Juliet Myers

The following oral history is the result of a recorded interview with Juliet Myers conducted by Katie C. Doyle on May 19, 2023. This interview is part of the Rick Dillingham retrospective “To Make, Unmake, and Make Again” at the New Mexico Museum of Art.


Q: Hello. My name is Katie Doyle. I am the assistant curator here at the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It is 12:40 p.m. on Friday, May 19th, 2023. We are doing an oral history interview with Juliet Myers for the upcoming Ric Dillingham exhibition “To Make, Unmake, and Make Again”, which will be on view in the new wing from October 6th through June 21st, 2024. Without further ado, I will hand it over to Juliet, and that’ll be biscuits. [Interviewer and interviewee were eating biscuits before the start of the interview.]

Myers: Hello, I’m Juliet Myers, and I have a business here in Santa Fe called Art Artist Care that I started back in 1985. With the help of one of my great mentors, Judy Chicago, I still have that business, though I’ve often worked as an art educator in museum settings, and I founded an art school—hands-on art making for children and teens here in Santa Fe. Over all these many years, I’ve worn quite a few hats. But one of my favorite hats was the hat I wore with [Rick] Dillingham.

Judy Chicago introduced me to Rick Dillingham around the holidays of 1984. I had recently arrived in Santa Fe. Judy had a holiday party, I met several artists, and I had already met a few friends. I was feeling very much at home with the crowd. Judy is part of my history in that I did work on The Dinner Party project in Santa Monica back in the mid-’70s and worked with Judy subsequently. After The Dinner Party opened I worked on the books for The Dinner Party, the original Doubleday Editions. Meeting Rick, of course, was a great joy because his energy, his demeanor, his handsome, long, tall gorgeousness was irresistible. Judy said to Rick and some other artists at that holiday party, “Oh, Juliet should work for you.” Rick didn’t miss a beat. Rick said, “Of course, when can you come to work?” So I went to work for Rick Dillingham in 1985, and as I said, I was working with Judy Chicago also at that time. I think it was a very advantageous meeting.

I became really close with Rick. One of my favorite things about Dillingham was that when I went to work for him, rather than giving me assignments of answering letters—and at that time, may I say the only thing on the desk was a very innovative thing called the Mac Classic. It was one of the earliest Macs. It might have been a Mac 2, but I think it was the Mac Classic. What I had on my desk, a telephone and a word processor. The World Wide Web was not up and running yet. He told me, “You need to know who I really am, so I want you over the next three, four, five, six times you work here, that you come to my house”—and where his studio was as well, he said, “I want you to go through the file cabinet and read all the letters. I want you to look at everything that’s in there. A lot of it’s very personal, but this is how you’re going to know who I am.” It was an amazing introduction to Mr. Dillingham, because there were letters from Beatrice Wood, Ralph Lauren, Georgia O’Keeffe. He was friends with those people and many, many more. He also had many lovers, and people adored and fell in love with Rick so easily. I read a lot of love letters as well. That’s how I got to know Mr. Dillingham. What do I remember most vividly about Rick is simply that extraordinary energy and passion that he had for life and for everything about it. He rode Harley-Davidson motorcycles. He had a Porsche convertible that he raced around in. He traveled extensively. His lust for life was infinite.

Q: That covers questions one through four pretty well. If you would be willing to elaborate a little bit about the nature of your relationship, how it grew over time, because you were with him for ten years. Yes. Yes.

Myers: Almost a decade.

Q: Yes. Yes. Yes.

Myers: Thanks, Katie. Yes, I was with him for the final decade of his life. And the relationship? Starting from the fact that he wanted me to read all his personal letters and know who he was, let’s say the intimacy was pretty nearly instantaneous. And he was very generous. I remember he took really good care of me back then. What people were earning an hour, who knows? He was generous back in the day. He always was. He would come to my birthday parties and he included me in all of his parties. Even though I was the organizer, what was I there for? To track the work he made. He had done a marvelous job of this already. I had to pick up the system, which was that a little 35 millimeters slide would be attached to the corner in a slide sleeve or as individual slides would be attached to the corner of an index card. Again, there were no databases, not really. And FileMaker Pro came along at some point. Nonetheless, I would write the title of the piece, the date, the measurements. We would track his work by creating these little index cards and filling numerous little cardboard card catalogs or the boxes that you would put. Were they [Pause] What’s the larger one? Four by five, no.

Q: Four by eight?

Myers: Four by eight, they weren’t that big.

Q: Divided by—

Myers: Four by—maybe six. Anyway. Index cards. Who even knows what those are now, but nonetheless have been unless you’re learning a new language and you have flashcards made out of index cards, this was the great recordkeeping and tracking. It was for 1985 through ‘90-something. And we began to create a database, not digital, but a database nonetheless. Also, Rick got a lot of fan mail, phone calls, and I took care of all that, too. I was administrative support for Rick. We were great friends and we had so many friends in common here in Santa Fe. We were both part of the queer community. We shared that and some of our friends who were part of that, but also part of the artistic community and part of the amazing group of artists who had gathered here. He would have parties and there would be [pause]—the party I remember most was for Beatrice Wood, and Bruce Nauman came with his then partner, Harriet Lindenberg. Judy Chicago was also at the party, and I’m sure Herb Lotz must have been at that party. He would celebrate other people so generously. I loved that about Rick.

When Beatrice couldn’t find anyone to publish her autobiography, which is called I Shock Myself, she came to visit and Beatrice and Rick were sitting together in the living room of the house, and the office was in an adjacent space. There were no doors in that house, particularly. I could hear the conversation going on, and Beatrice had brought the typed manuscript of I Shock Myself and was showing it to Rick and lamenting the fact that she had shopped it around and nobody was interested in publishing the autobiography of Beatrice Wood. And Rick, I hear him calling out from that room. He didn’t have to speak that loudly, but he called out and said, “Juliet, as of today, we have created Dillingham Press. We will be publishing Beatrice’s book.” That was an amazing moment. She did have a printer in Los Angeles who was really interested in printing the book. We teamed up and I—this very moment, cannot remember his name or the name of his press. It wasn’t a press because we were Dillingham Press. He was the printer. [Laughter] At any rate, that first edition, a hard copy and soft copies of Beatrice Wood’s autobiography, are very highly collectible now, and there was a limited edition in which she made an original drawing and included it with—I’m not sure if it was fifty copies. Twenty-five copies, seventy-five. We’ll have to look at the records. But there were a number of really exquisite drawings included in them and then the hard copy and soft copy of that first edition are the best, though it was picked up by Chronicle Books after a few years. We didn’t do a huge run. I can’t tell you how many, but what a joy and what an amazing thing for Rick to finance the publication of Beato’s [Beatrice’s] autobiography like that, he snapped his fingers and everybody went into action. I was close with Rick. There’s no doubt about it. It was not just a work relationship. It was a deep and intimate friendship.

Q: In thinking about that, you had mentioned generosity and in how he [would] snap his fingers and it happens, this magic of who he was. Would you be willing to describe him a little bit more carefully? You can describe his visage, you can describe his personality.

Myers: Yes, sure.

Q: Whatever you choose.

Myers: Of course. Rick was larger than life. First of all, he was six-something and he wore cowboy boots, which made him even taller. I don’t know exactly, but he had the most beautiful figure. He cut a fine figure, as they say. He was tall and slender, and he wore wonderful clothes. He liked Comme Des Garçons in New York quite a bit and others, Ralph Lauren, because they were friends. He bought wonderful clothes. Fine, fine clothes. He looked beautiful. He was a handsome man. He always had a beard, mustache, the whole deal. I don’t know, did I ever see him without [unclear] that he always had? Sometimes it was longer, sometimes it was shorter, but always the beard. He was very masculine for such a queen, we might say.

He flaunted the gayness in certain company. Rick was not hiding the fact. Mid-1980s and into now. That was early. But Santa Fe has always had a pretty rich gay and queer and whatever everybody was—I think there’s always been a kind of comfort in living in Santa Fe as a queer person. Rick didn’t change his behavior, let’s say, from group to group. If it was a dinner party with lots of fancy patrons and art collectors and other artists, he was still Rick and he was hilarious. He liked to tell jokes or make jokes. Sometimes they were a little cruel, perhaps, and very much off-color a lot of the time. He would have this banter. It wasn’t like he was telling jokes that he read in a book or recycling jokes. He made his own witty, clever, astute jokes about things. But as I say, sometimes that can be a little tough on whoever was the target of the joke. His personality was huge and everyone gravitated toward Rick. I have to say, there were very few people I know that weren’t rather infatuated, and one of the fun things I remember were the many, many married men who had an adoration. They were enamored of Rick, and I saw it over and over again and the wives loved him too, but men were really attracted to him. I’m not going to say what transpired because, of course, I don’t know. However, I do know that he was a flirt. He was a big flirt, and he had some powers of seduction. Let’s leave it at that for now, at any rate.

Q: Yes.

Myers: Yes.

Q: Yes.

Myers: Too much fun.

Q: He was too much fun.

Myers: Yes, he was too much fun. A lot.

 Q: Everyone so far has mentioned the beard, I don’t think I’ve met a single person so far who remembers Rick without one. Yes.

Myers: A mark of his manliness—

Q: Was born with it—

Myers: On.

Q: Thinking about his personality then, because you already spoke about some of your vivid memories and we can always revisit that question too. How did you see that personality manifesting itself in his artwork, his practice as a scholar, or as an artist, or as a person?

Myers: Right. As I say, the bon vivant, larger than life, out there roaring down the road on on one of his several Harley-Davidsons. [Laughter] Backing up to the idea of his personality, it also had a very quiet, deep, meditative, focused aspect like that was really the antithesis of that crazy guy, that wild and crazy guy. He could focus for hours and hours at a time when he was in the studio making. He was having fun, let’s face it. The fact that he created this entire process of making ceramic vessels and bringing them to a certain state of finish, that would be the bisque firing would occur after he brought it to the surface to where he wanted it, to shape everything up. He would break them and he broke them very methodically. It’s not like you hold the piece of ceramic up and drop it on the floor. He had a position [gestures]. He worked it. He was kneeling in the studio quite a bit, which I thought was interesting and tough on one’s knees and back. He had buckets that he used as little stools to sit on. Sometimes he was on his knees, sometimes he’s sitting low, but he’s close to the ground and to the floor of his studio, which was a concrete slab. And he had a particular stick. I don’t know what happened to it, but it was a one by two. It was a nice little—not a stick. It was a piece of wood. [Laughter] It was a real piece of wood. Not like a stick off the tree in the patio or something. The courtyard. He would tap that [stick] against the bisque-fired clay. And it wasn’t like he could control—and he never said he could control—the breaks because he liked the surprising things that happened, as these ceramics were deconstructed with the stick and the hammering with the stick. But I do believe he had a certain kind of control and that through the years—this practice that went on forever—early on, of course, the vessels were not broken.

Based on the fact that he had done so much research at the Maxwell Museum of Art in Albuquerque as an undergraduate, he was putting pots back together at the Maxwell. One can only assume or extrapolate that the process of reconstructing pots might have led him to the idea of breaking his own work and reconstructing it. The reconstruction of those pots—again, it was always surprising. He had such a knowledge of glazes that he knew what he was doing. Yet when those shards were fired, because each shard was treated as an individual canvas, one might say, each shard was glazed and in a pattern. Then when it all came back together, you’re talking crazy quilt. But the shards were glazed. They were fired. Then the piece was reconstructed and he would glue it back together with Elmer’s glue. He often put ashes from the fireplace into a glue mixture that became the grout, so the pot would be glued back together and at that point—he had left some preconceived ideas about what he was doing. Again, his focus and his understanding of his own work and the materials led to the fact that when a pot came back together, there were bare spots of bisque showing through, sometimes in grid patterns, sometimes in spirals, but different spaces that remained untouched by glaze. In those spots, ghost spots of sort, would be applied gold leaf or silver leaf or copper leaf. That is the grand finale of creating the surfaces of his ceramic works, would be the application of the gold leaf, or silver or copper or sometimes all three on the same pot. There is an example, that I think perhaps is in this exhibition, where he used enamel at the very end and painted some rather surprisingly bold and garish colors onto the pot. He was not afraid of pushing the limits with regard to shape, size, texture, patterns—crazy, crazy patterns.

The work never got boring, and especially the gas cans, which came very early but were the poor cousin to all of the globes and cones and cylinders. People were not very enamored. They were not in love with the gas cans. I think now, when you look at the entire show, you will discover that the place where he experimented the most throughout his making, that would be the gas cans. He really pushed the limits of what clay can do. [Pause] Scholarly practice. His personality in his artwork: there’s a seriousness, there’s a focus, there’s a kind of concentration. And then of course, there’s this frivolity and he’s constantly doing things that are surprising. He even surprised himself. As I say, he knew what he was doing. That glaze firing would completely transform and surprise very often what the heck that pot is going to end up looking like.

He was one of the leading scholars of Pueblo, Native American clay work, ceramics, coming from his study of history of the Hopi and Pueblo, making the women who were very often the leading potters. And Rick became obsessed with the idea that what potters were doing in the historic period was being lost to the contemporary making of Native American pots. As they became more commercial. Of course, they were making pots for ceremonies, pots that were about the individual Pueblo, the individual maker.

Q: The closed practice.

Myers: A very closed and a very private situation where then—they also, of course, as Native American pottery became popular as a collectible, there was a period where some makers were using commercial clay bodies or even greenware that they purchased and they would paint, but they were not digging their own clay. Of course, some always did, but some not so much. Rick would take historic pots out to the different Pueblos and towns and Hopi villages and Hopi land and show them the history. He would take the pots back out and remind them a bit. I may be stretching it, but I’m not uncomfortable saying that a revival of the clay bodies, the glazes, the techniques—that Rick had a lot to do with bringing tradition back to the commercial work that Native potters were making. Yes. And he wrote several books, so the man knew how to focus. I think I need to say for all his silliness and frivolity, he was someone who could focus and produce the first Seven Families in Pueblo Pottery, then expanded many years later to Fourteen Families in Pueblo Pottery, and then the massively beautiful [Acoma and Laguna] pottery book. Rick was an enigma in many ways. Some people knew him only as a party boy, but all of his friends and fellow artists knew him to also have this very serious and focused side that could produce such great work, both his own work and an eye for Native pottery. Also, he collected contemporary ceramics from his peers and colleagues.

Q: That leads us into the next question of, How would you describe Rick’s relationship with the communities that he worked with and in the communities that he played with? Because it sounds like he was a bit of a dichotomous human being, private-public.

Myers: Maybe trichotomous.

Q: Trichotomous.

Myers: This is a quite well—

Q: —[Laughter] many ‘chotomies, many ‘chotomies. He contained multitudes.

Myers: Polychotomies. [Laughter] At any rate, we’re going to make a new word for who Rick was in relationship with various communities. Because he did. And interestingly, even though a lot of us knew each other—I knew many of his friends—it felt to me that he also had some secret lives that I was not privy to. I think everyone who knew Rick would say, “Yes, I knew Rick, I was intimate with Rick,” but perhaps there were aspects of his life that we didn’t know very well, that we weren’t even aware of.

From what I observed— I can only talk about that part—was that his relationships with—he would call them the old ladies or the old women potters from many of the Pueblos, and especially along the Rio Grande. He joked with them. He teased them. He was serious about buying their work and selling their work and making sure they made wonderful money from their labors. But he was always teasing the women and they always had a blue or green plastic laundry basket, you might say they [the laundry baskets] were ubiquitous. The pots arrived wrapped in terrycloth towels, in laundry baskets. It’s vivid that that’s how they did it. They’d bring the laundry baskets to the house, and then they’d sit and look at everything. Rick would discuss with them and whatever he would take. He pretty much always took everything, as I recall. But his humor was very much alive with the ladies. He loved making them laugh. He adored making them laugh. He was very good at it. Again, I think there were some really off-color jokes that were made and the hand would go over their mouths and you could hear this giggling in the living room going on. But he was very light and lovely with the Native American community.

What else can I say? He’s legendary as a country and Western dancer at the Albuquerque Social Club. He was slaying them on the dance floor. Everyone was impressed with the way he moved, his physicality, his grace. He had some of his favorite partners, but I think he danced with everyone. I think that they would arrive in Albuquerque on the motorcycles or whatever the case might be, but arrive in Albuquerque and he would start dancing. This is country and Western type dancing, swing, whatever. Two-step two-step. He would start dancing and he wouldn’t stop. Barely did he stop until they shut the place down. He put so much energy out. That was the thing. He had an extraordinary level of energy and the dancing was one of the great releases, and celebrations for him was the dancing.

Who else? He was so well respected. We have the Native American friends and colleagues and then the whole gay “go out and have fun” community. And then there would be the directors of museums all over the country, but most especially here. School of American Research, which is what is now the school of Advanced Research. SAR figured prominently in his studies and his relationships. The curators and directors of all the museums in Santa Fe, he had really rich relationships with all of them. That’s the part I saw. He did have squabbles with—

Q: When you talk that much trash.

Myers: Yes, exactly. Rick’s sharp tongue, shall we say, acid tongue probably did get him in trouble more than I want to remember or am able to remember. Nonetheless, I think he was very well respected as a scholar and as a dealer of Native American pots, because I watched some crazy stuff go on. Fake pots, people being accused. I think Rick especially was very careful and as I remember, there were laws against selling certain pre-Columbian—the provenance and things like that. I think he tried very, very hard to be an unscrupulous and honest pot dealer, as some people say. [Laughter] He had a vast knowledge and I think he could spot a fake, whereas I think there were people in some galleries in Santa Fe who were selling some very questionable pots.

Q: We won’t name names.

Myers: No we won’t.

Q: Probably because we can’t.

Myers: No we can’t. [Laughter] But I think Rick was as honest as he possibly could be.

Q: Do you have a favorite? I know you’ve shared a lot of stories already, but is there something that you keep very special? You’re also welcome to share more than one story. That could also lead us into our last question of, “Is there anything else that you want us to know?”

Myers: I think that the show that you are curating, that will be opening in October, is bringing together a lot of aspects of Rick into visual reality. His gay life, his scholarly life, his life as a maker, his relationships with the Native Americans, certainly. And their making of pottery. You’re bringing a lot together. This isn’t exactly a memory, but what I want to say is thank you, because it did feel like during his lifetime he compartmentalized a lot.

He had a lover who lived in Spain, and for a long time, none of us even knew that. He would travel. I think he had a lover in every port, as a way of saying he was an amorous guy and irresistible. There was a whole life of loving and being promiscuous and celebrating who he was. He was great about that. Until some letters started arriving at the house from someone named José—Beatrice always called him “Joe-say”, which is also correct. At any rate, this man became one of, if not the love of Rick’s life. A great memory is the first time that José came to visit in Santa Fe because mainly Rick would go there. That’s why I say it was a well-kept secret. Maybe some other people knew about José, but when José appeared and was as big and gorgeous and graceful and stunning man with a big beard, everyone nearly fainted [LAUGHTER] because they were such a perfect match. That was a really joyful thing to see José and Rick together, on the various times when Rick would show him off or José would come and they would go traveling around the United States and all kinds of cool stuff. When he’d go to Europe and they would travel around Europe, there were adventures that I have absolutely no idea. I’m not privy to some of that.

But their cards and letters in the archive, which is here at the museum, and I do want to get into the archives, I’ll put it on record right here, that it would be a delight if we could annotate some of the letters and different materials in the archive. Because at some point no one is going to know exactly, “Who? Wait, who was that?” He had these great letter exchanges with so many, not just his lovers and secret admirers, but also with other artists. I think that needs to be looked at, too. I look forward to that. At any rate, I’m trying to think of what else. It’s so vivid.

This is a tough memory to share because it’s toward the very end of his life when two things happened. The first was he went roaring off to Sturgis to the big motorcycle event in Sturgis—is that in October? September? October?—it’s in the fall.

Q: Yes, yes, September.

Myers: When he goes roaring off to Sturgis and he has a backpack that he’s wearing, it’s not like supplies for camping or for his motorcycle. He has in there a pump that is full of the anti-HIV viral treatments called cocktails. He would be riding off into the sunset. Or maybe it was the sun[rise]—no, not the sunrise. He never left that early. But he would be driving across the country and getting his infusion of anti-AIDS drugs while he’s riding a motorcycle. He was to the very end out there and moving. It didn’t matter if he was having an IV treatment. He was still riding down the road. I thought he was absolutely amazing in that respect. My other favorite is [Pause]

Q: Wait.


Q: I know.

Myers: Activities of the museum cannot be avoided.

Q: Cannot.

Myers: No, we’re not in a soundproof booth.

Q: Sadly. [Laughs]

Myers: No. The other is that he died on January 20th or 21st. I think there’s a little confusion because I think it was right around midnight. At any rate, early in January of 1994, the—or maybe it was new. Wait and let me back up, because we would have to check the historic record.

I believe it was New Year’s Eve, and I believe it was Barbra Streisand in Las Vegas at one of the big hotels. Rick was there. He went to Las Vegas. He was very ill and pretty weak at that point. But he got himself to Las Vegas to see Babs’ final—was it really?—performance, because she was forever retiring and then not. But for Rick, it was Babs’ final appearance because it’s the last time he saw her. It was so crazy with what he was going through at that point and his physical condition. But he was there. I know he adored going—that was the other thing. He would fly all over the United States and maybe Europe, fly to see these amazing—especially Cher. Or Barbra Streisand. Those were probably the most favorites. His love of popular culture, you would say, and being in the moment and of the moment. That was Rick.

Q: I feel like that’s a good place to [Pause]

Myers: Yes. That would—

Q: Wrap it up.

Myers: I think so.

Q: Yes.

Myers: I know that you’re getting different people to talk about their life with Rick or their relationships with Rick. I hope it’s a big kaleidoscope of possibility and recollections that will paint a beautiful portrait.

Q: I do have one more. Is that okay? One more question for you. I understand that you managed Rick’s end of life work and the management of his estate as well. Would you be willing to speak a little bit about that and how the museum came into possession, this exhibition in particular too, pulls a lot from where those works wound up and—

Myers: Yes.

Q: Yes, if you’re willing.

Myers: Of course. Yes, I was co-executor of the Dillingham estate, and again, I think it speaks to the relationship and the trust we had in one another that he asked me to. He had some ideas about certain pieces of his own work, which would go to this museum or that collection or whatever. Mainly he asked me to divide the collection, and he had retained many, many works of his own. He loved selling and he sold a lot. But he also kept back a great deal of work from the very early works in the early ‘70s to some of the last works. He asked me to divide them up and to gift them. And the curators came from—and you might have to help me here, Katie, because I know the New Mexico Museum of Art, of course, was part of the legacy—his legacy would live on in your collections. But also Arizona State, also the University of Hawaii, because these are places where he went and he created amazing workshops and experiences for students in many of these places. Albuquerque Museum of Art also. That’s Arizona, Albuquerque, Hawaii, [New] Mexico Museum of Art.

Q: UNM [University of New Mexico].

Myers: Oh, and UNM. Right. Which was his alma mater from his undergraduate degree. I think maybe those are the places, five. That sounds right to me. Maybe I do remember. What was amazing was that certain pieces spoke to me, like there was a gas can that was a blue wave form, and I knew that went to Hawaii.

Q: It did.

Myers: It did, yes. Good. You can substantiate that. There’s certain pieces that needed to live in certain areas, in certain watery or mountainous or whatever the terrain, desert. He had had these marvelous experiences of teaching in most of these places or being a student in many of these places. That was a lovely intimacy to the dispersion of his collection of his own work was very—I’d like to say it’s very thoughtful, and I do think I was very thoughtful and I really think by the end of that decade of having been in Rick’s life, I almost could channel Rick. I think I did channel Rick and Rick channelled back to me.

There was a roadrunner after Rick died. This [is] mainly about birds coming to me and being Rick. There was a roadrunner that would hang out on the wall next to the window in my little office. Wrapping up the estate after Rick died, I was in that house for another two years, wrapping things up without him. Yet I will say not exactly without him, because there was an energy. He pulled some amazing magical tricks on some people who were disputing the estate and trying to paint me as the villain of how the estate was being appraised and dispersed. At any rate, I’ll say I won. But it was Rick that won because Rick engineered some amazing things that happened after he was dead. One of my favorites is the roadrunner, which symbolizes Rick beautifully, the speed of the roadrunner, the incredible plumage and sleekness of the roadrunner. It’s very Dillingham. There was also a hummingbird in the courtyard that kept showing up and would come right next to my head. It was pretty interesting to feel that. And whenever I go to—pretty much every year from forever, I go to [Santa Fe] Indian Market. I can so feel his presence. I am so grateful that a lot of—not a lot, but some of the many, many Native makers—the women, especially, we always speak his name and then we cry and then we hug, and we are so happy that Rick came to Earth to do the work he did.

Q: That’s it. That’s it. I’d say we’re good. That marks the end of our interview. It is 1:29 p.m.