Jeff Bernstein – BIO

In a Nutshell

  • Born — December 9th, ’45, L.A.
  • Toddler years — Paris.
  • Childhood — Pacific coast, machine shop, California mountains, science, art.
  • Graduated Venice High June, ’63.
  • No military (functionally blind right eye).
  • UCLA, B.A. Psychology, December ’68. (Phi Beta Kappa, Woodrow Wilson Fellow, Cum Laude)
  • UCLA M.A. Psychology (physiological) June, ’72.
  • Met Pam Rogow ’74. Lots of creative work and fun, West Hollywood.
  • Discontinued PhD ’74 to do exhibition design.
  • Married Pam January, ’81. (Divorced ’91)
  • Doug born August, ’81. L.A.
  • Married Jean Stevens, September, ’93, Kalamazoo.
  • Granddaughter Talia born May, ’12.
  • Granddaughter Petra born October, ’14.
  • Grand-niece Alice born April, ’12.

RUSS, CLAIRE, JEFFIE (Alice, too) (’45 to ’50)

Original Specs

LA. Dad’s ‘Bernstein Engineering” Dec 9th ’45 birth blueprint saw an art / science life ahead. Mom & dad worked and partied with the bohemian crowd who created Hollywood’s late ’40s movies. We lived just blocks from La Brea Tar Pits.

Paris. By spring ’47 dad was animation engineer for Lew Bunin’s puppetoon Alice Au Pays de Mervilles, reputedly first feature color movie produced in France. We lived in a villa in Garches, near Paris, with other project team members and their families.

Our governess was kindly Marti. Group suppers with lots of red wine, smoky Gitanes, studio talk, and lefty politics. First words: “Papa, vois la pluie tomber sur la fenêtre.” Immediately translated to “Papa, see the rain on the window.” Dual language right off. Mom loved exploring. Montmartre, all those steps above the Seine. Champs-Elysees. The book stalls. She lived for first-hand experience — a life-long exemplar. La Rue des Rosiers – the old Jewish Quarter. Ancient charms. Hidden nightmares. Vacant rooms. Quiet sobs. Hmmm. What’s this?

Each day’s impressions there built on yesterday’s, weaving patterns extending to now. How many can look back at their lives and see continuities extending back before speech or clear memories?

Visits to the studio. Jewel color light shone through gels. Grinning puppets ticking through clockwork movements on black wire frames. “Alice…” was a financial bust — Disney’s was vastly better.

Back to LA late ’49. In Echo Park, near downtown LA. Couldn’t say so, clearly, but those couple Paris years meant seek mentors, do teamworks, get busy and try things, Later, this meant working in generous spaces with lots of materials and buddies and gear. Keep it light and happy. Stay on task. Fragrances of oil paint, machine oil, soldering flux and freshly carved wood. Our earliest impressions set life’s course.

At 4, Dr. Reynolds fitted first glasses. Myopic left eye, nearly blind right. In a twinkling, sudden clear vision with the left — glistening science. Nature walks in Echo Park’s hills and its lake with family friend Tom Lawrence, an entomologist. Tom’s folding field microscope remains a treasured 6th birthday gift. Still here, in this workspace. It was Tom’s grandfather’s — opened vistas, like my glasses. Rainbows and sharp images beckoned.

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STEVE (’50 to ’57)

Brother Steve born Dec ’50. Loved hide and seek, even before he could walk. All kinds of kids on the block. Look at 3rd grade class picture. See? All the different faces? Kaleidoscope of tall tales, home scenes, lingo, and games. The walk to Palm Grove School passed a mechanic’s where a one-handed guy fixed cars, then a metal fab shop run by a super-strong dwarf who bent steel by hand, a Jewish bakery, a pool hall, candy shop, my friend Johnny’s Catholic church, a synagogue, and an old-time stop traffic signal with “stop” and “go” signs that came out.

Summer ’52, first beach vacations in Carpinteria. Dad drew cartoons for beach kids. Mom savored each sunset. Stevie created mystic worlds from beach sand and flotsam. Hot days body surfing; feeling a wave building became instinct. Free-diving for turbo shells and sand dollars with Hispanic kids – superb divers. Glassy morning waters. Fishing off Union 76’s oil wharf with dad. Raced steam trains, cheated death. Sweet, entirely in those edgy moments — no cares, no dreams. Aroma of lemons in Sunkist warehouses.

Aunt Eunice’s gift of an acid-washed, pearlized turbo started the shell collection. It’s still here. Eunice’s gift was an opening, like Tom’s microscope or my glasses — clarity and form dazzle the eye, teachers and books give it words.

54, began working in dad’s machine shop, learning. Paris reprise. Dad gifted drawing tools, which inspired drawings for a pump-driven skiff based on a candle-powered toy boat. Blew the house’s main fuse trying a stupid electrical idea. Scary, but no serious burns. Took clocks & radios apart. Clocks were vaguely understandable; no such luck with the radios. Hands-on learning, for sure.

Long, sun-drenched Carpinteria beach days. Body surfing. Diving for sand dollars. Tidepools. Bought beautiful Caribbean and Pacific shells at Shell Ship on Santa Barbara’s Stearn’s Wharf. Hiked to top of Yosemite Falls with uncle Frank. Horseback riding at Boy Scouts camp. Steve suffered polio, 98% recovery via months of arduous physical therapy, sometimes as an inpatient. Changed his life.

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BEACHDAYS (’57 to ’63)

Venice Beach School Yearbook

Moved to Mar Vista, just above Venice in ’57. Dug fossil shells out of a sandstone bluff near home. At dad’s machine shop near the beach, my hourly rose to $1. On the Boardwalk: beatniks, retired Jewish folks playing chess and chatting in Yiddish, body builders hefting barbells, poets reciting from a bathtub out front of the Ice House. Body surfing and diving. Stevie soaked it up. Pete Sillen’s documentary I Am Secretly and Important Man captures this poetically.

May ’59 science fair project used locally collected shells and fossils to trace regional evolution. Won a prize. Went to regional science fair at California Museum of Science and Industry.

Mom and dad divorced — amicably. He moved to Venice Beach; built conga drums, got rhythm. Learned tooling jig skills from Rocky, dad’s lead machinist, navy vet — a most mellow junkie. Boy Scouts masters, both WWII combat vets, took us backpacking every few weeks to teach outdoors knowhow. Dreadful gear. Bisquick and Spam. Flint and steel. Great times.

Began Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History life sciences program, fall ’60. Gretchen Sibley headed the college-level round of classes and labs. Prepared skeletons from La Brea Tar Pits. Biological illustration — art and science crossover. Tried to project the required flat perspective. Needed too large a parabolic mirror, so no luck. Dug, then sorted piles of foraminiferan fossils in Dr. Peter Kanakoff’s lab. An elderly paleontologist, he’d been a Russian prince who’d fought the Bolsheviks. Mammalogist Dr. McLaaughlin led field studies in the Mojave. Graduated spring ’62.

Confronted police officer who was supposed to address a driver safety assembly, but instead promoted the Christian Anti-Communist Crusade. Mentor & teacher Lee Simon loved it, wrote mom kudos. Later in 11th grade joined study group hosted by an Air Force colonel doing intelligence work at Rand Corp. Told us nothing. Just gave us readings, like The Ugly American, then tossed us questions. Seemed something serious brewing in Viet Nam. Where? Worked summer ’62 at Harriett Walker’s Open Door School for autistic kids, and dad’s shop. Busy, busy, then jarred, as the Cuban missile crisis kicked off 12th grade.

Met sophisticated Fran Kievitz, who had come to LA with the exodus of German film makers, artists, composers, and literati in the ’30’s. Personal assistant to director Fritz Lange, and novelists Erich Maria Remarque and Thomas Mann, she was a bridge to pre-WWII European culture. Distant echoes of evenings in Garches. Insights into how Holocaust devastated La Rue des Rosiers…and Europe. Fran had known Albert Speer, among others, who came to power as Nazis. Married an American at 19, came here, but aided the German resistance. Douglas wears her heirloom wedding band. It bears an 1837 inscription. Fran was a guide to affairs of the heart and a direct link to luminaries.

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UCLA (’63 to ’72)

With Carolyn Cramer in '65

Worked on a research project in Botany Dept. throughout summer ’63. Freshman in fall. Physics, math, heavy load. Joined UCLA’s Project Amigos to build a classroom in Tijuana over Thanksgiving, Met Carolyn Cramer, Gere McCabe, Rev. Don Hartsok and more. Gere taught industrial design. Carolyn studied it. Its art and tech crossover clicked. Many musical friends, frequented Ashgrove Music Club in West Hollywood, where McCabe owned an instrument shop.

Ugly American from ’62 was fresh in mind. With war looming, a group of us staged a “walk to the sea” from UCLA carrying signs for cutbacks in US military advisers in Viet Nam. Nearly everybody we met was clueless…except a Marine sergeant, who pulled over to scream at us, then tirade, at last clearly explain US forces’ mission in ‘Nam. Memorably bright guy. Worked with Rev. Hartsok and American Friends Service Committee members to help Jack Knox write and file his Conscientious Objector plea. Questioned by FBI about Jack’s doings. He got his C.O. Tried and failed at helping close friend Joe Prange get a C.O.; his name is on the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall.

Steve’s challenge. He was a brilliant kid, improvising guitar and piano jazz, writing poetry, and painting. Mom encouraged him. He was also very aware, very unhappy about the divorce. Increasingly erratic. Vanishing for hours. Skipping school. Threatening violence. Lacking funds, sound advice, or viable options mom committed him to Camarillo State Mental Hospital, Winter, ’64. Dad was cooperative, vague, distant. Family looked my way for help …say what? How’s an 18-year old mend this mess? Visited Steve with Carolyn; vivid, horrid memories. Call this a Hospital? Guards molested patients. Dope was rife. Lax security. Stevie escaped. Now, at 13, a homeless heroin addict. See Pete Sillen’s documentary: I Am Secretly an Important Man, for a gripping portrait of Steve’s life and career. It was a privilege to work with Pete on this film. Premiered at Museum of Modern Art in spring, ’10.

By ’65 courses at UCLA focused on art and science. Actress Letitia Roman provided an intro to Prof. Kurt von Meier in ’67. Took his 20th Century art history seminars, participating in experimental art events and “happenings,” and creating technical art pieces. Inspired by “Nine Evenings,” an art and technology collaboration by Robert Rauschenberg and Billy Klüver, seven of us started Experiments in Art and Technology, LA (E.A.T.L.A.) to create larger events. One lit Cal Tech with laser beams and patterns. Another, inspired and engineered by architect Jeffrey Lindsay (a protege of Buckminster Fuller), produced a 24’ space-frame kite that flew at Day of the Kite and was photographed by Life Magazine. Many puzzling crashes before attaining stable flight, for sure.

At the time, the fertile ground between science and art was way out of bounds in academia. Ever-narrower specialization was the rule, not risky explorations.

Hopis’ sacred Black Mesa ’67. Rev. Hartsok’s services at Westwood Methodist Church were inspiring. One sermon focused on keeping L. A. Metropolitan Water District from building a coal-fired power plant on Navajo lands, fueled with coal strip-mined from Black Mesa — sacred ground to the Hopis. Totally lacking know-how, several of us trekked out to Old Oraibi to help. Got invited into a Bean Dance kiva ceremony, and witnessed an Antelope Dance from afar. Failed to impede LAMWD. Today, Four Corners Power Plant is shuttered. Bittersweet. Cost hundreds of Navajo folks their jobs.

HUD’s Project Breakthrough, spring ’69 applied cross-disciplinary skills to address real-world housing challenges. Prize-winning work on this, with Juan Espinoza and Steve Siskind at B. A. Berkus Assoc. for Christiana Oil started design career. Timeline details career. BIO dwindles from here on as Timeline builds.

Graduated UCLA December, ’69. Phi Beta Kappa, Woodrow Wilson Fellow, Cum Laude, National Institutes of Mental Health fellowship. First ever in the family to earn a college degree. Many thanks for California State Scholarship, which paid tuition. SCUBA course at UCLA, fall ’70; Aussie navy guy taught it, challenging fun.

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SCENES (’69 to ’74)

Tremendous break from grad school and design work - doing a Renaissance Faire booth with friends on weekends spring '70, '71, '72

With close friends and several dozen others, purchased 2,700 acre Gualala Ranch, in Sonoma County to create an intentional community. It’s still there, more beautiful than when we started — decades of hands-on creative problem-solving. Sold parcel 29 to a ranch neighbor in ’98 so he could plant south-facing slopes in Cabernet-Sauvignon grapes. Saw to the reforestation of some 20 north-facing acres. Nearby, in Napa County, art history prof Kurt von Meier had established Diamond Sufi Ranch, 24-7 salon for luminaries of avant-garde thought and spirituality (John Lilly, Alan Watts, G. Spencer Brown, and more). Always a welcome encounter to join the doings on trips to Gualala Ranch.

Kurt and art historian Andrea Levin provided an intro to Robert Rauschenberg, then working on a series of lithographs at Gemini G.E.L. featuring the Apollo Program — great fun exploring art and technology ideas, sometimes trying out simple prototypes at his Malibu beach cottage. The place was awash with toys, antiques, old signs, posters, postcards and more, from which Bob drew fresh perspectives. One evening, we sat on the veranda with Claes Oldenburg, scanning Pacific waves with a WWII surplus searchlight. We shared a fascination with high tech’s abstract aesthetics.

MA June ’72, Physiological Psych. Went on to doctoral track studies, but had to leave off to focus on the Singapore Science Centre project.

Dear friend and natural materials artist Nicki Marx introduced ethnic art collector Rik Kumler. Fall ’73 he floated the notion we go find and purchase indigenous crafts in Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, and Panama. His finds flew home via PanAm Cargo.

Travelers at the guest lodge in Cuzco insisted that walking the Inca Trail was a must, as it had just been opened to trekkers. Ric couldn’t spare the time. Drew a map from info at the lodge, then took the antique steam train to kilometer 88 to set out. Traversing Inca Trail’s high, misty 26 miles solo was scary and exhausting. A lifelong takeaway: do risky with buddies, never alone.

There’s a stunning macaw feather headdress from that trip here at home, and one to match it at Doug’s place. Creative work grows out of our treasured memories, experiences, and mind-wakening artifacts.

In conversation with Nicki about our interests and experiences, she said these would converge to become a life work for each of us. Soon after, the exhibition design career began…

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SHOWTIME (’74 to ’87)

With Doug in '82

Nicki introduced Pam Rogow in ’74, and Pam intro’d Herb Rosenthal, initiating work on the Singapore Science Center project. Trips to Singapore enabled side trips to Japan, Bali, and Sri Lanka. Anyone for a hand-forged betel-nut shear? How about a few dozen Balinese mask-dance masks? They’re on the opposite wall just now, staring blankly at this screen. Enjoyed a host of other creative projects with Pam and others then — People’s Almanac entries, scaled-up Tesla coils, resonant spaces music, ultra-light structures – – a reprise of E.A.T.L.A.

Married Pam, January ’81. Doug born, August 4th ’81. Lots of fun with Doug’s pals, who more or less swarmed through the house. All delicate works of art and science lived at the design studio, where they were a bit safer. Walt Disney once said “That’s the real trouble with the world, too many people grow up.” Late ’87 saw us separate, then later divorce.

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KAZOO (’88 to ’93)

Above the Libyan Sea Crete July 88

October 17 ’87 calendar note “meet Jean Stevens.” What kind of nut carries a reminder to meet their life’s love? Went to install Chips & Changes at Kalamazoo Public Museum. Jean Stevens, the Museum’s exhibits curator, had drawn the floorplan. She strides up to Al, Rogow + Bernstein’s tech wizard “Are you the big cheese?” Al: “He’s over there.” She was stunning. Perennially magnifique. Clearly, a memorable installation in the works. Noah Roselander, the Museum’s tech-meister, is still a great friend and ski buddy — fearless.

Fran said, years back, if you enjoy traveling with someone, you’re bonded. Certainly true with Rik Kumler, unshakeable friends till AIDS took him in ’89. July ’88, with Jean on Crete hiked down Samaria Gorge, caught the ferry to Loutro, feasted our eyes on Minoan art at Knossos, and feasted day after day on sumptuous Greek cuisine. Then, back home, we danced and rode horses and walked miles of Michigan’s white sandy beaches. A surfeit of art in Florence, Venice, and Rome in ’89. Museum pros to the core, we learned of a crypt below the floor of one of the Medici Chapels at the Basilica of San Lorenzo where a visitor could, for an extra fee, view charcoal cartoons drawn by Michelangelo on the plaster walls. Musty down there. Bare bulb. We wondered how we’d get back out. Since then, art, nature, and diving have drawn us throughout the US and across the globe, often with Doug. The best education.

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JEAN (’93 to ’08)

With Jean and great divemaster and friend

Married Jean September 26th ’93, with family and wide community of Kalamazoo friends. Doug began joining our group travels. The circle grew.

When Doug was little, we biked around La Brea Tar Pits, just blocks from home; fishing off Santa Monica pier; sport fishing from boats off Catalina, and riding in Michigan. Later, travels with Doug got spicier. For his 13th birthday, we stayed at the Rain Forest Aerial Tram construction site, living in a cabin on stilts (to keep out Fer de Lance and other deadly critters) in the rain forest and riding the “web,” a 30” square steel perch with handrail suspended from a radio-controlled trolley that rolled along a taut stainless steel cable as high as 12 stories off the ground, above the forest canopy. Offsite, we took hot mud baths at Mt. Arenal volcano, went shrimping in the Gulf of Nicoya and galloped along its shore.

At 15, Doug joined our group trip to Nepal, where we circumambulated Anapurna. At 16, we slogged the Inca Trail’s high mist and cold mud (my second time) to Machu Picchu with Kalamazoo friends. At 17, we climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, partly to gain distance from al-Qaeda and other terrorists who had bombed US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam a couple days earlier. Jean’s Serengeti animal drawings breathe. At 19, Doug passed his open water certification in Belize. Then, we lost our boat doing a night underwater navigation training with Glen Eiley, an inspiring friend and dive instructor. Glen, of course, found the boat, floating placidly off Mosquito Caye beneath a pitch-black starry sky. In July, ’01, we traveled Tibet’s high country with adventure buddies and China expertsTom Kostrzewa and his son, Ben, and several others. Visited an orphanage and school for blind kids in Lhasa, seeing first-hand their plight. Tom had us bring bundles of toys and food; taught juggling. We connected.

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TALIA, PETRA, & ALICE (’08 to ’20)

Doug and Becca wed in Saratoga Springs, September 13th 08

Many travels and much top training later, Doug’s an E.R. doc, unflappably calm, positive, even funny, no matter what (and he’s seen it all). He and his lovely, brilliant wife Becca Crootof are raising granddaughters Tali and Petra. Really, Becca is a wunderkind, a Yale Law School grad and second person to earn a PhD in Law at Yale, then serve two clerkships for two different judges in the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals; now a law professor at University of Richmond. Easy-going? Yup! Charming? For sure. A leader in her generation? Definitely.

Nephew Alex was all set to join the ’01 Tibet trip. Somehow, it inspired him to go to Japan, instead. He met and married Akemi there. Jean and I met her parents there, and have enjoyed feeling part of a wider family. Their daughter, Alice, is yet another grandkid. Treasures, all three. Gradually, ever wider explorations, skills, and fun.

Back to that ’01 Tibet trip. Our first day in Lhasa, we walked to Jokhang Temple. There, amidst ecstatic pilgrims, an attractive, middle-aged woman emerged from the throng, then thrust a fine mala into my left hand. A mala is a string of 108 meditation beads. Not realizing this was a pilgrim’s offering, it felt only fair to thrust a wad of yuan back. She adamantly signed “No, no, it’s a gift.” A tall, handsome man in a broad-brimmed hat about her age stood behind her. He signed to take the mala, to hold it in one hand. Then they pronounced the six sacred syllables “Om Mani Padme Hum.” Upon looking up, after glancing at this sudden gift, they had vanished into the crowd. Meditating that mala began then. It’s prompted more trips to Tibet, and wider travels there, to remote and sacred sites. Slowly, the woman and man who gifted that mala are becoming known.

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This BIO may have a ways to run, but it’s mostly done. Some patterns have emerged writing it — as telling and individual as one’s face. They were forming from the start, well before words and memories. A few that run through this BIO, like a Hopi blanket’s warp:

  • Hang with folks who know more; ask questions.
  • Enjoy today, and tomorrow, too.
  • Join or gather a group to do an idea.
  • Be more river than lake; flow deepens the channel.
  • To gain real knowhow, do it to learn it.
  • For fun and results, try something new.
  • Keep at your vision until it stands up and walks.
  • Diversity rocks; get up and dance.
  • As Rasta Roland on Caye Caulker said, “Doan tink, mon.”