In Memoriam: Frank Cieciorka
By Bruce Anderson / December 3, 2008
Frank Cieciorka died [at the end of November 2008] at his home in Alderpoint, Southern Humboldt County. A modest, soft-spoken man whose passing will sadden everyone who knew him, Frank was born in 1939 in Binghamton, New York but grew up in nearby Johnson City, a town then dominated by a shoe factory where the artist first experienced the world of work. Frank was an early hero of the Civil Rights Movement, and had been a radical of the best independent type America can produce all of his adult life, a skeptic for justice, a resistor of all the oppressive little orthodoxies, some of the smallest ones oppressing us right here in Ecotopia.
I’m happy he lived long enough to see Obama elected president, not that Frank would, or could, switch off his critical faculties. Frank became a well-known artist, best known for his lesser work, his art for the emblematic, pivotal events of the 1960s. None of the obituaries I’ve seen mention his wonderful paintings of the people and land in and around Alderpoint, the very best I know of in inland Northern California.
I knew Frank wasn’t well. The last time I saw him in Garberville he could barely get up the stairs to Andy Caffrey’s place. The emphysema that finally carried him off had cost him most of his lung capacity. He said he hadn’t stopped smoking soon enough for his lungs to regenerate.
I hope what follows, most of it in Frank’s own words, will serve as the obituary this remarkable man deserves.
* * *
“My parents were first-generation Americans. My grandfather immigrated from Poland, an area near the Russian border, to escape being drafted into the Russian army, a 25-year hitch under the Czar. ‘Cieciorka’ is Russianized Polish that was something like Cicherski in the old country. To pronounce ‘Cieciorka’ substitute the letter h for both the i’s.”
“My first hero and role model was Doc Ricketts in Steinbeck’s novel, Cannery Row. That book made me realize I was a bohemian at heart.”
Accepted as an art student at the Pratt Institute in the big city but unable to attend because tuition was beyond his 18-year-old ability to pay, Frank headed west to San Jose.
“My father was working for IBM in their warehouse at Binghamton, and when IBM opened up their plant in San Jose they wanted experienced workers to staff it so they offered to help with moving expenses for anybody willing to transfer to California. This was early IBM, 1957. My parents jumped at the chance and moved to California. But the move was so expensive they had to pilfer my college savings account. I’d worked all through high school, mostly at the shoe factory where I started when I was 14. I made a dollar an hour, but I paid my parents $5 a week room and board from the time I was 15 until I graduated from high school. It was the way they were raised. My father always told me about how he turned over his whole paycheck to his mother when he was a kid and she’d give him 50¢ back from his paycheck. On his wedding day he turned over his last paycheck to his mother and got his last 50¢ back. My father said his parents had a clothesline in the attic, one for each kid, and every time they spent any amount on the kid, including the cost of his birth at the hospital, they would take a clothespin and hang the receipt up on the clothesline. The last receipt on the clothesline was the one for the lunch bucket they bought for the kids when they went to work. My father said after he was married he had to buy back all the receipts on his clothesline!”
In sunny California, the times were a-changin’…
“They sure were, and me with them. My parents were pretty much apolitical. They were nominal Democrats but voted for Ike. They wholeheartedly disapproved of my political activities. It got to the point where we were semi-estranged for a while. I was drafted in 1961. I took the physical at the Oakland Induction Center and passed that. The last thing we were supposed to do in the process was sign the loyalty oath after looking over a questionnaire prepared by the Attorney General. I looked it over and raised my hand and said, ‘You’re asking me about my political beliefs and associations here, which I have a constitutional right to, and which are none of your business. I’m not going to sign this. The sergeant or whatever he was said, ‘All right, you go to that group on that bench over there. And then the Army kidnapped me. They took me to a motel and held me there overnight before they let me go. Army counterintelligence investigated me for a year and a half and finally cleared me of whatever it was they were investigating me for. The FBI, on two occasions, went to my father’s workplace and asked the manager if they could talk to him. They would interview him while he was on the job and make him look bad in front of his fellow workers. My father was very unhappy with me. It wasn’t until I went to Mississippi and my name got into the paper in a positive story about Freedom Summer that my parents finally decided that I wasn’t such a bad guy after all. The president of IBM himself walked into the warehouse where my father worked to shake my father’s hand for having such a great son.”
He was hanging out with all the wrong people by ’61 or so.
“People forget that there weren’t that many radicals at that time, and that the individual police departments of the Bay Area had what they called ‘red squads.’ They kept files on the people who showed up for demonstrations, small as those numbers were, and if you showed up in the wrong places often enough you got yourself a red squad file and an FBI file.
“The Communist Party in San Jose called themselves a club. They had meetings on Sunday mornings so it would look like they were going to church. I worked with a lot of them. I was pretty close to them. I also worked for CORE and Friends of SNCC. So I’m sure when the FBI was investigating me when they came across these associations. I considered myself a radical revolutionary communist with a small c. I’d read a lot of Marx and Lenin and all the things you were supposed to read to keep up with the people involved in these groups. In fact, I organized the first W.E.B. Dubois Club in San Jose. Terrence Hallinan — K.O. Hallinan — got me to do that. He was the main organizer of young people in the Bay Area for the old CP. He called me one day and said they wanted to get a W.E.B. Dubois club going in San Jose, but they didn’t want a party member to do it; they wanted a fellow traveler, who couldn’t get smeared as a… And basically that was my role, to be a fellow traveler, and to do things that an actual party member couldn’t do without being smeared. So I did it. I formed the W.E.B. Dubois Club. I applied for membership in the party, and even got an interview with a party member, a printer, a guy I’d worked with a lot. He did the official interview, but towards the end of it he said, ‘You know, intellectually you may be a Marxist, but in your heart you’re an anarchist. You wouldn’t be happy in the party.’ I got a dozen or so people on campus to join, but it collapsed when there was some kind of convention or congress where a resolution was proposed to throw all the Trotskyites out of the club. There was an acrimonious discussion, arguments, fistfights — and 9 of the 12 members from San Jose walked out in disgust, leaving only the three Trotskyites. And that pretty much ended the Dubois Club in San Jose.
“It was a great time, though, and I loved college. I liked it so much I spent 7 years getting a four year degree. I took all kinds of courses: literature, film, music, biology, history, philosophy, logic, political science, economics and, of course, the art courses I needed for my art major. My favorite class was Professor Richard Tansey’s art history course. He gave me a lasting appreciation of the art and culture of Western Civ that’s withstood the current political rectitude. I lived in apartments right off campus close to downtown. My roommate during my last year was Luis Valdez, who went on to become a well-known movie director. We shared an apartment above the Jose Theater — three movies for a dollar.
“I’d been very active in Friends of SNCC for about a year before Freedom Summer, mostly in fundraising and general support. I knew a lot of the people who were active in SNCC. When they announced Freedom Summer I applied and was accepted, but that was also the summer that the Progressive Labor Party was organizing a trip to Cuba, and I applied for that too, and was accepted for the Cuba trip. Luis had applied for the Cuba trip and he decided to go to Cuba and I decided to go to Mississippi.
“To go with SNCC to register voters in Mississippi, we had to first go to Oxford, Ohio, for a week of orientation. I was assigned to Holly Springs in the northern part of Mississippi, about 50 miles south of Memphis. It was the largest voter registration project in Mississippi. We covered about five different counties from our headquarters in Holly Springs. In fact, Goodman and Schwerner had gone down to Holly Springs a couple of days before the rest of us, then to Philadelphia, Mississippi, to check out a church burning there. And just as we were getting loaded on the chartered buses to go to Mississippi from Ohio, we got the word that Goodman, and Schwerner and Cheney were missing.
“I immediately ran to the bathroom with diarrhea. What have I gotten myself into here? But we drove down overnight, arriving at Holly Springs at 3 in the morning.
“Holly Springs was a good sized town of 20,000 or so. It had a nice downtown, a courthouse square with old trees, civil war statues ringed by stores. The further away from the center of town you got the more seedy it got. And rundown. And of course we were living in the black part of town, which was pretty decrepit.
“Whenever we walked downtown to go shopping, we’d get all kinds of dirty looks. We wore chinos and white shirts, the standard uniform for white SNCC people. The blacks all wore bib overalls. The whites looked like college students pretty much. But they knew who we were. You had to register your car within 30 days of arriving in the state and you had to get Mississippi license plates. They had reserved a particular sequence of numbers for civil rights workers. Our cars would be recognized anywhere in the state by our license plate numbers. There was no way we could be anonymous. Younger black people were all for us; they’d cross the street to shake our hand. But the older ones were very wary of us. We’d try to organize a mass meeting by going door to door and people would just nod and agree with us — ‘Yeah, I’ll be there. You can count on us.’ But only a few older people would show up.
“The one time I got beat up it was by a couple of beefy young guys. But usually you could walk down the street and feel fairly safe. You’d get insults tossed at you, but you never thought somebody was going to just come out and sucker punch you. At our meetings, that’s when it would get hairy sometimes. There was one meeting at a black church at night out in the woods that I won’t forget. As the meeting was breaking up and people were leaving, the Klan showed up. They were in street clothes but somebody recognized them, or at least some of them, as being members of the Klan. As we drove out of the parking area, they drove in. So we drove like hell and got out of there, and were back on the highway before we realized we’d left a guy behind, a black guy named Elwood Berry. I think he was from Cornell. Some of us had to go back. We snuck back through the woods; we could hear the Klan stomping all over the place, looking for anybody left behind. There were at least a dozen of them.
“We assumed they were armed. That was always the assumption. We found Berry hiding in the woods, and we got him out of there. The time I got beat up I had just been put on staff as a field secretary. It was the end of summer and volunteers were going home and going back to school. I said I wanted to stay on so they made me field secretary. $10 a week was the pay.
“An election was coming up, and just across the river in Arkansas a black candidate was running for the Agricultural Board. It was very powerful position because the commissioners assigned cotton allotments; they told farmers how much cotton they could grow. It was important to black sharecroppers to be represented on this board. A black candidate was running and a big a turnout of black voters was needed to elect him. A lot of sharecroppers lived way out in the boonies and didn’t have transportation to the polls. So a whole bunch of SNCC field secretaries from Mississippi were brought in to help out with the logistics of the election. My job was to drive out to certain plantations, fill the car with sharecroppers and anybody else who was eligible to vote, drive them to town, wait until they voted, and drive them home again. And then take another load into town and back — all day. One group I brought in, I dropped off at the polling place to vote, then I parked in the parking lot across the street from the polling place to wait for them to drive them home again when they were finished voting. There were a bunch of people milling around outside. The chief of police was there. I was sitting there in my car, a SNCC car. Two guys came up and opened the doors, both doors, and jumped and squeezed me in the middle and started beatin’ on me inside the car. They couldn’t haul off and slug me because there wasn’t enough room to do that in the front seat, so they dragged me out of the car, took my glasses off and proceeded to beat me. I assumed the fetal position on the ground, and they proceeded to kick me and stomp me and were bending over to punch me. But they were frustrated because they couldn’t really get at me, so a couple times they picked me up in the air and lifted me up over their heads and just threw me down, which would break open my fetal position so they could get in a couple good punches before I could curl back up again. For me, it was one of those rare out of body experiences. I felt like I was somehow hovering about six or eight feet above my body watching these two guys beat me up, feeling no emotion. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Well, the chief of police is across the street watching this, so they’re not going to kill me.’ And I was clearly thinking ahead. ‘Let’s see, I’m supposed to be in Gulfport tomorrow morning for a staff meeting. I’m obviously going to be too damaged to drive so I’m going to have to drive with somebody else.’ While these guys are just pummeling me! Finally the chief of police walked over and said, ‘OK boys, we’ve had enough fun now’ and arrested me for failure to yield the right of way.” (Laughs)
“He took me to jail. A SNCC officer called the SNCC office in Atlanta. Atlanta called Friends of SNCC in San Jose, San Jose SNCC called my congressman, Don Edwards, who is a really good guy. And Edwards called the Sheriff’s Department in Grove, Arkansas. I was in jail for 20 minutes. The chief of police comes in and says to me, ‘You must be hot shit. I just got a call from your congressman who said if we don’t take you down to the hospital and get you checked out for injuries he’s going to have a Congressional committee down here tomorrow morning investigating us.’ They took me to the hospital and cleaned up my cuts and bruises and checked me for broken bones, and I got bailed out. I was amazed at how quickly they reacted.
“I’m glad I had the Congressman I had at the time. I forfeited bail. Five bucks for failure to yield right of way. But the worst jail I was in was the one in Holly Springs. It had been condemned; the toilet was plugged up and the place stunk something fierce. Steel bunk, no mattress. I was the only guy in it. They didn’t put me in the main jail. The walls were just covered with graffiti. There was a rag in the sink and I wet it and washed off a spot on the wall and wrote some freedom slogans on it. When I finally got bailed out, I was walking down the steps, and the sheriff comes running down and grabs me by the collar and says, ‘You son of a bitch! You can’t write that stuff on the walls of my jail! You’re under arrest!’ I was charged with defacing the Marshall County jail.
“The best jail I was in down there was in Oxford, Mississippi, home of Ol’ Miss and William Faulkner. I was in that jail for five days. It was very clean and the jailer’s wife was a great cook. That was some of the best food I had the year I was in Mississippi.
“I didn’t tell the other inmates that I was a civil rights worker. I guess the sheriff in the jail in Oxford didn’t either, although by the end of it one guy figured it out. He let me know he knew why I was there. But he was more curious than hostile. He couldn’t understand why someone would risk going to jail for registering black people to vote. He was a young guy, about my age. And there was one old guy of about 60 who was in jail because he had a 13 year old girlfriend. She’d stand out in the parking lot and wave to him, and he’d stand on this bench and look out the window and wave back.
“I was in the Oxford jail for the crime of carrying a placard. It was an 8×11 sheet of paper pinned to my shirt that said I was a voter registration worker. This is a funny story itself. We were going to have a big freedom day. Everybody would gather at this church and then the people who were going to attempt to register to vote would march up to the courthouse and try to register to vote. They wanted a SNCC worker to lead the parade, as it were. ‘It’s an absolute certain arrest,’ they said. ‘We need a volunteer to be arrested.’ I had just received another draft notice and was supposed to show up in Memphis the next day to be inducted into the Army. So when they said it was a sure arrest, and they wanted a volunteer, I raised my hand — anything to avoid the Army. So they taped this paper to my chest and I led a group of about 20 or so people down to the courthouse; as soon as I walked into the registrar’s office they arrested me. I did five days on that one. Paul Krassner bailed me out.
“When Friends of SNCC read that I was in jail and my bail was $500, they called Krassner and asked him to make a donation. He had re-produced a poster of my cartoon, “One Nation Under God,” and had been selling them for $1 each in The Realist since March of ’64, and I was arrested this time in July of ’64, only a few months later. Anyway, he sent $500 down, which he said were proceeds from the sale of the poster. I’ll be damned, I said. It had made at least $500 in only two months. Krassner stipulated that when the bail was returned it should be considered a donation to SNCC.
“Even when you tried to get away from it the violence kind of followed you around. One time we had a staff meeting down in Gulfport; then we decided to go to New Orleans for a party. An interracial group of us went on into New Orleans. Just walking down the street we got chased by a bunch of young thugs until we finally got to a crowded street where we could split up and mingle with the crowd. We thought that New Orleans was more sophisticated than that!
“And another occasion, Halloween, somebody drove by in the middle of the night and fired a couple of shotgun rounds into our house. A black guy who was going to run for some office in the Holly Springs area was found dead in a field. He’d been run over repeatedly by pickup trucks. There was always something. A lot of people on our side had guns, too. You could hardly blame them.
Occasionally there’d be a federal marshal present if we had announced an event likely to result in an incident. If we announced a Freedom Day or a mass registration, something like that, a federal marshal or FBI agent would show up to observe. That’s all they would do — observe. At one attempted registration people were getting beat up on the courthouse steps by the cops using clubs as a couple FBI agents stood there watching. We ran up and said, ‘Hey! Look! Our civil rights are being violated! We’re being beaten up by the cops for trying to register to vote. Do something! They said, ‘We can’t do anything. We’re the Federal Bureau of Investigation, all we can do is investigate. We have no power to make arrests.
“Stokely Carmichael’s famous Black Power declaration was in the summer of ’65, a couple of months after I left Mississippi, but I was still considered to be on staff. A lot of the freedom school teachers were saying that what they needed was some material on black history that was accessible to people with limited reading skills….. My wife at the time and I wrote it and illustrated it. We finished that and felt we’d pretty much done what we could in Holly Springs. We went back to San Francisco and started work on The Movement newspaper, which had begun as a Friends of SNCC newsletter. It was mostly concerned with the Civil Rights Movement.
“I was Stokely’s driver on a couple occasions. I was considered one of the better drivers in tight situations because I had gotten people out of scrapes by my recklessness behind the wheel. I was his bodyguard on two occasions when he came to speak in San Francisco. Once was in Oakland at a Black Panther meeting. I had a Colt .45 ‘Commander.’ The short one. I tucked it in my pants in the small of my back. San Francisco SNCC needed two or three guys to be bodyguards so I volunteered. We got to the auditorium where Stokely was going to speak and the Panthers are searching everybody as they go in, patting them down. I got to the door and the guy pats me down and never touches the small of my back. And after it was over and we were leaving I went over to the guy who frisked me and turned around and flipped up my shirt and showed him the gun and said, ‘Next time, pat the small of the back, too.’
“Another time Stokely was speaking at the Fillmore auditorium. There was going to be a dance, a fundraiser. Hugh Masekela was going to entertain. Stokely was going to speak and I was one of the bodyguards. They had rent-a-cops also for security. We approached the rent-a-cops beforehand and said, ‘Look, we three guys are armed. We’re Stokely’s bodyguards. If anything goes down, know that we’re on your side. The rent-a-cops said, OK, but if anything happens, we’re trained professionals. Anyway, later on in the evening I’m out on the dance floor twisting and turning and jumping all over when all of a sudden this 45 comes out of the small of my back and clatters across the floor. The crowd just rolled their eyes. I liked Stokely a lot. At the time I supported his position. I thought that the black nationalist movement at the time was healthy. I still do to some extent. The last time I saw him was around ’67 or so. I did a photo shoot with him for the newspaper and that was the last I saw of him.
“And the Haight. I thought it was great. Just the sheer energy that they had. I thought, ‘God! This is where we should be proselytizing, propagandizing, try to harness this energy and develop some political consciousness. But the left for the most part just held the hippies in disdain. I also thought it was sort of schizophrenic — camping, smokin’ pot, droppin’ acid, working on the newspaper, going to demonstrations. In fact, it resulted in a major psychotic break for me in 1969. People’s Park was it. When that was over I cracked completely. I was really nutso for several months. People were taking care of me. In and out of the hospital. Bouncing me around. I’d get so outrageous and so out of control that my friends finally decided they couldn’t handle me and they busted me into Mt. Zion. I spent two weeks there and realized that I had to get my act together or I’d spend a lot longer time there. I got out and more or less kept it together. I decided I’d get back in the movement and back into political activity rather than leave town as a basket case. And I did for another two years. I helped form an organization called People’s Press, a collective of about a dozen people who produced and printed and distributed our own material. We started with a pamphlet on the history of Vietnam. Terry Cannon wrote it. I illustrated it. We printed it. We had our own printing press, our own darkroom. Our group was more than half women, too. Each member apprenticed him or herself to a printer to learn the trade. I apprenticed myself to a guy named Earl Hendra who had a big dark room in the Mission District. I learned all the camera work necessary for printing. Then I bought a camera, a huge camera 16 feet long. I built a darkroom around it and taught everybody else how to use it. Several women apprenticed themselves to printers and learned how to run first the multilith and then the bigger presses and came back and taught everybody else how to run them. That’s how we learned the trade, by teaching each other. It worked very well.
“By 1972, I was pretty much back together. But I realized that I just didn’t have the enthusiasm for the political work that I had before. The war was still going on. Nixon was re-elected. I had become a backpacking fanatic shortly before that. Part of my therapy in getting back together was some friends took me backpacking, and I realized that when I was out in the wilderness, like the Sierras, or the Trinity Alps, I felt totally, absolutely sane. Then we’d be driving back to the city after spending four or five days out in the wild and just that sea of red tail lights heading into the city would make me just feel the panic rising in me. So I went backpacking every chance I could get. Then it occurred to me that I should just move to the country and go backpacking every day if I wanted to. I’d met some people from Alderpoint and they invited me up for a visit. I liked the town and thought, ‘Gee, this is as good a place as any if I’m going to move to the country.’ I asked if there was any place available I might rent, and they pointed me in the direction of a little three-room cabin for $25 a month. I had about $50 to my name at the time, but I went up and rented it, drove back to the city, and within a month I closed up all my urban business and got in my Volkswagen bus and started a new life in Alderpoint. I purchased this property Karen and I live on now shortly after I got here in ’72. I asked the owner in Santa Rosa if he wanted to sell it and he said, ‘Yeah. Sure. $1500.’ Half an acre with a three-room cabin on it. I borrowed $1500 from my parents and bought it.
“I borrowed some more money to get the initial building materials to get started on my studio. I learned enough carpentry working with an architect who was remodeling a ranch house out here to pick up enough work to buy another batch of materials to work on my own place. When the materials and money ran out I’d go hustle some more carpentry work. And I picked up a little freelance commercial art work from the city now and then to supplement that. All the hippies moved west of 101. Redway and west of there to Whale Gulch and that area. Hardly anybody of the back-to-the-land type came this far east of 101.
“In 1978 a CHP officer busted me for cultivation. I had finished building my house, but I couldn’t afford to live in it so I rented it out to a woman on welfare with three kids. Her rent was just enough for me to make my loan payments that I couldn’t quite afford to make at my income level at the time. I was still living in the old three room cabin down below the house I’d built on my half-acre. I decided that the only way I could pay off this place and live in it was to grow some pot. I planted a bunch of plants in with my tomatoes, and planted a row of sunflowers along the garden edge to act as a screen so it couldn’t be seen from the road. This woman who rented my house had a ten year old boy who was riding a motorcycle around Alderpoint one day. The kid was stopped by a CHP cop who brought him home. It was July 3rd, 1978. My sunflower screen had only grown about shoulder high. As the officer was escorting the kid down the path from the parking area to the house he looked over at the tomato patch and saw the pot plants. He went back to his car and radioed the sheriff’s department to come and bust me. They did, and they took me off to jail in Eureka.
“The two deputies got here in a hurry. They roared up and said, ‘All Right! What’s happening?’ The CHP officer says, ‘We’ve got these people here and they have some pot plants. The woman and her kid are in the house.’ One of the deputies said, ‘Why did you call in, Officer needs assistance? We thought you were in trouble! I ran somebody off the road trying to get here!’ The CHP guy, an old sergeant who everybody around here hated, says, ‘Well, you know how tough these feminists can be these days.’ I told the deputy, ‘Look. I own this property. She’s my tenant. I’m totally responsible for anything that happens here.’ She wasn’t arrested. I was. I spent the weekend in jail because it was the July 4th weekend. My bail was $2100. I couldn’t afford it. The guy in the next cell asked me, ‘What’s your bail? I said, $2100. He said, ‘What are you in for?’ I said I was in for cultivation. He said, ‘Jesus! I’m in here for assault with a deadly weapon and my bail is only $700!’ Finally the judge got back to town after the weekend and let me out on my own recognizance.
“It took me eight court appearances and the better part of a year before it was finally dismissed as an illegal search and seizure. The CHP officer had no business bringing the kid home. Their own rules in cases involving minors say they are supposed to choose the option that least restricts the freedom of the minor. He’d thrown the kid in his patrol car and driven him home. So, the judge decided that was illegal search and seizure.
“I met Karen in ’79. Mutual friends had been suggesting we meet each other because we’re both artists. I had seen some of her stained glass work and really liked it. Then somebody needed to get a newspaper article to me and she lived way out in the boonies and she said I’ll just leave it with Karen Horn who lives in Redway and the next time you’re in town you can stop by and pick it up. So I went to her house and she asked me to have a cup of tea. We sat around and talked and I liked her. We went out to dinner and we started seeing each other regularly. We had a long distance relationship for four years. She was in Redway I was in Alderpoint. Every Thursday, my town day, I would go to town, take care of business and she would cook dinner and I’d spend the night. And then on Saturday she and her daughter Zena would come to Alderpoint and I would cook dinner for her and Zena and they’d spend the night and go back to Redway on Sunday. After four years of that we decided we should try living together. In ’84 Karen moved in with me. By then I was in the big new house with the big new studio and we thought we’d be able to share the studio because it was 16 x 32 feet. But we soon found we both needed more space than that. So we built the new studio.
“I’ve learned a lot from Karen. My strong suit is drawing. I’m only OK in color and not good at composition. My favorite compositional device was a vignette with things just sort of fading out at the edges. I wasn’t worried about squares and rectangles and so forth. Karen is very rigorous in her compositions.
“At San Jose I kind of coasted on my drawing ability. I probably could have gotten a lot more out of the art department if I’d applied myself more. But I was too much into political activity. That took up most of my time. And I was just overwhelmed by all the possibilities for learning… everything! Here you are at a university that teaches classes in science and literature and history and I wanted it all. So between politics and the liberal education, I’d say I slighted the art more than I should have.”
Lincoln Cushing asked Frank about Frank’s famous clenched fist woodcut.
“Moving leftward from my infatuation with Ayn Rand as a freshman, I became active in the peace movement around 1959. When the House Committee on Un-American Activities held their hearings in San Francisco in May 1960 I joined the 5,000 strong demonstration in front of City Hall motivated mostly by civil liberties and free speech. There was a sizable group of Communists, Trotskyists, Anarchists, and other assorted reds off to one side thrusting fists into the air and chanting radical slogans. I remember feeling somewhat uncomfortable being associated with this group who seemed to be much more radical than I and I moved to another part of the crowd. I didn’t attend the next day, May 13, because I had an important art history mid-term that I didn’t want to miss. That night watching the news on TV I was outraged at seeing my friends washed down the City Hall steps with fire hoses. The next day I joined the demonstration and this time positioned myself in the midst of the reds and had my fist in the air with the rest of them. Thus I can pinpoint my radicalization to Friday, May 13, 1960. Shortly after that I joined the Socialist Party and, having turned 21 that year, voted for Norman Thomas in the November election. It wasn’t all that long before I was voting for Archie Brown and Gus Hall. From that time the fist was one of my fave icons and I used it in cartoons and posters whenever I could. When I got back from Mississippi in ’65 the fist was a natural for the first woodcut in a series of cheap prints. It wasn’t until we made it into a button and tossed thousands of them into crowds at rallies and demonstrations that it really became popular. When I visited the lefty button maker in Berkeley who made them he showed me his wall of all the buttons he’d ever made. Literally dozens of organization had either incorporated the woodcut into their logos or used it in some fashion to promote some cause or issue.”
Frank is survived by his wife, Karen Horn of Alderpoint; his step-daughter, Zena Goldman Hunt of Italy; and his brother, James Cieciorka of San Jose.
Source / Anderson Valley Advertiser
Please also see James Retherford : Steven Heller, The New York Times, and our Little ‘Blog of Record’ / The Rag Blog / Nov. 28, 2008.
And also see Legendary Artist of the New Left : Frank Cieciorka Dead at 69 / The Rag Blog / Nov. 26, 2008.
Many thanks to Marilyn Buck for sharing this article with us / The Rag Blog