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The Getty Teams Up with Storytellers Victoria Burnett and Lou Stratten For this Fall's Family Storytelling Series at the Getty Center

Through January 25, 2009

October 24, 2008

LOS ANGELES—If every picture is worth a thousand words, how many remarkable stories are waiting to be told at the Getty? As visitors walk through the Getty Museum’s galleries, dozens of questions pop into their heads: Who made this work? What is it about? What inspired the artist?

To inspire children and their families to look closely at works of art and discover the answers, the Getty offers free Family Storytelling at the Getty Center from October through May. In a unique collaboration, storytellers work with educators and curators at the J. Paul Getty Museum to craft stories inspired by works of art in the Museum’s collection.

Now celebrating its sixth year, Family Storytelling kicks off its latest season with a new story by Victoria Burnett inspired by Jack Zajac’s sculpture Big Skull and Horn in Two Parts II (a work in the Getty’s collection of modern outdoor sculpture), and an encore performance by Lou Stratten inspired by Nicolas Lancret’s painting Dance before a Fountain.

Happy accidents and a rambunctious ram

American artist Jack Zajac’s realistic-yet-abstract Big Skull and Horn in Two Parts II (1963) is composed of two parts, one that twists and curves upward like the massive horn of a ram, and another that looks like the long-faced shape of a skull. This sculpture was born partially from a serendipitous moment: a plaster the artist was working on broke in two.

Prior to establishing himself as a professional artist in Rome, Zajac worked in a steel mill, as a fisherman, bingo parlor caller, and café fiddler. All the seemingly unconnected events in his life eventually led to his success. Even his decision to begin sculpting was an accident—he discovered a big lump of clay left behind by a previous tenant in an apartment he rented in Rome.

 The sum total of these accidents inspired self-described “story musicologist” Victoria Burnett to weave a musical tale of Zajac’s unconventional journey to becoming a world-renowned artist.

“In doing research for the story, I became fascinated with ‘happy accidents,’ those peripheral accidents that can make a difference in our lives,” says Burnett, who has toured extensively in Europe, Africa, and South and Central America.

Last year at the Getty, Burnett told the story of Clara the Rhinoceros, the subject of a painting by the 18th-century artist Jean-Baptiste Oudry. Spinning a tale based on a contemporary work by a living artist proved a far different experience.

“I watched videos of Zajac discussing his creative process,” Burnett says. “To be able to hear the words coming out of the artist’s mouth brought another dimension to creating the story.”

This time around, Burnett will treat Getty audiences not only to the story of Zajac’s colorful life, but also to a fanciful tale of a rambunctious ram named Rumpus.

In a timely story, Burnett tells of an election within the animal kingdom that’s turned upside down when a lion’s long-held reign is challenged. Things become complicated when Rumpus the Ram, a brazen bully in need of anger management, decides he should lead since he’s the strongest.

“I don’t feel learning has to be difficult and boring,” says Burnett of her style of storytelling. “I love to engage all the senses, so I incorporate chants, singing, and movement into all my stories. There are all different types of learners—auditory, tactile, visual—and then you have combinations. I tap into all types of learning to reach all types of people.”

“I am delighted that Victoria Burnett has been inspired by Jack Zajac’s sculpture to produce this hilarious story of Rumpus the Ram,” says Antonia Boström, senior curator of Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the J. Paul Getty Museum. “I know that not only children, but also adults will respond to Rumpus’ assertive methods. And this story might inspire our visitors to search out the other sculptures in the Getty’s sculpture collection, and come up with some more stories of their own.”

Burnett’s stories can be heard on Sundays November 9, December 7, and January 11 at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Never invite a pirate ship doctor to a fête galante

In French artist Nicolas Lancret’s Dance before a Fountain (about 1730–1735), couples in fancy and colorful clothing perform a country dance in a luxuriant park adorned with a monumental fountain. Surrounding the dancers are relaxed partygoers, musicians performing on the lute and bagpipe, playful children, and their mindful pets.

Lancret’s subject matter captures what is called the fête galante, an 18th-century genre popular among aristocratic patrons and royalty, which depicts pastoral landscapes filled with elegant figures strolling, making music, and individuals attempting to woo their partners.

But could there be more to Lancret’s painting than meets the eye? Take a closer look and many questions arise. What are the children looking at so attentively? What is the little girl holding in her lap? And what is the man in the dark cloak carrying in his bag?

Musician and storyteller Lou Stratten noticed all these details and spun together a fantastic tale involving a nature-loving girl, a magical scroll, a scheming pirate ship doctor who desperately wants the scroll, and a river goddess with a few tricks up her sleeve.
“It was the most amazing experience to go through the Getty and look at all the art, whether it was a painting, sculpture, porcelain, or piece of furniture,” says Stratten of the process of selecting an object to base a story on. “There were so many delicious pieces, but this painting really spoke to me. Dance before a Fountain has instruments, costumes, people dancing, and is set in the beautiful outdoors. There’s a lot there to spark a child’s imagination.”

This is the second year that Stratten has performed her story inspired by Lancret’s painting. Her interactive piece involves guitar-playing, clapping, dancing, barking like a dog, howling like the wind, donning imaginary opera binoculars, and pledging to treat animals and all people with kindness and respect.
Having never performed in a museum gallery prior to the Getty, Stratten remembers asking Museum staff about the rules. “Should I be loud or quiet? Can I dance? Can I point to the art,” she says with a laugh. “They told me, ‘Yes, it’s okay to point, just don’t touch. And yes, you can dance as long as you can find somebody willing to dance with you.’”

“Performing in a gallery is quite an experience,” adds Stratten. “There are people constantly walking in and out, of all different age groups, and from all over the world.”

Ultimately, Stratten wants her audiences to know that they can be creative themselves when they visit a museum. “Going to a museum is not a chore,” Stratten says, “It can be an adventure.”

Stratten’s story can be heard on Sundays October 26, November 23, December 14, and January 25 at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Family Storytelling: The schedule and the details

“Stories are a fun and engaging way for children of all ages––as well as adults––to connect with art,” says Rebecca Edwards, an education specialist at the J. Paul Getty Museum who works closely with all the storytellers. “We get a lot of positive feedback from parents, who tell us our storytelling program has given them a wonderful opportunity to share the Museum with their family.”
The fall series began with Victoria Burnett’s stories inspired by Jack Zajac’s Big Skull and Horns in Two Parts II on October 12, 2008 and closes with Lou Stratten’s story inspired by Nicolas Lancret’s Dance Before a Fountain on January 25, 2009 (see complete schedule below).

In the spring, Family Storytelling will present a new story by Makinto inspired by James Ensor’s colossal painting Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889 and welcome back storyteller Angela Lloyd, who will tell a unique tale of luck and fortune inspired by Dosso Dossi’s painting Allegory of Fortune.
Family Storytelling at the Getty Center is a free educational program presented by the J. Paul Getty Museum’s Education department. Storytelling is offered twice a month on Sundays from October through May. Reservations are not required. Visitors should sign up at the Museum Information Desk beginning at 10:00 a.m. on the day of the program. Since spaces often fill up, visitors are encouraged to sign up early to reserve a spot. The Getty Center is located at 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90049. For additional information, visitors can call 310-440-7300 or visit

Family storytelling – Fall 2008–2009 schedule

Victoria Burnett
Storyteller Victoria Burnett presents a rollicking tale about Rambunctious Rumpus the Ram inspired by Jack Zajac’s sculpture Big Skull and Horn in Two Parts II. Sign up at the Museum Information Desk the day of the program.
Sundays, November 9, December 7, and January 11
11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Lou Stratten
Party 18th-century style with storyteller Lou Stratten as she tells a musical tale inspired by Nicolas Lancret’s painting Dance before a Fountain. Sign up at the Museum Information Desk the day of the program.
Sundays, October 26, November 23, December 14, and January 25
11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Other Family Activities at the Getty Center

Family Art Stops/Enfoque Artístico
Enjoy a playful introduction to art with Family Art Stops, a half-hour, hands-on gallery experience geared for families with children ages 5 and up. To participate, sign up at the Museum Information Desk beginning at 1:30 p.m. for the 2:00 p.m. program and at 2:00 p.m. for the 2:30 p.m. program, which is also offered in Spanish. Then, a professional gallery teacher will greet you in the Museum Entrance Hall and lead you to a family-friendly work of art in the galleries. You might meet a Renaissance oil painting, a 45-foot-tall steel sculpture, or an opulent tapestry adorned with scampering exotic animals. You and your family will look and learn together as you participate in fun activities such as puzzles, drawing projects, role-plays, even an artistic version of Mad Libs. Activities and works of art change frequently, making each visit a new experience. After your Art Stop, your gallery teacher will suggest other family-friendly works of art in the collection that you can visit to practice your new skills at looking and talking about art.
Saturdays and Sundays, 2:00 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.
También ofrecida en español a 2:30 p.m.
Admission: FREE; signup is required.

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Media contact:  

Julie Jaskol
Getty Communications

Visiting the Getty Center:
The Getty Center is open Tuesday through Friday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. It is closed Monday and major holidays. Admission to the Getty Center is always free.  Parking is $10 per car. No reservation is required for parking or general admission. Reservations are required for event seating and groups of 15 or more. Please call 310-440-7300 (English or Spanish) for reservations and information. The TTY line for callers who are deaf or hearing impaired is 310-440-7305.


About the Getty:

The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

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