About Sheri Bernstein

Sheri Bernstein is Vice President and Director of Education at the Skirball, where she oversees all programs for school, teacher, and family audiences and the daily workings of Noah’s Ark at the Skirball. She grew up in San Diego, though because of her pale complexion (which earned her the unfortunate childhood nickname of Ghost), people always figured she was a New Yorker. An only child herself, Sheri is the mother of an only child, whom she and her husband, Peter, are trying to rear. An art historian by training, Sheri often pinches herself that she lucked into her amazing job at the Skirball, where she manages a ridiculously great team of educators and has not had one boring workday in eleven years here.

Bring on the Buses!

How do we mark the passage of seasons here at the Skirball? Well, as this is Los Angeles, there are few, if any, golden autumn leaves to be found on our campus. But the color gold abounds every fall nonetheless—in the form of public school buses that line our main entrance each and every weekday morning.

These buses carry some of the Skirball’s most precious visitors: students in pre-K through twelfth grade and their teachers, from more than thirty districts across Los Angeles. They come to participate in any one of the number of school tours and performance programs we offer throughout the school year. While we’re proud to be providing content-rich programs that are fun and engaging, I am also struck by how much the students give back to us. Their enthusiasm and curiosity bring the Skirball to life and remind me why I love what we do here.

Recently, I cleared my calendar of meetings and snuck down to our galleries to observe a morning of school programs in action. Here are some snapshots from that day.

We welcomed four classes of students on this particular day. That’s pretty typical for us, and our team has it down to a science (really, an art). Here comes a class of kindergarteners from Yorkdale Elementary in northeast Los Angeles. Darn, they’re cute!

We welcomed four classes of students on this particular day. That’s pretty typical for us, and our team has it down to a science (really, an art). Here comes a class of kindergarteners from Yorkdale Elementary. Darn, they’re cute!

These five- and six-year-olds from Yorkdale Elementary have come to experience Noah’s Ark, our award-winning, hands-on destination inspired by the ancient flood tale. The two young Noahs-in-training pictured here are helpfully conveying a pair of monkeys onto a giant floor-to-ceiling wooden ark made of Douglas fir.

These five- and six-year-olds from Yorkdale Elementary have come to experience Noah’s Ark, our award-winning, hands-on destination inspired by the ancient flood tale. The two young Noahs-in-training pictured here are helpfully conveying a pair of monkeys onto a giant floor-to-ceiling wooden ark made of Douglas fir.

Meanwhile, back in our core exhibition, Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America, a class of third-graders from Estrella Elementary sits around a table set for the Jewish holidays. For this program, “At Home in Los Angeles,” the students learn about Shabbat, the weekly day of rest in Jewish tradition when families refrain from work and spend time together. Our Skirball educator is inviting the students to discuss the holidays and customs they observe with their own families. One of the girls mentions eating homemade tamales every Christmas Eve with her family, who comes from Mexico.

Meanwhile, in our core exhibition, Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America, a class of third-graders from Estrella Elementary sits around a table set for the Jewish holidays. For this program, “At Home in Los Angeles,” the students learn about Shabbat, the weekly day of rest in Jewish tradition when families refrain from work and spend time together. Our Skirball educator is inviting the students to discuss the holidays and customs they observe with their own families. One of the girls mentions eating homemade tamales every Christmas Eve with her family, who comes from Mexico.

At the Skirball, students learn through doing and experiencing things together. Here’s a jubilant young guy and his fellow classmates learning a traditional Jewish song.

At the Skirball, students learn through doing and experiencing things together. Here’s a jubilant young guy and his fellow classmates learning a traditional Jewish song.

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Brooklyn’s Best: Our Noah’s Ark Puppet Designer

There's Chris, greeting me at the door to his studio.

Chris Green, at the entrance to the Red Hook studio suite.

Brooklyn is cool. Way cooler than I am (47, married with child, driver of a Volvo, living in Brentwood—you get the picture). And even cooler than Brooklyn in general is a particular artist’s enclave in a particular section of Brooklyn called Red Hook that is the workplace of designer/puppeteer Chris Green. Chris is none other than the visionary creator of thirty-five-plus kinetic animals—some freestanding with moving parts and others full puppets in the bunraku tradition—that inhabit Noah’s Ark at the Skirball™. Designed in collaboration with the Noah’s Ark creative consultant team led by Alan Maskin and Jim Olson of Seattle-based Olson Kundig Architects, Chris’s life-sized creatures, from Japanese red foxes to South African zebras, are absolute icons of Noah’s Ark. Their beautifully carved wooden heads and outlandish bodies are fashioned from discarded items as diverse as whirling air ventilators and wooden sake cups.

Hence my excitement over visiting Chris in his Brooklyn studio while on a family trip to the East Coast last week. My mission was to check in on a new family of animals that Chris is working on: four mountain gorillas who will be coming aboard Noah’s Ark permanently this June. These adorable gorillas have movable arms and hands, and bodies made from repurposed material. Their heads, made of basswood, are carved by Chris’s gifted colleague and studio-mate, Eric Novak.

Isn't he just so serene and beautiful!

One of the gorilla heads in process; carved by Eric Novak.

Each time I’ve visited Chris’s studio over the past seven years I’ve felt like I was entering Geppetto’s workshop, and this time was no different. It’s a magical place, with dusty tools and gadgets of all sizes and puppets of every conceivable style—some created by Chris and others by Eric or one of the other designers who share the two-story workspace, capacious by New York standards. Continue reading

Schoolhouse Rock Turns the Big 4-0

This Schoolhouse Rock film “Preamble” makes viewing the Constitution in Creating the United States
that much more meaningful and fun.

The suite of exhibitions and programs we’re currently presenting at the Skirball under the thematic umbrella Democracy Matters has gotten me thinking about the way I learned some of the fundamentals of American history and government as a kid in the 1970s.

Growing up in San Diego, I was light years away from Washington D.C. and all those historic sites of colonial wars and document signings—and from the key museums and libraries that house the most noteworthy foundational documents. Instead I learned the basics of American history primarily from a series of short animated music videos that aired as interstitial programs on ABC: Schoolhouse Rock (which turns forty today according to the Washington Post and NPR)!

Come now, all you forty-somethings out there. Didn’t many of you, too, learn the Preamble to the Constitution from a Schoolhouse Rock film with an unbelievably catchy tune sung by Lynn Ahrens… Continue reading

Bunking Up Aboard the Ark

I’m no camper. The platform wedges that I wear religiously and the complete absence of sweatshirts from my wardrobe give me away. So you can imagine that I was a little uneasy about the prospect of spending a night “camping” at the Skirball with my seven-year-old daughter, Georgia, as an attendee at one of the first Skirball family sleepovers.

Noah's Ark Sleepover bed setup

With folk-art Noah’s Arks “sailing” above them, my daughter, Georgia (left), and her good friend Gillian (in sparkly hat) get ready to say good night at a Skirball family sleepover. You don’t have to rough it if sleeping bags aren’t your thing. Airbeds welcome!

More accurately, I was ambivalent about it. While the idea of shimmying into my jammies in a setting far, far more public than the comfort of my own home gave me the willies, I was genuinely excited to experience Noah’s Ark at the Skirball from the perspective of a nighttime inhabitant. As project director for Noah’s Ark, I’d been closely involved in bringing it to life, and I love it on a visceral level (insofar as one can feel that way about a museum space). The thought of taking part in a nocturnal Noah’s Ark experience with my own daughter, who came into this world as the project itself was being born, was a thrilling prospect.

I’ll confess that Georgia and I didn’t start off as model campers. Soon after checking in, we trundled off to choose our sleeping quarters on the ark along with other families. Spotting what we agreed was the perfect spot—a cozy corner beneath a display of Skirball folk-art ark vessels from around the world—we unpacked our gear and set up camp. Minutes after I’d inflated our air mattress (yes, of course I brought one), Georgia happily flopped back onto it, shouting, “This is the life!” But then, with panic and dismay, I watched our bed deflate pitifully… with Georgia still lying on top. We were forced to sleep directly on the gallery’s wooden floorboards that night, which gave me a new understanding of the term Not a happy camper (though my daughter slept like a baby). Continue reading