A few years ago, I watched “A Girl is a Fellow Here”, a documentary focused on six women who worked at Frank Lloyd Wright’s office by BWAF (Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation). The documentary focused on the life and works of Marion Mahoney, Isabel Roberts, Lois Gottlieb, Jane Duncombe, Eleanore Pattersen and Read Weber. These six women worked with Frank Lloyd Wright at his Oak Park Studio, or at Taliesin at various stages of their career, and became trailblazers for women in architecture by pursuing successful careers and practices in architecture. After watching the documentary, I instinctively searched the six women architects on Wikipedia. Marion Mahoney, Isabel Roberts and Eleanore Pettersen are on Wikipedia, there is sparse information about Lois Gottlieb and Jane Buncombe, and Read Weber is almost invisible on the internet.
Historically, achievements and valuable contributions of women and minority races have been systematically neglected by media, and popular culture. Women aren’t always fairly acknowledged for their ideas, innovations, participations and contributions in the built environment. What started with writing Wikipedia entries of “Women in Red” to share HERstory with the world morphed into “Project Amplify”, to amplify the voices and works of women and minority races. While I am engaged in working towards an equitable future, it’s equally important for me to celebrate the women in history who scaled walls, shattered ceilings and kicked open doors of opportunity for others to follow.
This year, I came up with a grand idea of doing a “Museum Wall” to be displayed at the “Women & the Art of Architecture” event last night at Laguna Beach. IIt would celebrate and amplify the achievements, voices and works of pioneering women in California’s architecture history.
I thought it would be easy to put together information I can find online, and research through books, and get some pictures to add. Except it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Pictures are copyrighted, information is sparse, but through my network, there was always someone who knew someone who could help me find what I needed. Even with all my network and resources, I couldn’t find headshot or much information about “Edna Deakin”. I couldn’t confirm whether Helen Liu Fong’s headshot that I had was actually her, because the archiving department sent me 700+ images taken during that period of time, and asked me to have someone who was knowledgeable to help. It was not easy, and it has opened my eyes to a much bigger problem, lack of an equitable history.
The event is over, but the project isn’t. I don’t know what exactly are my next steps, but I do know that I will do everything I can to continue to amplify the voices and works of women that inspire me, motivate me so that their stories are here to inspire generations to come.
Special thanks to the following people who made this wall possible:
(1) Julia Donoho, AIA, ESQ GC for Julia Morgan
(2) Paul Welch, AIA for connecting me with Nina Briggs for Norma Sklarek
(3) Diane Welch for information/ images on Lillian Rice
(4) Archiving agencies and foundations that were gracious enough to allow one time use of the pictures for the non-profit event.
(5) Mana Sadeghi, and WHA’s marketing team for the graphics/ presentation boards.
(6) Janice Hayden, AAUW, Elliot Quint and Tom Stewart, Laguna Friends of Architecture and AIA Orange County for the event organization
PS: There were 9 boards about Project Amplify, but they all contained copyrighted images that I could display only at the event between 6 pm- 9 pm. But, the first board with thumbnail images is something I can share to document what the project was about.