I’ve been to quite a few events at the Skirball’s Family Amphitheater Performances (kicking off June 21); it’s a great place to introduce your kids (and yourself) to everything from live marimba music to live porcupines. Most of the time when I’m there, my attention is devoted to my daughter—watching her delight in the day’s programming, chasing her up and down the amphitheater stairs (i.e., cardio for parents), trying to dredge up a box of raisins from the very bottom of the toddler utility tote (because of course that is the place where the thing you want will be), etc. Still, the casual observations I’ve made of my fellow parents in attendance have led me to the very scientific hypothesis that, tucked away in the catch-all descriptor of “dad,” there are various distinct subcategories of dads—a broad array of phyla in the kingdom of dads, if you will. I’m pretty sure I could fill a Birds of America-sized book with all of these dad types, but I won’t pretend that wouldn’t be kind of tedious for everybody concerned. Still, I feel that it’s my duty as a fellow dad and an armchair anthropologist to present a small sampling of dads in honor of Flag Day. I mean, Father’s Day.
When bright red pomegranates started filling every nook and cranny of wall space in the Ruby Gallery at the Skirball, I witnessed people stop in their tracks, puzzle over it, and smile. After working closely with the Los Angeles art collaborative Fallen Fruit (David Burns and Austin Young) on this immersive art installation, I have learned how something as simple as a piece of fruit can bring so many people and ideas together.
In their artistic practice, Fallen Fruit uses fruit as a filter to explore social engagement and relies on acts of sharing, public participation, and community involvement to make their work. The social, economic, and political implications of fruit reveal the relationship between those who have food resources and those who do not, and yet they also foster a sense of community and activism. In fact, Fallen Fruit’s name is derived from a passage in the book of Leviticus:
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger.
This philosophy of giving and reaching out to strangers has allowed Fallen Fruit to collaborate with communities and institutions all over the world. After studying our collection of Jewish cultural artifacts, Fallen Fruit found inspiration in a seventeenth-century ketubbah (marriage contract). They also discovered how prominently the pomegranate figures in Jewish art and culture, particularly as a symbol of fertility and marriage. The installation in the Ruby Gallery combines their interest in both the cultural ritual of marriage and the beauty of the pomegranate by featuring specially designed wallpaper created from photographs of pomegranate fruits grown in Southern California.
Fallen Fruit’s custom fruit wallpaper has become their signature visual format for exploring fruits that are important or symbolic to certain institutions and collections. But why wallpaper? Austin Young explains, “Fruit is often decorative. It appears in wallpaper, art objects, patterns on textiles, decorative art, and still life paintings throughout history in different cultures.” The wallpaper that Fallen Fruit creates often incorporates a lattice-like pattern that repeats continuously. Austin adds that this repetition reinforces the fact that “we see fruit as a common denominator and connector.”
The pomegranate wallpaper that Fallen Fruit designed has been made into a special edition just for the Skirball. In Jewish tradition, the pomegranate is a pervasive symbol from biblical times relating to the garments of the priesthood and royalty, the architecture of the ancient temple, and Torah ornaments of the synagogue. According to one rabbinic tradition, a pomegranate contains 613 seeds, corresponding directly to divine commandments in the Torah.
But the exhibition doesn’t stop here; Continue reading
What is a bagel without the schmear? How and when did this creamy, delectable spread make its way onto our plates? In anticipation of his talk at the Skirball on June 24, we asked Rabbi Jeff Marx, a historian of cream cheese and rabbi to The Santa Monica Synagogue, to answer a few of these questions and to share his recommendation for the best cream cheese vehicle (I took the liberty of trying out his suggestion!).
At the Skirball, you’ll be sharing a lot about the little-known history of cream cheese. What’s one remarkable fact about schmear that surprises most people? That there was no cream cheese in Eastern Europe. Even more surprising is when bagel, cream cheese, and lox first became a combination. And no, I’m not going to tell you that now. You’ll have to wait for the lecture!
How did you get interested in this topic in the first place?
I was writing a history of two Lithuanian brothers who came to America and started Breakstone Bros. Dairy in New York. Some Breakstone family members suggested that the brothers introduced cream cheese to America. When I investigated further, it turned out that in fact cream cheese had been here in the U.S. before they stepped off the boat. I decided to put a footnote in my history indicating this and stating when cream cheese manufacturing actually began. Six years later, I finished the footnote! Continue reading
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.
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. Made out of parchment (animal skin), the ketubbah features five biblical episodes and twelve signs of the zodiac set in roundels. Continue reading
What better way to celebrate the Skirball’s presentation of The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats than with window display of a snowy day? After growing up watching Bugs Bunny fool Elmer Fudd into thinking it was winter in July, Audrey’s staff member Michelle Bourdon and I wanted to go all out on that theme. We researched various winter holiday store window display designs, and then we designed our own. It took the combined talents of the rest of Audrey’s staff to make our wintry window happen!
I lived in Los Angeles for fourteen years before I discovered the Skirball Cultural Center. I don’t know what took me so long, but I’m so happy I finally found my way to this gem of a museum.
As an LAUSD kindergarten teacher, I am always searching for ways to integrate more art into my curriculum. Last summer I saw a listing for the teacher professional development program Teaching Through Storytelling at the Skirball and took a gamble. It has paid off in ways I never could’ve predicted.
When I arrived at the Skirball last July, I felt like a new student as I waited on the amphitheater steps for the workshop to begin. The day began with a story, told by one of the Skirball educators, that illustrated many of the theatrical, musical, and physical techniques we would learn over the course of the next three days. How could I predict that I would find Noah’s Ark to be so exquisite, or that I would be thoroughly enchanted by the storytellers who work there? Wow. How could I predict how helpful this professional development program would be? In my eighteen years of teaching, this is in the top three learning experiences this student has had.
By lunch, I felt like a very welcome houseguest. I ate quickly so that I could visit the exhibition Gary Baseman: The Door Is Always Open. I went back to the exhibition three more times during my three-day visit, and each time I read more about Gary’s life and discovered new details in the art and objects on display.
By the end of the first day I felt like family. I was immediately welcomed into this community, like a newfound relative you meet and bond with effortlessly. We were given passes to come back to Noah’s Ark with our real family, and I couldn’t wait to share this experience with my kids.
Over the course of the three-day workshop we explored many different modes of storytelling that used music, movement, Continue reading
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.
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.
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
As a child in school, I loved field trips. Is there a child who doesn’t? The chance to escape the confines of the classroom and meet the wide and wondrous world was always a thrill. In the State of Israel, where I grew up, field trips were unforgettable adventures. Not only were we exploring a glorious landscape, we were seeing the sites of history inscribed there. One of my favorite sites was the famous Roman amphitheater in Caesarea. It was built two thousand years ago, and it is miraculously well-preserved. I was so impressed by its design: grand and spacious yet circular and intimate, and not a bad seat in the house. Music, dance, and drama performances are held there to this day. You sit not only side by side but face to face. Even better, everyone in the audience can see each other.
The amphitheater is both a cultural space and a communal space. That is the ideal that inspires us at the Skirball—to be a place where both culture and community are celebrated.
As the school year comes to a close Continue reading
Happy birthday, Skirball! Today you turn eighteen. If you were like other Angelenos your age, you might be spending these days preparing for prom… or waiting for college acceptance letters… or applying for that job you weren’t eligible for until now. Hopefully you’d live up to your mission and register to vote and not dodge jury duty. You’re not quite old enough for a cocktail, but we’ll toast you nonetheless.
It’s been a good year for you, Skirball. At last, your fifteen-acre campus was completed, and in grand style at that. The Jewish Journal took note of the special occasion in a cover story on your founder, Uri D. Herscher, and he and architect Moshe Safdie reflected upon the journey of your building on film. Of this particular birthday, Uri also reminds us, “Eighteen in Jewish life is special cause for celebration, for in Hebrew the number spells life—and the Skirball’s life is thriving like never before.”
Now, as an eighteen-year-old, you would certainly spend a ton of your time taking selfies and posting them online—if only you could. But since you can’t, a few of us on staff took some for you. Here are eighteen gorgeous—and some unexpected—views of you, all taken in the last week or so. Thanks for being home to us and to so many of our visitors. Happy eighteenth!
This past Sunday was my first time attending the Skirball’s annual Puppet Festival, and as soon as I reached the parking lot, it was obvious that everyone in attendance was filled with excitement and anticipation. Moms, dads, friends, and relatives were actively engaged in conversation while their children—many dressed in colorful costumes—were skipping with joy at the thought of seeing the myriad of puppets. Throughout the day, I observed many memorable moments; fortunately, talented photographer Peter Turman was there to capture some of them with his camera. The Puppet Festival was a full day of celebrating families, friends, and puppets! Click through the slideshow below to catch a glimpse of the day as seen through my favorite ten of Peter’s photographs.
All photos by Peter Turman