If 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.
People 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 →
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:
Hopefully, 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
…and opted for this:
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 →
For the twelve-year-old boy in me who wrote a fifteen-page paper on the effect of comic books on children during World War II, Superman at 75: A Jewish Hero for All Time is a dream program. Joining together an expert like Larry Tye with Jack Larson (THE ORIGINAL JIMMY OLSEN!!!!), Richard Donner (director of the Christopher Reeves Superman), and Geoff Johns (chief creative officer at DC Comics),means bringing our audience a rare concentration of expertise and celebrity. Honestly, I wouldn’t dare go see the new Superman movie without hearing what the four of them have to say!
I couldn’t even wait ’til the program to grill Larry Tye, author of Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero, about his favorite Superman and how he first learned about our favorite superhero’s Jewish roots.
What first drew you to Superman?
Two things: I was intrigued by why we as Americans embrace the heroes we do, and decided one way to explore that would be to look at our longest-lasting hero of the last century, Superman. The other reason was I wanted to be ten years old again, and revisiting my childhood pal let me feel like I was.
What is your favorite Superman plot?
I loved the 1990s series where he fought his most dastardly enemy ever (Doomsday), died in the arms of his beloved (Lois), and, after the requisite funeral and mourning, came back to life. Those stories reminded me that what comic book creators take away, they can give back, and they reminded the world why it loved (and needed) Superman.
How did you become aware of Superman’s Jewish roots?
Partly by reading all the good works on the Man of Steel’s ethnicity that came before, partly by reading Superman creator Jerry Siegel’s unpublished memoir, which no one other than his family and lawyers had seen before. Continue reading →
The 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).
For 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 →
It was with a young girl’s excitement that I learned the Skirball would be presenting The Hits, the Life, and the Lost Lyrics of Allan Sherman, a conversation between author Mark Cohen and journalist/film producer Tom Teicholz about the legacy of song parodist and comedian Allan Sherman. Mark Cohen has written the first biography of Allan Sherman and I am excited to learn more about this voice that had such an impact on my childhood. I still remember listening to Allan Sherman’s songs when they were released. We had a record player in the room I shared with my sister, and that’s where we listened to his records. I don’t remember how many albums we had, but we played the songs over and over and laughed ourselves silly—including my parents. Of course, the song I remember most is from the homesick kid at sleepaway camp: “Hello Muddah, hello Faddah, here I am at Camp Granada …”
Listen to Sherman’s “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” here:
We really appreciated this humor for at least two reasons: First, I went away to a girl scout camp and was so homesick and unhappy, Continue reading →
Ever since I made the decision to leave the security of a paid day job to be a full-time graphic novelist, my goal has been this: to pursue what I love.
When Jordan Peimer, Vice President and Director of Programs at the Skirball Cultural Center, asked me to work on moderating a panel about graphic novels—a subject that aligns perfectly with the current exhibition Gary Baseman: The Door Is Always Open—my first thought was, “Cool, I’m completely not cut out for this.” But after some deliberation, and considering the heavy-handed Who’s the Lars von Trier of Comics approach, I concluded I’d do what I have done my whole career: follow my heart. This has always led me down the path of success, and undoubtedly would not fail me now.
There is a Los Angeles pride in me that has always considered the Skirball to be a hallmark of L.A. arts and culture for the past decade. I knew each member of this panel had to be an Angeleno. Continue reading →
Reproduced 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 →
Gary 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!
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.
What 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 →
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.
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 →