Lost and Found: A Noir Adventure

In November, children and their families participated in “Skirball Playdate: Mildred’s Purse,” a morning-long adventure offered in connection with the exhibition Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950. The program included a special performance by Skirball educator Anna Dresdon, who played the title character based on the 1945 film noir Mildred Pierce. Having lost precious items from her purse, “Mildred” asked the children to help her do some detective work. Armed with special hats and magnifying glasses, they all worked together to search the exhibition for the missing items.

Before heading out into the galleries, the young detectives made their own 1940s-inspired hats. SkirBlog_Mildred's Purse_1

 

What’s this? A clue on the red carpet? SkirBlog_Mildred's Purse_2

 

I found it! One little boy discovered Mildred’s lost Oscar inside the office of Hollywood agent Paul Kohner, which is re-created as part of the Light & Noir exhibition. SkirBlog_Mildred's Purse_3

 

Beads from Mildred’s prized necklace were discovered rolling around in the Casablanca section of the exhibition.  Continue reading

Happy New Year, Skirball Trees!

Every morning when I come to work, I never take for granted how beautiful this campus is. The Skirball is home to hundreds of gorgeous trees, and I am proud to oversee a crew of expert landscapers from Four Seasons Landscape Services who keep them healthy. In honor of the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish “New Year” for trees, I’m happy to share a few little fun facts about our lovable family of Skirball trees.

Number of Trees on Campus: 270

Number of Species: 40—Just to name a few, the campus grows California pines, London sycamores, Italian cypresses, magnolia trees, Japanese maples, gingko bilobas, jacarandas, plum trees, and cherry trees.

Unofficial Skirball Mascot: Before we broke ground on constructing Herscher Hall and the Guerin Pavilion, construction crews identified the circular driveway outside the north garage as the best place to position a crane. But in order to install it, we had to remove one olive tree that was planted there. I knew I didn’t want any harm to come to this magnificent tree, so we had a crane lift it, box it, and carefully move it to higher ground. From its new hillside spot perched over the construction site, it became our mascot for the duration of the long and involved building process. The crew and I lovingly named him Charlie. Years later, when the new facility was nearing completion, we moved Charlie back to his original spot near the north entrance, where he is thriving. I have a soft spot for Charlie and always say hello to him!

On the left, the orange arrow points to Charlie in his special spot during construction.  On the right, Charlie is the center of a group of olive trees that greet our visitors  at the north entrance to the Skirball. Click on the image for an expanded view.

On the left, the orange arrow points to Charlie in his special spot during construction.
On the right, there’s Charlie in the center of a group of olive trees that greet our visitors
at the north entrance to the Skirball. Click on the image for an expanded view.

 

Most Exciting Tree Rescue: If you’ve ever been to one of our Sunset Concerts or just hung out in our central Taper Courtyard, then you know that it features eight tall jacaranda trees. Continue reading

A Trans Am and a Mystery Woman: Noirscape Photo Contest Winner

For many filmmakers, writers, and artists, Los Angeles is the quintessential noir setting. As part of The Noir Effect exhibition, we challenged people to use the noir city as inspiration and submit their own noir-style photographs for a “Shoot Your L.A. Noirscape” contest.

We received more than eighty entries that captured all corners of Los Angeles, from famous landmarks to dramatic shadow-filled streets to moody urban landscapes. People experimented with angles, light sources, blur effects, shadows, colors, and filters. Some even incorporated noir characters into mysterious urban scenes to trigger unsettling narratives. The eclectic range of submissions reinforced just how much noir is part of today’s culture and is constantly being redefined. Noir extends beyond the film genre and becomes a lens for seeing the world. It’s a language, an art form, a style and sensibility that can be applied to so many spaces and environments.

We handed over nineteen compelling entries from our finalists (you can see them all in the slideshow below) to Eddie Muller, founder and president of the Film Noir Foundation and producer and host of the NOIR CITY film festival, who made the final selection. And we are pleased to announce that the winner is…Eric Canale! Eric wins a nice dinner at the old Hollywood restaurant Musso & Frank Grill, and his photograph will be displayed in The Noir Effect gallery for the month of February, so be sure to look for it!

Pennsylvania Avenue at Stewart Street, Santa Monica by Eric Canale

Pennsylvania Avenue at Stewart Street, Santa Monica by Eric Canale

Eric Canale describes his work: Continue reading

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