By Greta Cobar
Here’s a Venice trivia question for you: What do the Venice Arts Council, the Venice Japanese American Memorial Marker, the Ocean Front Walk benches, the Poetry Walls, the Art Walls and the proposed Los Angeles Mural Ordinance have in common?
The answer is Emily Winters. And the previous list enumerates only the projects that she is currently involved with. However, her story goes back to times when rent was less than $50/month and the L.A. folk did not yet find out about the Venice Festivals.
Beachhead: When did you come to Venice?
Emily Winters: In April of ‘63. I was pregnant, and my husband had friends here that we could stay with.
Beachhead: WOW! You too must have found Venice to be an easy place to come to, but not so easy to leave. What do you remember as particularly exuberant?
Emily Winters: In the 70s, I lived in the Canals for a while. It was then that I became involved with the politics in Venice. Developers wanted to make the Canals a gated community, and we fought and delayed it so many times, it became too expensive to build, so we eventually won. The Canals are public property, and should not be fenced in. It was at that time that we started the Canal Festival. Everyone had free food in their front yards, and we just wondered around the canals and partied, drinking Red Mountain wine. That went on for seven years, but then it got too crowded. Word got out and everyone in L.A. was coming, and someone got badly knifed, so we had to close it. We had a Canal Festival Funeral.
Beachhead: What was it like living in the Canals forty years ago?
Emily Winters: The people living there were all poor, raising young children, and we all helped each other out. There were a lot of empty city lots, and we grew vegetables. Folk music was played, and when the gypsy trucks came in, we let them use our water and electricity. I raised my two daughters, Genevieve and Camille, in that neighborly camaraderie.
Beachhead: One of the Venice murals that you designed is still adorning a building by the Canals.
Emily Winters: Yes, that mural depicts Jaya, which is Sanskrit for non-violent victory. On the left it illustrates the looming sterile Marina closing in on us, thus people being displaced by the rent going up. On the right side is the beautiful life we had over here, full of greenery, and all characters depicted in the mural are people that used to live here at that time. I designed the mural based on community input.
Beachhead: You are currently working on more than a hand-full of projects in Venice, and we want to hear about them all. Just to start, what’s going on with the Ocean Front Walk benches?
Emily Winters: Twenty-two tiles depicting the history of Venice from 1904 to 2001 were created by Noel Osheroff and Tamie Smith with the Venice Community Housing Corporation Clayworks program from a grant from the Los Angeles renovation of the Ocean Front Walk in the year 2000. The Los Angeles Recreation and Parks built eleven benches specifically to house these tiles. Now some of those benches are falling apart, and three of them have already been torn down by Recreation and Parks. Coincidentally, Steve Clare and Susan Millman happened to be strolling along just as one of the benches was being demolished, and managed to save the tiles. The Venice Arts Council is currently working with Osheroff and Smith to re-create the four missing tiles from a grant from the Venice Neighborhood Council Beautification program.
Beachhead: Did you design some of these tiles?
Emily Winters: Yes,three of them and Noel Osheroff, Tamie Smith and Augustin Gonzalez designed he rest. Measuring 13 by 12 inches, these intact, well made artworks depicting Venice history in a graphic form need to be preserved. Beachhead: You are currently the Chair of the Venice Arts Council?
Emily Winters: Yes, Suzanne Thompson and I co-founded and founded the Arts Council in 2004. Thompson is also the Chair of the Endangered Art Fund, which successfully cleaned and preserved two murals in Venice, and recently restored the Venice Beach Poetry Wall on the police sub-station.
Beachhead: Another big project that the Arts Council has been working on is the Venice Japanese American Memorial Maker (VJAMM), set to be built on the North-West corner of Venice and Lincoln, where Americans of Japanese descent were gathered April 25, 1942 with just what they could carry to be shipped off to the camp at Manzanar.
Emily Winters: The idea for the memorial marker started with an article and picture in the Free Venice Beachhead from that corner shot in 1942, of the Japanese Americans lining up to be taken to Manzanar. A Venice High student, Scott Pine, took this Beachhead to his history teacher, Phyllis Hayashibara, who explained this history to her students, and they were so motivated by their anger over such unfairness, that they wrote letters to Councilman Bill Rosendahl and the Beachhead published them. The Venice Japanese American Memorial Marker was born. The Monument will be nine and a half feet high, 3 feet wide at the bottom and two feet at the top. It will be in the shape of an obelisque because the graveyard at Manzanar was built by Japanese Americans in that shape and it is used as a symbol of Manzanar. We have raised quite a bit of money, and the monument builder is ready to go, but the project is currently tied-up in the bureaucratic permitting process.
Beachhead: The Arts Council has also taken on the mission of restoring the Poetry Walls at the beach. How is that going?
Emily Winters: We just finished cleaning and reetching the lettering on the police sub-station and now we’re getting ready to finish the 17th Street bathrooms. Water blasting that was used to removed tagging has destroyed the lettering, and the words have become difficult to read. We need to do more fundraising to raise the money to re-etch the remainder of the Poetry Walls.
Beachhead: You and the Arts Council, as previously published in the Beachhead (http://bit.ly/1aT5X6c), have been instrumental in the writing of the new Los Angeles mural ordinance. How far back does your involvement with the Beachhead go?
Emily Winters: I was part of the Beachhead Collective for about eight years, from some time in the late seventies to the mid-eighties. I did graphics for the paper during that time. Beachhead: I particularly like the guy reading the Beachhead in your Endangered Species mural, on OFW and Park. How was the Beachhead Collective when you were part of it?
Emily Winters: It was wonderful. We were all friends, and we did other activities together. We formed the Free Venice Astronomy Club, and Chuck Bloomquist, who was also a Collective member, was our Master Astronomer. For thirty years we all went camping to Joshua Tree twice a year, in the spring and fall, with Chuck’s telescope.
Beachhead: Yet another accomplishment on the part of the Arts Council is the preservation of the Venice Art (Graffiti) Walls. The highly intricate artwork on those walls has been looking really good lately.
Emily Winters: Yes, when I used to volunteer at the Art Walls, graffiti artists from all over the world came to paint there. It was mostly men though, very few women.
Beachhead: What is admirable about you is that you have spent time fostering others’ creative outlets and preserving others’ artworks – how refreshing in a town that has become too much about self-marketing and promotion. What is your own background in art?
Emily Winters: Right before coming to Venice, in the early sixties, I graduated from the Chicago Art Institute with a Bachelors degree in figure drawing and painting. Here in Venice, I did not want to teach. So when my two daughters got older I got a job painting billboards for a record company, and then I became the first woman painter for Foster & Kleiser, which was the first billboard company in Los Angeles. When technology started taking over, I worked in TV graphics and animation studios. Through the years I attended weekly model drawing workshops and otherwise filled in sketch book after sketch book. I worked with local youth through SPARC to paint murals. Some of those murals, like the ones in the Pavilion, are now gone.
Beachhead: Venice is lucky to have you. And Thank You for all of your accomplishments – they truly are a source of inspiration.
Self-Portrait by Emily Winters
At Top: Seascape by Emily Winters.