A Happy Marriage: Fallen Fruit and a Special Ketubbah at the Skirball

 Ketubbah. Busseto, Italy, 1677. Ink, gouache, gold paint and cutout on parchment. Salli Kirschstein Collection, Skirball Museum.

Ketubbah.  Busseto, Italy.  Text, 1677; border, 18th century.  Ink, gouache, gold paint, and cutout on parchment.  Salli Kirschstein Collection, Skirball Museum,
Skirball Cultural Center.

 

Several months ago, the Los Angeles art collaborative Fallen Fruit (David Burns and Austin Young) began an artist residency at the Skirball to develop an installation for our Ruby Gallery. Fallen Fruit’s community-based projects use fruit as a medium to explore social engagement, so we invited them to search our collection of Jewish artifacts for anything fruit related! After surveying a range of fine art and ritual objects featuring figs, etrogs, apples, oranges, and many other fruits, they could not take their eyes off of a seventeenth-century ketubbah that was richly decorated with fruit and animal motifs, zodiac signs, and biblical scenes.

Fallen Fruit artists David Burns (left) and Austin Young (right), examining the Busseto ketubbah.

Fallen Fruit artists David Burns (left) and Austin Young (right), examining the Busseto ketubbah.

In Hebrew ketubbah (plural, ketubbot) literally means “what is written.” It is the term used for a marriage contract, a custom that originated in biblical times. In an era when women were regarded as property rather than as equals, its purpose was to protect the married woman in the event that she was divorced or widowed. It specified that she must receive a material sum, including the dowry she brought to the marriage, to assure her support and well-being. Over the centuries the ketubbah has evolved in many Jewish communities from a legal document to a symbolic expression of mutual love and respect between equal partners. Today, particularly in the United States, many couples compose their own ketubbah texts and personalize the design.

The Skirball has one of the most prominent collections of ketubbot in the world, with over 430 in the collection from countries such as Italy, Egypt, Persia, Germany, and the United States. A majority of the collection belongs to the special tradition, developed in Jewish art, of the decorated marriage contract. After the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, the custom of illuminated ketubbot flourished in areas of Sephardi settlement such as Italy, Amsterdam, London, North Africa, and the Near East. Nearly half of the entire Skirball collection consists of ketubbot produced in Italy during the golden age of the illuminated ketubbah, from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries.

The particular ketubbah that inspired Fallen Fruit’s project is from Busseto, Italy. The traditional Hebrew text was copied by the scribe in 1677, and this text was set in its beautifully crafted frame about a century later. The frame includes an inner border constructed with an intricate die-cut technique. The contract is signed by two rabbis from the Busseto community to sanction the marriage of the bridegroom, Jacob, son of Eliezer Mogil, and the bride, Dolce, daughter of the late Isaac Navarra, on March 5, 1677. kettubah_skirball_fallenfruitMade out of parchment (animal skin), the ketubbah features five biblical episodes and twelve signs of the zodiac set in roundels. Continue reading

Mini-Muse

The color of Peter’s bright red-orange snowsuit is what stands out in this illustration from the groundbreaking book The Snowy Day (1962). This and dozens of other original artworks by Keats can be seen in the exhibition The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats, now on view at the Skirball. Ezra Jack Keats, “After breakfast he put on his snowsuit and ran outside.” Final illustration for The Snowy Day, 1962. Collage and paint on board. Ezra Jack Keats Papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi. Copyright Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.

The color of Peter’s bright red-orange snowsuit is what stands out in this illustration from the groundbreaking book The Snowy Day (1962). This and dozens of other original artworks by Keats can be seen in the exhibition The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats, now on view at the Skirball. Ezra Jack Keats, “After breakfast he put on his snowsuit and ran outside.” Final illustration for The Snowy Day, 1962. Collage and paint on board. Ezra Jack Keats Papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi. Copyright Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.

Up in the gallery just a moment ago I overheard a teacher instructing his group of first graders: “Remember to use your ‘library voices’ in the museum.” I smiled and thought, “Good luck with that,” and then took a moment to reflect on how much has changed for museums in the last decade or so and how much my own approach has changed when it comes to developing exhibitions for the public—the whole public, kids and all.

Museums used to be sanctuaries of art and artifact where you would expect typical visitor behavior to include thoughtful reflection and quiet awe. Here the height of the art from the floor and the level of scholarship exhibited in the text might both be well above the heads of most children. The, shall we say, exuberance of children used to be wholly inconsistent with the notion of providing profound encounters with art, not to mention the “do not touch” policy necessary in most art installations. Increasingly, though, museums are adapting to the needs of children and the special ways they learn and view the world, and they are offering kids opportunities to experience art, history, and culture in ways that are meaningful to them. As it happens, I work for such an institution.

Above left: Artwork from The Snowy Day (1962) is hung at both a child’s and parent’s eye-level on walls painted with iridescent green, pink, purple, blue, and yellow snowflakes. Visitors can also make tracks in the special “snow” feature seen here in the foreground. Above right: The second gallery of the exhibition is a haven of participatory activities, such as story writing and collage making.

Above left: Artwork from The Snowy Day (1962) is hung at both a child’s and parent’s eye-level on walls painted with iridescent green, pink, purple, blue, and yellow snowflakes. Visitors can also make tracks in the special “snow” feature seen here in the foreground. Above right: The second gallery of the exhibition is a haven of participatory activities, such as story writing and collage making.

In my role as a curator, I still adhere to the notion that quiet contemplation is a form of “visitor engagement,” but as a mom, I am grateful for museums that not only tolerate my toddler Liam’s high energy and propensity for distraction, but actually respect his ability to perceive, appreciate, and learn from art. It is a challenge to develop content for a target audience who may be just starting to develop their language skills, who will last maybe thirty minutes in a gallery, and who might very well have other media competing for their attention while they’re in the museum space. These are challenges that I faced most recently while organizing the Skirball’s presentation of The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats. For this project, I found inspiration in my three-year-old mini-muse, Liam, and in the beautiful art and stories featured in the exhibition itself.

In Goggles! (1969), Peter, his dog Willie, and his friend Archie outwit a gang of bullies in order to keep the discarded motorcycle goggles they have found. Here Archie triumphantly tries on the goggles exclaiming, “Things look real fine now.” Ezra Jack Keats, “Archie laughed and said, ‘We sure fooled ’em, didn’t we?’“ Final illustration for Goggles!, 1969. Paint and collage on board.  Ezra Jack Keats Papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi.  Copyright Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.

In Goggles! (1969), Peter, his dog Willie, and his friend Archie outwit a gang of bullies in order to keep the discarded motorcycle goggles they have found. Here Archie triumphantly tries on the goggles exclaiming, “Things look real fine now.” Ezra Jack Keats, “Archie laughed and said, ‘We sure fooled ’em, didn’t we?’“ Final illustration for Goggles!, 1969. Paint and collage on board. Ezra Jack Keats Papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi. Copyright Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.

 

Liam modeling a pair of yellow “goggles” while visiting momma at work. These goggles are available for visitors to try on in the exhibition to encourage closer looking and to help see things from the character’s perspective.

Liam modeling a pair of yellow “goggles” while visiting momma at work. These goggles are available for visitors to try on in the exhibition to encourage closer looking and to help see things from the character’s perspective.

Children live in a highly visual world. Liam’s eyes perceive so much more than mine do—he can easily point to the tiniest speck of an airplane in the sky long before I am remotely aware of its existence. Continue reading

Ezra Jack Keats’s Bestie

In celebration of the opening of The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats this week, the head of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, Laura Pope, shared the following note and essay from her father with us. Their words speak for themselves and help express the true joy the Skirball feels in presenting this wonderful exhibition.

In celebration of the opening of The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats this week, Deborah Pope, head of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, shared the following essay by her father, Martin Pope, with us. Martin and Deborah’s heartfelt words help express the true joy the Skirball feels in presenting this wonderful exhibition.

Because my father and Ezra Jack Keats were best friends, I grew up thinking Ezra was my uncle. He had not yet written The Snowy Day when I was of an age to read picture books and so when he did, I couldn’t really grasp the magnitude of his accomplishment. Nor could I, as a child, understand the fact that my father, Martin Pope, was a world-renowned scientist. For me, these two men were present as playfellows, co-conspirators, and cheerleaders.

The essay below was written by my father  for the opening of The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats at The Jewish Museum in New York City, now at the Skirball. I would like to add a few words to his. The experience of poverty and prejudice might have hardened my father’s and Ezra’s hearts; instead, it made each of them, in his own way, determined to work against the perpetuation of such injustice. Their deep affection for and belief in one another fed their resolve to escape from deprived childhoods and realize their dreams, one in science and one in art. Integral to their plans was marking their path—the path of books, friendship, and imagination—to help coming generations of children find their way to better lives. Even now, at the age of 95, I think you will hear in my father’s words the depth of his continuing dedication to their shared childhood dreams.

Ezra Jack Keats (left) and my father, Martin Pope (right). Different men, kindred souls.

Ezra Jack Keats (left) and my father, Martin Pope (right). Different paths, same road.

My story with Ezra began eighty-one years ago, in the East New York section of Brooklyn, so often pictured in his books. We met in summer school; he was fourteen and I was twelve. Ezra had failed algebra because he wasn’t interested in math, I failed because I corrected my teacher. Our bond as friends was cemented that summer. Continue reading

What’s New in the Museum?

The Binding of Isaac, Torah Curtain and Valance, Austria, 1878. Silk with metallic and silk threads. Gift of Judge Michael Linfield in honor of his father, Seymour Linfield SCC59.97.a,b.

The Binding of Isaac, Torah Curtain and Valance, Austria, 1878. Silk with metallic and silk threads.
Gift of Judge Michael Linfield in honor of his father, Seymour Linfield
SCC59.97.a,b.

The Skirball is proud to announce the recent donation of a very rare Torah ark curtain and valance saved from destruction during World War II.

An American paratrooper during World War II, Seymour Linfield, found this Torah ark curtain in an abandoned synagogue in Austria, which had been in use as a stable. He rescued the curtain and passed it on to his son, Michael, who recently donated it to the Skirball Museum for conservation and posterity.

The curtain depicts the biblical episode of the binding of Isaac by his father Abraham, as portrayed in the Book of Genesis. The curtain and valance feature hand-sewn silk construction and intricate metallic thread embroidery. The Hebrew inscription at the top of the curtain, above the decorative fringe, reads “sound the shofar at the new moon,” which is derived from the New Year liturgy, when the scriptural reading from the binding of Isaac is read. This suggests that the curtain was specially made for the Jewish High Holy Days. The Hebrew abbreviation “Crown of Torah,” as seen on either side of the embroidered crown, refers to the sovereign authority of the Torah (the five books of Moses), which Jewish tradition ascribes to divine origin. The Hebrew inscription below the scene identifies the congregation of origin: Tagendorf (possibly a transliteration of Techendorf, a lakeside village in the south of Austria). The Hebrew numerical abbreviation just below that states the Jewish calendar year 5638, which translates to the secular calendar year 1878.

Before agreeing to accept this object as a contribution to the Museum collection, the Skirball contacted the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. (USHMM), for guidance on accepting items brought home by US soldiers during World War II. According to the USHMM, both they and the Library of Congress accept such items as long as the object is fully documented and thorough provenance research is conducted. Items looted by Nazis or their sympathizers, on the other hand, are repatriated as a matter of policy to community, synagogue, or family of origin. Continue reading

Richard Meier Designed the Getty… and This Hanukkah Lamp

The designs of Hanukkah lamps often incorporate architectural forms. In 1985 the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, invited leading architects to submit designs of Hanukkah lamps for an exhibition entitled Nerot Mitzvah: Contemporary Ideas for Light in Jewish Ritual. The hanukkiah pictured below was designed by Richard Meier, the architect of the Getty Center just down the road from the Skirball.  An original is on view in the Skirball’s core exhibition, Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America

Each of the chess piece–like candleholders represents architecturally a place where Jews have experienced major crises. These historical events are arranged chronologically by branch from left to right.

Each of the chess piece–like candleholders represents architecturally a place where Jews have experienced major crises. These historical events are arranged chronologically by branch from left to right.

Branch 1
The obelisk on the far left represents Egypt—historically the period of slavery culminating in the Exodus story.

Branch 2
Second is a column of Roman style, representing the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE.

Branch 3
The third branch is a castle-like tower representing England, from which there was an expulsion of Jews in 1290. Specifically it may be the Tower of York where there was a massacre of Jews in 1190. Continue reading

A Day in the Life of a Noah’s Ark Strawberry

strawberry close-upStrawberries (not real ones, but very real-looking ones) are a hot commodity on board Noah’s Ark at the Skirball. I watch them travel all over—getting shared, hoarded, lost, or found, eventually finding a home somewhere among all the other inhabitants. I have even found them in my own pocket, and then they must endure a brief respite in my office before they are returned to the gallery.

Most strawberries, though, begin and end their day on the Ark. They wait patiently, nestled among other food. (We talk a lot on the Ark about being patient. Imagine how difficult that would be on a long journey!)

bowl-of-fruit
But suddenly, one strawberry might get scooped away from the food table and into a basket with other strawberries, which gets carried across the room to a bear who awaits some strawberry snacks.hands-at-the-table

feed-the-bear
After whetting the bear’s appetite, the strawberry then gets swept up in the palm of a toddler. This is where it stays for a while, because it’s such a natural fit in her palm and, well, she likes to eat strawberries, too.

cutefaceandpalmcombinedEventually, however, the toddler soon moves onto the next activity, and the strawberry is tossed across the floor, where it rests out of sight for a while … Continue reading

Building Baseman’s House

How exactly did we build Gary Baseman’s house in our Getty Gallery for the exhibition, The Door Is Always Open? It probably would take about fifteen separate blogposts to describe it and I’d still be leaving things out. So, by sharing some behind-the-scenes images, I’ll try to show how we went from this:

IMG_2956…to this:

IMG_2903…to this:

IMG_3688Hopefully, this will help explain why we decided against this:

(The initial design plan called for using pre-made movie set flats such as the one shown here)

The initial design plan called for using pre-made movie set flats such as the one shown here

…and opted for this:

(he design team used period furniture and windows along with home moulding and trim to create their own “sets”.

The design team used period furniture and windows along with home molding and trim to create their own “sets”

There are so many good discussions to have it’s hard to know where to begin. From how best to use the furniture from Gary’s parents: Continue reading

President’s Greeting: May/Jun 2013

UDH greetingReproduced on the cover of the May/Jun 2013 issue of At the Skirball and the April 25–May 2, 2013 issue of the L.A. Weekly (pictured at left) is the new painting The Door Is Always Open, by celebrated artist Gary Baseman.

The title of this work—like that of our major new exhibition on the artist’s life and career—borrows a phrase from Gary Baseman’s own father. Ben Baseman used to tell his son, “Gary, the door is always open.” It was a reminder that the Fairfax District four-plex that he called home would always provide protection and loving kindness. Continue reading

WHERE IN L.A. SHOULD TOBY GO?

Toby on the wallGary Baseman’s beloved companion, Toby, has been all over the world, from Rio to Chiang Mai, Moscow to D.C. But what L.A. hotspot do you think he has missed? Let us know by July 26 and Gary will pick one of your suggestions and take a photo of Toby there. Come see the photographic proof of Toby’s visit unveiled before the exhibition closes on August 18, 2013!

Share your ideas via E-mail, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest
basemanshome@skirball.org
#basemanshome
If you include your name we will let you know if your idea is picked!

Or comment below and we’ll add your idea to the list.

Here’s a running list of your ideas so far:

  • Top of Runyon Canyon (anonymous)

  • Burbank Horse Stables (submitted by Jennifer)

  • On the Monkey Bars at the Willow Elementary School Playground in Agoura Hills (submitted by Lisa) Continue reading

Having a Chat with Nightmare and the Cat

L.A.-based rock band Nightmare and the Cat makes music that escapes easy categorization, blending jangly pop, bluesy riffs, and anthemic hooks that soar with lead singer Django Stewart’s powerful vocals. Catch them this Thursday night when they play Gary Baseman’s House Party to celebrate the opening of Gary Baseman: The Door Is Always Open. Stewart speaks below about the band and their unique collaborations with Baseman, who will paint live on stage during their set.

NTC_NYGary272What is the origin of the name “Nightmare and the Cat”?
It is a song by an amazing artist who never got signed and never made it on stage. He disappeared without a trace, and Sam and I just loved the song and his lyrics so much, we named our band after him. I’m hoping that one day we may meet him wherever he may be.

How did you meet Gary Baseman?
We met Gary at our friend Carina Round’s birthday party. She had written a song for one of his characters and Gary came out of nowhere dressed in a giant pink ChouChou costume and asked Claire in our band to dance.

Watch a video of ChouChous dancing:

How did Baseman painting on stage while you play come about?
This was a very natural occurrence. I feel Gary has always been making art while we sing and play. Painting was just a grander medium than the usual little sketchbook. Continue reading