In 1979 The Woman’s Building in LA hosted and sponsored GALAS, The Great American Lesbian Art Show. In addition to the invitational show at the Woman’s building, GALAS was structured to include independent Lesbian art shows in communities all over the United States. One of the shows was in Saugerties, NY, curated by Susun Weed, Billie Potts, Liza Cowan and probably some others.
As part of GALAS, The Woman’s Building hosted Amazon Ambosia, an event produced by Terry Wolverton and Bia Lowe. I, Liza Cowan, was invited as one of the two guest artists. DYKE A Quarterly had recently folded. This is an excerpt from the journal I kept during my trip to LA for the event.
Monday, Jan 28, Los Angeles
At Terry Wolverton and Bia Lowe’s house
It’s raining this morning and the house is quiet. It’s nine a.m. Yesterday’s event, Amazon Ambrosia, was a huge success. There were about fifty women there at The Woman’s Building for the art sharing. Janet [Meyers] was there which made the event real for me. There were some other New Yorkers, too. Judy Reif who used to be lovers with Fran Winant, who now (Judy) lives in San Diego. Harmony Hammond was the other guest of honor. She has a wonderful haircut, and is, or seems to be, a warm, smart and interesting woman. She had a cold and seemed to be feeling a little out of it. So we all sat around in a huge circle. Terry spoke for a while about GALAS [the great American Lesbian Art Show], then we went around the room and everybody introduced herself. That was good. I had been sort of nervous about my presentation till I knew who everyone was. It made us all somewhat equally exposed. So then I gave my presentation. I spoke about Electra [my radio show on WBAI-FM, Electra Rewired], about COWRIE [magazine] and DYKE and the buttons [White Mare buttons] and the Archive [white mare archive] and then I showed my portfolio. I explained how to make projector pictures and resist pictures. I explained how my art isn’t ARTY, just homey art, that it is a form of journal keeping for me, but as with all my work, I am quite willing to share the intimate details of my life. I spoke about breaking up with Alix [Dobkin], everybody gasped when I said we’d been monog for 6 ½ years. I showed my self portraits + my cards for Alix and Deb, and talked about the cards. I had a wonderful time. Just wind me up and let me speak. I could have gone on and on, but I only had a half hour so I didn’t even finish showing my portfolio. I showed the Amazons [Amazons On Parade series of paintings done with Susun Weed and Billie Potts] but I didn’t get a chance to show My Golden Pamela, which is one of my faves. Anyway, women seemed to like my presentation. I knew that if I went and was me, exposed myself, told stories, etc. that they would dig it.
Amazons On Parade. Paint on butcher paper. Liza Cowan, Susun Weed, Billie Potts. 1979. Hanging in the living room at 3 Maple Farm, Preston Hollow, NY.
How not to? The feedback was: they loved the cards. “thank you for sharing (big word here) yourself so intimately” “thanx for telling technique” “I really identified with the breaking up experience” “you were charming” I love to be charming. It’s one of my better acts. Not an act, really. A facet.
We had a one hour break to eat vegetables + cheese, then we danced which was fun. Everybody was dancing in couples but I managed to make it into a circle + more free form. I don’t mind couple dancing but I don’t like it when it’s all there is, esp on a big bright dance floor with only 6 or 8 women dancing. Terry + Bia made a good tape.
After dancing we all sat down and watched slides + listened to the artists talk. Oh yeah! Before the break Harmony showed slides of work by Lesbian Artists mainly from NY but from some other places too. Some of it was really exciting and it was good to see so much Lesbian art all at once.
Nancy Fried + Clsuf were my favorite artists. Nancy does wonderful little sculptures – pictures of domestic details of her life + the lives of friends. She’s a Philadelphia Jew + very warm + funny. Her lover Clsuf makes buttons, cards + graphics. I like her work very much. It’s much like my own. Also I like Bia’s work. She showed her portfolio at the end.
The event was over at six. We cleaned up, went out to dinner then went to Terry + Bia’s spirituality group... I participated fully, of course, but we were all exhausted. Terry was absolutely frazzled.
For Sat Jan 26
We did errands in the morning, Terry, Bia + I. Then at two we went to a very nice apartment for a tea party honoring and showing the work of Nancy Fried. It was a most elegant party. All the girls were quite dressed up. The music was calm. Stevie Wonder, “The Secret Life Of Plants” and a woman actually playing flute, live, in the apt. Women sat around and stood around and yapped. I wore my purple skirt, green shirt, orange tights and my new Lady shoes. There were a zillion sweets to eat. Harmony was there in an all purple outfit looking squeezable, which I told her + squeezed her. Joanne Kerr arrived with Kirsten Grimsted. Kirsten + I started to talk shop, but made a date for me to go to the Chrysalis office instead. I have a feeling that the women have a slightly snobby attitude toward Country Women [the magazine, which a group of women I was involved with back in Woodstock were proposing to buy to take over publication from the Catskills] like it’s a hick publication. It’s very subtle, though and who cares. I feel like such a country DYKE here and am glad of it. I said so in my presentation Sunday, too. The city is disgusting. I don’t understand why anybody would choose to live here. I don’t think there’s much that can’t be done from the country. Anyway… Janet arrived and we mainly hung out together which was good because it was so good to see her and talk to her. She’s such a good friend. I’m happy to have found her again. Donna Dietch came in. She and Janet had just had dinner the night before. It was good that Janet knew some one there too. I always want everybody to know what a good artist she is. Donna and her lover of many years are just breaking up and she and Janet and I had a satisfying conversation about that, not just party talk...
Nancy Fried, The Woman's Building, sculpture
Phranc was there, a real cute little punker. We first met at the Lesbian History Exploration in ’75. It was good to see + speak to her. After a while I got pretty bored with neck up communication, longed for our Catskill style of disco corners and home made food. I was glad, however, to be with all the LA women. I am homesick, but I do not with to be with my home friends…
Back at Terry and Bia’s we watched slides of some GALAS artists and looked at Bia’s slides. She has a very interesting vision. Very city, however. I think she’d be happier in the country. I like her quite a bit. I think we could be friends but it is not too easy getting to know her. For one thing she and Terry and quite the couple. They seem to be into couples around here. Not much consciousness about relating as individuals or what ever it is we seem to be working on at home as a community.
Terry is an excellent publicist. I admire her drive, her ambition, her outspokenness.
Here’s what’s really nice and also funny: on this visit I am accepted by the LA Women’s art community as a peer and an artist. This seems to include the Chrysalis women, who last visit, seemed to want to have nothing to do with me. This is due to, naturally, changes + evolution. I’m not so snotty + neither are they. Also due to the fact that I invested $2,000 in Chysalis, thanks to Joanne. And Terry also liked me and my work, so included me in Ambrosia, therefore I am sort of a visiting personality. That the event co-starred Harmony (actually everybody was a star, but Harmony and I got publicity) was a help, too. It is nice because I feel good about being considered an artist and respected as such. It’s good for my self esteem and will be good for Country Women.
I spoke to Harriet Bye [former editor at Country Women] last Friday. She’s not on the CW staff anymore but said that she thinks they’d be happy to sell the mag to us. Janet spoke to Billie the other day. So did Susun and River. According to Arya, Billie still wants to just buy the mailing list, but it’s gotten bigger than just Billie now. I’ll call her one of these days.
Tonight is a dinner party at Arlene Raven’s. Janet + I are going. I think it’s a party for Harmony. Kirsten [Grimsted] will be there too. I’m curious to see the art elite at home. None of them was at Ambrosia.
Friday Feb 1st.
I spoke with Helen from Ti farm a few days ago. She said she was afraid that CW would become too dykey under out supervision, She said that she was afraid to read DYKE. So that was depressing. They are going to have a meeting and get back to us. Then yesterday I spoke to Kirsten and Janet about it and I am left with the thought that CW can never be self- supporting. Not the way I would want to do it. My political and artistic vision is too radical. The mag biz is so hard anyway. Then, trying to sell to a group that is unwilling if not unable to support it financially? We would need to capitalize with $50,000 at least. We don’t have it. I won’t give it, even if I could. I don’t think that our crowd has the vision to share with me. Of all of them I work best with Susun and River, but they’re not writers. Don’t have a passion for magazines. B writes but I hate her style + I’m afraid we are not compatible. So if the others want to go ahead + do it, fine. I will help but not run it. I want to focus on my art. A mag could be the place but not now, not CW.
>about Monday Jan 28
Janet and I drove to a party at Arlene Raven’s. There were 12 women there: Arlene, Cheryl Swannack, Harmony Hammond, Lily Lakich, Donna Deitch, Susan Rennie, Dr. Nancy Sabin and a couple of others whose names I’ve forgotten. We had an unmemorable dinner. They were busy snapping polaroids which was fun. They took a couple of real goodies of me which they kept. They gave me this one, which Donna took of the group. Susan and Nancy had already gone home. Everybody poured on the charm and it was very entertaining Cheryl took us on a tour of the house which has beautiful bathrooms. I told her about my miniature bathroom collection. She said Jane Wagner also collects miniature bathrooms. The first thing Cheryl said to me was how much she loved DYKE. Several other women agreed. That was gratifying. I have heard many compliments to DYKE on this trip. More than ever before. Fits my theory that it is easier to love it now that it is defunct and poses less of a threat, tho I believe that they all did love it alive also. I wish PMAH [Penny House] could hear the compliments first hand. I try to pass them along but I’m sure its better to hear it from the lips of the women
Party at Arlene Raven's house. Clockwise from Cheryl Swannak (with raggedy ann) Arlene Raven, Harmony Hammond, Liza Cowan, Janet Meyers...the rest I'm not sure. Someone help. Included are Lily Lakich (with rose?) Donna Deitch (in stripes?) Susan Rennie?
Janet drove us to Arlene’s for another party. Catherine Nicholson and Harriet Desmoines were there from Sinister Wisdom. I felt a little out of it and couldn’t really focus on the party. One funny thing was that Catherine really nailed Susan [Rennie] and Kirsten [Grimsted] about why Chrysalis isn’t Lesbian identified. It was especially funny because it was a role I would ordinarily choose to take on and though I’m sure I wouldn’t have, I really enjoyed seeing them debate. I only had to add that Chrysalis women are not at all present in the mag whereas PMAH + I were very present in DYKE, and Catherine are in Sinister Wisdom. I personally prefer presence as a tone for the mag.
Women mentioned in this journal entry:
Liza Cowan: editor, DYKE A Quarterly, artist
Harmony Hammond. Artist, writer
Terry Wolverton: writer, editor, artist producer
Bia Lowe: designer, writer
Janet Meyers: film maker, film producer
Judy Reif: Activist
Fran Winant: poet, activist
Penny House: editor, DYKE A Quarterly
Susun Weed: artist, writer, herbalist, teacher
Billie Potts: herbalist, writer, activist
Alix Dobkin: singer, writer
Nancy Fried: artist
Kirsten Grimsted: writer, editor
Donna Deitch: film maker
Harriet Bye: writer, editor of Sinister Wisdom
Arlene Raven: art historian
Cheryl Swannak: producer
Dr Nancy Sabin: doctor
Susan Rennie: writer, editor of Chrysalis Magazine
Lily Lakich: neon sculptor
Jane Wagner: writer
Catherine Nicholson: Editor Sinister Wisdom
Harriet Desmoines [Ellenberger]: Editor Sinister Wisdom