Cynthia Plaster Caster had no idea in 1966 that her bizarre art concept would turn her into a rock 'n' roll legend--much less cause her to end up in Los Angeles Superior Court on Wednesday.
At the time, the 19-year-old University of Illinois student was just trying to complete a homework assignment.
Plaster Caster--that's the name she prefers to go by--had an artistic vision to make plaster moldings of the penises of rock stars.
Delegating the job of arousing her models to a crew of female companions, she honed her craft on scores of musicians during the psychedelic '60s including members of the Who, the Monkees, the Buffalo Springfield, the Jeff Beck Group and the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Now, 25 of those casts--including "anatomically precise" statues of guitar hero Jimi Hendrix, Young Rascals lead singer Eddie Brigati, MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer and Broadway singer and songwriter Anthony Newley--are the target of a $1-million lawsuit.
The suit, filed by Plaster Caster in 1991, seeks to recover the casts from veteran Los Angeles music figure Herb Cohen, who has maintained possession of them for more than 20 years. The action alleges that she asked Cohen to store the statues after her home was burglarized during the early '70s and that he has since refused to return them.
"What's going on here isn't just a fight over art," Plaster Caster, who refuses to disclose her family name, said. "It's more like a child custody battle. These things aren't just pieces of plaster to me--they're like my children. Each one holds precious memories for me. This man has no right whatsoever to them. They're mine--and he knows it."
Cohen declined to be interviewed.
In a $2-million countersuit, however, the businessman maintained that Plaster Caster relinquished ownership of the casts when she went to work for rock composer and entrepreneur Frank Zappa in 1969 and signed a contract with Bizarre Productions, a company Cohen once operated with Zappa.
In that suit, Cohen says that he acquired ownership rights to the casts sometime in the '70s following a legal dispute with Zappa. The suit also maintains that the original plaster casts were "lost, stolen or destroyed" sometime after Cohen mounted bronze and silver copies of them on wooden pedestals in 1971.
Plaster Caster's sexually explicit artistic exploits have been recounted in movies, magazine articles and most recently "I'm With the Band," a 1990 book about groupie life in the "free love" '60s written by Pamela Des Barres, a Los Angeles author and founding member of Zappa's girl rock group GTOs.
"What Cynthia did is as much a part of rock lore as what any record producer or engineer or manager did," said Des Barres, who is scheduled to testify on Plaster Caster's behalf. "Cynthia came up with an idea that no artist before her had ever considered. Herb Cohen didn't create these casts and they don't belong to him. A hundred years from now when people look back on the '60s, Cynthia will be remembered as an important pop artist."
Plaster Caster, now 46, is not sure how history will rate her casts, but believes that what she does is art.
"What happened was I got this class assignment from my college art teacher on the same weekend that a bunch of rock bands were due to come into town for a big 'Dick Clark Caravan' show," Plaster Caster recalled. "Back then, I was just a teen-age virgin dying to meet rock stars. When the teacher suggested we go out and make a plaster cast of something hard, I knew exactly what I wanted to do."
Rock's most intimate archivist maintains that it took many years of trial and error to perfect the proper medium and technique to immortalize her subjects. In the beginning, she cast her subjects in plaster of Paris, then switched to a combination of tin foil and hot wax before finally settling upon an alginate dental product used for tooth and jaw molds.
"What started out as a way to meet rock bands ended up turning into a pop art form," she said. "I mean, you really ought to see these casts all lined up together in a row. Seriously, it looks like some amazing chorus line."