Tuesday, May 28, 2013

LBCC instructor Gary Westford shares his '60s stories, poster art

Graphic arts student Pauline Evans admires one of the concert posters on display Tuesday during a talk by LBCC art instructor Gary Westford.

ALBANY -- Borrowing a phrase from the counterculture, Gary Westford quipped, "What a long, strange trip it's been."

That's how Westford wrapped up his "Sixties Presentation" Tuesday afternoon at LBCC, a sort of final lecture for the art instructor who will wrap up his tenure at the college at the end of this term.
Gary Westford
During his hour-long talk, Westford reminisced about attending San Francisco State College during the peak of one of the most exciting eras in U.S. history.

Westford's years at the community college coincided with the anti-war, social justice movements that embroiled his campus almost daily in clashes between students and police. Meanwhile, he had a front-row seat to one of the major musical movements of our times.

As part of his talk, he showed off signature pieces from his psychedelic rock music poster collection by Wes Wilson, David Singer, Stanley Mouse and others. Their work touted "mind-blowing" concerts by the likes of the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, the Chambers Brothers, and Big Brother and the Holding Company. The dozen or so audience members nodded along with Westford in appreciation of the musical talents that came through town, from Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin and The Doors, to Chuck Berry, Count Basie and Albert King, every bit the equal of legendary bluesman B.B. King.

Along with the posters, Westford shared photos and an iconic video performance by Buffalo Springfield: "There's something happening here, but what it is ain't exactly clear ..."

What was clear to Westford is that he was fortunate to have a choice view of history during his years at SF State, from January 1968 to 1971. He arrived on a wrestling scholarship, the son of a U.S. serviceman who was at Pearl Harbor and a career military nurse. While once tempted to follow his father into the service, he has no regrets today that his life took a different path. After college he worked as a probation counselor, along with earning a master's degree in art.

"I wanted to be an agent for change in the system," he said. 

In 1979 he landed in Salem, Oregon, teaching art to prison inmates. He worked two decades in the state's correctional system before joining the art faculty at Linn-Benton. This spring he will be retiring, along with graphic arts colleague John Aikman.

On Tuesday, Westford relished the opportunity to share his passion for art, music and education, and how they collided spectacularly during the late-1960's. He described what it was like to live in Haight-Ashbury, the epicenter of San Francisco's counter-cultural revolution.

"The scene was like from another planet," he said. "I knew it was a very special time." 

He likes to think that what happened there made a difference, sowing seeds of exploration and discovery. Though he acknowledges "the jury is still out."

Westford also recalled the "Human Be-in," a January 1967 gathering of upwards of 30,000 peace activists in nearby Golden Gate Park. While Westford didn't attend the event himself, he has documented it with a short film, courtesy of footage supplied to him about five years ago by Albany resident Bob Ramsdell.

Westford collaborated on the seven-minute film with Ken Long of LBCC's media services department. The film offers a unique viewpoint of one of the era's pivotal happenings.

It concludes with another popular saying from that era: "If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem."

Those who would like to catch an encore presentation of Westford's talk can join him at 3 p.m. Wednesday, May 29, in Room 106 of North Santiam Hall at LBCC's Albany campus. 


1 comment:

Harley Umberger said...

I have had the pleasure of listening to these stories. They are so insightful and full of life. The way Gary talks about his art shows true passion. He has given me a completely new view through his words and stories. He is not only a great instructor but an amazing artist. Next time Gary Westford decides to share these stories, I suggest that you grab a seat! You wont be dissapointed.