Excerpt from interview by Rebecca McGrew, April 28, 2010
Rebecca McGrew You graduated from Pomona in 1966, which means you probably started at Pomona in 1962. How did you end up attending Pomona College?
Judy Fiskin My mother took me to Stanford. There were just too many people in tennis sweaters roaming around the campus! [Laughs.] I didn’t know who I was, but I knew I wasn’t that person.
RM Was that in 1961?
JF Yes. My brother was at Pomona, so we went to see Pomona. It was very, very quiet, which freaked me out. But, it actually turned out to be a great place for me. The first two weeks I was there, I was very upset, because it was pretty conservative in those days. But it turned out that they had a dean who was letting in a certain percentage of people who were not so balanced in academics. He wanted to let in people who were tending in one direction—if you were really good in music or if you were really good in art, for instance. And of course, they tended to be more rebellious and arty. I found those people after about the second week.
RM Who was the dean?
JF Dean Wheaton. Wheaton’s Folly, it was called. The class before me—that was Jim Turrell’s—was also Wheaton’s Folly. My husband-to-be, Jeffrey Fiskin, was part of that group. Once I fell in with them, I was fine, and started to understand who I was. I had already met this woman, Alice Higman, who’s now Alice Reich. She wasn’t in that group, but she was in my class. She was very salty and extremely smart. Once I met her, I felt things were going to be all right.
RM What do you mean?
JF She was not conservative. You know, people were dressed in little paisley dresses with gold circle pins and raffia belts; that is the best way I can explain it. And I was just on the cusp of being a beatnik or hippie. The minute I got out of my house, I let my hair grow, put on red lipstick, and wore all black.
RM So you started at Pomona in the fall of 1962. I’ve been hearing quite a bit about the tradition of the “weighin.” All the freshman girls were measured and weighed, then the results were broadcast to the watching crowd of young men, and published in a little booklet. Did this happen to you?
JF Oh, the weigh-in! I felt the weigh-in was bizarre, but I was more concerned about how much I was going to actually weigh than the fact that the guys were allowed to weigh us.
RM How did it happen?
JF The first week of school, before classes, there were a bunch of activities geared towards freshman, like the weigh-in. Another one was a big tug-of-war in the Wash, and I really loved that. There was a Sunday night dinner at a faculty house. There was a lot of attention paid toward trying to integrate the freshmen, and bizarrely enough, the weigh-in was part of it. I liked the whole picture of the freshman orientation. I didn’t like the weigh-in, but I didn’t have a lot of feminist consciousness at that point, either. And I wasn’t angry at men. So, it didn’t make me angry in that way.
RM Kay Larson remembers arriving as a freshman in 1965, and getting out of her car, and being grabbed and pulled over to the weigh-in location.
JF I think I just showed up, like the army, you know. Drafted in. This is the next thing on the list of social activities. I was much more concerned with how conservative everybody was. I used to break the curfew rules, and I got caught one too many times. I had to be tried by the student court, by all these young women. And I just remember thinking, “Why do they want to do this? Why aren’t they climbing over the back fence like I am?” I just really didn’t understand those people. And they epitomized a very large group of the female contingent of the school at that point.
Pomona was a good place for me to be rebellious, because at Pomona I was ahead of the curve. If I had gone on to Berkeley, it would have been tough. For instance, I never took LSD. At Berkeley, everybody that I knew who went there was taking LSD. So, I could feel like I was being rebellious at Pomona, because it didn’t take much.
RM You majored in art history. What do you remember about your art history classes at Pomona?
JF There are two requirements that I specifically remember. One was you had to take a drawing class. And John Mason was teaching the drawing classes. I loved studying with him. I absolutely have no aptitude for drawing. But there were basic drawing exercises that he gave at the beginning that I could do. There’s one exercise, which I’m sure they’re still doing, in which you look at the model, put your pencil down to draw, and you never look at the paper, you just keep marking the paper. When I finished and looked at the drawing, I realized that it was good. And he came over, and I said, “I think this is good.” And he said, “Yes, this is good.” It wasn’t so much that I had made a good drawing, but that I could recognize it and that he validated that. I respected him because he just radiated a kind of non-arrogant sureness. It made me feel that maybe I had an eye. The other really important class, which was also required, was Maurice Cope’s connoisseurship course. It was basically trying to figure out what you were looking at, and talking about it in purely formal, visual terms.