Sculptor of the Surreal...

It was with great interest and enthusiasm that I read John Sheehy’s article on Xenia Kashevaroff Cage ’35. In my capacity as media specialist at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, I have just published what could almost be a companion piece on Cornish alumna Bonnie Bird, dancer with Martha Graham and director of dance at Cornish from 1937 to 1940. Bird and Xenia share many important connections.


Photo by Edward Weston, 1931

During her years at Cornish, Bird was Merce Cunningham and Syvilla Fort’s teacher and it was she who hired John Cage as accompanist and composer for the department. She ran the program on the company model, and Xenia, who came to Cornish with Cage, designed sets for the group. In 1940, school founder Nellie Cornish was forced out, and Bird, Cage, and Xenia soon followed her out the door. Cage’s first percussion orchestra was formed at Cornish. This work would lead to his groundbreaking work for prepared piano, “Bacchanale,” in 1939, which he composed for Syvilla Fort’s senior project.

Bird’s husband, Dr. Ralph Gundlach, a UW professor, was on an advisory panel for Reed in the ’40s. His daughter, Joan, entered Reed during that time, probably in 1947. In 1948, Bird taught the first of three intensive summer dance courses at Reed that included full productions, some reworkings of her Cornish pieces. Her students at Reed included multifaceted Remy Charlip and actress Hope Lange.

Gundlach and Bird were closely connected to a number of leftist causes, and he was one of three tenured professors fired by UW in 1949 as the result of pressure from the red-baiting Canwell Commission.

Some Reedies of my vintage may remember seeing Cage play prepared piano in the commons. Probably my first or second year, 1972–4. He returned the next year and performed again at the then Museum School near PSU.

By Maximilian Mark Bocek ’77

Cornish College of the Arts, Seattle