The current exhibition at the Kelley House interpreting the 1970’s as an era of change has brought a great deal of unexpected interest. People want to share their stories. As a result, the Kelley House has received donations of clothes, photographs, posters, and albums for the exhibit. As word traveled, the Kelley House started receiving calls from outsiders wanting to come see the display and share their experiences too.
We are grateful for the many things we have been able to add to our collection. The mission of the Kelley House is to preserve the history of the Mendocino Coast and the 1970’s was indeed an important era to document and preserve. One donation celebrates the role of women in this time of changing roles and redefined feminism.
During the summers of 1971 – 1975, professional photographer and scholar of African American literature, Lynda Koolish, photographed various Country Women’s Festivals at the Mendocino Woodlands where women gathered for five days to share their skills and create community. In these images, Lynda captures a moment, a conversation, a ceremony or an embrace in candid honesty. The result is a visual celebration of female strength, warmth and beauty; the willingness to celebrate their true selves, and express compassion, love and acceptance for each other.
In a statement made for “Women Artists of the American West,” Lynda describes her experience as almost mystical, “I really don’t know how to explain those images. I felt as if I were meditating with my camera, waking up at dawn and photographing from early morning until there was no longer enough light to see. The Mendocino Woodlands provided more than a familiar, essential geography. Nestled in its isolation, women had created a temporary Herland, a Wanderground. I felt a part of a collective sense of celebration and a participant in individual friendships and moments of solitude. That deep connectedness to other women enabled me to feel completely uninhibited about walking up to women in the midst of intimate conversations, setting up my tripod, and photographing them on the spot – something I would normally be apprehensive of doing at a feminist meeting or academic conference. And not once in the entire five days did anyone indicate the slightest uneasiness, the smallest indication of feeling interrupted or intruded on. It was a boldness I have never felt before or since – and one of the deepest spiritual experiences of my life.”
Lynda’s initial donation to the Kelley house is a collection of 52 black and white original archival prints that include the Country Women Festival as well as images of women from the Seven Sisters Construction Company building houses at Table Mountain Commune. Lynda assures us that there is more to come. These beautiful images will soon be cataloged and available for viewing in our Kelley House database at www.kelleyhousemuseum.org. Lynda Koolish is also the author of “African American Writers: Portraits and Visions.”
The Kelley House exhibit, Hippies Use the Back Door: An Era of Change will run through November 30th.