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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Quick… Before It Disappears!

The curtain will soon close on Masters of Illusion: Jewish Magicians of the Golden Age—on view for just three more weeks. As our team prepares to return the fantastic objects we borrowed to their rightful owners, I find myself reflecting on what made it so rewarding for me.

I especially enjoyed meeting family members of some of the performers spotlighted in the exhibition.They shared amazing personal stories as well as priceless memorabilia. Les Arnold, who bears a striking resemblance to his grandfather Leon Levy (known on stage as The Great Leon), shared a photo of Leon atop an elephant. Riding alongside him is his wife, Edythe Packard Levy (of the Packard Motor Car family), and an assistant.

The Great Leon, center, shows off his “exotic” origins in a photo that was in fact taken in New York City. On loan from Les Arnold, grandson of The Great Leon.

The photo is inscribed “Simla, India, April 24th, 1908”—but as Les explained, “Simla” was closer to the Bronx Zoo than the Taj Mahal. Leon faked the photo to pass himself off as the great Hindu fakir “Kadan Sami” and to earn a spot on B.F. Keith’s hot-ticket vaudeville circuit. In another photo, Leon is pictured in an act he called The Fakir’s Supper, also designed to transport his audience to a mystical and mysterious foreign land. In this  illusion, Leon would pull all of the items for a great banquet from the foulard over his arm! Leon passed on his love of magic to his grandson and great-granddaughter: Les and his daughter Alex continue to perform as the comedy magic duo Les Arnold and Dazzle. Continue reading

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