Artful Penguins: A Gift from a Noah’s Ark Visitor

During my days staffing the Noah’s Ark Store, I know I work in a magical place. I’ve seen toddlers take their first steps. I’ve seen children who don’t know each other and don’t speak the same language play together. I’ve seen eighteen-month-olds negotiate their parents up from one toy purchase to three. I’ve seen good parenting and bad parenting, tantrums and delight, joy and sorrow, excitement and disappointment. And sharing. Lots and lots of sharing.

In celebration of Penguin Awareness Day, let me tell you about my good friend Aiden.

Aiden is nine years old. A cute red-haired boy, he comes to Noah’s Ark regularly with his family and has been drawing the animals aboard the Ark since he was four. I took special notice of him because he always came with a drawing pad. Eventually, Aiden began showing me his drawings after his visits to the Ark. He told me that he dreams about one day opening up his very own exhibit—re-creating the animals, adding attractions, and even creating items for his very own gift shop.

A few of Aiden's sketches and the Noah's Ark animals they are modeled after—this is one talented kid!

A few of Aiden’s early sketches and the Noah’s Ark animals they are modeled after—this is one talented kid!

One day last year when Aiden was visiting, I asked if he would draw a picture for me. He was happy to oblige! He asked me what my favorite animal on the Ark was, and I said the penguins. He agreed to bring his picture the next time they visited. Many months passed and I didn’t really expect him to remember. Continue reading

Yarn Bombing the Skirball

<i>Forest, For the Trees</i> at the Skirball. Photo by Martha Benedict.

Forest, For the Trees at the Skirball.

On select dates from January 15 through 25, visitors to the Skirball will be able to experience Forest, For the Trees, a unique and beautiful installation by local collective Yarn Bombing Los Angeles (YBLA) and the Arroyo Arts Collective. YBLA have been creating public art with fabric in Los Angeles for a number of years—from community projects to guerilla “bombs”—in locations all over town. Perhaps you’ve seen a parking meter wearing a sweater or a museum façade covered in afghans? I sat down with Carol Zou, YBLA’s self-described “head poncho,” to discuss this whimsical environmental installation that will live (and grow!) in our Family Art Studio for a brief but lively and colorful period.

What exactly is a yarn bomb?
Yarn bombing is a form of self-initiated public art using knitting or crochet. A yarn bomb transforms any item in a dull, drab environment by wrapping it in a colorful crocheted or knitted yarn piece.

What is it about working with yarn, felt, and other fiber-based materials that appeals to people? It seems like, right now, people of all ages and stripes are knitting or doing needlepoint and macramé. Are we just in the midst of a crafty era or is there something about these practices that appeals to people universally?
There’s a couple of answers to this question, and I think it all has to do with the tension between tradition and technology. With the rise of a digital and virtual world, people are starting to become nostalgic for activities that involve working with their hands in a tactile way. Working with traditional technologies such as knitting or crocheting is also a response to the development of new technologies—an individual, handcrafted object becomes really special in this age of mass production. Additionally, people participate in knitting and crocheting in order to connect to past generations. During our workshops, people inevitably start talking about their grandmother or their aunt who did this type of work. If we look at this trend as a larger metaphor, I would say the renewed interest in fiber arts is about people’s ability to find their personal identity in a hyper-digitized world through connecting to their family traditions and handcrafting an individual object.

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How did YBLA get started? Continue reading

Light & Noir: Through the Curator’s Lens

Red Carpet Season is well underway, and if you watched the Golden Globes last night, wasn’t it nice to glimpse a bit of classic Hollywood glamour?

Here at the Skirball, we’re approaching the halfway mark of our own homage to the Golden Age of American filmmaking, Light & Noir: Exiles and Emigres in Hollywood, 1933-1950. As KCRW’s Edward Goldman says, “From the get-go, it’s a winner.” With only about seven weeks to go until the proverbial credits roll on the show, I sat down with curator Doris Berger, who conceived of the exhibition and worked tirelessly on it for more than two years before its October “premiere.”

Curator Doris Berger in a vintage dress for the opening of Light and Noir.

Curator Doris Berger in a vintage dress for the opening of Light & Noir.

 

Is there one particular object in the exhibition that moves you especially deeply?
There are so many objects that move me in this exhibition. It was really hard to decide sometimes what to include and what to leave out. The correspondence of Carl Laemmle, the founder of Universal Pictures, to his extended family in 1938 is incredibly affecting—full of humility and conviction to help others. In a letter to his nephew William Wyler, Laemmle pleads for him to do everything he possibly can to help other refugees. Here’s a quote from that letter: “The Jewish situation in Germany has been getting on my nerves for a long, long time. I feel that these poor, unfortunate people need help the worst way. … If you want to do something really big—something that will give you an immense amount of pleasure—issue one or more affidavits, as many as your means permit. … I feel that every person in America, Jew or non-Jew, with a heart, should do his bit, and thereby get an immense amount of satisfaction and possibly save one or more lives.”

Laemmle also wrote a simple Christmas card to other family members on which he writes, Continue reading

The Shadow of Harvey

The design I created for the VHS release of Harvey is now being used on the DVD covers. Harvey is one of the many Golden Age of Hollywood films explored in the Skirball exhibition Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés, 1933–1950.

The design I created for the VHS release of Harvey is now being used on the DVD covers. Harvey is one of the many Golden Age of Hollywood films explored in the Skirball exhibition Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés, 1933–1950.

 

It was a dark rainy night in 1989. Tanks were rolling into Tiananmen Square. I dodged flaming cars returning to our residence from the hotel near the airport to rescue my design portfolio. I figured I was going to need it. I was right. In two weeks I was working in L.A.

I got a job with a design firm in the old Helms building on Venice Boulevard. An old friend scooped me up right away. In those days I really had chops.

Yeah, we had some accounts in the entertainment sector. Our specialty was creating airbrush illustrations for the front of video boxes, often using disparate scenes from the movie to create whole new scenes that do not even actually appear. But that was only part of our ruse. You see, even if the movie was B&W—as most classics are—the covers would always be in color. And if that wasn’t enough, the finished product would then be used in all subsequent advertising and promotion for the movie, all over the world. Okay, I’m not proud of it, but that’s the way it was back then.

We got the gig designing packaging for Harvey, a Henry Koster movie about a man (played by James Stewart) whose imaginary friend is a human-sized rabbit named Harvey.

Watch a scene from Harvey:

My task was to examine hundreds of stills from the movie and do several compositions. Continue reading

President’s Greeting: Jan/Feb 2015

Ernst van Leyden, Portrait of Lion and Marta Feuchtwanger, 1946, oil painting. Courtesy of Feuchtwanger Memorial Library, Special Collections, University of Southern California Libraries. On view now in our exhibition Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950.

Ernst van Leyden, Portrait of Lion and Marta Feuchtwanger, 1946, oil painting. Courtesy of Feuchtwanger Memorial Library, Special Collections,
University of Southern California Libraries.
On view now in our exhibition Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950.

 

I had the privilege of knowing Marta Feuchtwanger, pictured above with her beloved husband, Lion Feuchtwanger (1884–1958), the famed German Jewish writer. She and I were friends for two decades in her later years (we met in 1964; she died in 1987). From her I learned of Lion’s celebrated novels and plays, his outspoken opposition to the Nazi regime, his rescue from Nazi-occupied France, and his new life with her in Los Angeles. Their magnificent home in Pacific Palisades is now known as Villa Aurora, and stands as a memorial to the exiles and émigrés who found refuge from Nazi persecution in the United States.

Marta told me how Lion spoke out against Adolf Hitler as early as the 1920s. Continue reading

Light & Noir: A “True Hollywood Story”

These ten Declaration of Intent documents are on view in <i>Light & Noir</i>

These ten Declaration of Intent documents are on view in Light & Noir.

For the European exiles and émigrés featured in our exhibition Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950, Hollywood was much more than the glamorous place of fame and fortune we often think of now. During those years, in juxtaposition to the turmoil brewing in Nazi Europe, Hollywood was a place where these émigrés could take refuge and start their lives anew.

This clip from the PBS documentary Cinema’s Exiles gives some context about what émigrés were fleeing from. You can watch the full film on the big screen here at the Skirball on March 1.

But, as is still the case, immigrating to the United States was no simple task. In addition to the geographical distance they had to overcome, émigrés also had to comply with the United States’ strict immigration laws. Many of them came on visitor visas that would expire after a certain amount of time. If they wanted to legally extend their stay—and, unsurprisingly, many of them did—they needed to file a Declaration of Intention. Not unlike what is today called a “green card,” the Declaration granted permanent residency in the U.S. And while it wouldn’t automatically grant these émigrés citizenship, it was the first step they had to take if they wanted to acquire it.

On loan from the National Archives at Riverside, the original Declaration of Intention forms currently on display in Light & Noir reveal some lesser-known facts about people we know well by different names. For instance, actress Marlene Dietrich (Shanghai Express, A Foreign Affair) and director Henry Koster (It Started with Eve, Harvey) were actually born as Maria Magdalene Sieber and Hermann Julius Kosterlitz. Marlene_Dietrich_Declaration_of_Intention

Not every category could be answered as matter-of-factly as one’s name… Continue reading

When Bauhaus Meets Judaica: A Unique Hanukkah Lamp

Hanukkah lamp, Ludwig Y. Wolpert, ca. 1960. From the Skirball collection.

Hanukkah lamp, Ludwig Y. Wolpert, ca. 1960. From the Skirball collection.

Hanukkah lamps come in all styles and materials. Here at the Skirball, the permanent collection of lamps is as varied as the artists who crafted them, each piece a reflection of the generation and the community for which it was fashioned. For example, lamps from countries surrounding the Mediterranean were demonstrably influenced by Sephardic traditions and style. Others reveal inspiration from modernist innovations popular in early-twentieth-century Europe.

The lamp pictured above, currently on display in the Skirball’s core exhibition, Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America, was designed by German sculptor Ludwig Yehuda Wolpert, the son of an Orthodox rabbi. Born in Hildesheim, Germany, Wolpert began his artistic studies at the School for Arts and Crafts in Franfkfurt. He then worked as a sculptor, specializing in metalwork. Artistically, Wolpert was inspired by the Bauhaus slogan “form follows function,” and also by Leo Horovitz, a silversmith and designer of Judaica. Under Horovitz’s guidance, Wolpert became involved in creating modern Jewish ceremonial art. One of his signature practices was to incorporate an abstract of a Hebrew letter in his pieces. The design of this lamp recalls the Hebrew letter shin.  Continue reading

Pasatono Orquesta Revives a Tradition, With a Twist

Come hear Pasatono Orquesta fill our Ahmanson Hall with Mexican folk tunes sure to get your whole family on their feet.

Come hear Pasatono Orquesta fill our Ahmanson Hall with Mexican folk tunes sure to get your whole family on their feet.

The Skirball’s annual Hanukkah Family Festival approaches, and this year the festivities take inspiration from Latin American culture. Along with Mexican tin art painting, mariachi and Capoeira performances, and Latin American–influenced Hanukkah treats, don’t miss out on seeing Oaxaca’s Pasatono Orquesta.

Pasatono Orquesta has made a name for itself over the last fifteen years by reinterpreting traditional Mexican folk music. The group’s latest album, Maroma, pays tribute to the traveling circuses that were once popular throughout rural Mexico. These maroma, as they were called, consisted of a single clown tasked with juggling, telling jokes, reciting poetry, and performing acrobatics, drawing inspiration from a mixture of pre-Hispanic indigenous traditions, European street performances, and modern circus elements. Continue reading

Top 10 Items in the Femme Fatale’s Arsenal

Group1With the exhibitions Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950 and The Noir Effect in full swing, noir is in the air here at the Skirball. Inspired by the seductive femme fatales of film noir, I’ve selected ten alluring items from our Light & Noir Holiday Pop-Up Shop that are perfect for the mysterious woman on your gift list. There’s no need to go on a manhunt for a creative Hanukkah present or saucy stocking-stuffer this year. Skip the bedlam at the mall and slip into the boudoir at the pop-up shop for some of these sassy and clever gifts.

  1. The Perfect Red Lipstick
    As the chaotic holidays approach, I heed this advice from Elizabeth Taylor: “Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together.” Red lipstick (and perhaps a little gin!) really is the perfect pick-me-up. During WWII, cosmetics entrepreneur Elizabeth Arden encouraged women to wear red lips as a symbol of victory. (The beauty company even released a line of cosmetics for the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, which included the shade “Victory Red” to coordinate with their uniforms.) Personally, I look to locally-based Bésame Cosmetics for long-lasting, classically glamorous shades of red. One of my personal favorites is Red Velvet. Every Bésame product is re-created from popular vintage formulas and lovingly packaged in a retro style. Learn for yourself how to apply that perfect femme fatale look on Sunday, December 7, when Bésame Cosmetics founder Gabriela Hernandez gives a makeup talk and demo in conjunction with the exhibition Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950.
  2. An Alluring Perfume
    Perfumer Margot Elena created this irresistible “Femme Fatale” collection of fragrances, part of her TokyoMilk/DARK line. Each fragrance is stunningly packaged in matte-black bottles featuring charming lithograph illustrations for each scent. My favorite is “Everything & Nothing” No. 10, with its light hint of citrus. I’m also a fan of the coordinating hand creams.
  3. Compact Mirror
    A slim, stylish compact mirror is a must for every glamour girl to ensure her makeup is always in place. I myself designed the pattern featured on this cute compact from LucyLu as a nod to the iconic film noir motif of striped shadows. The compact is accompanied by a protective silver leatherette pouch with a magnetic closure, which helps keep the outside of the mirror shiny and scratch-free. Continue reading

BODYTRAFFIC Moves for Schools

Classically trained dancers. Klezmer, Ladino, and jazz music. A man lip-syncing to an Ella Fitzgerald song. High school students from all over Los Angeles. This amazing mix came together on Wednesday, October 29, during a performance at the Skirball by local dance company BODYTRAFFIC.

BODYTRAFFIC was founded in Los Angeles in 2007 by Lillian Barbeito and Tina Finkelman Berkett. It was recently named the “Best up-and-coming dance company” by LA Weekly, the company of the future by The Joyce Theater Foundation, one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch in 2013,” and “Best of Culture” by the Los Angeles Times.

This performance was typical of our school performance series in which we offer music, theater, dance performances, and film screenings that bring diverse groups of students together to explore culture, history, and identity with world-class performing artists.

In order to whet their appetite for the performance, we asked students to respond to some questions about dance. These questions got them thinking about dance as a mode of expression and how it factors into their own lives. Here is a sampling of the students’ responses:

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What does dance mean to you? When was the last time you danced? What types of dance do you know?
Dance is a way to express yourself In the morning Tango
Freedom Last week Cha-cha
Feelings When I was little Ballroom
Art At homecoming Dougie
Everything I twerk when I can Cumbia
Emotion Ballet
Be Yourself Shuffling
Gangnam Style

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The first piece, an excerpt from and at midnight, the green bride floated through the village square… choreographed by Barak Marshall, explored gender roles and the push-and-pull dynamics of romantic relationships.

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In the second piece, dancers wowed the audience with a mash-up of disparate dance styles—breakdancing, ballet, and contemporary—in a selection from their newest work: once more before you go by choreographer Victor Quijada.

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The final dance included selections from a suite of dances called o2Joy, an exuberant homage to American jazz standards, by choreographer Richard Siegal. In it, the dancers spun, swayed in pairs, and proved that it is possible to fly in our Ahmanson ballroom! Continue reading