The Boundary-Breaking Architecture of Paul Revere Williams
“For most of his life, Paul Williams lived in two worlds: one as an architect and one as an African American man in his community.”
When African American architect Paul Revere Williams was born in Los Angeles in 1894, the city—like its Black population—was small but growing rapidly. This expansion provided many opportunities for architects to design homes, offices, stores, and even communities. Williams thrived in this landscape, working on everything from elaborate homes for Hollywood stars like Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, to churches for African American congregations such as the First A.M.E. and Second Baptist churches, to integrated public housing projects. Yet despite his success and growing fame, Williams also faced racism and segregation, which at times made him unwelcome in the very spaces he was designing.
The archive of this prolific architect, comprising tens of thousands of sketches, blueprints, and project notes, was jointly acquired by the Getty Research Institute and the University of Southern California School of Architecture in June 2020. In this episode, Karen Elyse Hudson, author and granddaughter of the architect, and LeRonn Brooks, associate curator for modern and contemporary collections at the GRI, discuss Williams’s trailblazing work and his impact on both the field of architecture and the city of L.A.
Over the next few weeks, look for new recordings every other Tuesday.
JAMES CUNO: Hi, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. In a new podcast feature, we’re asking members of the Getty community to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. We’ll be releasing new recordings every other Tuesday. I hope you’ll find these stories about our daily lives—from laundry on the line to a dog at a scholar’s feet—thought provoking, illuminating, and entertaining. DAVIDE GASPAROTTO: I am Davide Gasparotto, Senior Curator of Paintings at the Getty Museum. The last seven months represented in many ways an unprecedented experience. But this situation has made me think about the time when I was a student at the University almost thirty years ago. While preparing for an exam, I used to spend all day at home at my desk for several weeks, reading or writing, and each day looked more or less the same as the previous one. Now I am again secluded for most of the day in one room, this time in our small apartment in Santa Monica. And I often think to a beautiful, mesmerizing painting by Danish painter Vilelm Hammershøi, who is sometimes labelled as the modern Vermeer. Hammershøi is renowned for his meditative interior scenes, and this depiction of his apartment and studio in Copenhagen is among the most enigmatic and compelling of these. The sparsely furnished interior features only an artist’s easel, a small side table visible through a half-open doorway, and a gilt-framed engraving hung high on the wall, perhaps to protect it from direct sunlight. For me the real protagonist of the work is indeed the cool, Nordic sunlight entering from unseen windows which casts large, geometric patches on the walls and the floor. I love the sober mood of the picture, where the impression of emptiness and silence is conveyed through a restrained palette, dominated by harmonious hues of grey. My room, now filled with books and boxes with files that I brought from the museum, is not as empty as Hammershøi’s apartment, and often I have to keep the blinds closed to prevent the bright California sunlight to enter, making the space too warm and impossible to look at the screen of my laptop. If for Hammershøi the almost obsessive depiction of his apartment encompassed a research on the meaning of the act of painting itself, in the last few months my room became the center of my life and a solitary space devoted to reflection and research. But it became also the place of nostalgia, especially when I think to the galleries where the painting is usually hanging, which are now empty, hoping that I can go back soon and enjoy again the museum with visitors, friends, and colleagues. CUNO: To view Vilhelm Hammershøi’s Interior with an Easel, Bredgade 25, made in Denmark around 1912, click the link in this episode’s description or look for it on getty.edu/art/collection.
“The idea of a kind of intact tomb, at a certain moment where the archaeologist breaks through the door and lifts up a lamp to reveal the glint of gold everywhere. That’s become the defining moment for archaeology.”
What do we know about the people who explored and studied Egypt’s ancient civilizations? The notebooks of well-known figures such as Howard Carter, who unearthed King Tut’s tomb in 1919 and created stunning, detailed renderings of it, reveal how Europeans have tried for centuries to unravel the mysteries of Egypt’s ancient languages, cultures, rituals, and monuments. The history of the exploration of Egypt tells not only of our drive to understand the ancient world, but also the political machinations and contests that motivated such exploration.
Chris Naunton’s new book, Egyptologists’ Notebooks: The Golden Age of Nile Exploration in Words, Pictures, Plans, and Letters, uses the often-beautiful records of early explorers and archaeologists from the 17th through 20th centuries to give insight into their discoveries. In this episode, Naunton discusses some of the key figures in Egyptology, highlighting their contributions to the field and to our contemporary understanding of ancient Egypt.
Reflections: Erin Fussell on the Dyke of Your Dreams Dance
We’ve asked members of the Getty community to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. These recordings feature stories related to our daily lives.
This week, Erin Fussell longs to “cut a rug” again as she looks at photographs from the 1978 “Dyke of Your Dreams” dance at the Women’s Building. To learn more about this event, visit: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/2017m43_6d9d703f54c264dc247ef2511a82bd4d.
Over the next few weeks, look for new recordings every other Tuesday.
JAMES CUNO: Hi, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. In a new podcast feature, we’re asking members of the Getty community to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. We’ll be releasing new recordings every other Tuesday. I hope you’ll find these stories about our daily lives—from laundry on the line to a dog at a scholar’s feet—thought provoking, illuminating, and entertaining.
ERIN FUSSELL: Hi, I’m Erin Fussell and I work in digital preservation at the Getty Research Institute. I’m also an artist and I need a lot of solitude in general in my life to think, process, and reflect in order to create. But this much alone time in my apartment during the pandemic has felt kind of insane! And I’ve really missed going out.
So, I’ve been thinking about this great series of photographs from the Los Angeles Woman’s Building records collection that I recently digitized. This particular photo set documented a Valentine’s day event in 1978 called “Dyke of Your Dreams” that turned a derogatory term directed at lesbian women on its head and made it empowering instead.
These images show women playing music, doing a go-go-type dance number, hamming it up for the camera, being sassy, sexy, cool. They look like they had so much fun together that night.
The event took place at the Los Angeles Woman’s Building that was located on North Spring Street downtown. The building housed a collective of artists and organizations centered around feminism with a number of different spaces like a cafe, a bookstore, studios, and a gallery. They hosted a bunch of different events like classes, exhibitions, concerts, and conferences.
But the tensions that arose within the feminist movement as a whole also seem to have played out at the Woman’s Building. There were issues of power dynamics and egos, issues of how feminism didn’t successfully address race or class. And they did not agree on what does or does not define what being a feminist means.
However, what struck me with these photographs is that this event had a looser vibe than other ones I saw documented in the collection. Maybe because it wasn’t an educational experience—it was a party. And the title of the event clearly makes lesbian love the theme. While I can’t know exactly what that meant to them at the time, I do know that lesbian events were not typical which makes them revolutionary to proudly host this one. And lastly, whatever their identities were, they came together that night to celebrate love for Valentine’s day.
“Dyke of Your Dreams” happened in the same month and year that my parents eloped in Las Vegas–February 1978–and they’re still together after all of these years. It makes me think about how cultivating love in our lives allows us to value each other because of our differences, fight for equality, and find connection in our shared humanity.
It also makes me miss my friends and family scattered all over the world more than I usually do. And I think about how much I look forward to the time when we can all get together again to let our hair down and cut a rug.
CUNO: To view this series of photographs from the Woman’s Building event “Dyke of Your Dreams,” taken in Los Angeles in 1978, click the link in this episode’s description or look for it on primo.getty.edu.