From X the Owl to Snow Leopards to Frog Belly Rat Bone

The Rogue Artists Ensemble will perform The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone this Sunday at the Skirball's Puppet Festival. Another step in my short but ongoing journey knowing puppets.

The Rogue Artists Ensemble will perform The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone this Sunday at the Skirball's Puppet Festival. Another step in my short but ongoing journey knowing puppets.

So the early history of me and puppets is probably not dissimilar from yours if you were born in the early seventies. It goes something like this:

When I was really little, King Friday and Queen Sara Saturday ruled a kingdom of hand puppets on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Cornflake S. Pecially manufactured rocking chairs, X the Owl admired Ben Franklin from inside an oak tree, and Lady Elaine Fairchilde lived in a Museum-Go-Round, a design concept that would either delight or nauseate (or both), but give architecture critics plenty to chew on.

Daniel Stripèd Tiger inhabited a grandmother clock in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make-Believe.

Daniel Stripèd Tiger inhabited a grandmother clock on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Courtesy of Photofest.

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Connecting (and Coloring) the Dots

This gallery wall was designed to illustrate the sixty million girls and women who are “missing”  from the world because of their gender. It’s a participatory experience that one student who visited recently took very seriously.

This gallery wall was designed to illustrate the tragic fact that sixty million girls and women are “missing” from the world because of their gender. It’s a participatory experience that one student who visited recently took very seriously.

Inside the exhibition Women Hold Up Half the Sky, one wall of the gallery is covered with dots—20,000 of them, give or take a few. Each one measures about an inch in diameter, a thin blue line rounding an empty center. Over time visitors have filled in the white circles, transforming the mostly blank space into a field of tenderly hand-colored dots.

The 20,000 are meant to represent, if only in part, the sixty million girls and women estimated to be “missing” worldwide because of sex-selective abortion, female infanticide, or gender-specific abuse or neglect—or what an article in The Economist calls “gendercide” (the article also increases the estimate to 100 million). It’s a startling, sobering figure. While standing before this giant display of thousands upon thousands of dots, visitors are invited to take a moment and color in a circle in honor of a life lost.

A young middle-schooler, B.J. Dare, who toured the exhibition as part of a recent school field trip, colored in more than a dot or two, then chose to share the experience with online reading and writing community Figment. We stumbled upon it late last week, and we were moved. Here’s an excerpt of B.J.’s composition “A Trip to the Skirball”:

I colored and colored and colored and colored. Every dot was a new color, some were multi-color. For each dot, I felt like I was trying to help, or give support, somehow. Continue reading

Paul and George (But Not John or Ringo), Together on Stage

Filmmaker Paul Mazurksy (pictured with mic in hand) had the audience in stitches at last night's Q&A with him and frequent writing partner Leon Capetanos. Highlight of the night was a truly hilarious tale of how Paul roped Federico Fellini, whom he had long admired, into making his on-screen debut in Paul's "Alex in Wonderland".

Filmmaker Paul Mazurksy (pictured with mic in hand) had the audience in stitches at Wednesday night's Q&A with him and frequent writing partner Leon Capetanos. Highlight of the night was a truly hilarious tale of how Paul roped Federico Fellini, whom he had long admired, into making his on-screen debut in Paul's Alex in Wonderland.

Here’s some late-breaking news that I was able to announce from the stage at Wednesday night’s kick-off to our Through a Glass Brightly: A Paul Mazursky Retrospective:

Swing by the Skirball on April 3rd to watch Blume in Love—the second evening screening in the series—and you’ll get a chance to hear filmmaker Paul Mazursky in conversation with actor George Segal.

Paul, of course, was the writer and director of the 1973 drama about a Beverly Hills divorce lawyer who’s got his own problems in love and life. Winner of the 2010 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Lifetime Achievement Award, Paul was the creative mind behind a run of memorable films, including Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Harry & Tonto (my personal favorite of all Mazurskies), Enemies: A Love Story, and Down and Out in Beverly Hills. (For younger audiences, he may be better known for his appearances on HBO, on both The Sopranos and Curb Your Enthusiasm.)

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Manifesto-a-No-Go? Or, a Manifest(ivus) for the Rest of Us

Cell phone sleeping bags

Take a digital detox as part of National Day of Unplugging—from sunset on Friday, March 23, to Saturday, March 24, 2012.

I live a very plugged-in life. Some moments are more wireless than others but generally my waking hours are structured around technology in various forms. For example, I keep track of the time for our evening dog walk using the alarm clock on my iPhone. I turn to Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything iPad app before deciding what’s for dinner. When we have dinner guests, my husband and I open wine bottles using this rechargeable, motorized corkscrew. Then there’s my choice to drive an all-electric car, which is plugged in whenever it’s not in motion. [I do draw the line at those air-fresheners designed for use in a wall plug, but that could be because they take up precious outlet space! But I digress…]

Skirball friend/The Family Savvy/blog maven/entrepreneur Sarah Bowman puts it this way: “Being unplugged will become more and more of a luxury as our screen-addicted kids grow up.” She’s right. I can’t get through breakfast with my extended family without one of my nieces playing a game or taking a photo with one of the three or four adult phones on the table. For so many of us, smart phones are enmeshed in our daily family lives.

Despite this predisposition for being in the know and communicating on the go—or maybe because of it?—I was enthusiastic when the Skirball was approached in early 2011 to take part in an innovative nationwide initiative called the National Day of Unplugging, created by Reboot and described as “a respite from the relentless deluge of technology and information.” At the heart of the initiative is the Sabbath Manifesto, a list of ten principles to strive for one day a week, every week.

I’m not really drawn to manifestos as a rule, and certainly not those authored by Karl Marx, the Unabomber, or fictional character Jerry Maguire. Not one of those guys really motivated me to do much of anything, and certainly none of them inspired me to take on a voluntary writing task (which you are reading now). However, I thought the Sabbath Manifesto appealed strongly in its very clear call to action: hit the brakes, slow it down, unplug just a little. As described by Reboot, “The Sabbath Manifesto is a creative project designed to slow down lives in an increasingly hectic world.”

Sabbath Manifesto

Posted on the trusty white board in my kitchen, the Sabbath Manifesto keeps me mindful of the things that matter. (And yes, I like the parts about wine and bread and candles.)

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Saying Yes to the Dress


Gift of Mary and Sidney Green. SCC 9.26.

Gift of Mary and Sidney Green. SCC 9.26.

This lovely bridal gown—worn first by Eva Selbin in 1912, then altered for use by her daughter for a second generation of wear in 1936—has found new life once again… as the newest addition to the Skirball’s core exhibition, Visions and Values.

We were excited to help bring this treasured family heirloom in our permanent collection back into the galleries. As we prepared to display it, we checked in with our Senior Curator, Grace Cohen Grossman, who had studied the object in depth when the Skirball presented the exhibition Romance and Ritual: Celebrating the Jewish Wedding. Grace pointed out details of the garment. “The style of the silk satin dress with high collar and asymmetrical bands of lace is typical of the Belle Époque period, prior to World War I,” she explained. “It has a romantic, ethereal look.”

But it is no simple matter to take an object from collection storage and place it on view. Often preparations begin weeks, sometimes months, in advance during the curatorial research and conservation phases, before museum staff can even consider an installation date. Once that work is done and an object has been prepped for display, the installation itself is no piece of (wedding) cake!

So how does it happen?  It begins with a mannequin…

Mannequin… which must be vacuumed and prepped for display. This includes measuring it for proper fit, making adjustments to its height and waist size, and removing the arms to facilitate the dressing process.Prepping the mannequin Continue reading

Adventures in Docenting

I treasure these thank-you notes from kids who’ve gone on school tours with me. One of them says, “Archaeology rocks!” I agree!

Some of the most exciting happenings at the Skirball take place in the mornings before it even opens to the public. Nearly every Tuesday through Friday during the academic year, at least one school tour is taking place. The Skirball has an entire curriculum of tours for every grade level, all geared to California State Standards. The most popular of the school tours is the sixth-grade Archaeology of the Near East tour, which focuses on the shared needs of peoples, past and present. In sixth grade, students study ancient civilizations, so a visit to the Skirball’s simulated dig ties in nicely.

Every Archaeology of the Near East school tour is split into two parts. Half the group (like the students pictured above) goes to the Archaeology Discovery Center and learns about ancient trade routes, the development of writing, and the archaeology of a tel (a mound with layers representing different civilizations).

The tours are run by docents, and I’m privileged to be one of them. Becoming a docent isn’t easy. It’s like finding a job: you have to apply and you have to make it through an interview. Why do you want to be a docent? What qualifications do you have? Docents work in teams. What would you do if a docent wanted to do something differently than you? What would you do if a kid throws up?!

I first applied to be a docent a couple of years ago, but my timing was off. I filed the idea away and did other things. To my surprise, last May I received a phone call: A new class of Skirball docents was starting up, to be trained specifically to lead the archaeology tour. Was I still interested?

Training began this past July. A week here, a week there. Three days a week each time. It’s a bit overwhelming at first. Just the terminology was a challenge: ostracon, stratigraphy, balk (and no, not the baseball kind). There was so much to learn! Continue reading

Visiting the Southern Relatives: A New Safdie Museum Opens in Arkansas

View across the water from the restaurant

The newly opened Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, designed by the Skirball’s architect, Moshe Safdie, has made big news in the art world. Here’s a photo I took when my family and I visited earlier this year. Pictured is the museum’s “gallery bridge” as seen from inside the “dining bridge.”

On a recent trip to visit my husband’s family in northwest Arkansas (my annual pilgrimage to the South, which a nice Jewish boy from New Jersey like me approaches with a healthy mix of excitement and Woody Allen-esque trepidation), I got a chance to visit Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, in Bentonville, Arkansas. I’d visited the site a year ago, when only the shapes of the museum’s future buildings were visible from a viewing platform in the forest. Now, after five years of planning and construction, the new museum—which opened in November of last year—is revealing itself to be unique in design and mission, but similar to the Skirball in some very significant ways.

Legend (and New Yorker reporting) has it that Alice Walton, Walmart heiress and lifelong art collector who founded and funded the museum, came to the Skirball (incognito at first, or so another version of the story goes) a few years ago when considering architects for her new museum. She visited the Getty Center and other significant buildings designed by working architects in Los Angeles, but came away from L.A. feeling that she’d found her man in the Skirball’s Moshe Safdie. Something about Safdie’s emphasis on built environments that encourage gathering, his signature commingling of structure with the natural environment, and the light and openness of the Skirball’s spaces seemed to Ms. Walton the ideal architectural point of view to take to house her burgeoning collection of American art.

Skirball Architecture

The Skirball’s main courtyard, which shows that we’re right to describe our site (as we often do) as “nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains.” Photo by Timothy Hursley.

Museum view from entrance

Crystal Bridges, located on property long-held by the Walton family, as seen from the entrance.

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