war, and in my, my youth -- when he came home, he, like many soldiers, was very conservative. He 15:00was a supporter of Joe McCarthy -- he saw a communist under every bush, and -- he raised a son who had the exact opposite opinion about everything, and he and I battled with one another philosophically for his entire life. So I think he had a lot to do with my formation as well, but then going on to New Orleans certainly took it out of the dinner table environment and, and put it on a much larger scale.

WILLIHNGANZ: Okay. When you got to -- Berea, what, what were the factors that really attracted you to moving your life here?

HYLECK: The--my interview, the -- during the interview -- the two Department chairs asked a question, and, and the question actually touched the core of my 16:00interest in ceramics. They wanted to know if I could envision an undergraduate program that -- combined -- the academic study of the field, academic study of ceramics, along with the business of ceramics, along with living a life -- that, that supported you as a ceramist, and [Clears throat] that’s an idea that had been bouncing around in my mind from -- my undergraduate years, as a result of my association with Glenn Nelson. Glenn Nelson was a Dane and he had a, a background that came out of the Scandinavian tradition, which was artists working for industry, and -- he often tried to send his best students to Finland 17:00to work in the factories ca-ha the Arabia Factories of, of Finland, and they later became part of Dansk and people know Dansk better than they know Arabia. But -- it wasn’t an area that I really wanted to go to when I was an undergraduate, but it was an idea that had resonance for me, and when--during that interview here in Berea, they asked if I could envision that, I realized, not only could I envision it, I had actually discussed it with other people, had experienced discussions of the theory of, of that, with Nelson, and -- absolutely, I saw that as a possibility, but it, it certainly would never have fit into -- the university environment that I knew. When I left that interview, 18:00and had to reflect on whether I went to Berea or I went to Tennessee, where I had received an offer also -- I then realized, well, wait a minute, Newcomb Pottery had existed as part of an academic environment that there, there was actually -- a succession of these kinds of things historically that I had vicariously experienced, and there was something there that I could draw on, and, whether I could consciously draw on it, or intuitively draw on it, it wasn’t clear to me, but it sure did interest me. That along with the, with the fact that it, it was a, by my standards, a huge space to be turned into a pottery, larger than my undergraduate, or graduate experience, that there was no 19:00competition for, for the space like there had been in graduate school, and compared to what the University of Tennessee was prepared to offer, which was a little bit more than three janitors’ closets strung together -- I thought, why not! You know, let’s, let’s give this a shot, and -- I--it was, it was our next cultural shock, you know, going from Minnesota, to New Orleans, and from New Orleans to the Eastern Kentucky Mountains, and a school that had a tradition that at the time I was, I really didn’t understand. I could read the literature and I thought to myself, educating those who have financial need, that’s no different than where I came from in Northern Minnesota, you know, the, the people from the Iron Range in Minnesota were all immigrants, most of 20:00them were out of work from the Minnesota copper and iron mines, gee it’s the same people, they’re just someplace else. Over time, I came to understand more what Berea was about than I, than I did when I took the job.

WILLIHNGANZ: Okay. This is interesting stuff. Now you -- at some point -- in your career, you started teaching here, and you were practicing ceramics at that time?

HYLECK: I was tea -- I, I took the job at Berea in 1967, and -- my first teaching job both--and it shows how naïve and ignorant I was as, as a, like I say I was about twenty-five at the time -- Berea was operating both the college and a foundation school, and the foundation school was the equivalent of a high school. It -- was extremely appropriate for Berea at the time, and maybe was a 21:00way to bring -- the youth of the mountains who had had -- let’s say deficient -- elementary education and bring them up to speed so that they could function at the college level. What I didn’t understand when I took the job, is that part of my five-course assignment involved teaching in the high school, as well as teaching at, at the college level, and -- I really had no interest in teaching in high school, had never had any interest in teaching in high school, and my only experience in teaching the youth of that age had been in New Orleans, where I did some courses in, for Upward Bound, mostly -- for African-American students in, in New Orleans. But I really didn’t like working with high school students at all, and -- found out very quickly that, 22:00that part of my assignment was working with high school students and I just kind of struggled through that, in order to get on to the part that I was really interested in. So at the, at the beginning -- I taught ceramics to high school students, ceramics to college students, sculpture to college students and design to college students, and then a kind of general education, art appreciation that -- almost everyone in the arts is involved with at some, some point. The college closed its foundation school a few years after I arrived, and my teaching assignment was then almost totally, or exclusively settled in the area of ceramics, sculpture, and, and design. And over the years, pretty much remained in that area until later on; I started teaching a course in Native 23:00American art history as well, which had grown out of my University of Minnesota experience. The University of Minnesota at Duluth has, and has always, has historically had a significant number of, of Native American students who come out of the old Chippewa, Chippewa nation in northern Minnesota and some in Canada. And having gone to school with them -- it didn’t occur to me at the time that that was unique, but -- later on, it occurred to me that I had intuitively developed an understanding of their perception of time and space, and that in fact was quite different from a westerner’s perception of time and space. So when Berea was looking for faculty who could teach courses in, in 24:00cultures other than their own, I off -- I, I proposed that I would teach something dealing with native American belief and I drew upon that undergraduate experience and, and the, the young men and women that I had grown up with there in high school, and, and in college.

WILLIHNGANZ: Now when you started a, in the ‘60s, looking at the, the retrospective that you gave me, the brochure you sent me, in a number of your pieces were what I would call social consciousness -- pieces --

HYLECK: Right.

WILLIHNGANZ: -- or they had a very clear message to them.

HYLECK: Right.

WILLIHNGANZ: And -- did that ever cause any problems in your academic setting?

HYLECK: -- problems no, and, and, I think, had I been doing that when I was in New Orleans, I would say absolutely it would have caused me problems. But I 25:00didn’t start doing it until I had come here and -- I, I never reflected on whether that was the environment of Berea, or if it was the nature of graduate school where your, you know, your studies are, are more of discovery rather than, than -- a clear understanding of what you want to say. But Berea is a kind of community, and to the best of my knowledge has always been the kind of community that enjoys poking its finger in, in the establishment’s eye, and -- we have to understand what this period of time was. I was an undergraduate when John Kennedy was assassinated. I was teaching at Berea when Martin Luther King 26:00was assassinated, and in fact I had a, an African-American TA that I had been very close to who was so devastated by that assassination that -- we went through about a month of, of struggling to communicate with one another, and then shortly after that, of course -- Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. So it was a period of time when--and, and Vietnam and I had -- lost two friends in -- I’m sorry.

WILLIHNGANZ: It’s okay. Vietnam was a difficult period for all of us.

27:00

HYLECK: Shouldn’t still be-- two, two fraternity brothers -- one a pilot, and, and the other one in the Army, both from my wedding.

WILLIHNGANZ: Whoa! Now, you weren’t drawn into the Vietnam conflict yourself, were you? You did not serve over there?

HYLECK: No--thank you. No, I -- started out in -- 1961, the, the -- Air National Guard and the--actually it was 1960, the Air National Guard and the -- 28:00Air Force had a developmental program for -- rising high school students where you could sign up for a particular area of expertise and I wanted to be a pilot. My father had been a -- private pilot, and -- went to my basic training in, in flight school and discovered that the -- the -- pressure, high pressure suits and the kinds of things you did in flight adjusted my eyesight to where I was required to wear glasses, and they gave me the choice of, of either staying in the officer’s candidate program or then just dropping out and joining the National Guard permanently. And I did that and became a flight mechanic. I was 29:00activated -- the first time during the construction of the Berlin Wall, and -- then was activated the second time during -- the Cuban Missile Crisis, and -- those were my only active duty stints. After them I had a, I had a full assignment to -- the Minnesota National Guard and, and then the Louisiana Air National Guard, and both of their assignments were to protect us from -- Russian nuclear bombers. So, it, there was, there was my assignment, which had to do with flight mechanics and, and armaments, and had no application to Vietnam, and 30:00although there were numbers of people who were activated for Vietnam, my assignment always kept me -- on the home front any time they were activated, anytime there was a crisis it was a case of -- of manning the interest sectors to protect the home ground. On the other hand, these, these friends of mine -- one had always wanted to be a -- a fighter pilot, and, and -- that’s what, what he did, he joined the Air Force after, after college, and the other one -- went to law school, and, and went to Vietnam as a lawyer.

WILLIHNGANZ: Hum.

HYLECK: But no, I had no direct association with Vietnam other than to protest the war and -- and this was part of my conflict in, in -- in New Orleans, is I 31:00was still a member of the Louisiana Air National Guard and, and protesting on, the war on campus -- recognizing that where I identified I would most likely get a dishonorable discharge -- so we wore hoods.

WILLIHNGANZ: Whoa!

HYLECK: So that, did--that is as close as my connection to the war was, and, and -- by the time I had come to Berea I was still -- very much opposed to what was going on with the war, and -- to some degree felt quite betrayed by -- by John Kennedy in, in that sense. That’s a separate issue totally, but since we are leading to the kind of work that I was making, and, and at the time the work 32:00was social-political, and -- it was interested in, in -- the, the way we spin truth and -- the way in which we accept truth and make it comfortable, where we accept facts and make them comfortable. It was also, I mean we have to recognize, it was also a time when everyone was experimenting with drugs, everyone was influenced by the Beatles and everything was -- cool in rock and roll and -- the imagery that you may have looked at had both social-political connotations as well as sexual on connotations, I think the culture had blended and stirred all of that together and -- used it as, as a way to -- challenge the establishment. The first exhibit that I did here in Berea was just loaded with 33:00that kind of imagery, and the college did not have a large gallery to hang it in, so the art department proposed that I would put it up in the lobby of the, of the College’s library and -- it -- I, I brought in, I brought a ton of dirt and sprayed it on the library floor and erected tombstones to -- [Chuckles -- Willihnganz] to Vietnam and -- the people we had lost, two [Quivering voice] native Americans that I had known who had gone to Vietnam [Resumes normal tone], and these other images that -- who were, who were political images and -- the 34:00librarian , the librarians were shocked -- and their initial res -- was--response was there was a lot of sexual imagery here and they didn’t approve of it, but they sure did approve of the social-political imagery, and therefore it got to stay, because the overwhelming weight of the social-political imagery -- shall we say, washed clean the sexual imagery. But I think that that was, was probably the first time that -- the first time that I had tried to put together a body of work that was, was shown in one place that, that had that kind of social stigma. Many of the pieces have been exhibited nationally in individual shows -- but the first time that there was a body of 35:00work that, that had that kind of thrust.

WILLIHNGANZ: Okay, interesting. Now, over time you moved away from those kinds of social political statements in your work.

HYLECK: True.

WILLIHNGANZ: Why is that?

HYLECK: Well I, I think that -- you, you, as an artist -- evolve or change with your age. The ‘60s passed, the ‘70s passed, and -- and while they were times of, or periods of, of revolution and unrest -- you stopped being twenty, and you stopped being thirty and -- I had always felt that as, as an artist--I 36:00can remember coming home, my, my father hated artists and he hated college professors too, and I can remember coming home and telling him, on a vacation that I was no longer pursuing architecture, which he was very enthusiastic about, because he, he had been a soft-trained engineer -- and that what I really was interested in was college education and, and the poor man tore out what little hair he had left and -- wanted to know why, and, and I said, “well because -- in the arts and, and in teaching, that’s the sort of thing I can do until I die, and I don’t have to retire from it, I don’t have to quit.” And I don’t know if it stunned him, or if he bought into the idea, but he had no argument for it, and it stuck with me, the, the idea that as an artist, you 37:00never quit doing that, and the way in which you continue to do it is you go deeper and deeper and deeper into the issues that concern you and you flush them out in, in a richer way. And it means you keep thinking, you stay alive, and -- you keep looking outside. Well, when you stop being twenty, and you stop being thirty, and, and the country evolves from its experience in Vietnam in the ‘60s and the’70s, there are different issues, and -- you find different ways to deal with those issues. Added to that, my teaching assignments forcing me to reflect on my background and, and my experience with, with -- Native American 38:00cultures of Northern Minnesota and Canada, I realized that -- mankind’s involvement with a place is, is as important, or part of mankind’s involvement with time. So, where my initial work was more directly related to time, and the time that was impacting everybody -- this, did this concern for place, or awareness of place, also had meaning. And gradually my work moved more toward this interest and concern for place, and how as humans we modify our understanding of place for its own purposes, whether that’s to make it 39:00tolerable, or to make it magical, or to make it -- survivable, we do things with our understanding of place, and I just kind of gradually slid over from this concern about social-political issues to issues that I consider to be more substantive. As I, as I look back at it now and I think, you know, here we are a, a society concerned about environmental issues, I think environmental issues come directly out of an interest in place and, and the application of social and political concerns for one’s place. So it’s been very slow moving in that direction.

WILLIHNGANZ: It seems to me you also had a, sort of -- interchange or a -- 40:00dealing with the issues around functionality --

HYLECK: Sort of.

WILLIHNGANZ: -- and structure.

HYLECK: Correct, correct. The -- my assignment at, at Berea a, as I mentioned earlier was develop--to develop -- a program in ceramics that coupled with the student craft program of the College. That -- that program -- was proposed in, in 1970 and then generally accepted by the College in 1971, and it meant that I was directing a number of student apprentices in the production of marketable ceramic ware, and -- supervising a resident artist who was a production potter. 41:00It coupled with my undergraduate education. Glenn C. Nelson was a functional potter, and then I was really trained as a functional potter but had found that -- my interest in architecture and my interest in social issues had pushed me closer to the sculptural end of the s -- of the spectrum. That didn’t mean that I lost my understanding of, of the functional pot -- and in, in working with students in the apprenticeship program -- had to be multi-facet, I had to be able to think both ways, and I guess I believed, I don’t guess I know, I believed that the way a functional potter survived was by understanding the issu -- issues associated with form and not just the issues associated with the 42:00market place. This, this is something that I had continued, or where as long as I was teaching I’d tried to instill on the students that if, if they were going to last and not be consumed by -- bad market time and, and a weak market, or changing fad, that they really had to be driven by ideas and a clear understanding of the kinds of forms that were unique to them, and that way they would be able to develop their own niche in the -- both the arts and, and the market place, and, and not be as vulnerable to the whims of the consumer.

WILLIHNGANZ: Now, when you were dealing with these issues with your students, were you getting involved with the Kentucky Guild for Artists and Craftsmen?

HYLECK: Well, actually that involvement occurred almost -- at the same time 43:00that I m -- moved to Berea. The Kentucky Guild had had its first play--fair--in -- the -- spring, I believe of 1967. I might be off by a year there. I, I believe that was the first fair in the spring of 1967, and I arrived in the fall of 1967, or somewhere in the fall of 1967, and -- one of the very first people I met when I arrived was Richard Bellando, because his office was a janitor’s closet just down the hallway from the pottery in the same building where, where the pottery was housed, and -- Richard and I struck it off -- immediately and, and he said, “you know, you really need to, we’ve had this fair,” fairs 44:00were relatively new idea coming mostly out of the southeastern United States in the east coast and I had never experienced a craft fair before and -- he, he said, “you, and you should become involved with the guild” and, and -- and I was open to the idea. So -- I had put together a, a body of work for the next spring fair, which I think would have been 1968, and, and joined, became a member of the guild at that time.

WILLIHNGANZ: Okay.

HYLECK: Can I take a quick break?

WILLIHNGANZ: Sure.

[Pause]

WILLIHNGANZ: Perhaps we can continue.

HYLECK: I don’t remember where we were .

WILLIHNGANZ: [Laughter -- Willihnganz] well we were talking really about -- I think about -- the, the start of the guild and your involvement with Richard Bellando.

HYLECK: Right.

WILLIHNGANZ: And -- tell me more about that, some of the people you met through the guild and what that experience was like for you.

HYLECK: Well, when -- I, I came to Kentucky -- the first group of -- artists 45:00that I met were people who had been involved in the development of the Guild. Lester Pross who was one of the -- was my, one of my art chairman, as well as -- one of the initial signers of the -- I don’t remember what it’s called -- developers of the Guild anyway…Rude Osolnik, another who was the chairman of the Technology Department, and that’s the building that the pottery was housed in. And then of course, Richard Bellando who was the director of the Guild and, and whose office, as I said was just down the hallway. Richard was--is very close to my age, I think…we don’t talk about that, but I believe that 46:00that’s correct, and -- and we just had, I thought, a, a very -- instantaneous connection, and drank coffee together, and managed to, to -- to have long coffees, almost every morning, and -- and his, his excitement for, for the Guild and what the Guild was trying to do -- it just resonated with me as, as a very -- appropriate kind of outlet for artists and, and for crafts people. The first fair that I attended also allowed me to meet people from around the state who were involved in, in the arts and -- especially in ceramics. I then met Fred 47:00Shepherd who became a very good friend, from Murray, and -- thinking of, of other people at the time -- Homer Ledford -- a dulcimer maker who had been a, who was a, a Berea grad and, and I had heard about him through Berea, and I had heard him play, and then met him as a person. But then the…that…the organization and actually was a fusion of, of different kinds of personalities, urban and rural, artists and craftsmen, and -- they offered a, a very unique kind of tension, you know, the, the push and pull of, of -- why is the organization in Berea when we have these big cities? You know, why doesn’t it 48:00move to the big city? And -- that, that kind of push and pull I thought -- gave life, you know, it made the blood thaw--flow through the organization and I think that -- Richard made an, an excellent -- attempt and, and succeeded in many ways of blending -- all of these possibilities that Kentucky offered -- this chair I’m sitting in -- was made by Chester Cornett and the, the very first fair that I attended -- Richard had gone off and found this and from the Eastern Kentucky mountains who had no schooling of any kind and he, he made this furniture with -- I think three tools and -- he, it’s, it’s what we now call 49:00green stick construction, but at the time it, it seemed phenomenal that a person could make a chair without screws and nails, and, and power tools. Well Richard…Richard had set up the fair there in the, in the woods at, at -- Indian Fort Theater, and -- just right next to where my booth was, he had brought in Chester, and, and Chester was sitting there making chairs, and -- he, here I am, an AMFH framed artist with two college degrees, kind of standing there, agape, watching this bearded man who had no education make the most spectacular furniture and -- he wasn’t the least bit interested in the event. 50:00He wasn’t the least bit interested in the people who were standing there watching him…had very little to say…he was just busy at his chair, and I, I -- I’d, I look back at that now and I think of the genius of Richard, the ability to bring all of these people together and try to serve all of their needs, college trained artists, people who had developed their craft or their art as a kind of hobby and, and they were trying to make a living at it, and at the same time people who had no formal education at all, that -- Richard recognized, really had something to offer to the public as well as to the, to the other people in the organization. Now I, I think that this was part of the, the plan of the founders of the guild. But -- you can have a great plan, but 51:00unless you, you have somebody that knows how to bring all of these things together like, like Richard did, it just isn’t going to fly. And as, as I look back at my early years with the guild, my needs really were very different from the needs of, of many of the crafts people there. I mean I was, I was teaching at a college. I didn’t need this income to survive. What I needed was outlets for the kind of ideas that I wanted to make, and -- selling those things in the woods was, was not appropriate outlet. Richard had, had the ability to make contacts for myself and others like me with galleries in New York City, or galleries on the country or, or people -- who had retail outlets 52:00in other locations, so he could keep us satisfied, and he had the, the ability to provide -- reasonable outlets for, for the people who were trying to make a living and they totally, were totally dependent on, on that, and give the exposure to people like Chester Cornett who were out there in the howler just making the work potentially vulnerable to exploitation. But, the best way to beat exploitation is to make what you do so extremely public that it will become obvious if, if you’re exploited. And -- Richard made every effort not to exploit those people but, but to give them a, a -- stage on, on which to present their work.

WILLIHNGANZ: Now, you were involved in the fairs, marketing some of your works. 53:00Did you ever get involved in the organization itself?

HYLECK: I did, and -- so the first fair that I attended was the second fair that they, that the guild had. I’m terrible at dates, but -- within a couple of years -- I would guess, maybe it was within a year, I joined the board of directors and -- served on the board for a number of, of years, a number of terms -- I was the vice-president of the, of the Guild f -- for, I guess a couple of terms. I don’t really remember -- and I think through -- the -- urging of a number of the board members, both because I was in Berea and because 54:00of the way I approached my work. I became very active in the standards committee for the organization in its early years. The -- philosophy of the organization quite unlike most -- exhibitions that I was, it was acquainted with was that the -- membership that review a potential members was to be an educational experience. So you applied for membership, and if you were accepted you received the critique, and if you were rejected you received the critique that was intended to be helpful. And -- believe me, that was extremely challenging. I don’t know how a rejection -- can be spun as helpful , but it was the intent of the organization to be as helpful as possible to people who didn’t get into the organization, and to be as helpful as possible to people 55:00who did get into the organization, so that they would continue to grow and -- not stagnate, around one particular item that was, was marketable. And, for many years that responsibility -- fell to me, and then I’m really not quite sure why, they and maybe because a lot of the jurying took place in Berea and I was here, and -- then they could draw on, on me to pull a group of people together, and it may have been also because -- as, as a university trained artist, I was supposed to have the words that could, could, could go along with this, I am really, really not sure.

56:00

[End of Interview Part I]