Twentieth Century Radicalism in Minnesota Oral History Project: Interview with Bernice Fossum
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Description BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION: Bunny Fossum was born and raised in South Dakota. She met and married artist Sydney Fossum in Minneapolis in 1932. Both of them joined the Communist Party in the mid-1930s, and contributed to the radical labor movement in the Twin Cities. Bunny belonged to an amateur theatrical group known as the Minneapolis Theatre Union, and Syd was a founder of the Artists' Union. They participated in labor strikes, supported the cause of the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War, and participated in Communist Party activities. Syd worked in the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Project, and taught art classes. In 1942 he was accused of having cheated the Art Project by claiming to have worked during a two-week trip to New York city, a charge which he believed to be harassment for his political views. He was tried and acquitted in federal court. In 1951 the Fossums moved to Des Moines, and in 1957 to the West Coast. When they returned to Minnesota in 1960 they first settled in Duluth, where Syd directed a short-lived art center. Bunny had already become a social worker, since their financial condition was always precarious, and she continued to work in the social services until they retired to San Francisco. Syd Fossum contributed drawings to leftist publications, such as the "North Country Anvil", until his death in 1978. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Bunny Fossum gives a lively and amusing description of the circle of radical artists in which she moved. There is much anecdotal information about her first years in Minneapolis (1934-44), and the colorful people she knew. She touches on the Strutwear Knitting Company strike; the WPA strike of 1939; the Sears Roebuck strike; the Millers' Cafeteria strike; and support for the Spanish Loyalists in the Civil War. She talks about Syd's activity in the Artists' Union, the Minnesota Artists' Association, and Artists' Equity; the ways in which artists contributed to the radical labor movement; and her memories of the Communist Party. She recalls FBI surveillance; her husband's arrest in the 1939 WPA strike; and his trial on charges of falsifying his time cards while he worked for the WPA. She also gives a lot of information about the Minneapolis Theatre Union and its productions. The interview is rich in detail about the life-styles of struggling artists in the 1930s and 1940s. COMMENTS ON INTERVIEW: Fossum is an engaging story-teller and seems to have a very good memory. The interview actually took place over a period of several days, and in the middle of it Salerno and Fossum went to talk to Joe Swan. The addendum to the interview (Feb. 21st) refers to many subjects covered in the Swan interview. The tape has a good deal of background noise on it. Not all the spellings of names could be verified.
Quantity 2.5 hours sound cassette
42 pages transcript
Format Content Category: sound recordings
Content Category: text
Measurements 01:35:24 running time
Creation Interviewee: Fossum, Bernice
Interviewer: Salerno, Sal
Made in San Francisco, San Francisco County, California, United States
Subjects Made in San Francisco, San Francisco County, California, United States
Dates Creation: 02/11/1988 - 02/21/1988
(Interviews conducted 2/11/1988 and 2/15/1988; addendum on 2/21/1988.)
Holding Type Oral History - Interview
Identifiers OH 30
Accession Number AV1990.228.19
More Info MHS Library Catalog
Related Collections Oral History - Project, MHS Collection, project: 'Twentieth Century Radicalism in Minnesota Oral History Project'

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