Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Deborah M. Sale, August 24, 2018

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - Personal background

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Partial Transcript: Okay, this is an interview with Deborah M. Sale for the Bess Abell Oral History Project.

Segment Synopsis: Sale provides an overview of her personal background, including her family, education, and early work in politics.

Keywords: Accomplishments; Active; Al Gore Sr.; Appointed; Assassination; Assistant postmaster general; Blocked; Bob Eckhardt; Campus; Chicken truck; Christian; Close; Confirmation; Connections; Driving; Elected; Encouraging; Expectations; Family; Farm; Final speech; Formative; Friends; Future; Graduate school; Harry Truman; Homesteaders; Hometown; House; Interested; Interim post master; John Connally; John F. Kennedy; Last campaign; Leaving; Left; Lost; Lyndon Johnson; Martin Luther King Jr.; Midwest; Motivation; Moving; No limits; Political figures; Post office; Postmaster; Reader; Republicans; Roots; Secretary of the Senate; Senators; Small town; Sold; Speechwriter; Status; Supporter; Supportive; The South; Tradition; Union; War on Poverty Committee; World War II

Subjects: Arkansas; Blacks; Change; Childhood; Civil rights movement; Early life; Education; Father; Federal government; Grandparents; High school; Liberal; Memphis (Tenn.); Mother; New York (N.Y.); People; Piggott (Ark.); Population; Power; Rhodes College; Shelby County (Tenn.); Summer; Tennessee; Uncles; Voter registration; Washington (D.C.); Work; World War, 1939-1945; Young

00:06:39 - Political career / Bess Abell working for Joan Mondale

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Partial Transcript: And he said to me, uh, "Come to New York and run a union."

Segment Synopsis: Sale briefly discusses her political career prior to joining the Carter administration. Sale recalls how Bess Abell assisted Joan Mondale in establishing the arts as Mondale's primary cause to focus on as Second Lady.

Keywords: Advance person; Advance school; Art historian; Bess Abell; Campaign; Candidates; Clear; Committee of the Interns & Residence; Concentration; Dormant; Edmund Muskie; End; Executive director; Impression; Intelligent; Internship program; Jimmy Carter; Joan Mondale; John Lindsay; Johnson administration; Lady Bird Johnson; Laws; Lovely; Mayor's office; Met; Moving; NYC Department of Education; Nice; No enemies; Non-demanding; Political staff; Recognition; Reserved; Return; Revival; Rights; Selected; Senior staff; Separate; Specialty; Steely; Strategic; Style; Support; Vice president; Walter Mondale; White House; Youth jobs programs

Subjects: Administration; Art; Authority; Ceramics; Conversation; Crying; Enemies; Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities; Florida; High school; Legacy; Minneapolis (Minn.); National Endowment for the Arts; National Endowment for the Humanities; New York (N.Y.); People; Politicians; Programs; Schools; Speech; Spouses; Staff; Students; Successful; Training; Travel; Unions; United States; Washington (D.C.); Work

00:11:31 - Work in Walter Mondale's office / Bess Abell's trip to the Philippines and Thailand

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Partial Transcript: And I was working for the vice president. I was in his Advance Office.

Segment Synopsis: Sale describes her role as an advance person in Vice President Walter Mondale's office. Sale reflects upon Bess Abell's travels to Asia and Thailand along with the Johnson administration. Sale recalls when Bess encouraged her to apply for the position of Executive Director of the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities.

Keywords: ASEAN Summit; Advance Office; Airport; Appearance; Apply; Approach; Assignments; Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN); Beautification; Bess Abell; Briefing documents; Budget director; Campaign; Capable; Colleagues; Context; Convinced; Decision makers; Downtown; Embassy staff; Encouraged; Engaged; Events; Exceptional; Exciting; Executive director; Expectations; Familiar; Ferdinand Marcos; Full-time; Funeral; Imelda Marcos; Impression; Inform; Interesting; International travel; Jim Thompson; Jimmy Carter; Joan Mondale; Loved; Lyndon Johnson; Met; Negotiations; No budget; Paid; Plane; Pleasure; Promotion; Prosperous; Recruiting; Shoe closets; Silk trade; Takeoff; Talking; Timid; Tour; Uniformed; Vice president; Walter Mondale

Subjects: ASEAN; Budget; Education; Endowment for the Humanities; Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities; Knowledge; Learning; Mentor; People; Philippines; Plants; Politicians; Salaries; Staff; Thailand; Time; Travel; United States; Washington (D.C.); Work

00:17:50 - Promoting the arts

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Partial Transcript: But then--then we really did work together hand in glove, from that point forward.

Segment Synopsis: Sale considers the programs orchestrated by Bess Abell, Joan Mondale, and herself to promote the arts across the U.S. through various federal agencies.

Keywords: Allies; Appreciated; Arts and humanities; Assets; Bands; Beauty; Bess Abell; Business skills; Carter administration; Challenging; Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA); Continued; Director; Downtowns; East coast; Economic development grants; Encouraging; Federal agencies; Federal arts project; Focus; Good friends; Grants; Hire; Joan Mondale; Largest funder; Living; Message; Museum; Non-profits; Open; Possible; Public art projects; Reasons; Role; Urban pioneers; Urban revitalization; West coast; Working; Writers

Subjects: Art; Artists; Business; Children; Cities; Communities; Cooperation; Discussion; Education; Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities; Federal government; Military; Money; North Carolina; Pentagon (Va.); People; Politicians; Proud; Schools; Seminars; Stability; Successful; Teaching; Thinking; Understanding; United States. Department of Commerce; United States. Department of Housing and Urban Development; United States. Department of Labor; United States. Small Business Administration; Value; Values; Washington (D.C.); Work

00:22:28 - Influence of Bess Abell on Joan Mondale

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Partial Transcript: I've heard several people say that, uh, when Joan Mondale first became Second Lady--

Segment Synopsis: Sale considers the influence of Bess Abell on Joan Mondale in her position as Second Lady of the United States.

Keywords: Adjustment; Appeal; Attentive; Audience; Bed; Bess Abell; Comfortable; Connected; Connections; Different; Expectations; Family; First trip; Funeral; Hesitant; Husband; Inexperienced; Jimmy Carter; Joan Mondale; Leader; Length; Michael Berman; Objective; Present; Private; Second Lady; Shy; Sitting; Story; Style; Tolerance; Understood; Upbringing; Walter Mondale

Subjects: Art; Growth; Instinct; Listening; Minneapolis (Minn.); People; Politicians; Speech; Staff; Strangers; Teaching; Thinking; Washington (D.C.)

00:25:47 - Joan Mondale and Bess Abell in supporting the arts

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Partial Transcript: I sort of had the impression that Joan was particularly interested in the plastic arts.

Segment Synopsis: Sale explains how Bess Abell and Joan Mondale supported the arts through promoting famous artists and art at the community level.

Keywords: Art historian; Artistic endeavor; Bess Abell; Birthday party; Board; Celebration; Contemporary craft; Curators; Decision; Delighted; Dinners; Emphasis; Encouraging; Equality of conversation; Famous; Federal building projects; Federal grants; Feeling; Feelings; First art exhibition; First painting; Guests lists; Head; House; Important; Instrumental; Invited; Joan Mondale; Knox-Albright Gallery (Buffalo, NY); Manufacturing; Martin Friedman; Minister's daughter; Modern art; Modern art curator; Museum; Nude paintings; Open; Percent for Art program; Plastic arts; Potter; Purchased; Showcase; Surprised; Taken down; Tilted Arc (public art installation); Uncomfortable; Unexpected; Universal; Value judgement; Vice president's residence; Whiskey jugs

Subjects: Art; Buffalo (N.Y.); Ceramics; Crafts & decorating; Federal government; History; Interest; Jugtown pottery; Knowledge; Living; Minneapolis (Minn.); New York (N.Y.); North Carolina; Painters; Piano; Politicians; Pottery; Retirement; Sculpture; Training; Understanding; United States. General Services Administration; Value; Walker Art Center; Washington (D.C.); Working artists

00:32:57 - Domestic travel to promote the arts / Leaving the White House

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Partial Transcript: --(laughs)--Bess and Joan and I went to all sorts of--

Segment Synopsis: Sale discusses some of the traveling around the U.S. she did with Bess Abell and Joan Mondale to promote the arts. Sale explains why she decided to leave her position as Executive Director of the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities following the election of President Reagan in 1980.

Keywords: 1980 presidential campaign; Advice; Agreed; Art groups; Arts and humanities policy; Asked; Bess Abell; Carter administration; Charlton Heston; Continue; Craft; Declined; Deputy; Determination; Different; Elizabeth Dole; Encouraging; Executive director; Federal service; Friends; Greater; Husband; Incredible; Invited; Joan Mondale; Leader; Left; Lost; Not dismissed; Note; Payroll; Position; Reader's Digest Foundation; Reagan administration; Report; Republicans; Right decision; Stay; Strange; Studio; Support; Surrounded; Unable; Visual art; W. Barnabas McHenry; Walter Mondale; West coast; White House; White house operators

Subjects: Art; Asheville (N.C.); Crafts & decorating; Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities; Federal government; Glass blowing and working; Good; Jugtown pottery; New York (N.Y.); North Carolina; Penland School of Crafts; People; Social; Speeches; Stress; Teaching; Thinking; Travel; Volume; Work

00:37:20 - 1984 Mondale presidential campaign / Contact with Bess Abell after work

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Partial Transcript: Did you participate in the '84 campaign when--

Segment Synopsis: Sale articulates her role in Walter Mondale's 1984 presidential campaign. Sale discusses her friendship with Bess Abell after Sale stopped working at the White House in 1980.

Keywords: 1984 presidential campaign; Active; Arts community; Bess Abell; Contact; Dinner; Encouraging; Events; Fundraisers; Help; Horse riding; Husband; Incredible; Joan Mondale; Loving; Loyal; Mario Cuomo; Objective; Press office; Stay; Support; Talking; Tired; Tyler Abell; Uncomfortable; Visit; Vote; Walter Mondale

Subjects: Art; Caring; Friend; Friendship; Horses; Politicians; Social; Staff; Value; Washington (D.C.)

00:40:07 - Strategically promoting art

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Partial Transcript: It seems to me that Bess, in her way of wanting to help, you know, make things, uh, more politically attractive--

Segment Synopsis: Sale describes how Bess Abell was able to promote art while being mindful of the political context behind some aspects of the arts.

Keywords: Accessible; Achievements; American wine; Appreciative; Bess Abell; Challenging; Craft; Emphasis; Encouraging; Fine arts; Help; Joan Mondale; Open; Patterns; Places; Political landscape; Politically attractive; Politics; Possible; Reach; Relatable; Traditions; White House; Witness

Subjects: Areas; Art; Communities; Good; Kentucky; People; Politicians; Strategy; Training; Understanding; Wine; Work

00:43:37 - Visiting art sites

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Partial Transcript: I mean you know, we made visits to people's studios.

Segment Synopsis: Sale remembers what it was like to visit art sites with Bess Abell and Joan Mondale with the objective of stimulating a greater interest in art in communities throughout the U.S.

Keywords: Bess Abell; Bridge; Build; Community; Encouraging; Engaging; Illustrate; Interesting; Jimmy Carter; Joan Mondale; Joan of Art; Nickname; Objective; Places; Studios; Support; Valuable; Vice president; Visit; Wife; Work together

Subjects: Art; Artists; Ceramics; Enthusiasm; Kentucky; North Carolina; Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania State University; People; Politicians; Press; Publicity; Reputation; Schools; Time; Travel; United States; Work

00:46:39 - Bess Abell representing Joan Mondale at events / Influences on Bess Abell

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Partial Transcript: Did, uh, did Bess ever stand in for Joan at events?

Segment Synopsis: Sale briefly considers whether Bess Abell would represent Joan Mondale at events occasionally. Sale speculates upon what Bess could have accomplished if she was born a few decades later than her actual birth year (1933). Sale also discusses the most important influences on Bess' life, including her father, Earle Clements.

Keywords: Apply; Bess Abell; Chief of staff; Critical thinker; Decision; Earle Clements; Events; Executive director; Hospital; Joan Mondale; Johnson administration; Met; Older; Phone call; Position; Potential; President; Qualities; Southern; Strange; Strong; Successor; Support staff; Treatment; Unavailable; Vice president; White House; Wife

Subjects: Administration; Art; Father; Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities; Living; Marriage; Memphis (Tenn.); Nashville (Tenn.); People; Politicians; Washington (D.C.); Young

00:51:50 - Trip to Yugoslavia

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Partial Transcript: The three of us spent a lot of time together in Yugoslavia.

Segment Synopsis: Sale recalls her trip to Yugoslavia with Bess Abell and Joan Mondale to promote American art.

Keywords: Abundance; Afternoon; Ambassador’s residence; American art show; Arrival; Beautiful; Bess Abell; Castle; Communal; Contrast; Courses; Curator; Destroyed; Difficult; Dilapidated; Dining room; Dinner; Drinking; Drinks; Earthquake; Earthquake damage; Evening; Excited; Full; Funny; Future; Glass pavilion; Government official; Hot; Hotel; House; Interesting; Island; Joan Mondale; Lawrence Eagleburger; Leaving; Marcia Tucker; Meals; Mistress; Opening; Orders; Placed; Problems; Relax; Representative; River; Royal family; Scenery; Serious; Sitting; Small town; Strange; Surprising; Sweating; Terrace; Tour; Towns; U.S. Ambassador to Yugoslavia; Unbelievable; Unexpected; Visit; Yugoslav Wars of Secession, 1991-1995

Subjects: Art; Bedrooms; Belgrade (Serbia); Cold War; Communities; Croatia; Desserts; Dubrovnik (Croatia); Federal government; Food; Furniture; Gin; History; Montenegro; Mountains; New Museum of Contemporary Art (New York, N.Y.); Ocean; People; Pictures; Serbia; Starvation; Sun; Survival; Sveti Stefan (Montenegro); Tents; Travel; Vodka; War; Wine; Yugoslavia

00:57:34 - Other travels

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Partial Transcript: Other travels?

Segment Synopsis: Sale relays some of the more interesting incidents she encountered while traveling with Bess Abell and Joan Mondale to promote the arts.

Keywords: 1980 presidential campaign; Agreed; Arrival; Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN); Background; Bess Abell; Breakfast; Connections; Controversy; Corner; Crowd; David Picker; Disgrace; Disliked; Donations; Door; Exempted; Foreign policy; Gallery; Historic home; Imelda Marcos; Invited; Jewish; Joan Mondale; Knew; Late; Lawrence Eagleburger; Leader; Leaving; Looking; Met; Nice; Non-offensive; Photographer; Picture; Politics; Position; Problems; Scenery; Secretary of state; Similar; Situation; Square room; Strategic; Teddy Kollek; Undersecretary for Asian and Pacific affairs; Vice president; Walter Mondale; Women's division

Subjects: Abortion; Art; Code words; Experience; Israel; Jerusalem; Money; Mormon Church; Mormons; New York (N.Y.); Parks; People; Philippines; Salt Lake City (Utah); Schools; Social; Speech; Thailand; Travel; Washington (D.C.); Wealth

01:03:43 - Bess Abell's sense of humor / Work culture for women

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Partial Transcript: You--you mentioned, uh, when you were talking about Dubrovnik, uh, laughter.

Segment Synopsis: Sale describes Bess Abell's sense of humor. Sale provides a comparison of the work culture for women in the federal government concerning career advancement in the 2010s versus the 1960s and 1970s.

Keywords: Abilities; Accomplishments; Ask; Aware; Beautiful; Bess Abell; Brief; Capacity; Comfortable; Common; Development; Easy; Effortless; Executive director; Follow-up; Funeral; Funny story; Great; Important; Indirect; Issue; Joan Mondale; Long; Lovely service; Need; No doubt; Non-ambitious; Not tense; Opportunities; Perfect; Permission; Politics; Precise; Presentations; President; Recent; Recognition; Relax; Repetitive; Short; Situations; Smart; Stepped up; Strategic; Tasks; Thoughtful; Timing; Today; True; Upbringing; later

Subjects: Cabinet; Chance; Culture; Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities; Federal government; Humor; Laughter; Learning; Life; Personality; Politicians; Speeches; Strategy; Success; Washington (D.C.); Women

01:09:15 - Travel to Latin America / Trip to Rome and Madrid

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Partial Transcript: There's a picture of Bess and Joan that's hanging on the wall...

Segment Synopsis: Sale details her trip to Latin America with Bess Abell and Joan Mondale, including a visit to Brazil in which the women were members of the official group of Americans authorized to meet diplomats in Caracas, Venezuela. Sale also talks of her visits with Bess Abell and Joan Mondale to promote art in Madrid and Rome.

Keywords: Airplane; American contemporary art; American embassy; Arrival; Augusto Pinochet; Bess Abell; Democratic turnover; Difficult; Drugstore; English speakers; Francisco Franco; Friends; Greeting; Installation; Interested; Isolated; Jimmy Carter; Joan Mondale; Met; Michael Berman; Michael Manley; Modern art; New president; No telephone; Official party; Phone call; Rare; Representation; Return; Sent back; Shorts; Similar; Staying; Strange; Striking; Support; Telegram; U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela; Unable; Vibrant; Visit; Walter Mondale; William Luers

Subjects: Art; Brazil; Caracas (Venezuela); Chile; Death; Democracy; Diplomacy; English; Europe; Federal government; Inauguration; Israel; Italy; Jamaica; Latin America; Madrid (Spain); Man; Member; New York (N.Y.); Politicians; Prime Minister; Rome (Italy); South America; Spain; Spanish; Telegraph; Telephone; Travel; United States; Venezuela

01:15:48 - Family life / Renwick Gallery

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Partial Transcript: Did you have, uh, siblings?

Segment Synopsis: Sale briefly discusses her family and recent happenings in her home state of Arkansas. Sale relays how the Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. became known for craft art partially due to the efforts of Bess Abell, Joan Mondale, and Sale.

Keywords: Built; Confederate soldiers; Craft museum; Different; Encouragement; Hometown; House; Relatives; Satanists; School; Statue; The South; Younger

Subjects: Arkansas; Arkansas State Capitol (Little Rock, Ark.); Brother; Crafts & decorating; Dixie Highway; Father; Life; Little Rock (Ark.); Mother; Renwick Gallery; Reputation; Smithsonian Institution; States; Washington (D.C.); White

01:18:25 - Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) / Housing developments for artists

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Partial Transcript: And what is a CETA program?

Segment Synopsis: Sale considers the role of the CETA (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act) federal program in promoting the arts throughout the U.S. Sale discusses her involvement in a program that she created with Bess Abell and Joan Mondale that provides Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers to qualifying working artists. Sale details the development of the original program in Manhattan, with the program being expanded nationwide soon after.

Keywords: 10th Ave. (New York, N.Y.); 9th Ave. (New York, N.Y.); Agreed; Arguments; Assumption; Bad neighborhood; Bess Abell; Block; Carter administration; Chelsea (New York, N.Y.); Cleanup; Community; Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA); Concerned; Construction; Decision; Deputies; Designation; Developer; Driving; Economic Development Corporation; Elected; Encourage; Federal arts program; Federal subsidy; Foot traffic; Ford administration; Gerald Ford; Head; Hell’s Kitchen (New York, N.Y.); Help; Hi-rise; High; Hired; Idea; Improvement; Jimmy Carter; Joan Mondale; Left; Lunch; Luxury housing development; Majority; Mayor's office; Parking garage; Pay; Potential; Purchased; Qualify; Section 8; Section 8 vouchers; Seniors; Short-term assignment; Sliding scale; Solution; Survey; Sweat equity; Today; Tough; Turnaround; Unemployment rate; Unfortunate; Unlikely; Unpopular; Unsafe; West 42nd St. (New York, N.Y.); Willing; Workforce; Working artists

Subjects: Art; Artists; Catholic; Federal government; Income; Joyce Theater (New York, N.Y.); Loans; Men; Modern dance; New York (N.Y.); Peep shows; People; Percentage; Performing arts; Pitch; Politicians; Portland (Ore.); Poverty; Priest; San Antonio (Tex.); Seattle (Wash.); Tennis courts; Theaters; United States; United States. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Washington (D.C.); Women; Work