Interview with Warren Paul (Pete) Jennerjahn for the Artists Research Group Oral History Project
by George Hofmann
on July 10, 2002
HOFMANN: Okay. This is George Hofmann, speaking here today with
Warren Paul Jennerjahn, better known as Pete, in the wonderful Adirondacks, in the town of Jay, New York on a beautiful, beautiful day. So I’ll begin by asking you, Pete, if you could just give us a little bit of background about your education and upbringing. Where… where were you born? You know, just so that we know a little bit about history.
JENNERJAHN: Okay. Well, I was born on. the first day of my life on
the outside, that is [laughter] – in 1922 in Milwaukee, St. Joseph’s Hospital up, up on about the third or fourth floor up there somewhere. And lived there [in Milwaukee] for the first quarter century of my life. I went to all my schooling there.
We moved a lot. This was during Depression. And for a period there my folks were moving to humbler and humbler circumstances so that we’d be able to pay our rent. We were renters for much of that time. So we were moving on the average about every year or every two years to, you know, to keep, keep things in financial perspective. I wasn’t too much aware of this but in later years I understood it and we would talk a little bit about it.
Anyway, and I went to undergraduate school there at what was Milwaukee State Teachers College. And it was a rather good school. They had good faculty there in the arts and music areas. And it was from there that I went off into the service and
GH: And that was World War II.
PJ: Yeah, World War II.
GH: And the war had already started.
PJ: Yeah. I had I had started college and while I, during that period, during at the end of my freshman year, I think, it was
GH: So that was around 39 or 40.
PJ: Yeah. Well, no, this was in–. This–. I started college in 40
PJ: And you know the war started in 41. So anyway, I did get in about a year and a half before I went off and was in the Air Corps, Army Air Corps. They didn’t have just Air at the time. It was the Army Air Corps. And I was there in that until 45, at which time I came back and finished off my undergrad. And there were a couple of my friends who sort of re-collected at about that time. And then we all went off to the University of Wisconsin in Madison for graduate year.
GH: So that would have been Forty–
J: That was 47.
PJ: And then I finished that up. And then I worked for a year for Elizabeth that’s my wife, Elizabeth for her father who had an ecclesiastical decorating studio in Milwaukee. And with my art training I was able to do some, some designing. I, I was never there long enough to get into doing the long figures and all that. But I did a lot of spot figurations ,of symbols that were used in, used in
GH: Painted, painted on the walls or
PJ: Church windows.
GH: Stained glass.
PJ: Stained glass. Yeah.
GH: Stained glass.
PJ: So I got into stained glass. And actually I carried that out on my own for some years after. I actually had a one-person show on– through NYU at a gallery they had right on the, on the Square there.
GH: On Washington Square?
PJ: Washington Square. At the time they had a walk-in, little walk-in gallery. And they had all the stained glass pieces. But this was the pre-epoxy period. And I was also experimenting with adhesives. And I wrote to every known adhesive manufacturer at the time. And some of them would send me back samples that they were in the process of, of trying to test out. And would, you know, ask whether I would then send them a report.
And Dupont sent me their famous Duco cement, which I had known about. That’s the kind of thing, you know, where you put cement, a teacup handle on that and it and the whole cup falls off – you’d have a hot lap full of tea.
PJ: But anyway
GH: So this was in Madison.
PJ: Well, this, this was after Madison, and this was in Milwaukee. [1947-1948.]
GH: Oh, back in Milwaukee.
PJ: The Conrad Schmitt Studios. Then after I was there a year…. Elizabeth had previously gone to Black Mountain for a year [early in the Forties], as a student. Black Mountain College’
GH: Black Mountain College in
PJ: North Carolina.
GH: North Carolina.
PJ: Right. And I had feelers out through teachers placement bureaus. I had about three different ones going and one working out of Chicago, one from the Madison University placement bureau and one for the Milwaukee Teachers College placement bureau. And, oh I got a nibble here and there and I would correspond but nothing was happening, nothing was happening.
GH: In terms of a teaching job.
PJ: Yeah. Yeah. Well I was holding out for a college level. A lot of my, my buddies were willing to take high school and so forth. But I didn’t want to have to have the kind of discipline problems that I knew they were, were running into or, or if they even took lower grades, you know. I didn’t want to have to spend time passing out paste, and rulers and stuff like that. I wanted to teach art, you know, with people who were interested in it. come there because they wanted it in the first place.
GH: Of course.
PJ: But anyway, nothing was happening so Elizabeth said why don’t you come off to -with me and we’ll go, we’ll go to Black Mountain. And it’s so great -Albers is such a great teacher. And there are other great faculty people there. And it’s a great
GH: This is Josef Albers.
PJ: Yeah. The whole aura of the kind of student that was there was so exhilarating she felt. And I had GI Bill. And that’s how I finished up with the graduate degree. And I still had about a year and a half, two years, or it left. Spent a little finishing up undergrad, did the whole grad year and then I had a bit left. So I used some of it to start off at Black Mountain. [1948.]
And I worked–. Albers liked the way I worked. And I became his assistant. And in that transition then I no longer had to pay student fees. So–. And then when Albers left, things that he taught were divided up between Joe Fiore and myself. So I had–. I taught the design and color and Joe had painting. And
GH: And, and was that strictly according to the Albers system?
PJ: Well at that time, yes. I was, I was–. There were people signed up for classes of his. And then he was no longer going to be there. So even if I had thought of going off on my own bent, it was important that I sort of carry on with the people who came there for.
GH: Of course.
PJ: But that was no imposition because I was really, I was sold. I mean I had–. He introduced a whole new outlook on color for me that I had not had. I had good teachers but color was, was, you know, hue, value and intensity and those, you know, those old saws.
And I mean my, my teachers who – they were competent, they were all derivative from the Ash Can School, you know, Grant Wood, Thomas Benton, Fletcher Martin, the Soyers in the New York area and so forth, that whole crowd. So that was–. Those were the models.
And what was, what was thought about color at that time was what came out of that kind of background. So when I started working with Albers this was a real eye opener.
GH: Of course, of course.
PJ: And, but Elizabeth and I realized when we were, after we were at Black Mountain a couple of years being a community, a real community college where we were isolated from any town–. They had their own farm, their own dairy herd. The students helped make butter from the milk, which was served in the dining hall, and the milk and some of the produce, which was raised
GH: I never knew that.
PJ: Oh yeah. And there was a work program. So some of the students would work on the farm. Some would do upkeep on the road. Some would, would help out doing things with the buildings.
The first half year Elizabeth and I volunteered to take care of the school store, which – I had never, never done anything like in my life previously.
GH: But it, but it, but it was a private institution.
GH: Not, not a state
PJ: It was private.
GH: Wow. Set up in that cooperative way.
PJ: Yeah. And then they had a print shop. And it was currently idle because the fellow who had been the printer there had left at some time previously, a couple years previous to our arrival there.
And I had taken printing as a sophomore in high school at Boys Tech, Boys Technical High School in Milwaukee and I’d learned to set type at the time and to run the simple press and do the make up and all that kind of thing. And so at one of the usual meetings there it was said, you know, we, we need people to do these different jobs and we haven’t had anyone to do printing for a long time. Is there anyone here who could handle a print shop? So I sat quietly waiting to see for any hands were raised and there weren’t any.
PJ: So I said, well–. I said, I’ve had printing as a sophomore in high school and I will do what I can.
But anyway, I got up there and, you know, checked out their type supply, which was meager and jumbled as you can expect. And that’s what they call pie in the printing trade when you have to go and re-sort everything, redistribute.
And the rollers they were, they were gelatin. And the mice had eaten …. There were great big gouges on those rollers. So it took a little doing finally to get another couple fonts of type and get some fresh rollers and so forth. But then
GH: But the shop was set up as a type shop not as an etching studio or
PJ: No, no. It did not do
GH: Or photography.
PJ: It did not do artwork. It was strictly for the printed
GH: Letter press really.
PJ: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. And so then while I was there I did all their, all the programs.
GH: Now were students studying
PJ: Students then studied with me to learn how to set type and, and, and I had students doing programs, printing up programs.
GH: But, but, in, —- in an artistic way.
PJ: Well we used all the best knowledge we could. I mean we looked at good printing work, hand printing work of different peoples and were interested in spacing and general type design kinds of things. And then
GH: So it was a part of their art training.
PJ: Oh yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And we did, we did a modest study of typefaces and so forth. So they were able to recognize different ones and call on different ones because of a certain mood that was required and that kind of thing.
GH: So this was about 48, 49?
PJ: Oh this was–. Yeah. We got there in I think it was the summer of 48. Actually if you want the real history on this the, the Mary Emma Harris book in here. She knows more and remembers more, has more collected about us than we can remember ourselves.
GH: That sounds, that sounds wonderful.
PJ: Yeah. She is a fantastic source. And is a very accessible person. So anyway, I recommend her highly.
But anyway, my point was that after Elizabeth and I were there a couple of years because of the community arrangement we mainly all ate together in the dining hall. There were two chefs, local people who were hired. Sometimes there were three but mainly there were two chefs who did the real overseeing of the cooking. But everything from there on down or out was cared for by the students. So they were all the chefs helpers. They did serving. They helped work out menu. And then we all ate together.
And in that kind of context the faculty were very much intermingled with the students especially the younger faculty. There were the more aged ones like Max Dehn who was philosophy and mathematics. He was from the, what is it, the Planck Institute?
PJ: Yeah. He was one of those folks. You know because there was a little coterie of scientists who did things of some important discoveries on magnesium or something like that. His name was Hans Gerk… And then, of course, there was
PJ: Hans Gerk was–. I don’t know how you spell his name. But he was, he had a reputation as a scientist. And then, of course, there was Josef and Annie Albers. And they had to leave because of the Bauhaus being on the black list as far as Hitler goes. And especially Annie was
GH: Oh you mean had to leave Germany.
PJ: Jewish or partly Jewish. And thats how Black Mountain inherited this little collection of, of, of rather–. Oh and then there was a musician, Jalowitz. He was a conductor. And then later there was Robert, I forget his name, who worked with [Max] Reinhardt
GH: The theatre director.
PJ: Theatre person. So they had really some very capable people who, who came in with world views into this little community in western North Carolina.
GH: And, and who were some of the other art people?
PJ: At the time, let’s see, outside of Albers they had–. It’s mainly people who came in like on summers. There was Leo Amino came in. DeKooning was there for a while. Franz Kline, I think, was there for a while.
GH: And these were slightly younger guys.
PJ: Yeah. Robert Turner came in ceramics. M. C. Richards came in ceramics. And in writing–. I know I’m missing some names. But anyway, so that’s sort of the picture.
And being as we were sort of continually in demand and meeting with students and they would come into our little digs and meet and we’d talk and go over stuff. Elizabeth and I realized even though we had been married in 47 and this was now 49 or thereabouts, we really hadn’t had a married life together. We were both going to college together. And we would
GH: You were grad students. [Laughs]
PJ: Yeah. We, we, we made arrangements to, you know, meet. You know, why don’t we both sit at the same table so we can talk this evening, you know. And we both had an idea that we would–. I had a year of GI Bill left to them. I said this will be our chance. Let’s go off to Europe for a year because that would have been enough for us to get by on. Sign up with the school. You had to register for school so you got a stipend as you did so.
And a couple of my friend’s not at Black Mountain but back from Milwaukee who were doing the same thing at about the same time in fact it was Elizabeth’s sister and her husband, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law who went over to Paris.
And there were only two schools, ateliers, that accepted the GI students. They had an arrangement with the government so you could attend. And one was Academie–. No. There were three of them. Academie Julien, Academie de la Grande Chaumiere and Leger, Fernand Leger.
And so we, we spent this year in Europe. I was supposedly attending school but I’d had school up to here by that time.
PJ: And I went there to sign in and so forth at least once a week. But we did work. I painted. And we did a lot of travel. And especially looking, looking for good old stained glass windows. And we would frequent Chartres, for instance, because that being one of the real places that was always lauded as a real source for glass, of glass at its best.
GH: Of course, of course.
PJ: And after the year was up and I ran out of the GI Bill to the very last day this was in July. And we came back then. And we figured, well, we can land anywhere we want, you know, and start life back in the States.
GH: About 1950.
PJ: This was–. Yeah. Fifty, 51, around in there.
But anyway, so we–. Elizabeth was keen on dance and had done teaching at Black Mountain. She studied when we would have holidays and so forth. She studied with Martha Graham. And then Merce Cunningham showed up at Black Mountain. In fact, there’s a New Yorker profile on him in a recent publication. And it does mention his early start at Black Mountain. Anyway, there’s probably one of the most often published photos of him with a student sort of reaching out as this young woman is facing him. That’s Elizabeth.
GH: Oh how wonderful.
PJ: Yeah. So it’s in several of the books. It’s in one of his and one of the books of, I think Rauschenberg, Rauschenberg, Cage and Cunningham. They were sort of a triumvirate.
And anyway, Elizabeth then had a chance to continue and immerse herself more in dance. We landed in New York. And we had the obligatory loft on the Lower East Side.
GH: Uh-huh. Early days.
PJ: Diagonally across from the Sunsing Theatre and right on the
GH: In Chinatown?
PJ: Yeah. Right on the edge of Chinatown and in the big Jewish community. And I scrabbled around for work. I think through mail I had a part-time job at Cooper waiting for me, Cooper Union.
GH: Through the mail
PJ: Through contacts and so forth. And I think I went, I had to go for an interview and Dana, Dana Vaughan was the Dean of the Arts at the time. And so I taught, I don’t know, two or three evenings a week or something like that. So that was my one little foot in the door.
And the Lippolds, Richard Lippold was living off of Amsterdam Avenue up in, I think, up in the 80s. I forget exactly where. I painted their apartment. You know anything to, you know, keep scrabbling around.
GH: How did you know the Lippolds originally?
PJ: They were both from Milwaukee.
GH: No. That’s right, of course.
PJ: Yeah. Elizabeth knew Louise.
GH: I see.
PJ: And then got to know Richard and then they came, they came to Black Mountain then, too.
GH: Oh, I see.
PJ: I mean as visitors.
GH: I didn’t realize that.
PJ: Yeah. That was
GH: So you had this history, this connection
PJ: Yeah. So here’s the connection. That’s, that’s what’s leading up to Hunter because Richard was beginning to be quite busy. And he had these different jobs. In the city he had some things to do at Hunter. And then he had a couple of these progressive schools up aways in New York State not too far away from Manhattan. I don’t know–. Not Sarah Lawrence but there were a couple along that line. One of them I understand is trying to merge with some other places because it’s going under.
PJ: Yeah. Yeah. But anyway, as Richard was getting more and more active in his, with his creative work and wasn’t having to teach–. I mean he liked doing it in a way because he was a kind of a showman. And liked to display his, his, his flair for many things. But on the other hand it was an imposition as far as his own work time, which you know you can understand.
And so he started–. He knew, he knew I was in need for work. And so he set me up this–. He had this–. It was a perspective course, I think, at Hunter. And he must have talked me up to Edna Wells Luetz. And I came down and I looked as though I had one head and all the other parts. And I was recommended by Richard so here I am suddenly. And okay here’s another part-time job.
So I don’t know whether there was some other kind of drawing kind of thing that I taught as well. But the thing that sticks into mind was this perspective course.
Now Richard had already taught it in a previous year or previous semester, whatever. And I asked him, you know, what, what it was he expected me to cover and what would be called for. And I remember his saying, Well, as a, as a final exam kind of– He was not an exam type person.
PJ: You know, as a sort of a wind up to see what people knew, they had to do a circular staircase. That’s the one thing I remember rather specifically about that course and my connection with, with, with Richard.
And I remember I was impressed by some of the students because there were more–. There were a mixture of students. And there were a number of mature students and a number of mature women. I’m talking about like forties, thirties, forties.
GH: But it was a co-ed situation.
PJ: It was co-ed, I think, as I recall. And these women, the ones that stuck out in my mind, were from islands like Jamaica and places like that. Right. And it was the first time I’d heard English spoken with the lilt that those people had and I was fascinated by that.
GH: Oh how wonderful. Yeah.
PJ: It was wonderful. Now are there
GH: Well that’s one of Hunter’s strengths is that it has always had this varied population.
PJ: Yeah and good for them.
PJ: And there were–. There were two other tidbits of, of recollection. And I had mentioned to you briefly that there was another guy whom I sort of befriended while I was there. And I couldn’t think of his name at the time. But I have subsequently remembered it. It’s Hannes Beckman.
PJ: He was teaching there. Hannes Beckman. And
GH: This is the first I’ve heard of him.
PJ: He must have come from Germany because he clearly had an accent.
GH: Well Luetz had connections with Germany. So she may have found this person.
PJ: And he knew well the faculty of the Bauhaus. In fact he had some connection with one or two of them somehow because he spoke of them when we would get together and talk about the gang back–. He was able to give some rather, you know, not just casual but rather intimate, not deeply intimate I don’t mean that but enough to indicate that he was around these people enough to have conversations and things like that. Now I don’t remember who it was of the names that we’ve talked about back and forth, Schlemmer and Klee, and so forth, but anyway–. And he, as I recall, was teaching photography at Hunter.
GH: How interesting.
PJ: Now this, I think, was not his, you know–. This was not his main love. I think he was more into designing and things like that as the Bauhaus has a strong head in that direction. But I think it was one of these things where he needed work. I think he was living by himself someplace in the city. And so he probably knew enough about photography and got this job.
It’s like where, at the place I taught at later, for a third of a century. We used to have people come in and take up the artistic positions. But it turns out they were, they were painters and they were posing as art historians.
GH: Of course.
PJ: You know to support their, support their paintings.
GH: Their art.
PJ: That’s right. But anyway, I used to ride the public conveyance. I know the El was still functioning at that time. And I took it, I don’t know, a couple times up to Cooper when I was teaching there. But I think most of the time I either went on the, on the Lexington line up from, from down on East Broadway to get over to the Lexington line and ride up to Hunter. Or I would take one of the, a bus, some kind of surface transportation, probably the one that went up, first out in the order, or something like that. And every once in a while Beckman and I would get on the same conveyance at the same time and we would jabber away about Bauhaus and the characters there and that kind of thing, and a little bit on what we were doing. And then, also, there must have been some kind of like a cafeteria or an eating place in, in, at Hunter.
GH: Oh yes, there was.
PJ: Yeah. I vaguely remember. And so I used to get together with about the same two, three faculty people. At the time Beckman was one of them. And there was another man whose name I forget but who had recently been distinguished by something he had published, which was recognized. And I don’t remember his name. But all I remember he was
GH: It wasn’t William Rubin, was it?
PJ: I would recognize his name.
GH: Was it Norris Smith, the art historian?
PJ: I don’t think this man was in the arts.
GH: Oh he was in another field.
GH: Oh, I see.
PJ: Yeah. But anyway, that’s the one other person that I can remember. And unfortunately, I don’t remember his name. But he was interesting person to, in the mix, you know, with Beckman and myself. And we would talk about all kinds of things. Solving the problems of the world but I see what we talked about didn’t take some how. The world is in worse shape than it was then.
But anyway, those, that sort of sums up my, my Hunter experiences, except I always remembered it with fondness. I would have been happy to teach there further and go into the other fields. But I think it was Richard’s job, who I was subbing for– Richard.
GH: I see. I see.
PJ: And either Richard said, well I don’t want it anymore, which means that Pete Jennerjahn didn’t have that job through Richard anymore.
GH: Got it, got it.
PJ: And so, and I think not too distant a time from then I think Edna Wells Luetz either retired or had ill health or something and someone else was there. So my, you know, my–. While I did a nice, I did a good job for you, did I not, Miss Luetz? There wasn’t any Miss Luetz there to back me up. So, you know
GH: That was history.
PJ: That was it. So also a long about that time since Cooper was a part-time job, Hunter was a part-time job, I got a work I don’t know how I got into it but with the, the fabric designer, weaver Jack Lenor Larsen. And he had a, a, a loft on 22nd and near the Triangle Building that
GH: Yes. The Flatiron.
PJ: Yeah, the Flatiron, that Flatiron building. And I don’t know how I got in with him. But that constituted some more of my part-time work. And we got on very well.
See actually in the Teachers College that I went to, I also studied weaving for about a year. And I knew how to string up a loom and all that kind of thing. Well, it turns out when I got in with, with Jack Larsen he needed me for just about anything except for weaving. So I did everything for him. I would get in the subway and deliver finished weaving work.
I did deliver one to some big hotel where Senator Benton had his suite or something like that. He was having blinds of his choice put up there.
And I got good at repairing looms. I was forever crawling underneath the looms and restringing stuff and all that. [Laughter] But it was great because Jack and I got along very well. And I was able just to do all this kind of stuff, which he needed someone, someone for. And so that was another part of my livelihood along with Hunter at that time.
And then I also had another stint at teaching at Robert Louis Stevenson School. That had been a kind of a well to do boy’s, young men’s school, which had fallen on, I guess, on hard times because at, at that time and this was up on upper, upper Broadway and somewhere between the 80s and the 100s, some place up in there was taking care of mainly GIs returning, getting their, what do you call, their GRE or whatever it is, finishing off their high school credits and some of them working towards college and all that kind of thing. And that–. That whole place was set up for that. And so I taught there about two or three nights a week. And
GH: You were busy.
PJ: Oh I was busy. And I figured out how much subway time I was putting in
PJ: And how much
PJ: And, but with all these little squibs of, of work I mean it finally added together. And we hung on by our–. I was, I was saying to Elizabeth a couple nights ago and I don’t know what brought up the topic but I said, you know, we were, we were living so on such a thin thread at the time.
I remember I had found a gold ring when we were at Black Mountain just in the dirt. And it had some initials on the inside. So I made the announcement, you know, publicly at the dining hall. And, you know, I found this, a ring with these initials and does anyone recognize. No. Not a soul came forward from even from among the faculty, anyone who’d been there for quite a period of time. Nell Rice, for instance.
But anyway, so I went in to their files of anyone who had been there in the past or who had left their name as a visitor. And I found one set of the initials. And I wrote to this person and said, you know, I found a ring and it had some of your initials in it. Never got an answer back.
So anyway I just had that ring. I probably still have it somewhere. But it, it was gold. And I remember so many times when we were at the loft. I said I’m going to have to pawn this next week. We’re not going to make it.
GH: Yeah. Even with all this work.
PJ: Yeah, with all this work, yeah.
GH: Because it was all part-time.
PJ: All part
GH: You were piecing it together.
GH: Yes. Yes.
PJ: And it would have been fun to work more at Cooper but Cooper had only three full-time faculty.
GH: Oh wow.
PJ: They were the three deans.
GH: My God!
PJ: Dean of Architecture, the Dean of–. I don’t know what the middle guy was. And then the Dean of the Drawing and Painting – who was Dean Vaughan.
GH: Yeah. Yeah.
PJ: Everyone else is part-time. I don’t know whether that’s changed. But that’s the way it was. There was not another full-timer on the staff. Now there were a lot, lot of people, you know, that I got to know, coming and going. And we would swap notes on our teaching and all that. Also by the by, I think I was the one that introduced color as a course at Cooper. I mean
GH: [Unclear] the Albers
PJ: Because of the Albers. And it was, it–. Dean Vaughan must have known something of Albers in the background, and the fact that I had these credentials coming from Black Mountain is what got me that job.
PJ: And I was given the business of establishing a color course, which I did. And I did the same thing later at Adelphi where I taught for many years.
GH: And that’s where you then went after all this part-time.
PJ: Yeah. Yeah. I started there as a part-time in the summer and it worked into a full-time and lasted for thirty-three years.
GH: And that probably was the later fifties.
PJ: Yeah. That–. Let’s see, yeah, that was
PJ: I started there in 54 as a part-timer.
GH: I see.
PJ: I commuted out from the city.
GH: Wow. Yeah.
PJ: And I was still teaching at Cooper.
GH: Yes. Yes. Yeah.
PJ: So I was teaching part-time in town and part-time out.
GH: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. Do you remember any of the art history people or any of the other faculty at Hunter who, who–. I mean their–. Just passing in the hall, or things that struck you–. I mean certain personalities stick in the mind.
PJ: I’m sure there was someone other than Beckman. In fact it was someone whom Richard had known. But I don’t remember–. You know, George, we’re talking about a half a century
GH: I know. When I think of it, it is fifty years ago. [Laughs]
PJ: A half a century ago.
GH: I mean at that point, Motherwell and Baziotes came in there around 52, I think.
PJ: I remember Motherwell being mentioned. I, I knew Baziotes work at the time. In fact, a guy I think–. Did he teach at Black Mountain then eventually? Yes. He was a, a, a close follower of Baziotes. Stamos, Theodore Stamos.
PJ: And so there was that little, little thread. But outside of having met Motherwell, I think, maybe once. I don’t know whether I ever met Baziotes at all.
GH: Other people who were there were Fritz Bultman was a painter.
PJ: Didn’t know Bultman.
GH: I think maybe in those days Michael Ponce de Leon was teaching printmaking.
PJ: I know the name but I didn’t know him personally.
GH: And Rubin came in somewhere along the line there. Did you encounter him at all or any of the other art history people?
PJ: No, not that I, not that I recall.
GH: Well the place never was famous for faculty meetings so [laughs]
PJ: Well, yeah, well, good for them.
GH: Yeah, right.
PJ: Yeah. Well and it’s that–. It’s these part-timers who come and do their stint and they bolt off to the next stint
GH: It’s still that way.
PJ: You don’t get chummy unless, as I said, we did some of us meet at, at some eating place within the school, the cafeteria or some place like that. And I’m sure I brown bagged it because I was so poor. I didn’t buy food.
GH: Right. One last thing I just wish you could address a little bit is, looking back, what would you say about the spirit of those times? I mean, you came through the war, then there was this burgeoning of education and then you were in the heart of it in New York. I mean looking back at that, how does that stick in your mind?
PJ: Well, for both Elizabeth and myself we were on the same page as far as all of that goes. Coming from Milwaukee, Milwaukee was a nice town but it was a comfortable family town whose arts were thwarted. They were thwarted as a result of World War I. Milwaukee was a very thriving Germanic community, as you know from all the beer commercials and all that kind of stuff.
GH: And the immigrants.
PJ: Yeah. And– but they had, they had a very lively cultural life. They had all these Turnvereins. And they had classical musical groups
PJ: They, they did have theatre companies. And there was much more of that kind of thing than you would expect from a city that is barely past a half million, if it has–.
But what happened when World War I came and there was–. It’s like people, anyone who looks like an Arab these days, you know, they’re looking on with suspicion. Well, Germans don’t look too different from other people. But here’s this phone book with, you know, three quarters
[end of tape 1, side A]
PJ: –so that there was a real Germanic flavor that emanated from that city.
GH: Sure. Sure.
PJ: And, of course, they drew back. They drew back. They drew back. They had less social things publicized, ran fewer of them.
My wife had an uncle who taught German and maybe something else like philosophy or the German philosophers or something like that at the University in Madison. And he began to feel such pressures.
And he felt that what people in academia are, above all of this kind of thing. If you’re from another country and you’re, this was not your original language and all that. I mean we’re all in one big wonderful academic community. We’re all academicians after all, you know. Herr Professor so and so, you know. And he began to feel such coldness and all to the extent that he quit his, his professorship. And he went into the soup making business.
PJ: He went through with a wagon and gathered suet and fat.
PJ: But this, this is a symbol of what befell Milwaukee. The reason why I got onto this was because it was so sleepy as far as the arts go, we had to get out.
PJ: And that’s what the Lippolds did. Louise was a dancer. Richard was an aspiring artist. And we left.
GH: And, and New York was an entirely different kettle of fish.
PJ: Absolutely. Absolutely.
GH: And, but I think the period also must have been unusual.
PJ: Yeah. Yeah. See there
GH: The post-war
PJ: There were a lot of the guys involved who were GIs, ex-GIs, you know. And that was–. It was like being let out of a, out of a prison or something. Not only were they out of the service but they were out of the war. And I mean you could, you could breathe deep sighs of freedom, luxurious freedom. You didn’t have to wear a khaki outfit if you didn’t want to.
GH: And in terms of art, many things were new.
PJ: Right. And, and they were itching to get back at it again, you know. And so a lot of the, a lot of the creative stuff, of course they were working with the old tools, but there was all this let’s, let’s try something else. Let’s do something
GH: So living in New York must have been exciting despite the
PJ: It was
GH: Poverty and
PJ: Oh, it was.
GH: And hardship.
PJ: It was.
GH: I mean with all that going on and that spirit.
PJ: And see there was a lot of fresh business going on then. Dance, you know, the 92nd Street Y, which was a beehive. And we got to know–. Well we had already known Merce Cunningham and then John Cage when they were at Black Mountain. So we just carried on the relationship back up in New York. We were quite good friends. We went to everything they were did, all their first performances and their rehearsals and everything else.
GH: I mean that alone was exciting.
PJ: Oh yeah. Yeah. In fact I was able to contribute a little bit because, in Europe they had already done, they had made more advances in the electronic music field than we had here. And I went to some of their, some of the concerts of the Musik Konkret. And when I came back and when John and Earl Brown and Christian Wolff and–. Who’s the big guy, composer? I forget his name. Slips
GH: Oh you mean contemporary?
PJ: Yeah. Yeah. He was part of that gang.
GH: I can’t think.
PJ: But anyway–. And I, you know, had some meetings with them
GH: Well, Cage
PJ: Yeah. Yeah. But and they were really interested to, to hear what, what I was able to, to glean from the several concerts that I had gone to
GH: Oh, in Europe.
PJ: It was sort of fun for them to hear what, what these guys were doing a step or so ahead because we were starting a little later here. But anyway, yes, this was part of what was booming.
And dance was just coming alive. There we were much ahead of Europe because Elizabeth tried to find some dance in Paris, preferably modern dance, which was her, her direction as, as was Louise Lippold. And there were, there were just–. There was one person who taught somewhat, something of a dance class in some thin way left over from a movement where modern dance was a little stronger, Wigman.
GH: Oh yes.
PJ: And she was a part of that thread. But there was really nothing going on there in the way of modern dance.
So while Elizabeth was looking for classes this was Melia Surreul I think was the name of this person was the, was the closest she could come to having something of what was going to be develop into modern dances. And then the only other options were, of course, they were strong in the ballet aspects. So Elizabeth even went and took, became a canard, with Melia Surreul. I mean with Madame Nora, Madame Nora.
But anyway, so when, when we got back to New York and down on the Lower East Side, of course, we tapped into all these folks.
GH: Of course.
PJ: And I knew Joe Fiore from Black Mountain. And they were living in the city at the time. And there were a few, there were a few other people at the time from the city. Joel Oppenheimer, run into. I’m trying to think of some of the others who were right, right in the city. And we’d get together with different of them from time to time.
But as I said, we went–. And we went to all the openings. Oh, Ruth Assawa was another. She was, she was in the city at the time and she was at Black Mountain. But interestingly, she was also at the Teachers College, Ruth Assawa. In fact, you know, we got to know her there as undergrads.
GH: In Milwaukee.
PJ: In Milwaukee.
GH: Wow. That’s interesting.
PJ: Now I don’t know whether it was through Elizabeth’s influence– because she was at Black Mountain first. But as a result of her enthusiasm over the place and talking it up as she did, there was a whole grouping of people who came from this little school in Milwaukee. Assawa being one, John Rice was another. There was Nancy Smith who was another one. There were two Bergman brothers who went to Black Mountain eventually. Elizabeth’s sister, Elaine Urbain, went there as did her two brothers, Rupert and Conrad Schmitt.
PJ: And this was all through my wife’s enthusiasm.
GH: You were stalwarts of Black Mountain, first of Milwaukee and then of Black Mountain.
GH: How wonderful.
GH: Yeah. Well
PJ: Then of course we, we, we continued to befriend–. See I, I, I was not a dancer but I studied composition with John Cage down at Black Mountain.
GH: How wonderful.
PJ: And that was wonderful. And so I, I had been a musician. You know all the while we were, while I was working in the stained glass studio I was playing evenings, you know, at a local
GH: Oh I see. What did you play?
PJ: Sax, clarinet.
GH: Wind instruments. Yeah.
PJ: Yeah. And, oh, and during the summers I went on the road with different bands.
GH: Oh really?
PJ: Yeah. But anyway
GH: Well you lived through a wonderful period.
PJ: Yeah. Yeah.
GH: In all of these things.
PJ: And so going to the musical things was, was important to me not just as a spectator but I was an involved person. And I was always interested to hear what, what John Cage was up to next, you know, having worked closely with him. And, of course, Elizabeth was interested in all the dance. So she had studied with Martha Graham and then with, with Merce and eventually she was, she and Merce and Paul Taylor were in some of the–.
See, Elizabeth never got to perform. She was right on the verge of it. But probably this was when she had a child. And once that was the case then we, we stayed a few more years in the loft. And then we had to move out because there was, there was no place that you could take a child. You know there were just stores and trucks.
GH: No parks, no nothing.
PJ: Yeah, no parks. And if you did they were paved with ground glass.
GH: That’s right. That’s right.
PJ: So anyway we moved out, out to the Island. And then, of course, all that, all the New York teaching–. Once I made full-time at Adelphi in Garden City then we were happy to have that proximity. In fact, that was my angle, you know, that I would get some kind of job so we could stay close to New York.
GH: Yes, of course, of course.
PJ: Where everything was going on.
GH: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
PJ: So we, we would then come in, we would commute in for–. We didn’t get to things as often as we, as we did when we lived right in town but all the important openings for instance and musical concerts, dance concerts, we would always be there. So that, that’s, that was how Hunter got in the mix.
GH: Yes, I see that. Well, Pete Jennerjahn, thank you very much for this most enlightening interview. And I look forward to getting this transcribed. And, for my part, another conversation, another day.
PJ: Well, anyway, are you thinking of doing a book or memories of Hunter?
GH: Yes, we are. Turn this off.
END OF INTERVIEW