Bruria Finkel and Courtney Gilbert

Recorded January 10, 2020 Archived January 10, 2020 35:09 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: mby019541


StoryCorps facilitator Courtney Gilbert (28) talks with Bruria Finkel (87) about her career as an artist, her family and how she opened doors for women in the arts.

Subject Log / Time Code

BF describes her grandson.
BF describes her husband's work with DACA students at Santa Monica college.
BF discusses education and her beliefs around it.
BF recalls her career as an artist.
BF describes challenges being a multi media artist.
BF describes the art community in Santa Monica.
BF discusses the intersections of art and the women's movement in the '70s.
BF recalls her parent's influence.
BF discusses her husband's influence.


  • Bruria Finkel
  • Courtney Gilbert

Recording Location

Downtown Santa Monica

Partnership Type



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00:03 My name is Courtney Gilbert. I'm 28 years old. Today's date is Friday January 10th the years 2020. I'm here in Santa Monica, California. I'm with bruised ankle and she will be telling me some information about her background and her family. Do you want to introduce yourself? I am 87 years old. I've lived in Santa Monica for 64 years and came here rather than when I was young.

00:38 My grandson I have four kids that went through the school here and also grew up in Santa Monica and my grandchildren did too.

00:52 My grandson is a musician a very talented young man. His name is Avila. He turned Santo and unfortunately, he had to cancel this meeting many apologizes for that and

01:10 I can tell you that the picture I showed you is a picture of us going every year to the College event at the time when the kids are graduating.

01:27 And the family has created a fun Especial fun to commemorate my husband who was both sitting on the board of directors of the college and also,

01:43 Was teaching there he was his involvement with the city is being that he was a lawyer for 30 years and labor lawyer and we move to Santa Monica in 19.

02:00 I was looking to move to Santa Monica in 1959.

02:06 I'm having some trouble.

02:18 I'm taking over. There you go. Thank you.

02:32 When he was teaching there he

02:36 Got involved after he retired by the way, he was a member of the city council and then a judge for many years and then when he retired he was asked to come and teach and so he did.

02:54 At the time he realized the whole. Kite issue with the kids the dreamers in our country been particularly good ones who were very young when they got here.

03:08 And so we decided when he passed away 2015 that we will create the funds that will support the DACA cages. And that's what we do every year in the family comes down and goes to the college and we offer and I must say that we've managed to raise $104,000. That's a lot of money from you. That's amazing person who is taking care of it here at the college where we were able every year to give a good scholarship anywhere from four to six kids.

03:51 It covers their year expenses for the study. Can you talk a little bit more about what education means to you or at least how you came to develop a relationship with education and specifically at Santa Monica College. Can you talk more about that? Sure I believed education is the most important thing and by the way, my grandson finish the Berklee school of music in Boston, and he is really very very so we also the four children if we had we always encourage them to continue and to to be

04:41 Studying the things that they like because I am an artist and I believe that you have to follow you mousse, and if you don't follow you lose you.

04:54 Become bored and upset and unhappy and I think if you do things that you like to do hope to do you have a better life all together. So education is probably the most important aspect of learning how to live learning how to do learning who you are creating an opportunity for yourself and the community around you test essential.

05:29 I agree. I want to hear more about this art that you do. All right, I mean it seems that like you encourage that and your family and your very proud of your grandson and the work that he's doing and what he believes in would you say that maybe you're an influence on him because of your background in art or tell you a secret all my children are artists and all my grandchildren of different of different types of art and my daughter who was the very fantastic dinosaur a very young guys danced with poop and Trisha Brown in New York.

06:18 Is now a PhD and she's teaching people how to beat artists and now to learn and understand the art world one is the musician very good musicians who plays ancient instruments like Vikram or at UCLA.

06:44 Number three is also a musician and she was she said the last that if the bifold by the age of 42 if she doesn't make it big she will get a job. That's fine. Wow.

07:03 Okay, so it's it's in your bloodline.

07:07 What what's your medium? What's your Muse? What do you want for your work and many medium? Okay. I started this beautiful under the daily New York when I lived in New York for seven years and then came to California in 1959 and also do Ceramics and talked in different summer camps and different after school programs and

07:46 The ceramic pieces that were kind of bowls and vases or whatever began to change and I wanted to reach mine more at the process and refine the material and I worked a lot with the porcelain. Okay and Porcelain he is a very plastic kind of material and you can really throw it on the wheel difficult. So you have to go into moles in your milk create models of the images of the pieces that you want to do and I created the mold of my own face. So talk a little bit about that process. So you made a selfie.

08:46 Watch yourself or you like looking in a mirror and like sculpting episode of Friends on my face. I wish I'd learned in the process of how to do that because then I did the mask of my son and the mask of my friends has them also in the porcelain. That's a nice way to remember someone really. Yeah. I kind of interesting kind of like not only just a gift but I can only just imagine folks playing around with it. Like hey, I'm you now, so I will continue. What else were you using to create after porcelain off the porcelain I created things that were very very large and in Braum's friend of mine who's a poet offered me.

09:46 Small tiny pamphlet is it says could you read that? This was Hebrew and since they do know I said, I will try and then he said could you translate it? And so I did and that was a cup of lipstick material from the 13th century.

10:12 Abolafia Abraham abulafia, and he was a rabbi but he was available Renegade kind of a guy. He allowed women to come to this class has he allowed Christians yet large Muslim because he believed that we will have one God and it wasn't necessary to

10:35 I have visions and so he was kind of eccentric and his poetry is very eccentric is very interesting and he figured out the form at the doorway to connect with how the synopsis of the brain really work. Where are you if you look at their page and he created connections into of actually took material from the Bible and put them in a direct you to go to page 26 and line for an you find the word that you need to write it down and at the end of your search you begin to see my goodness. This is really quite amazing.

11:23 And so

11:25 That was about I was involved with that for about 24 years and every. I work in series so every. Of time that I work I tried to get to the deepest place that I can get with it TuneIn.

11:51 It's in the Smithsonian. I have a commander. What year did they did that happen? And how did you feel when you found out that that was going to happen actually the piece that they have it at the Smithsonian started moving around the world in 1980. The Renwick Gallery created the show with it was very very interesting called American porcelain and they invited me to partake in it and the piece itself really traveled all of Asia Japan in the Philippines and I have a collector who said I will buy it and I will give it to them.

12:51 Congratulations. Thank you. I'm really interested in knowing how you came to our do you would you describe yourself as a creative child? Were you a self-taught learner? Was there someone ahead of you? Maybe another family member who kind of sparked your interest in art, or is it something that was kind of natural? I see you're shaking your head ya know my family was not really involved. But they were you when I look in retrospect. I think my father always created the new Menorah for Hanukkah every year and my mother was a seamstress or our clothing. She made all the girls clothing of the shirts for the man and all this and twice a year. That would be a woman that you would ask to come and she cut and measure the

13:51 So this stuff and we learn how to finish and so there was creativity. There is no question, but I don't think there was an emphasis. I didn't put my I went to college in Israel and finished when I was about 18 and a half and I didn't think of myself as an artist, but I remember being in control than the impressed with presentations of art that you were cutting and I was more interested actually in the cosmos by hearing that yet.

14:41 Still at the timer.

14:43 Not many women were involved in that obviously. Yeah, and I mean even currently stem is something that we still have to pump up and still have to make sure that women are included even starting at such a young age with it being in schools. And you know, I was trying to make programs available to younger girls that girls like you who are interested in the, cosmos is heavily involved with the seasons and time and also transitions of time and all that the all those subjects are very much in my work. I like that that's just really fascinating and I'm excited for you and I want to

15:43 Ask you working through all the different mediums and the different kind of subjects that you've pursued which one has been the most challenging for you. And what did you learn from it?

15:58 Well, I'm still working. So I think every time I get into my studio, I I am challenged and now I am working on it if allergic to listen to sing to me because the cycles that I spoke about before really are coming back because my very first exhibition dealt with climate and then not just climate but the Rosen of climate and that was a big Exhibition at the high school here.

16:36 Oh, it's Roberts gallery and now I'm working on a Veneer Wood.

16:45 With pastel which is really immaterial. I've never refused myself. I don't know if any particular material was.

17:03 Well, I worked for 18 years in ceramic, then 24 years with paint acrylic paint and bronze and no I'm working with.

17:16 Creating all kinds of things with

17:23 Veneer and also these are called with the Arid Land series and it really is very interesting because I'm interested in the idea that the wood has a life of its own and creates a time-space for itself.

17:43 Fascinates me also working with the ark materials like the best tell which I have never done which is oil pastels. So I would say almost every event because I really follow my my Bliss in that situation. I don't even though I did some things that have to do with public art where it makes makes you eat demands that you address the issues differently of what you were going to create a created two pieces of here in Santa Monica, which was which they live.

18:32 At the time in 1982. I began to be involved with the community here in 1972. I was very heavily involved with the women's movement to get rain in Los Angeles and then

18:49 In 1982. I realized it's my community really needed me and have been one of the founders of the Santa Monica Arts commission here and also still involved in there someone within the community. Who are you kind of you as like a close maybe comrade colleague co-conspirator in art and political things just a good friend. I feel like when you do things like that, you always end up like you said getting called to a community and I think that's really special. I think having a group now, I'm just like my folks for folks are just kind of like in and working around and thinking about these kinds of things and doing it together or at least being aware of each other is always a good

19:49 Is there anyone who kind of stands out to you or if you have more than one are there some folks that stand out to you and why cook with Christian is an artist. I work in my studio and I'm all alone. Sometimes I have a help but most of their time I'm doing everything by myself. So when I go into the community and I sit in the group and we talked the founded the founding group was fantastic. It was a 9 people each one represented the different form of Art, and we just

20:31 Begin to Envision. What would happen here in Santa Monica? If we did have a heart, where would we put it but kind of art, how do we make things happen? How do we create a percent for the art for the so we can make sure we have enough money to do that? How do we involve the community the dinosaurs right here, Haha. I do too and if that was part of my project and then that I was involved but I always was involved with the group and that when we do the competition here, we had the top artists in the world applying and in fact, the two artists apply the allowance and unfortunately, both of them are passed away.

21:26 The dinosaurs came out but we had people like seagull and people like a country and if it wasn't it was a new phenomenon in there since the very first thing that I proposed to the city 1984 was creating a park that is not a park but changes the tail the whole feeling of the beach and people would walk 500 yards and be Cindy is standing in front of another.

22:05 Sculpture that deals with the elements

22:12 Meaning of the song the water is about in the power of the water and so on and so forth and when you get too involved with the politics of things it gets hard into works.

22:33 Lawrence butt

22:37 Still struggling, but I hope I hope we get the interesting thing is that the people that we recommended it a time. We're really young masters in the art. Do you know like Nancy Holt and James Turrell and Zimmerman and Zimmerman. These people are now are considered to be really early amazing artist. And so the city didn't have the knowledge of how to deal with it. And I guess we didn't either but we hope this one piece may come back. Maybe Nancy told space would be installed at where she originally wanted to do it. Okay.

23:32 I don't be nice. I think feel good would be real gift to the city.

23:41 Where to step back really quick see you mentioned your involvement with obviously an iconic moment in history. So, can you talk about what it was like in LA during that time when things were taking off in the women's movement what inspired you to get involved? And yeah, if you want to just kind of compare and contrast things then and now

24:07 Good, then what happened then staying because we all became aware that the music museums. I wish I could time do we had just LACMA and death Museum did not show any women whatsoever. I remember seeing something about a billboard that went up about saying literally saying like where are the women? Yeah. Well, that's true. Yeah, it's still true today. You could say that but that was the very first first impetus to go after the institutions that do not show any women. We did a lot of research we found that only one person was up and she was

25:04 Dorothea Lange photographer migrant mother but that was all there was there.

25:19 And so we started putting a lot of pressure and the pressure was very important because the LACMA institution gets money from the county is Los Angeles County Museum of Art and it right now the county gave them 250 million dollars to change the museum around that do other things. So we knew that here we have a moment if we can put some pressure on it and see what happens and interesting ly enough until we finally sent our discomfort to the senate in Sacramento. Did they wake up and then we were able to talk to them.

26:08 And

26:12 And tell them

26:16 Anyway, what we managed to do is really very important. We created with the help of LACMA Donahue who was the director of the time was a very smart man and he started already discussion singing what was coming up.

26:38 In creating a show called fifteen52 1950 meaning that he will go historically back all the way to the 1550 and come to 1950 and that's yo really blew everybody is mine I can imagine it was amazing. So it started right here in Los Angeles and we have put the pressure on it.

27:11 At the time of the was also an event that is quite fantastic. I got a call from a friend of mine who is an architect her husband just a filmmaker very quite well-known. They had a little studio in the place where we created an alternative space called woman space and woman's face was on Venice Boulevard. This was given to us by a couple who had the laundromat that the place was alone. Do not the wife was in the world and this how we got the space and then when after two years we had an amazing. I have a video of Sunday to you. In fact the Smithsonian as the weather right now.

28:01 And it's really a it was a fantastic space because we started off by talking to five women then we talked to 72 women and then when we open the doors within 2 months or 3 months, we had 1,200 women members of this is woman's face big achievement and I think it speaks exactly what you all set out to do, but just that need out there for spaces to obviously be open to women and two women who create to be able to acknowledge us nurture their men to them, but the exhibit them and give them a space to be in to be acknowledged and it was more important to us to show

28:54 To be going to really don't want that because gay women wear natural black women were not strong and it was extremely important for us to create a space that not only feminist issues and feminist art is being sold but a variety of it and coming from all from all groups. And when I was on the commission, we created the something called the art bank and they redid the deal was that you had to buy 50% of the work by men 50% by women 1/3 by minority and that was very interesting because now I think we would have to change the relationships of the numbers maybe 60% of minority, but the point is that

29:53 We managed to do it and all institutions in this country should have gave the position. I would have the opportunity for themselves and the artist who produce work that 50/50 would be shown continuously.

30:15 You know, you could be a 1% off of 1% on depending on what the subject of the show but that 50/50 is the big issue now because all these years have passed it's almost 47 years and we still have only at the height of things three and a half percent to 11% women throwing a lot of work to do.

30:45 We have about 10 more minutes left and I have two questions that I think will fill up that amount of time for us. The first one is can you tell me about someone you'll always remember and it can be anyone family member or friend artist out there in the world that inspired you to someone that you'll always remember and just a little bit on why.

31:13 In a little bit, but and a little bit on why you always remember them.

31:18 Well, I think my parents were very important to me as I grew up with you because I really left them very early. I the age of 13. I left the home and I went to agriculture school cuz I wanted to know how to work the land to do all that but the beginnings has been always full of love full concert full of and I know there was a lot of suffering going on around because 1932 I was a baby. He's just bored and then by the age of Consciousness, so to speak 345 there was a big tremendous struggle all over the world end.

32:08 In Israel in particularly, because the British were in control.

32:18 And they just had this.

32:22 Great layover is not

32:26 Who is the greatest concern and great I even remember every every hug it always keeps me very warm very involved with the idea that things are going to shape up. Okay, that's amazing child requires from their parents do have to continue being a child in order to maintain this interest and the openness and the amazement and then learning process. Right? Like I said, this might be it after this question. What do you feel most grateful for in your life?

33:25 How come you living here in the United States and Santa Monica and having a wonderful husband?

33:34 Who left us but

33:40 It was a blessing just a little bit more about him and in your relationship and maybe a memory that you might have of him that always will stick out.

33:56 Well, he had the kindness in him. That was very special. His closest friends were always people that he admired and also admired. So it was a combination of given take his mother was also a very important person in his life, even though the parents divorced, but she was quite amazing.

34:26 And it's in girl with rolling the rights very radical.

34:34 And that was really a blessing.

34:43 Well, that's amazing. I'm really honoured and I feel very privileged to have been able to spoke speak with you and tell her more about you and I just want to say thank you for Rhea.