Digging The Diggers

In case you are not up on your 60’s history and are as yet unfamiliar with them I offer the following: The Diggers, who took their name from the English Diggers of the seventeenth century, were an underground improv theater troupe, of radical-left / anarchist bent, operating in the Haight-Ashbury District of San Francisco in the mid-1960’s. They preformed street theater, staged art-happenings, disseminated broadsides and leaflets, organized concerts, opened “free stores” and, most famously, distributed free food in Golden Gate Park to anyone with an empty stomach.

I can hear what you’re thinking: “In other words they were hippies.”

Yes. In other words they were hippies.

The reigning young-bloods of the world love to needle the hippies. This, I surmise, is because the hippies are now their parents, grandparents, weird uncles, and, worst of all, their dick-head corporate bosses. The words Haight-Ashbury are as likely to induce a lemon-faced cringe as be met with a blank stare I would guess.

Not that most of us have been allowed to forget it for a single instant, but I’ll gently remind you anyway that there was a time when hippies were the avante-garde. A time when there were few personages thought more “happening” on planet Earth.

In any case I have no interest in discussing the hippies’ utopian experiments or their eventual backslide into the big black boots of the establishment… no, as is the norm in these parts, I simply want to share some pretty pictures with you, and as it happens, The Diggers quest for a “free city” did yield quite a bit of quality printed matter.

Quote: “The commune’s founder brought his printing presses to San Francisco in the summer of 1968, inspired by two fellow Diggers who suggested a free publishing venture. Over the next several years, the Free Print Shop published a variety of materials including flyers for other communal groups, for free services, ecology groups, free arts groups, and the occasional political protest. In the spring of 1969 the Sutter Street Commune began publishing an intercommunal newspaper, Kaliflower, named for Kaliyuga, the Hindu name for the last and most violent age of humankind and the Hindu goddess Kali. Each Kaliflower was printed and bound by hand. The binding used the Japanese method of yarn overstitched on either the top or side. Every issue was a different color, and offset printing was the method by which the issues were printed. Kaliflower became an important mode of communication among the communes.” –Patricia L. Keats.

Below you will find 20 examples of printed Digger ephemera, mostly culled from Kaliflower, but also including content from Free City News and a few leaflets and posters. Have a look.

“It’s paid for, all of it. A cellophane bag represents 5000 years of machine history, inventors suicided by their inventions, aeons of garbage dedication, paid for in cancer wombs, in fallen cocks, in the crazy waste of our fathers…”

(I love that last one so much.)

Digger output in the form of Kaliflower and related items from the Free Print Shop were only produced for a few years it seems. Before long the mock-funeral for the “Death of the Hippies” was staged, the communes began disappearing, and well… we know how the rest turned out.

For a ton of information and many many more examples of The Diggers’ work look no further than The Digger Archive which is packed with avant-of-yore goodness.

Meanwhile, if you’re in the mood for some related reading you might try Manhood in the Age of Aquarius By Tim Hodgedon, which goes into considerable depth.

Note that the image which began this post is not by Diggers, but of them, I adapted it from a photo of the famous free food giveaways.

Hope you enjoyed.

03.02. filed under: art. design. history. people. 4