By Terry Miller
In recent months there has been much discussion, bewilderment and in some cases – acrimony regarding the ancestries of Monrovia Association of Fine Arts (MAFA) and why there is no mention of those who founded the original arts group in any MAFA documents?
A war of will and words has essentially started with Monrovia artist Mildred Lapson and the son of a man who was one of the signatories on some association documents, Harvey Brubaker.
According to MAFA president Bill Bebee: “There is no real historical documentation to clearly show whose idea the first art festival was but Miss Lapson was certainly responsible for organizing the art exhibitions in the Library’s Alvord room. Other than the brief time that we gave credit to Miss Lapson which was later challenged by David Brubaker (Harvey Brubaker’s son) with news articles that pointed more to his dad, we have not singled anyone out as the Association’s founder because we do not have the documentation.”
Pete Ostrye in the “Monrovia Centennial Review” had this to say, “The annual Monrovia Arts Festival was started in 1964 by Katherine Ainsworth and Harvey Brubaker to encourage and foster an appreciation of the arts.” He made no reference to Mildred Lapson in that piece.
Upon hearing this, Lapson responded: “For one thing, I have no idea in the world who Pete Ostrye is, and it is not true that Katherine Ainsworth OR Harvey Brubaker had anything to do with the founding of the First Annual(Festival). Their signatures along with several others were used to make the Association official. They had NOTHING to do with the founding. I alone founded the First Annual Festival….no one else but me!”
MAFA President Bill Bebee, fathomably, is taking the diplomatic course in these rather rough seas and leaving it up to the more wise Monrovia historians to delve into.
However, there are many issues that have ostensibly caused substantial antagonism between local artist Mildred Lapson and the Harvey Brubaker family. Mildred Lapson, now 90, told Beacon Media that she devoted her life in the 1960’s to start the organization and is deeply wounded by the lack of written acknowledgement in MAFA literature. Brubaker’s son said that Lapson ” had nothing to do with the founding of MAFA and that it was three librarians and Brubaker who cemented the deal.”
” If Lapson was involved in any way, its news to me…” Brubaker told Beacon Media. To this, Lapson replied – “Hogwash!” Brubaker said he had no desire to talk with Lapson and appeared angry that she was disputing his father’s role in MAFA.
Others say that what happened in 1963-64, stays in the early 1960’s. An inimitable predicament, indeed.
According to a MAFA Board member Ginger Van Hook “….A teacher of Fine Arts for the California Board of Education for over five decades, Mildred Lapson pioneered the Fine Art interest and art programs throughout Southern California in the early 1950’s. Her vision was to enrich our lives by bringing fine arts to the community. In 1963, she initiated the first art gallery in Monrovia, in the Alvord Room of the Monrovia Public Library. Miss Lapson invited famous, professional California artists to exhibit their work in the Alvord Room Gallery. Monthly public receptions and enthusiastic discussions with the exhibiting artists were held. The following year, in 1964, she founded the first Monrovia Annual Festival of Art, which still thrives today.The then art critic of the Los Angeles Times, Henry Seldis said in his column, “If you want to see where fine art is happening, go to Monrovia.”
Lapson sent a letter to MAFA’s President asking why her name has been left out of documents pertaining to MAFA’s history. We print her letter(in part) here:
If you remember, quite a while back when you learned that I was the founder of the Monrovia Annual Festival of Art, you were in my studio. I gave you a stack of original newspaper stories that were connected with Monrovia ‘s art activities. They were all promoted by me ( Lapson). I handled all publicity to promote the Library Exhibitions and the Annual Festivals. I also gave you a copy of the original ‘entry form- rules for exhibitors’. All those copies that I gave you were all I had. Whoever Harvey Brubaker’s son is, I never met him, nor do I know anything of the hogwash he’s given you!!.” She writes.
In the 1950’s, Pasadena Society of Artists, held fund raising auctions and affairs at the Huntington Sheraton Hotel, and held Annual Art Festivals in Pasadena on Colorado Blvd. and around the City Hall. Here’s what Lapson told the Monrovia Weekly:
“Living in Monrovia, my thoughts of introducing similar Fine Art interest here, in my own home town became my passion.
The Alvord Room in the Monrovia Library became the “Alvord Room Gallery” which I created, and the most famous California artists were invited to show their work for prestigious exhibitions there. I ran and secured the art exhibitions, lectures, receptions and handled publicity.
A ceremony of commendation was held for me at the Monrovia City Hall in appreciation for what I was doing, and I was presented with a Certificate of Honor, plus an Honorary Life Membership to the Monrovia Library.
In October 1964, I alone introduced and founded the first Annual Monrovia Art Festival. After contacting the L.A. Times, a photo was published which includes Katherine Ainsworth, Harvey Brubaker. Katherine Ainsworth was the librarian of the Monrovia Library. Harvey Brubaker was an interested bystander. They appreciated my work and ideas, but were not “founders” of anything.
To make the Annual Art Festivals official, signatures were needed for an Art Festival Association. Katherine and Ed Ainsworth, and Harvey Brubaker signed. That was their part – – their signatures for making the Association official. They were not the founders.
However, official help I did receive for the 2 day festival, was from the Monrovia Police Department, many of whom stood guard all night at Library Park – – – and at that, my husband and I took food and hot coffee to them in the middle of the night. This was recorded in an old KGEM interview. (This has since been confirmed by KGEM )”
After running the festival herself during the early years, Lapson began recruiting volunteers to help and to teach them the ropes, so that they could continue running the annual fairs without her assistance. In the Mid 60’s LA Times critic Henry Seldis said, “If you want to see where Fine Art is happening, go to the city of Monrovia”.
“I devoted my life and all my energy and time to create this dream of mine back in 1963 and 1964, and in one poof, I was cut out and others got the credit of being the founders!!!!! I feel so hurt!
Now that I’m 90, it sure is a helluva note to wipe me out in one fell swoop!!” Lapson said.
In our correspondence, Lapson has provided numerous documents supporting her entitlement.
MAFA President Bill Bebee wrote to Lapson about her concerns : “The findings you provided painted one side of the picture and the findings that David Brubaker provided painted something different concerning how the art association was formed. I do believe and am convinced beyond any doubt based on press copies that you in fact held fine art exhibitions in the former Alvord Room at the library in the late 1950’s. That cannot be disputed. But how the first art festival came about is not so clear cut based on the findings I had before me.
Since there were many unresolved issues on that fact, our group agreed that it was not our focus to dig any deeper. Our focus is to promote the arts as well as to provide mentoring for our young artists. However, if someone wants to do the necessary research I am happy to assist. I made a copy of the materials that David Brubaker sent us and I’ll forward that to you if you like. It is not and has never been our intention to take anything from you; but if we are not in a position to truthfully give you or anyone else credit, it would not be right to do so.
I know this is not what you wanted to hear. Perhaps this was another reason I could not reply sooner. But this matter is not going anywhere so someone else needs to pick up the task. I am sorry that we cannot do any more.” – Bill Bebee, MAFA President.
Lisa Barrios from Paint and Play said ” it is very complicated that’s why the board members have stayed away from this subject…none of us were there. No matter what we have tried to do in the past, someone surfaces and gets upset. As a volunteer organization, and as individuals, it’s all we can do to bring art to the community through MUSD students and events to showcase our local artists. So far it has been a no win situation for MAFA. Going back this many years to check facts (that sway, depending on whom you ask) is not a task anyone can take on. We are all busy just trying to serve our community as per our mission statement.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the formation of the local art group, originally known as the Monrovia Art Festival Association.