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Stern (Gerd) papers
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  • Conditions Governing Use
  • Conditions Governing Access
  • Immediate Source of Acquisition
  • Preferred Citation
  • Biographical / Historical
  • Scope and Contents

  • Language of Material: English
    Contributing Institution: Department of Special Collections and University Archives
    Title: Gerd Stern papers
    creator: Stern, Gerd
    Identifier/Call Number: M1954
    Physical Description: 50 Linear Feet (156 containers)
    Date (inclusive): 1938-2012
    Abstract: The papers of poet, writer, artist and multimedia pioneer Gerd Stern span over fifty years of creative work in the American counterculture.

    Conditions Governing Use

    While Special Collections is the owner of the physical and digital items, permission to examine collection materials is not an authorization to publish. These materials are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. Any transmission or reproduction beyond that allowed by fair use requires permission from the owners of rights, heir(s) or assigns.

    Conditions Governing Access

    Open for research. Note that material must be requested at least 36 hours in advance of intended use. Audiovisual materials are not available in original format, and must be reformatted to a digital use copy.

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    Purchased, 2013. Accessions 2013-098, 2013-121, and 2013-122.

    Preferred Citation

    [identification of item], Gerd Stern Papers (M1954). Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives, Stanford Libraries, Stanford, Calif.

    Biographical / Historical

    Gerd Stern is a poet, artist, and multimedia pioneer whose remarkable life spans 40s bohemia, 50s Beat culture, 60s hippiedom, 70s hip capitalism, and continues today. Until his own biography is published, any account of Stern’s life must begin by referring the reader to his extensive oral history conducted by he University of California Berkeley ("From Beat Scene Poet to Psychedelic Multimedia Artist in San Francisco and Beyond, 1948-1978, Interviews Conducted by Victoria Morris Byerly in 1996" http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/kt409nb28g). While rather short on chronological detail, the interviews contain a wealth of insight about his life and accomplishments, and thus allows this biographical note some brevity.
    Gerd Stern was born in Saarland on the German/French border October 12, 1928 and emigrated to the United States with his family as the Nazis rose to power. His father continued the family’s cheese importing company in New York, and both Stern and his brother would later run the business. Gerd was initially interested in biology, winning a science fair competition and befriending a guard at the Natural History Museum, Elsie Petersen, whom Stern credits with introducing him to the world of art and culture. He also went to school with artist Ivan Majdrakoff, becoming lifelong friends and collaborators. At first studying zoology at City College of New York, he then briefly attended Black Mountain College, where he had hoped to study poetry with M.C. Richards, but she had left with her husband after the coup that left Josef Albers in charge. Stern was later neighbors in New York with various communities of former BMC teachers & students, including Richards, Paul and Vera Williams, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and others, and corresponded with other attendees such as Knute Stiles and James Leo Herlihy.
    After various travels west in the late 40s (including working in a mine in Virginia City, Nevada), Stern wound up back in New York, destitute and in poor health. He was admitted to Columbia Presbyterian Psychiatric Institute, where he befriended Carl Solomon and later met Allen Ginsberg. After he left, Stern and poet John Hoffman worked as seamen on the Norwegian ship M.S. Bowhill bound for South America. Hoffman’s death a few years later in Mexico casts a pall over much of Stern’s 1950s poetry-related correspondence. After returning from South America, Stern worked various odd jobs in Greenwich Village, including a press which published his first book of poems, First Poems and Others, with Majdrakoff illustrating and Julia Pearl, his first wife, doing the calligraphy. Around this time, Stern became involved with Jane Hill, later his first wife. After hitching around the country and living in New York, they eventually settled in California.
    For much of the fifties, Stern lived on a repurposed Navy laundry barge in Sausalito, California. Through his involvement in poetry and jazz, Stern was a vital participant in the swinging San Francisco of the 1950s in which commercial and artistic worlds freely intermingled. He managed composer Harry Partch, was namedropped in Herb Caen columns, dated (and managed) Maya Angelou, read at poetry gatherings, went fishing with S.I. Hayakawa, marketed bamboo bongo drums, hosted jam sessions with Chet Baker and other jazz musicians with films and dancers on his barge, and produced fine press poetry broadsides with his wife Jane (Poetry in Folio). Stern worked at public radio station KPFA and was close to founder (and fellow poet) Lew Hill. He had met Juan de Angulo in Big Sur on his first trip West and was an early champion of his work, as well as later that of Marshall McLuhan, and of the latter there is a substantial file of correspondence. Among various occupations around this time, Stern was a publicity agent and a little later a journalist, writing for Playboy and other magazines.
    USCO The sixties can be seen as the USCO era, although USCO (aka Us Company or the Company of Us) didn’t really begin until at least 1963. In the aftermath of his second divorce, Stern rented his houseboat to Stewart Brand and moved back to rural New York. Stern moved in artistic circles dense in the area around Woodstock, and bonded with a painter named Stephen Durkee who lived in an old church in Garnerville with his wife Barbara. Stern had began creating mechanical sculptures as a natural extension of his poetry, only based on the iconography of street and traffic signs. In order to raise funds for a particular sculpture project, Stern arranged a two night multi-media performance at the San Francisco Museum of Art (as it was then known). These events required audio techical assistance, and Stern enlisted Michael Callahan, a young engineer working with the San Francisco Tape Music Center. A successful touring show based on these events became known as the Verbal American Landcape, and when Callahan joined Stern and Durkee in New York, USCO coalesced. Also centrally involved were Gerd’s wife Judi Stern, filmmaker Jud Yalkut, Walter Gundy, Jonathan Ayers, Jonathan Altman, Paul Williams, and many others. The church became USCO’s headquarters, with various people moving in and out (among them Brand and wife Lois, Dion Wright, and many others), and eventually a portion of the building was devoted to a meditational space called The Tabernacle which was open to the public on Sundays.
    One of USCO’s main activities was producing multimedia installations, including touring programs throughout the United States and Canada (mostly galleries and universities), making films (“Y” was made by Stern, Majdrakoff and Callahan) and working in theater & performance, video art, discotheques, and other prototypical venues such as the Millbrook estate of the Castalia Foundation. USCO produced media backgrounds for Castalia-sponsored Timothy Leary lectures in New York City, and for a time Steve Durkee lived and toured with Richard Alpert. averick Systems was formed between Stern and Callahan to produce the hardware (including mixers, projectors & strobe lights) for these shows, which were also sold to other interested parties. As an additional sideline USCO distributed posters, diffraction mirrors, and other items to head shops. Money proved difficult to recoup from this venture, however. Many factors were involved in USCO’s breakup, but essentially the schism involved eastern religion (especially Meher Baba), moving west (the Lama Foundation, at first called Solux), the use of drugs, and the ethics of commercial media work (to some, marketing feminine hygiene products as groovy was a step too far).
    Intermedia Systems Corporation Media production company Intermedia Systems Corporation (ISC) began in 1968 in Cambridge, Massachusetts evolving from various Harvard Business School initiatives and restructuring in the early 70s with Stern installed as president. ISC was active internationally throughout the next ten years with projects including a wide variety of presentations, slide shows, installations, exhibits, recordings, and other media productions. Clients included universities, museums, government and non-profit groups & foundations, expositions & trade shows, and especially companies involved with real estate, development, nuclear power & other industry, electronics, and education. Their efforts included a recording studio and production facility. They were also involved in a number of Rockefeller Foundation, New York State Council for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities & National Endowment for the Arts projects, especially a large grant for Abraham Lincoln historical sites. There are also many files concerning the production of training films for football and for railroad safety inspectors, in the marketing of Carribean Global Village (a real estate development in the Turks & Caicos Islands), and laser shows. ISC worked with a range of companies such as Armco Steel, Synergetics (built domes in Venezuela), Astrodine (a space-themed restaurant chain), ARP synthesizers, Landscape Architecture magazine, and with groups such as America the Beautiful (Stern was on the board), the Economic Development Administration (Indian Reservation project), the National Center for Experiments in Television (NCET), and WGBH. There were a great number of projects in Venezuela. The studio recorded musicians such as Paul Pena, Charlie Mariano, and Roger Powell, and also made recordings by Timothy Leary, Huey Newton, Reb Zalman and others. ISC also worked with many artists, and were simultaneously active in intermedia, video art, public television and educational programming, media studies, theater, and sculpture. Intermedia Systems Corporation declared bankruptcy in 1978.
    Stern continued to work under the Intermedia umbrella, and much of the later correspondence bears its letterhead. For that matter, there are also 1970s letters of a more personal or informal nature with Intermedia’s logo, but that is generally characteristic of the collection as a whole. There was not so much a division between personal and professional in his relationships. Fewer files are present from the 1980s and beyond, although Gerd continues to write, publish, and show in galleries.
    In addition to this work, Stern was an Associate in Education at Harvard, and lectured at University of California, Santa Cruz (despite having no college degree himself). His poetry books include the following:
    Stern, Gerd, and Bern Porter. First Poems: And Others. Sausalito, Calif.: B. Porter Books, 1955.
    McLean, Jean; Laura Uronovitz [Ulewicz]; Michael Grieg; Ann London; Gerd Stern; Robert Stock; Carol Christopher Drake; Jack Gilbert. Seven Stray Cats Reading Their Poems in Sausalito/ Poetry San Francisco Presents Seven Stray Cats in Sausalito. [Sausalito, Calif. : publisher not identified], 1957.
    Seven Stray Cats Reading Their Poems [in San Francisco]. [San Francisc, Calif. : publisher not identified], 1957.
    Stern, Gerd. Afterimage: Poems. Woodstock, N.Y: Maverick Books, 1965.
    Gilbert, Jack. Seven Stray Cats Reading Their Poems in the Six Gallery, San Francisco. Pittsburgh, PA: Caliban Bookshop, 1995.
    Stern, Gerd. Whenthen. Loveland, Ohio: Dos Madres Press, 2018.
    Stern’s solo and collaborative multi-media projects with USCO have been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Guggenheim Museum, Tate Museum, Vienna’s Kunsthalle, and Centre Georges Pompidou.

    Scope and Contents

    This collection is primarily correspondence, and outgoing drafts predominate, although there are many rich exchanges. These drafts are almost always dated, which provides an excellent chronology overall. One might expect media to play a greater role given the subject, however there are very few films or photographs (but lots of slides, mostly Intermedia), and the audio component, which are almost entirely open reel tapes that have not been processed (they are also mostly Intermedia). As as been noted, the majority of files date from the 1960s and 70s.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Poets, American -- 20th century
    Multimedia (Art)
    Stern, Gerd
    Intermedia Systems Corporation