My Top 10 Puppet Festival Moments

I was among the many excited visitors and staff who were at the Puppet Festival on Sunday, April 1. It was a joyous day. During the daylong program, I worked with a terrific photographer, Peter Turman, to capture the day in pictures, meeting many Puppet Festival attendees along the way and catching countless special moments. Here are just ten memorable moments caught on camera that give a sense of what the Puppet Festival was all about: an array of puppets throughout the day and fun for the whole family.

Rene’s Marionettes were a huge hit! The Founder’s Courtyard was full of animated audience members, and I felt transported to what I imagine a Vaudeville-era puppet show would have been like. This dancing skeleton marionette was my favorite among the marionettes.

Rene’s Marionettes were a huge hit! The Founder’s Courtyard was full of animated audience members, and I felt transported to what I imagine a Vaudeville-era puppet show would have been like. This dancing skeleton marionette was my favorite among the marionettes.

I am convinced that the Noah's Ark ostrich puppet is a favorite among the toddler crowd. Something about the smiling beak leaning down towards them puts an instant look of glee on their faces, as exhibited by this little girl. I bet that that same happy look continued for the rest of the day. After this photo was taken, she and I played a short game of peek-a-boo.

I am convinced that the Noah's Ark ostrich puppet is a favorite among the toddler crowd. Something about the smiling beak leaning down towards them puts an instant look of glee on their faces, as exhibited by this little girl. I bet that that same happy look continued for the rest of the day. After this photo was taken, she and I played a short game of peek-a-boo.

Another enchanting ostrich moment: This little girl was entranced by the puppet. She kept putting her hand out and every time the beak would touch her open palm, she would laugh and smile at her dad. Their delight was contagious: I couldn’t help but laugh and grin, too.

Another enchanting ostrich moment: This little girl was entranced by the puppet. She kept putting her hand out and every time the beak would touch her open palm, she would laugh and smile at her dad. Their delight was contagious: I couldn’t help but laugh and grin, too.

Hunter, the incredibly realistic-looking Juvenile Tyrannosaurus Rex puppet from the Natural History Museum, made a few appearances throughout the day. Crowds of visitors closely surrounded him all day, waiting with anticipation for something scary to happen. Here, Hunter appears docile, almost like he’s smiling for pictures. But the next minute....

Hunter, the incredibly realistic-looking Juvenile Tyrannosaurus Rex puppet from the Natural History Museum, made a few appearances throughout the day. Crowds of visitors closely surrounded him all day, waiting with anticipation for something scary to happen. Here, Hunter appears docile, almost like he's smiling for pictures. But the next minute....

… he roars ferociously and unexpectedly! Visitors jump and scream out of fright, then laugh, reminding themselves that he’s just a puppet!

… he roars ferociously and unexpectedly! Visitors jump and scream out of fright, then laugh, reminding themselves that he’s just a puppet!

This young girl was enamored with the Noah's Ark snow leopard puppet. She ran into this puppet as her mother was getting ready for them to go home. Her mom patiently tried many times to get her to say goodbye to the puppet, but it was as if this girl and the snow leopard were in their own little world. She would not budge. The young visitor finally left with a longing look, after giving her new friend one last snuggle and pat on the head.

This young girl was enamored with the Noah's Ark snow leopard puppet. She ran into this puppet as her mother was getting ready for them to go home. Her mom patiently tried many times to get her to say goodbye to the puppet, but it was as if this girl and the snow leopard were in their own little world. She would not budge. The young visitor finally left with a longing look, after giving her new friend one last snuggle and pat on the head.

It was amazing to see the level of creativity and work that went into many of the homemade puppets made by children and their parents at our puppet-making stations. This purple-clad girl crafted her dog puppet with her mom. She first came up to me making barking sounds. I peered down and saw her boisterous puppy coming to see me. It was by far the most “high-tech” and realistic visitor-made puppet that I saw during the festival. To the girl’s delight, I gave her dog a few pats. Then she told me all about how she and her mother made this amazing puppet. She was very proud.

It was amazing to see the level of creativity and work that went into many of the homemade puppets made by children and their parents at our puppet-making stations. This purple-clad girl crafted her dog puppet with her mom. She first came up to me making barking sounds. I peered down and saw her boisterous puppy coming to see me. It was by far the most “high-tech” and realistic visitor-made puppet that I saw during the festival. To the girl’s delight, I gave her dog a few pats. Then she told me all about how she and her mother made this amazing puppet. She was very proud.

This girl and her grandmother are putting the finishing touches on the giraffe puppet they were making together. The puppet festival was truly inter-generational!

This girl and her grandmother are putting the finishing touches on the giraffe puppet they were making together. The puppet festival was truly inter-generational!

This particular show seemed to be an audience favorite, as it was musical and invited lots of audience participation. As families watched Zomo, The Trickster Rabbit—A West African Folk Tale, children helped tell the story by playing drums, clapping, and repeating words after the storyteller. I love how engaged each of the kids looks in this photo. It also shows the variety in puppet shows presented at the festival: some were staged in dark theater-like settings meant for visitors to sit back and take in, while others, like this one, were in brightly lit rooms in which the visitors themselves became part of the story.

This particular show seemed to be an audience favorite, as it was musical and invited lots of audience participation. As families watched Zomo, The Trickster Rabbit—A West African Folk Tale, children helped tell the story by playing drums, clapping, and repeating words after the storyteller. I love how engaged each of the kids looks in this photo. It also shows the variety in puppet shows presented at the festival: some were staged in dark theater-like settings meant for visitors to sit back and take in, while others, like this one, were in brightly lit rooms in which the visitors themselves became part of the story.

Even with puppets and activities continuing throughout the day, there was plenty of room for families to just relax and enjoy the Skirball grounds and architecture. After dancing in a circle while their parents finished lunch, these three girls took a moment to look at the beautiful pond in the Taper Courtyard. After a long day of puppet interaction and performances, the trio shows what we love to see at the Skirball: a celebration of family, friends, and community while experiencing new things together.

Even with puppets and activities continuing throughout the day, there was plenty of room for families to just relax and enjoy the Skirball grounds and architecture. After dancing in a circle while their parents finished lunch, these three girls took a moment to look at the beautiful pond in the Taper Courtyard. After a long day of puppet interaction and performances, the trio shows what we love to see at the Skirball: a celebration of family, friends, and community while experiencing new things together.

Rene’s Marionettes were a huge hit! The Founder’s Courtyard was full of animated audience members, and I felt transported to what I imagine a Vaudeville-era puppet show would have been like. This dancing skeleton marionette was my favorite among the marionettes.I am convinced that the Noah's Ark ostrich puppet is a favorite among the toddler crowd. Something about the smiling beak leaning down towards them puts an instant look of glee on their faces, as exhibited by this little girl. I bet that that same happy look continued for the rest of the day. After this photo was taken, she and I played a short game of peek-a-boo.Another enchanting ostrich moment: This little girl was entranced by the puppet. She kept putting her hand out and every time the beak would touch her open palm, she would laugh and smile at her dad. Their delight was contagious: I couldn’t help but laugh and grin, too.Hunter, the incredibly realistic-looking Juvenile Tyrannosaurus Rex puppet from the Natural History Museum, made a few appearances throughout the day. Crowds of visitors closely surrounded him all day, waiting with anticipation for something scary to happen. Here, Hunter appears docile, almost like he’s smiling for pictures. But the next minute....… he roars ferociously and unexpectedly! Visitors jump and scream out of fright, then laugh, reminding themselves that he’s just a puppet!This young girl was enamored with the Noah's Ark snow leopard puppet. She ran into this puppet as her mother was getting ready for them to go home. Her mom patiently tried many times to get her to say goodbye to the puppet, but it was as if this girl and the snow leopard were in their own little world. She would not budge. The young visitor finally left with a longing look, after giving her new friend one last snuggle and pat on the head.It was amazing to see the level of creativity and work that went into many of the homemade puppets made by children and their parents at our puppet-making stations. This purple-clad girl crafted her dog puppet with her mom. She first came up to me making barking sounds. I peered down and saw her boisterous puppy coming to see me. It was by far the most “high-tech” and realistic visitor-made puppet that I saw during the festival. To the girl’s delight, I gave her dog a few pats. Then she told me all about how she and her mother made this amazing puppet. She was very proud.This girl and her grandmother are putting the finishing touches on the giraffe puppet they were making together. The puppet festival was truly inter-generational!This particular show seemed to be an audience favorite, as it was musical and invited lots of audience participation. As families watched Zomo, The Trickster Rabbit—A West African Folk Tale, children helped tell the story by playing drums, clapping, and repeating words after the storyteller. I love how engaged each of the kids looks in this photo. It also shows the variety in puppet shows presented at the festival: some were staged in dark theater-like settings meant for visitors to sit back and take in, while others, like this one, were in brightly lit rooms in which the visitors themselves became part of the story.Even with puppets and activities continuing throughout the day, there was plenty of room for families to just relax and enjoy the Skirball grounds and architecture. After dancing in a circle while their parents finished lunch, these three girls took a moment to look at the beautiful pond in the Taper Courtyard. After a long day of puppet interaction and performances, the trio shows what we love to see at the Skirball: a celebration of family, friends, and community while experiencing new things together.

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My Haimishe Menschen (In Other Words, My Warm, Caring People)

the Shriers

Joan and Joel Schrier

It’s National Volunteer Week, an annual celebration established in 1974 “to inspire, recognize, and encourage people to engage in their communities.” Year after year, it earns no less than a Presidential Proclamation.

The Skirball has more than 300 active volunteers and docents, who together contribute in excess of 30,000 hours a year. I get to work most directly with the volunteers who staff the lobby, welcoming guests, selling Skirball Memberships, and offering information. I’ve gotten to know many of them personally. They regularly ask about the status of my love life (don’t ask!), how my apartment search is going, which race I’m running next, and the latest on my bagpiping lessons. I’m even learning some Yiddish phrases, which are great fun to weave into conversations. My fave is “aroys gevorfen de gelt,” which loosely translates to “throwing the money out the window.” I also like “it vet gornisht helfen,” which means “it won’t help one bit!” Continue reading

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People, Let Me Tell You ‘Bout My Best Friends

A little storytelling and impromptu drumming with Noah’s Ark fans Griffin and Zoe.

A little storytelling and impromptu drumming with Noah’s Ark fans Griffin and Zoe.

I have the best job. Ever. My job title is something like Retail Sales Associate at Audrey’s Museum Store, which means I sell toys and books to people visiting Noah’s Ark at the Skirball. But really I like to call myself the Toddler Whisperer because I spend my days interacting with very young children. My measure of a good day isn’t how many sales I’ve had, but rather, how many of my “regulars” have come to visit. I have a whole pocketful of friends:

Jasper, my animal expert, knows everything there is to know about the wild kingdom. At four years old, he can identify a Xenops or a vole as readily as a pig and a cow (the latter two being alike because, as Jasper informed me recently, “they are both farm animals”). On one of his visits, he brought his most special animal book to share with me. I was expecting a small board book or a thin paperback. Out of his backpack came a heavy animal encyclopedia that must have taken quite a bit of effort for him to lug around. I was so happy that he wanted to share it with me. Together we sat and looked through it.

You can always tell when Aidan and his younger brother Connor are approaching the store. You hear the calls of “Shaaarrrooonnn! It’s my friend!” as Aidan enters the store and gives me a hug. Aidan likes to sit at our little “touch table,” where kids can feel free to play with select store goodies, and try out the toys. He often comes up with creative names for them. Continue reading

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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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Hummingbird Rescue to the Rescue!

Make-shift hummingbird nest

Nestled into a makeshift “nest,” pieced together from materials we used for a recent art project, two baby hummingbirds found on campus seemed to float in a pink cottony cloud.

I manage the staff and operations of Noah’s Ark at the Skirball, so responding to a lost child or a spill on the gallery floor is no problem. Knowing what to do with two tiny, helpless birds unable to feed themselves or fly? That is not in my handbook.

So, when I was at my desk recently and heard that two hummingbird babies were found in the grass near the rainbow mist arbor, I groaned. The Skirball is situated right in the Santa Monica Mountains, so living amid wildlife—snakes, lizards, spiders, foxes, raccoons—is expected. It’s not unusual to encounter a family of deer standing majestically in the arroyo garden when I’m heading out to my car after work. I kindly leave them alone, and they kindly leave me alone. But when we encounter an injured animal right in our backyard, we can’t very well leave it alone.

Quite fortuitously one of our Noah’s Ark gallery educators is a trained, licensed wildlife rehabilitator. When faced with an injured animal, she’s been kind enough to oblige and whisk the animal off to safety until she’s done teaching. But this doesn’t make for good practice, and I knew that we needed to take her off the hook for responding. Coming up with a protocol had been on my to-do list, but I had not yet thought it through. So here I was, groaning because it had come up… again. Continue reading

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Gallery Visitor Jane Roberts Seeking 34 Million Friends

Women Hold up Half the Sky has been attracting a lot of amazing folks who are involved in organizations that work on behalf of women and girls. On any given day, we seem to bump into activists exploring the exhibition and sharing stories during their visits.

One day, a Skirball docent stopped me in the hallway to tell me that a woman “who was in the book”—that is, Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky—was in the gallery. The docent was referring to Jane Roberts, who is featured prominently in chapter 8 on family planning and maternal health. I went to the galleries to welcome Jane to the Skirball and to learn more about her remarkable life’s work.

Hear Jane Roberts talk about her impactful 34 Million Friends movement,
“I believe that when the world takes care of women, women take care of the world.”

Jane shared that she was upset to learn that during President George W. Bush’s first administration, the U.S. was withholding $34 million from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) because of false claims that the organization funded coercive abortions as part of its family planning program. UNFPA does much to help women by promoting reproductive health, prenatal care, and safe deliveries. Jane felt that something should be done to restore the withheld funds so that women needing maternity resources could receive them.

In 2002, Jane started a movement, working with another incensed American, Lois Abraham, to raise the missing $34 million. They are asking people to donate one dollar each. To date, 34 Million Friends of UNFPA has raised over $4 million that goes directly to UNFPA. In 2005, in recognition of their efforts and accomplishments, Jane and Lois were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize! Continue reading

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I Wanna Hear Your Story!

That's me (in blue on the left) along with my colleague Jackie Herod at the Skirball Admissions Desk. We're the smiling faces that greet visitors as they walk through the door. Be sure to say hello next time you visit!

One of my favorite parts of my job as Visitor Services Director at the Skirball is to talk with our guests and to hear their stories. I’ve always been a seeker of stories. I grew up in a big family with lots of interesting characters sharing their tales. I caught the journalism bug early, at Floyd Central High School in New Albany, Indiana, where I preferred feature assignments to the news, because that’s where you get the real scoops. Even now, I think, What’s his/her/their story?—sometimes to myself and sometimes out loud to others—when I meet someone. I’m always looking for one’s unique experience and perspective in order to make a connection.

With 2011 about to wrap up, I think back to all the fascinating people I’ve come across and the things I’ve had the chance to talk with them about.

There was the young father who came to visit Noah’s Ark at the Skirball with his wife and three children. When I asked if he’d ever visited before, he revealed that he hadn’t been to the Skirball since his prom was held here ten years ago. (I kick myself that I didn’t ask if his wife was his date that night!). Kindergarteners, meanwhile, love to tell me that Noah’s Ark is their “favorite place.” But who said Noah’s Ark is just for kids? I met a gentleman who brought his mother and their extended family–eighteen in total hailing from four generations–to celebrate her ninetieth birthday! Continue reading

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Straight from the Kitchen of Grand’Mere Adeline

Ever notice that wonderfully fragrant rosemary grows right outside the Skirball entrance? It's an inspiration for a lot of my cooking.

The sense of smell is said to be the strongest memory trigger, and having spent a considerable amount of time breathing in aromas in my Grand’Mere Adeline’s kitchen back in Ohio, I can attest to that. Just the scent of a Thanksgiving turkey prepared just like she used to make it so many years ago takes me back to moments I will never forget.

Grand’Mere Adeline was the queen of the kitchen. Preparation for the holidays started in September. With a blended family culinary history that included Scottish shortbreads, Hungarian pastries, and chicken-and-matzo-ball soup, recipes were handed down through the generations. A select few were adapted from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, but if (and only if) they met Grand’Mere’s highest of standards. The one thing we were assured of was that every morsel of food on her bountiful table was lovingly prepared by her and her alone.

The warmth emanating from the oven as the turkey roasted within. The mouth-watering smell of freshly baked bread cooling on the counter. The windows of Grand’Mere’s tiny kitchen wet with steam from the boiling of potatoes and rutabagas. These are details I can still close my eyes and recall vividly. Continue reading

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Introducing SkirBlog!

Welcome to SkirBlog, just another way into the Skirball. Photo by John Elder.

A few weeks ago, a woman from the East African nation of Burundi found herself visiting our newest exhibition, Women Hold Up Half the Sky. She was part of a small entourage traveling with the African Union Ambassador to the U.S. As the group walked through the gallery with the Skirball’s Museum Director, Robert Kirschner, the Burundian woman suddenly stopped in her tracks, listening intently. She thought she must be imagining it, for what she heard were the voices of girls singing a traditional Burundian lullaby. Where was that sound coming from, so far away from home? Bob assured her that the music was in fact part of the commissioned audio installation Amplify, by multimedia artist Ben Rubin, designed specifically to amplify the voices of women and girls that often go unheard. Moved by the idea of the project and the music from her homeland, our visitor asked if she could listen again.

This story quickly made its way around the Skirball, as stories tend to do around here. On any given day, at any moment—while grabbing a cup of coffee, rushing across the courtyard for a meeting, working a lecture or concert—any one of us staff or volunteers hears about… well, all sorts of things. Baby hummingbirds abandoned on campus and lovingly rescued by security staff and Noah’s Ark facilitators. A shy teen who found his voice participating in the Skirball’s spoken-word residency and, on the last day of the program, read a surprisingly emotional poem before a crowd of fellow high schoolers. A curator’s eye-opening visit to the L.A. home of a legendary émigré artist whose lesser-known work in film may well be the subject of an upcoming exhibition (spoiler alert not needed; we’ll tell you about it when we can). Negotiations underway for a double-bill concert starring Algerian Jewish pianist Maurice El Medioni and Cuban percussionist Roberto Rodriguez, whose joint album Descarga Oriental blew our programming team away. Continue reading

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