Alexandra Jacopetti. Native Funk & Flash: An Emerging Folk Art. With photographs by Jerry Wainwright. [San Francisco:] Scrimshaw Press, 1974. Softbound, 23 x 26 cm., 111 pp. Gift of Josh Alpert.
This delightful book was recently donated to the Grateful Dead Archive by a colleague who spotted it in a local used book store. It is a remarkable book, documenting a rich vein of the Haight-Ashbury counterculture that birthed the Grateful Dead and that they in turn did so much to nurture, shape, and carry on after the neighborhood’s demise. Its well-illustrated pages document textile art in the Haight-Ashbuy and throughout the broader hippie world in Northern California, focusing on embroidery, quilting, and clothing. Jacopetti’s story is an important entry in the literature on the Haight and its diaspora: married to well-known Haight habitué Roland, later Ben, Jacopetti, she documents an important feature and legacy of the Haight, clothing art.
The book features contributions by both famous and unknown Haight-Ashbury artisans: in classic hippie fashion, Jacopetti celebrates the democratic urge toward decorative dress, documenting the art of transforming mass-produced clothing like blue jeans through embroidery, beadwork, and patchwork, making them personal and expressive; and carrying that instinct through waves of learning, practice, and study, culminating in exquisite mastery. That is one of one of the most difficult aspects of the Haight-Ashbury milieu to convey, and this book captures and expresses that attitude, philosophy, and continuum, directly and indirectly, often within a single paragraph:
There aren’t any patterns in this book because the patterns are all within, languishing and longing, like dreams, for expression. Don’t be daunted by lack of skill or technique; there are scores of books and several friends who can teach you French knots or chain stitch and, God knows, we’ve lost a lot of other skills since Grandma’s day. Many of the pieces here are amateurish by her standards, but do heed the message from within, and try to break through the channel of these visual images. (12)
But fundamentally, what Jacopetti’s book reminds readers is the degree to which the Haight-Ashbury’s mosaic of beliefs and expressions did combine to form a worldview that has much to commend it, and whose achievement can be measured in so many of its arts. While the bands and the poster artists are the most obvious artistic legacies of the Haight, what participants also remember is the dazzling array of arts and crafts that defined that foggy little neighborhood adjoining Golden Gate Park and energized its participants into making community. Native Funk and Flash is one of the rare documents of that broader ethos, and the Archive is most grateful to our colleague and friend, Librarian Josh Alper, for making this gift. (For a more extended version of this essay, see the Archive’s blog here.)