Interview with Edmund Kara by David Jay Brown

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David: How much time had elapsed from start to finish?

Edmund: A couple of years. When I returned I stayed in New York awhile, and then I knew I liked California. I’d been out enough times to know what it was about. I moved to L.A., and I started my new life. One of the shops that used to make clothes for Lena was run by a woman named Athena, and she had a partner who was a rather well-known actress named Odette Myrtil. They owned a custom-made clothing shop on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, and I became a designer for them. Athena was going into wholesale suit manufacturing, and I was a designer for her company. So I was in the “rag ” business. I worked for her for a couple of years, and I got very settled in Los Angeles. I had a charming little cottage in an avocado orchard.

Athena collection

David: Where in L.A. were you?

Edmund: In West Hollywood. I did a lot of freelance work. I got a gig at Paramount Pictures, a one-time gig, and it did not work out well. It was a fourteen week contract.

David: Did you do costume design for any other Hollywood films?

Edmund: No, I just did one film at Paramount, and I was working for another manufacturer of clothing in downtown L.A. I had a friend who was an interior decorator, and I helped him do installations. I used to be very good at draping rooms, doing fabric walls, and canopy ceilings. I helped work out all the decorative aspects. I worked in that field, and the designing field, all on a freelance basis.

David: So how did you get involved in doing sculpture?

Edmund: Well, I was involved in sculpture in art school. I had that sculpture teacher. I made some very strong sculptures during that period. Then one summer when I was living in L.A., I spent the whole time at the beach carving two pieces of Yucca wood, and I made two sculptures during that summer. So, you see, I was sort of developing a taste for sculpture in L.A., but I didn’t really start seriously doing sculpture until I moved to Big Sur. I was working in the garment business for a rather high-fashion house that made suits and dresses in downtown L.A. I’d worked for them for a couple of years on a freelance basis, and I produced four or five lines of clothing every year, dresses and suits.

David: Did the clothes have a little label with your name on it?

Edmund: No, I wasn’t featured. I was a ghost designer. The woman who owned the company had her label on it. It was called “Jewel”. I was a ghost designer for Athena too. I didn’t get a credit there either. Athena had her name on the label. But there came a day when I looked at my life in the garment industry, and my life in L.A., and I said, “This is dead. This is not the way I want to live the rest of my life.”

David: This was a gradual awakening that slowly dawned on you, or was it all of a sudden?

Edmund: It was a collective thing that all of a sudden mounted up at one moment. It reared its gruesome head, and said, “You are not equipped to succeed in this world. You’ve made a good living. You’ve given good services, but you’re not getting any satisfaction. You have a sense of death on your tongue.”

I just had to have a change of life. I was thirty-eight at that point. A friend of mine and I used to come to Big Sur on weekends. He loved Big Sur. I used to come up with him, and would share his enthusiasm for it, but I never thought that I would ever live here. We met the lady who owned Nepenthe, a poly-faceted, incredibly fabulous woman. We were mad about her, and we all loved each other. She had just bought a piece of property across from Nepenthe that had two houses on it. We talked it over and said to her, “If you ever put out the tenants that you have on that property, we’d be interested in renting that property for a summer vacation house.” My friend was an interior decorator and I was in the design business.

So three months went by, and she phoned us one day, and said, “Those tenants have left, and I remember you being enthusiastic about the place, and if you still want it, you can rent that house.” So we rented two houses and six acres for $175 a month. We started coming up weekends, and before you know it I had this realization that I’d had it with the garment business. I had a fight with the woman boss, a real knockdown drag-out disagreement, and was just sick of it not paying off. So I went and picked up my check, drove up to Big Sur in my Mercedes Benz, and checked into that house and never left. I looked out of the window of my cabin one day, and down in the canyon I saw this giant hunk of redwood that had fallen down into this creek. I wanted it. So I called a guy named Hugh Fleenor, who knew how to use heavy machinery to come down and haul it out.

David: What was the size of it?

Edmund with Lolly Fassett

Edmund: You know the “bird” at Nepenthe? This was the chunk of wood that it came from. He pulled it out of the canyon for me. Lolly Fassett was building the Phoenix shop, and were talking about the Phoenix bird and the resurrection symbol. I just moved up here, and I was going to be reborn. So it was that absolute perfect subject for me to do a Phoenix bird, and I got right to work on it. I bought some chisels, set up a workshop under the front porch of the big house, and got started. I knew that I wanted to sculpt, and that’s what I was going to do here. That’s how I’m going to express my art, I had decided. I’ve done those summer carvings, I’d had that training in art school. I loved the form. I’ve painted; I’ve drawn and sketched all my life. I knew that there was no future in painting for me. It doesn’t work for me. The raw material, the bulk, the volume was the challenge, because I have this male physical body that is to be expressed. So it was ideal.

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