Angelenos, Come to The Wild Side

Hunter Hunted at the last Into the Night event in July. Photo by Lindsey Best.

Hunter Hunted at our last Into the Night event in July. Photo by Lindsey Best.

Local bands Jenny O., In the Valley Below, and Body Parts as well as sets by KCRW DJ Travis Holcombe, oversized games, live wild animals, cocktails, craft making, a balloon artist, nighttime activities in Noah’s Ark, and screenings of Dr. Seuss’ The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T—that is what we can offer if you join us Friday, August 30 for our end-of-the-summer extravaganza, Into the Night: The Wild Side! For a little insight into the three local bands who will be performing, members of our Programs Department discuss the band they’re most excited about bringing to the Skirball:

JennyObyMelanieBellomo

Photo by Melanie Bellomo.

When I saw Jenny O. perform at The Echo back in March of this year, along with Harriet (who performed at the Skirball on July 12), the chatting, mingling audience (including myself) was immediately captivated. Jenny has a surprisingly demure yet powerful stage presence, and her band has a warm, old-timey sound that is reminiscent of The Beach Boys and Harry Nilsson, whom Jenny O. cites as her greatest influences. Her latest album, Automechanic (featuring accompaniment by Jake Blanton of The Killers), is full of deeply personal lyrics and interesting harmonies that are a testament to her artistic growth since her 2011 EP, Home. I’m really excited to see the band perform at the Skirball, and am looking forward to hearing some of my favorites like “Automechanic” and “Well OK Honey” live!
—Kasia Gondek, Program Coordinator

InTheValleyBelow_1I cannot remember how I found In the Valley Below. It might have been one of those Bands-You-Ought-to-Have-Heard lists, or maybe a friend or colleague recommended them. But ever since I played their first EP, I’ve been describing them as my new favorite band. Continue reading

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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

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Hello, Gorillas

Azalea-and-gorillasIf you have not met the new mountain gorilla family on Noah’s Ark at the Skirball, I highly recommend a visit! Welcoming these new members of the Noah’s Ark family has been very exciting for all of us at the Skirball. We have had many questions from staff and visitors about the gorillas and how they fit into the harmony we have established on the Ark. So, I thought it would be nice to check-in with my old friend Jennifer Chatfield. We consulted with Jennifer, former gorilla keeper at the Los Angeles Zoo for over twenty-five years and, in my opinion, the undisputed queen of gorillas, during the design process for the gorillas. Now, as the family settles in, I thought it was time to call her up again to see if she would share more of her in-depth knowledge of these wonderful creatures.

What have you learned from the gorillas you worked with?
I’ve learned a lot from gorillas! First, I think that when working with any animal you must be quiet inside. Leave the stress of your commute, an argument with a co-worker, and all your other issues at the door. The gorillas have taught me to be more aware and to pay close attention to body language. Since their vocalizations are limited, they communicate with their actions. This has made me more aware of their desires and moods, and has made me a better reader of people, too.

What is something about gorillas that most people don’t know?
A lot of them are very ticklish and will laugh or giggle when you tickle their belly.

single-gorillaPeople often think of gorillas in a negative way because of films like King Kong. What would you like to change in people’s minds about gorillas?
In spite of their size and some impressive teeth, gorillas are very gentle. They tend to shy away from confrontation rather than fight. Even silverback gorillas (the lead male in a family group)—who get into territorial disputes—fight in a ritualistic manner and there usually aren’t too many serious injuries. Part of the beauty of being a gorilla is that if you stand up, charge, and beat your chest, it scares most interlopers off.

In what ways do gorilla families behave like human families?
While the makeup of a gorilla family is different than a usual human family—with one silverback, several females, and their offspring—there are strong bonds in the group. The silverbacks play a role in child-rearing, often playing gently with infants barely the size of the palm of their hand. Continue reading

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Taking a Ride

bike-sign-1The month of May marks annual National Bike Month, during which people in cities all over the country are encouraged to ride more, learn about bike safety and mechanics, and commute to work. I myself have been a bike commuter for almost twenty years, first when I lived in Seattle, riding through rain, sleet, and hail to get to my high school teaching job, and now climbing through a mountain pass to get from my home in Santa Monica to my job at the Skirball.

I am often asked why I ride my bike to work (and if I’ve totally lost my mind or have a death wish), especially in the last few years during the massive construction project along the 405, which has made the 405 corridor bumpier and more haphazard (and hazardous).

arriving-at-skirbsFor me, riding my bike has always been a mix of personal pleasure and public service. I enjoy the exercise of it, the hour or so of vigorous riding to begin my day. But I also see it as a way to honor that very core Jewish value which we at the Skirball try to impart through our programs and exhibitions: that of taking care of the earth and each other. I feel, perhaps naively, that I’m doing something (albeit a small something) for our planet: a bit less CO2 emitted from a tailpipe, a few more friendly exhales in the direction of the plants along the road, a bit less stress put out into the world.

I start out each early-morning ride pedaling through the dark in Santa Monica with a red light on the back of my bike and a headlamp strung up around my helmet. Continue reading

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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

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Ketubbot: Helping Couples Find Just the Right One

The many styles of kettubot on display in Audrey's Museum Store.

Need someone to walk you through the options? I can help!

It’s wedding season! One of my personal joys at Audrey’s Museum Store is meeting and guiding engaged couples through the process of selecting the perfect ketubbah. A ketubbah is a Jewish wedding contract and often a decorative document that hangs proudly in the home for years to come as a symbol of mutual love, commitment, and partnership. A ketubbah may be the first contract a couple signs together and the first piece of art purchased together.

With the multitude of options for text, personalization, and artist techniques (among them lithography, hand-painting, giclee printing, and papercut), selecting a ketubbah can be a confusing decision. As ketubbah specialist, my goal is to simplify the process, to give personal attention and historical context, and to make this experience memorable and meaningful.

The Vorspans posing with their beautiful and freshly inked <b>kettubah</b>!

The Vorspans posing with their beautiful and freshly inked kettubah!

What’s especially gratifying are the continuing relationships with couples I’ve worked with over the years. In 2007, Elana Taylor and Ben Vorspan came to Audrey’s to choose their ketubbah. After much deliberation and contemplation—Audrey’s carries hundreds of ketubbah designs created by dozens of artists from all over the world, from L.A. to New York to Israel—they chose “Beside Still Waters” by Amy Fagin. What they liked about it—and what I find so appealing about Amy’s designs—are her intricate patterns and vibrant colors.

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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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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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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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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

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