Interviewee: Nancy Cusick Fox
Interviewer: Lyn Goldfarb
Date: November 18-21, 1977
Nancy Cusick Fox, an artist and art teacher from Washington, D.C., taught art for 11 years in the Washington area. She attended the IWY conference with the Art Space and the Woman’s Caucus for Art. Fox returned to college and finished her BA and MA after raising a family. Later, while working as an art instructor, a student introduced Fox to the women’s movement. Fox was also supportive of women in unions and working with women creating films. Fox believed the conference could be an excellent place to build relationships with other women artists.
Lyn Goldfarb: Can you tell me what your name is?
Nancy Cusick Fox: My name is Nancy Cusick Fox. And I’m from Washington, DC. I’m an artist and an art teacher for some years. I taught for 11 years in several colleges in the Washington area. And I’m here at the Convention with the Art Space and the Woman’s Caucus for Art, and we’re manning a space upstairs for the visual arts. And we’re going to have panel discussions this afternoon, we’ve already showed videotapes and slides of artists nationwide this morning. And we had several films, ‘Bride’ which shouldn’t be missed, fantastic film. And another on ‘Spring Comes to New York State’. And that’s why I’m here.
LG: Okay, what does it mean for you to – why did you decide to come here to do these art exhibits?
NCF: Well, we were with the Women’s Art Center in Washington, DC, and it all grew out of the Women’s Caucus for Artists two years ago, that we had in Washington. And then we have the Arts Center now which is for not only the visual artists but the stage and the poetry readings and many, many other activities take place there. And several of us were asked to come down and help to man the space and to – I just wanted to be here. I figured it was one of the greatest things that was ever going to happen and I just wanted to be present.
LG: Um-hum. When did you first start working with women artists as –
NCF: Well, I could start on my own history but I don’t want to go into all that I guess.
LG: No, that’s fine because that’s what we –
NCF: Oh, you want to hear that? Well, my Heavens. Actually I was, I’m not the youngest person in the world, I was married during World War II. It was an unhappy marriage, I realized it in 1950, I left him and took my two children with me. And fortunately I was able to – he was able to support them and I was able to make him support them, which he didn’t want to do. And I went back to school, Lyn, in 1950, to finish my education, I had only had two years of college before that, and had no training to do anything. Typical, you know? And I went back to, moved back to Washington where I had lived before, went back to college and got my MA, and then I – in the meantime raising my children, one thing or another, who turned out extremely well by the way. A graduate of the Georgetown Law School last year. But it wasn’t easy juggling it all and it was a new role in those days, there weren’t that many older women going back to school in 1960, late ‘50s, early ‘60s when I was there. But I did, and then I started teaching at a college in Washington and I’ve taught actually for 11 years. And this is the first year that I haven’t taught and one of my students was very active in the Washington art movement, and she’s the one that’s helping to set up the space, or did, and wanted me to come down and help her man it, so I did.
LG: Okay, now she was very active in that. When you first started thinking about working with women artists as women, was is from your own experience, were you discriminated against?
NCF: Well, I – oh very definitely – I guess, well I never would’ve left my husband in the first place if I hadn’t felt discriminated against. (Laughter) And it was, I didn’t know what to do, there was no, it’s hard to believe that in those days there was no place to go for advice, there was nobody you could turn to, it was just a gut reaction that I knew that there was a better way to live and this wasn’t it. Perhaps because I’m the oldest child in my family and my father had always favored me and had always had raised me, I was raised as a boy so to speak up until the time I was an adolescent. And then I suddenly realized I wasn’t a boy and everything kind of changed, all the things I had done up to that point were extremely aggressive. I guess I was a pretty aggressive person. And then suddenly it wasn’t that way anymore, you know, you had to be sweet and had to please and appeal and what have you. And I guess that kind of put a damper on it.
And then after this unfortunate marriage that I realized after three weeks wasn’t going to work but I hung on in for five years trying to figure out a way, where had I gone wrong. I fortunately was able to chuck it. And, because I just had to, I knew I couldn’t survive, my mind was (laughter) at the breaking point and I felt like my children’s future was, at least should have a mother that had her sensibilities together. So it was the best thing I ever did, of course, to make this decision, but I did and came back to Washington. And fortunately I had, my family were supportive and they, my parents, and I was able to go back to school, took the time to do it while my children were in school. And got my degree and started out.
But even then I wasn’t aware of, I wanted a job but I wasn’t aware of really how to go about it. Well I got a job at a women’s college which was the right place for me to be, right? And in many ways was a very exciting time and one of the students that I taught at the college is now one of the activists up at the Art Space. And after I’d been there about five years it closed, unfortunately, and then I went to another college which is a community college, I taught there for six years. And I finally decided that I owed myself a (unintelligible at 5:43), I said, I feel like I’m making re-entry into the whole thing, so.
LG: The one student that you had, did she, did she present first?
NCF: She’s been very active in NOW and many of the other women’s movements. And she’s a mover and shaker at the Women’s Art Center. And as I said, I was so busy teaching. And incidentally I remarried and I have found (laughter) really very supportive husband who wanted me to come, who absolutely made it so, he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He’s the one that pushed me into the whole thing in many ways, so.
LG: This one student you had, would you say she’s the first person that really introduced you to the women’s movement?
NCF: Yes, because I had been doing all the things that a lot of women are doing now as a matter of course that I had to find my way because I was, there was no model. What do you do when you’re faced with – you just follow your – and fortunately I think my vibes were right. But –
LG: Do you remember what you first thought about it when you first heard it talking?
NCF: About the women’s movement or –
NCF: How did I feel as a woman?
LG: Well, in both ways. I mean, what was your first – can you recall your first reaction and responses to it; were you for it immediately when, were you supportive immediately when she started talking to you about it?
NCF: Oh, I could definitely empathize with it because I’d been there. How can you, you know, I know what it is to be, to have nowhere to turn, to be in a situation that’s unpleasant and not know, everyone else was married at that point, all my friends, that was the only way to go in those days. How else did you go? And it was –
LG: I’m kind of interested in it this way, is also like, if you can – I mean, like I can think of when I first became involved in the feminist movement I think that I was so certain things that I – I was very interested in certain things, I was a little apprehensive about things, and now, you know, I mean, what kind of, at that point when you really become involved and –
NCF: But I must’ve always been one or I would never have left what –
LG: So it just clicked in other words, yeah.
NCF: Essentially. Right back, three weeks after I was married in 1945 something must’ve clicked that this wasn’t right, why should I have to do this? But I, because tradition at that time said you didn’t, I hung on in there. And after two children I suddenly realized, well I didn’t suddenly but it became apparent that no matter how hard I tried I blamed myself to begin with, probably. It wouldn’t work, it was impossible, and if you get a lemon the best thing you can do is squeeze it. And that incidentally was told to me by a clergyman back in 1950, and that I think really, maybe he opened my eyes. (Laughter)
LG: I noticed when I came to talk to you, that you were at the table for the International League of Women (unintelligible at 8:35) diamond –
NCF: Yes, I just got it.
LG: Are you supportive of the –
NCF: Yes, I am. I love their ad on television, which I think is so great, ‘look for the union label’. I think that’s wonderful publicity for them, so.
LG: Uh-huh. Do you believe unions would be good for women?
NCF: Oh, definitely. I think so, right. I think the – I’m for anything that’s going to give women a choice. I don’t think that any one way is the right for every woman. I think every woman has to find her own way. But now it’s so much easier because now they know that there is a choice. When I was, there was only one way and you either follow that or fell out of it, really out of it.
LG: Great. Now, has this Conference met your expectations?
NCF: So far, very definitely, and more, yeah.
LG: And more? In what way, and more?
NCF: Well, I’ve met an awful lot of women artists whom I have formed a rapport with. There’s a great feeling of, I think, of, I don’t want to call it, well I guess it is sisterhood. That’s the only thing I can say, and it’s been just a tremendous experience. I don’t think it’s going to die here, I think everyone’s going to take back whatever they’ve learned and felt here and it’s going to make a big difference. Maybe not so much right this minute, but it’s later and that’s when you really want it anyways.
LG: What are you going to do after you leave?
NCF: What am I going to do? (Laughter) I’m going to go back to Washington and continue working with the Women’s Center. I hope. And also do my own work because I am an artist, to get back more into that. And of course, upstairs we have all kinds of things about women imagery and imagery in art and women painters, women sculptors, women filmmakers, and it’s that in itself and just talking with other creative women has meant a tremendous amount to me.
LG: Okay, great.
LG: (Audio notes after interview) Good. Last interview was very good. She talked about the changes in her own life, how she had to become financially independent. And she’s an artist active with art groups for women.
End of Interview