Mr. Rudolph Schaeffer on Murshid Sam—9/9/76
MR. SCHAEFFER: I talk loud; I have a hearing aid, I can hear sufficiently but when people don't enunciate their consonants I can't tell the difference between bad and dad and sad and so on.
WALI ALI: This will pick you up nicely because it is a directional microphone.
MR. SCHAEFFER: I understand that you are on a television program too.
WALI ALI: I was on an NBC news program.
MR. SCHAEFFER: I listened the other evening to, I think if was—what was her name?—Patricia—I've forgotten her last name—but she was on that program and spoke of you—and you have been on, or you are going to be on another program?
WALI ALI: I did a radio show for about a year, and I was on this NBC News thing and they were doing an hour-long documentary on the Consciousness Movement in America.
MR. SCHAEFFER: An hour long—and by the time Buckminster Fuller came on, my attention span was so exhausted that I had to go to bed. I missed him, but he was on the last part of the hour.
Anyway, regarding Sam I don't know what I can tell you. Now the only thing is that I have known him for so many years—I guess dating back to maybe the 30's, the 1930's.
WALI ALI: That's the reason that we wanted to speak to you because you were one of his old friends.
MR. SCHAEFFER: And he was always around; I don't know what he was doing, I never paid much attention, and then in later years he went to India, and he always wrote me long letters from India. And I think I turned those letters all over.
WALI ALI: We have some of those—in fact, he kept diaries on that period.
MR. SCHAEFFER: Yeah?
WALI ALI: And I just drew out a couple of references because it seems that some of the time when he was in India and Pakistan especially, he e was like a Mercury messenger some times.
MR. SCHAEFFER: Yes. And I couldn't always follow him, because he spoke spontaneously, and then when he came back he frequently came in to call and to see me, and oftentimes sat in on my lectures to students. He was always very much interested in what I was doing with color and design, and I don't know, he never put it into actual words but just by his coming in and being so vitally interested why, it showed that he appreciated what we were doing.
WALI ALI: I know that he did that. I just want to read you one passage here from his Diary here—this is written from Lahore Pakistan in 1961. I don’t know who it is to—oh it is actually written to Vocha Fiske and Bartlett who is her husband I suppose—Bartlett, I don't know, Bartlett Fiske, is that right? I know Vocha very well.
MR. SCHAEFFER: Yes, yes, I knew her for years. I think she met her young husband—they were later divorced—but she met him, and he was one of my students, she met him at the school, and oh yes—she gave a talk here some years ago on—a little exhibition—I wonder if I can remember that poem that she wrote—something about sitting on a damp rock and being kind of gloomy, and she looked up at the sky and all was changed—I can't remember, I wish I had written that down—do you know that poem?
WALI ALI: No, I don't know that poem, but I do remember one thing that Vocha said which was—the last time I talked to her at the Zen Center, she said, she always said, “Wali Ali, every day when I get up now I have to take a pencil and write on a sheet of paper: new! new! new!"
MR. SCHAEFFER: Very good!!
WALI ALI: Yeah, I thought that was wonderful!
MR. SCHAEFFER: Very, very characteristic—I have black and white painting by a Japanese, and it is called the gateless gate, and she gave it to my friends the Shibatas, and they agreed to let me have it for six months and then I would return it for six months—we would exchange it. Because they knew that I was a friend of Vocha's.
WALI ALI: The Shibatas—we should contact them also.
MR. SCHAEFFER: Yeah, they knew Sam and they knew her.
WALI ALI: They knew Vocha—I just wanted to read you this section.
MR. SCHAEFFER: Yes, do read it.
WALI ALI: From this letter—"I meet people in the streets all over and this always means another lecture; I have tentatively agreed to speak at the Government Art College next week, where my topic will be on the meaning of architecture and the decorative arts in the world of today. There will be a special plug for the Rudolph Schaeffer School in S.F.—after all the movements which extended from Sullivan of Chicago—" I don't know what he meant there.
MR. SCHAEFFER: Sullivan was Frank Lloyd Wright’s teacher in architecture.
WALI ALI:—"I shall also speak of the relation of the Kaiser-Reiser philosophy to these movements in regard to space, movement, harmony etc.
MR. SCHAEFFER: That's very nice.
WALI ALI: I just thought—because I notice that I didn't pull a lot of these records together—but I did notice at the time that he was in India and Pakistan he was concerned in some way with the art treasures and with a lot of the art and things.
MR. SCHAEFFER: Yeah, he was very art-conscious.
WALI ALI: But he never brought anything back to you, did he?
MR. SCHAEFFER: Yeah, I have a little saucer that he brought back; I have a little ceramic saucer, I wonder if could put my hand on it.
SABIRA: Didn't he send you things back? In the 1956 Diaries he told about that.
MR. SCHAEFFER: No, he brought it back with him.
SABIRA: No, but other things, did he send you things to sell?
MR. SCHAEFFER: I don't remember him sending me anything.
WALI ALI: I think that was a point I wanted to raise, because he would often hatch projects and by the time it was a little bit hatched he was on to the next thing and.
MR. SCHAEFFER: Yeah, yeah, that's Sam, that's right.
SABIRA: What I recall are those Japanese lanterns, those big stone lanterns I thought he mentioned you in connection with those—I guess they never got here.
MR. SCHAEFFER: No, I don't think so; I think maybe there were some of those trinkets and little paper knives that he brought, or something—but the main thing was the little saucer that he brought—I think from a Persian.
WALI ALI: He was certainly very much interested in the Moghul art, the Moghul period.
MR. SCHAEFFER: Yeah, but one thing I remember about Sam in those early days, he said—and I was just beginning in my practice of meditation and all of that—I had contacted these people here—where in Michigan I had no contacts or any of that kind of thought, and so he said, " Rudolph, just give me a few minutes of quiet and I'll be able to give a lecture on any subject"—and he was interested in many subjects, of course. He said, "Just give me a few minutes of quiet and I can give a lecture." That kind of impressed me because at that time I made such a fuss about preparing for a lecture, and sometimes I was asked to give lectures at all the women’s' clubs on color and design and everything, and I always had shaky knees until I could wave a colored—a colored piece of silk to talk about and something to show, and then I was off, you see, but that impressed me very much, his saying, "Just give me a few minutes of quiet." And he meant very quiet too, so I always remembered that. And I don't have very much to say—the only thing is that he used to come and sit and visit for awhile—that was all.
WALI ALI: Was he ever enrolled here as a student, or did he just sit and….
MR. SCHAEFFER: Not as a student, but I have—I was looking for it before you came—I have a slide of Sam in the garden with students—talking to some of the students, and it was in his later years—
WALI ALI: After he had grown a beard?
MR. SCHAEFFER: Yes, and had his grey, long grey hair.
WALI ALI: That makes a dramatic change in his appearance, because when I first met him was in 1968 he was clean-shaven but he locked very young.
MR. SCHAEFFER: Yes, it changed his appearance.
WALI ALI: And then he grew this grey beard, and he looked like a patriarch.
MR. SCHAEFFER: Which he is, or was—which he is, is better to say I think— and so I was looking for it; I thought you might like to see it or even have it.
WALI ALI: We would, because we are collecting all the things that we can.
MR. SCHAEFFER: Yes, and because, it is sufficient, I have my memory.
WALI ALI: I would like you to talk a little bit about his personality, and whatever changes you noticed, because he had an unusual personality. He was the sort of person I think people would smile about behind his back, and say things about….
MR. SCHAEFFER: He was very abstract—and sometimes what is the word—moving from one subject to another and without much connection, and but all this—I'm trying to visualize it—I never got to know him too well. He was a great friend of a very good friend of mine—Willie Wise—and he lived next door to them out on one of the Avenues.
WALI ALI: Is he still alive?
MR. SCHAEFFER: Willie Wise is a lady—she had two daughters—I just had a birthday letter from one of her daughters. I had a birthday, an auspicious birthday just recently.
WALI ALI: I saw an article in the newspaper.
MR. SCHAEFFER: That's how she happened to write me. She saw this article too. For practically all my life I kept my birthdays in a dark closet. I have been made more conscious of age than I ever had been in all my life, and it is one of the things I've got to work out of, because all this fuss and fanfare and everything that was made over my 90th birthday—although it was delightful and the attention that I got at the Museum was profound, I was much moved, but it left me with a such a poignant—what shall I say—realization of the years as you count chronological age, which I have always ignored so that is one of the things that I have to do this year, but I'm talking too much about myself.
WALI ALI: I'm glad to hear about it.
MR. SCHAEFFER: But of course, Sam, Sam—I think he had very much the same idea that he never recognized whether he was 40 or 70. How old was Sam when he died?
WALI ALI: He was 74/75—it was a fall down a flight of stairs.
MR. SCHAEFFER: Yeah, yeah.
WALI ALI: He was very active—leading dance classes all the time. I was there, actually, and heard him fall; it was in his house and it as about 5 o’clock in the morning.
MR. SCHAEFFER: I never really got to know him the way you would with somebody who would be in your home. He would come in and out, you see, and it was always pleasant.
WALI ALI: Like a bee or something rushing in and out.
MR. SCHAEFFER: Yeah.
WALI ALI: Cross-pollinating.
MR. SCHAEFFER: As long as he didn't sting you—it was always a pleasant visit, and then he always would bring me something. He would always want to do something for the school, but he never got around to it.
WALI ALI: You mean something financially or something.
MR. SCHAEFFER: Yes, for a long time he was going to inherit a lot of money.
WALI ALI: Yeah, I know, there is a theme that he always had in his mind that he was going to get rich.
MR. SCHAEFFER: I don't know, I don't think that he ever did.
WALI ALI: No, he got an expanded trust in his later years and he was fairly comfortable personally.
MR. SCHAEFFER: Yeah, but he expected to have considerable money because he said, "When that comes, I'll have to shape your school."
WALI ALI: Sam had a generous heart in that in all those things.
MR. SCHAEFFER: Yes, he was most generous, all the gates of his heart were open so the love would flow through, and he was one of those people.
WALI ALI: Is Willie Wise still around?
MR. SCHAEFFER: No, no, she died some years ago, but her daughters are still living, one is down in Carlsbad, I believe, and that's the one I got the letter from—and she was in some kind of educational picture business—taking educational pictures some years ago, and now she seems to have retired. I have this nice letter she sent me, but they were great friends of Sam cause they lived right next door.
WALI ALI: They lived next door where?
MR. SCHAEFFER: Out on the Avenues—maybe it was 49th or somewhere.
WALI ALI: Gee, I never knew he lived out there.
MR. SCHAEFFER: Didn't you know he lived out there?
WALI ALI: No.
MR. SCHAEFFER: But his parents lived out there.
SABIRA: That was on 9th Ave., perhaps.
MR. SCHAEFFER: Ninth Ave., maybe, oh I think it was—ninth Avenue.
WALI ALI: Alright, we've been to that home, yes.
MR. SCHAEFFER: Yes, that's where the wise sisters lived.
WALI ALI: I see.
WALI ALI: It's a funny thing because we contacted some old friends of the Lewis family and they didn't want to discuss anything, there was such a hard, unpleasant family history somewhere, and of course.
MR. SCHAEFFER: He was always at outs with his parents—his parents, I guess, thought he was just a little bit cuckoo maybe.
SABIRA: Did you ever meet his parents?
MR. SCHAEFFER: No, I never met his parents, but now that you mention it I remember that he wasn’t at peace with his parents, because I don't think these parents understood him.
WALI ALI: We have uncovered some of the story, and then one wonders whether we should let some bones lie.
MR. SCHAEFFER: We should let some bones lie and not unearth them—that is a part of Sam that I don't know very much about, and in fact, I am—and so many of my acquaintances and friends—interested in them as they are, and what they have been and their personal history doesn't interest me very much.
WALI ALI: But I mentioned it because Sam had such an unusual personality that people never quite knew how to take him—except for the few people who saw through him like Vocha and so on always were his friends for many years. Ted Reich, I doubt if you knew him.
MR. SCHAEFFER: I kind of, I kind of understood him intuitively see, and I responded to his good will and his kindness and friendliness. That is what I feel about Sam, he was always so cordial and so friendly and always had an attitude of, "I would be of great help if I can"—because all through those years, all through those early years, the ‘30’s, the ‘40’s, the ‘50’s, I had an awful struggle with the school to keep it afloat, to keep it going. I never could charge enough tuition to pay expenses, and we don’t even now—I incorporated as a non-profit institution and so we do get some help.
WALI ALI: Right, donations.
MR. SCHAEFFER: And some help from the individuals, but we still have a struggle going on, but it isn't like the early struggle that I had when I had to do it all alone. I have a staff that supports me and we just had our staff meeting this morning, the first one of the year.
WALI ALI: The school year is starting.
MR. SCHAEFFER: Yeah, we have ten on our staff.
SABIRA: When did Sam start coming around the school?
MR. SCHAEFFER: Oh, the first school was down near Chinatown, and the second school was up on Telegraph hill, and now this is the third and last one. I don't intend to move gain, but he, as far as I can remember, Sam must have come way back in—that might have been in the late ‘20’s or ‘30’s, but not later than the ‘30’s. That reminds me, my school then had s second floor—it was rather almost a whole floor about 40' by 50'—a huge room, and it was the only place where modern things could be presented to a small audience—all the halls and the theatres were all big affairs, there were no small intimate things. So I had many modern musicians, Henry Coll (?) for instance. I think Vocha Fiske put on something there at onetime, and there would be maybe about 50 People, but there was no place in S.F. at that time where 50 or 60 people could gather together and watch something—anything small, you see. So my school was kind of a Mecca for all kinds of far-out things, and Sam used to come to these.
WALI ALI: Did he ever present anything in that setting?
MR. SCHAEFFER: I can't remember, I think he must have given some talks in the suite.
WALI ALI: What was your impression of his ability ,or background in art or his understanding about art?
MR. SCHAEFFER: It was the appreciation of a sensitive, visually aware person, developed without any particular formal training. Formal training, say like we give our students here for three years makes them very keen—they learn to see, not just look but see, and Sam had something of that nature, which helped to make him a very unusual person.
SABIRA: There is a story about when he went to the Cloisters in New York and they wanted him to go in to see the tapestries and he got as far as the first rock at the entrance, and he stood there—the story goes anyway—in meditation, and he said, "I don't want to go any farther, this rock tells me everything I need to know about the Cloisters."
MR. SCHAEFFER: That's Sam!! He saw into things—his eye went into things much deeper than the physical eye, he had an insight into things that he saw. I think that was a good example of it. There was something in that rock—whether he brought it to the rock or the rock brought it to him it is hard to say, but the two met.
WALI ALI: Would you say that you noticed any particular evolution or change in his being over the years that you knew him?
MR. SCHAEFFER: I didn't know him that well. I didn't see him that often. I watch some of my students, and see them the first year and see them all through their three years and then afterwards I keep in touch with them. And like back at the reception at the museum, there were students that I knew very well forty years ago—I don't want to change the subject but that was really a very moving and unusual experience because so many of my former students that I had had years ago flew in from Los Angeles, flew in from Minneapolis, flew in from everywhere and came—some of them came to the testimonial dinner which was given two evenings before, but they all came to this reception at the museum.
WALI ALI: Were most of them in various fields, aspects of art?
MR. SCHAEFFER: Yes, in the field of Art, and one Chinese chap that was my pupil, he had dark curly hair, and I called him "my curly haired Irishman—student Irishman," because he had this curly hair, and I don't why I called him Irishman, just because he didn't look Chinese—and here he comes; I hadn't seen him for years—he came with his wife up to the table—to the testimonial dinner. He had wispy grey hair, with little wisps around slightly bald, and he had a little grey mustache and a little grey goatee—and I said, "Oh, Arthur Young," that was his name, Arthur Young, and I couldn't believe it that he looked like that and there he was, the same Arthur, It certainly was a wonderful experience. Now I’m getting off onto myself again.
WALI ALI: But I think it’s good; we just want to get a feeling from you—we didn't necessarily look for anything special.
MR. SCHAEFFER: I'm glad you're here.
WALI ALI: I would like you to search your memory and see if you can remember any events or stories or sort of anecdotes about Sam.
MR. SCHAEFFER: No, I don't, somehow I don't—nothing outstanding comes to me—only the impression of a very kind and benevolent and intuitive and wise person.
WALI ALI: Some of the teachers that were in your school over the course of the years—I remember Sam mentioning, I believe someone who may have taught here—Ferm Nahl—
MR. SCHAEFFER: He may have—Ferm Nahl was at the U. of Calif. yes, at Berkeley, and he was greatly interested in Japanese art—I didn't know him very I just knew of him. I met him because I taught at the university one summer and he was there, and he was a great collector of Japanese prints, so I don't know, I never heard Sam speak of him, but I imagine it was about that time.
WALI ALI: I was just wondering if there were perhaps any of the teachers here that he may have been close with.
MR. SCHAEFFER: Oh, my teachers? No—he was closer to the first school on St. Ann's Street, in the earlier years. Then he came just occasionally here, and I don't think my students—oh there is one student—what was her name—I know her very well, she is a Sufi.
WALI ALI: It must be Claire Burnham, Zeinob Burnham.
MR. SCHAEFFER: She was married while she was here, and she has a little baby, but what is her name?
WALI ALI: Zeinob.
MR. SCHAEFFER: Yes.
SABIRA: She was coming around on Friday, I think, to the school.
WALI ALI: She was a student fulltime for awhile—she was—her name was Pettinger or Burnhan was her last name, Zeinob.
MR. SCHAEFFER: Peter, my secretary, he is my memory. If I forget sometimes I just press the button and he's on the line he tells no whet I've forgotten.
WALI ALI: Is Louis your secretary, do you mean Louis?
MR. SCHAEFFER: My secretary is Peter Dossily
WALI ALI: I just saw…
MR. SCHAEFFER: He knew Sam. But not as much as I did. Peter has been with me for many years, excepting the 4 years he was in the service in Europe, and then he and his wife were away about ten years in the East—all the rest of his life, his adult life, he has been at the School.
WALI ALI: Is there someone named Louis McRitchie who was here in the school?
MR. SCHAEFFER: Oh yes.
WALI ALI: I found a letter addressed to him in care of the school.
MR. SCHAEFFER: Yes he was a friend, but he’s gone—he’s dead—he lectured on Indian art here.
WALI ALI: That would have been an area that Sam was very interested in.
MR. SCHAEFFER: Yeah, he lectured about Indian art—we haven’t had any of those kind of lectures for years now. Because nobody ever took his place. He probably the only accomplished Indian scholar in the West. And there is wonderful lady at the Pennsylvania museum, she was out here and came to the school—but there aren’t many Indian scholars as far as I know that have made a study of Indian art and philosophy all combined.
WALI ALI: How would one get in touch with the Shibatas?
MR. SCHAEFFER: Oh, just go and see them.
WALI ALI: Excuse me? Are they in the phone book?
MR. SCHAEFFER: He has a little shop. The Daibutsu.
WALI ALI: Right, I think maybe I went over there once.
MR. SCHAEFFER: I am very fond of the Shibatas; I've know them, of course, ever since back in the—wait a minute—fifty years. See Shibata had the Daibutsu on the corner of Pine and Grant on the NW corner, and the school was just down facing St. Mary’s Square which is now the roof garden of a garage.
SABIRA: Do you have a first name?
MR. SCHAEFFER: His first name is Ichura I think—I never use his first name.
WALI ALI: I know that Sam would refer to people as Shibata-san—the Japanese manner is to use the last name with the affectionate word "san."
MR. SCHAEFFER: And his son is with him, his son Kai.
WALI ALI: I would very much like to see that drawing of Vocha's, The Gateless Gate—is that around?
MR. SCHAEFFER: Yeah, let me see if—I wonder if that was taken upstairs.
WALI ALI: I know she had a number of Japanese antiquities that she spread around because she was so proud of the fact that at the end of her life that she had gotten all of her material possessions down to one suitcase. Full of the Zen attitude.
MR. SCHAEFFER: I don't know how busy Peter is; if you don't mind I will go up and see if I can find it.
WALI ALI: I would very much like to see it—let's just make sure that we are through with what we want to say here. Do you have any sort of suggestions to us as to where we might go and whom we should talk to .
MR. SCHAEFFER: According to his early life if you could see that lady that I had the letter from in Carlsbad.
WALI ALI: If we could get her address we would certainly write her and see.
MR. SCHAEFFER: I tell you, I have a stack of birthday letters, and a stack of birthday cards; I would have to go through them and find the letter, because I'm going to be answering it and then I could drop you a note—because I think she would remember a lot of things about his early life.
WALI ALI: That would be very useful to us.
MR. SCHAEFFER: He was at their house when they were children, and both of those ladies were widows, they were sisters and they live together and Willie—we always called her that, we never knew her by any other name—had two daughters and I was out there many times for dinner, and I wouldn't be surprised that Sam was there too, because that was when he was living at home, so—
WALI ALI: What about—there was a Chinese man—Ching Wah Lee?
MR. SCHAEFFER: Oh yes, Ching Wah knew—you might go and see Ching Wah, he might dig back into his memory.