Intern Weekly Response: Exhibit Reviews

Posted on July 12, 2018 by

Every week we’re asking our summer interns to share some thoughts and responses to various experiences and readings. This week we asked them to visit a different museum on their own and review an exhibit. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.


The Chesapeake Heritage Center

~Intern Marisa Shultz

If you’ve ever driven on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and finally (after the toll plaza and traffic) landed on the other side, you’ve been on Kent Island, Maryland’s first English settlement and a seafood lover’s paradise. I’ve lived on Kent Island just about three years now and have always been a great deal curious as to it’s colonial, antebellum, and modern history, so I took a trip over to the Chesapeake Heritage Center to check out its fantastic view and learn a little more about the place I’ve been calling home.

What a gorgeous view!

The historical exhibition itself, while logically grouped into general categories, is a bit of a cabinet of curiosities. Rather than have one central theme or a rotating exhibit, the Heritage Center, likely due to its limited room, tries to tackle multiple topics in one general space; the topics range from the ecology of the bay, the pivotal role of the bay in the War of 1812, local microhistories, and the everchanging modes of transportation.

It was the section on transportation that drew me in the most. Split into three sections (trains, ferries, and cars), this part of the exhibit was filled with a variety of historical photos; they depicted maps, construction, mortgage bonds, and people.

This picture illustrates Ruth Weston, a Chesapeake Bay Bridge Toll Sargent, and the various items people use to pay for the bridge toll, including a fire hydrant, a wedding band, and radios.

In the photo above, the Heritage Center gives a glimpse of Ruth Weston’s career as a Toll Sargent and raises a great deal of questions: What was it like being a woman working the toll booth in the early days of the bay bridge? Was it legal for her to accept objects as a form of payment for the toll? Who wanted to cross the bridge so badly that they left their wedding band? While the exhibit does not attempt to try and answer these questions, it does certainly spark interest.

The transportation section also had artifacts that gave an additional layer. Of personal interest was a program from the dedication of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge (if you’re interested in celebrating with a trip to the Eastern shore, the anniversary is on June 30th). Symbolically placed, the program was put overtop of a photo of a family in a car on the bridge waving at people on the local ferry, representing the passing of the torch from ferries to cars.

This is one of the original programs from the Dedication Ceremony of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

While certainly not explicitly stated, if I had to draw a narrative connecting the variety of topics in the exhibit, I would say that the theme is the change, whether it be natural or forced modernization, that has come to the Chesapeake Bay and its communities in the past 100 years. I learned about how our shorelines have shifted from prehistory to today, how the ferries have died out, and how the chemical makeup of the Chesapeake Bay has changed. However, I am a lover of details, dates, and names, and I found myself yearning for greater informational depth in an exhibit that is certainly covered in terms of informational breadth. Overall, I would say the exhibit is a good primer for those with a budding interest in our history, or those just passing through on a sunny Friday while on the way to the beach.


Carroll County Farm Museum

~Intern Justine “Ellie” Smith

I went to visit the Carroll County Farm Museum for this week’s blog post. The Farm Museum actually began as the almshouse for Carroll County. Tenants at the almshouse would work on the farm and in other trades. The farm house is set up with period items from the late 1700s to the 1900s. Visitors can see a variety of objects while visiting to the farm house.

The bedrooms have trundle beds and traditional mattress ticking. There are handmade quilts and canopies over the beds, and in the children’s room there are handmade toys. One thing that I have never seen or noticed in historic home were small vents with pull chains. These were like old fashioned air conditioning. A docent explained that the vents were used to cool the room in the summer. When it was too hot the occupants simply pulled the chain and let air into the room which would create an air current throughout the house. The day I visited there were not any guided tours but docents were around the entire house in period dress to answer any questions.

After making your way through the farm house you cross a small covered bridge which leads to the tenant apartments from the almshouse. Each of the rooms is set up to reflect a different craft or aspect of life in the 1800s-1900s. There was a quilt making room and a sewing room. A kitchen and a tin shop. My two favorite rooms were the veterinarian’s office and the children’s room.

I never had thought about vets existing during the 1800 and 1900s. The vets during this period would have been concerned with working with larger animals like horses and cattle but when formal education for vets became common practice smaller domesticated animals like dogs and cats found their way into the vet’s office. This room had a variety of instruments like glass bottles that once held ingredients for medicines, a scale, and syringes in various sizes. One cabinet had tools of the trade as well as skulls of horses, a fetal calf in a jar, and a heart of a dog that had worms. There was also a taxidermy two headed calf on the wall (though it was not clear if this was real or fabricated). Veterinarians are not something I think of when I think of farms or almshouses so seeing this room was really special and very interesting.

My other favorite room was the children’s please touch room. Because I have been working in the education department at the JMM I am always interested to see how other institutions engage children that visit. Everything in this room could be touched and interacted with.

There were examples of cans and dry goods bags that one would find at a general store. There was a scale that would have been used to weigh out goods to buy. One section of the room had antique post office boxes and postcards that the children could write and address to their homes and the museum would send them. In another corner there was a coloring area and the coloring pages were all images from the museum. There was an area where children could dress up in clothes from the period and could interact with the space. There was also a small reading area for kids. I thought this area was fabulous. It engaged with children of all ages. There was something for any age child to do and connect with in this space. Parents could enjoy watching their children connect with history in a safe environment and not have to worry about them breaking anything or touching something they were not supposed to. I think that more museums should have more spaces where children can get hands on with the history around them.

After leaving the almshouse there are several other outbuildings which can be explored. I did not realize how large of a museum this was before I went. I recommend wearing comfortable walking shoes because there is a lot of ground to cover. In the other building there is antique farm equipment and displays explaining how slaughter houses worked and how cider was pressed. Another interactive part of the museum is the blacksmiths shop. There was a blacksmith demonstration occurring when I was there. It is truly amazing to see this ancient art being practiced. When you walk behind the blacksmith’s shop and follow the path you come across the farm animals that live at the museum. There were ducks, geese, baby pigs and goats, and the two largest residents are oxen.

The Carroll County Farm Museum provides a unique learning experience that goes beyond the normal historic home tour. There is something for everyone to see at this museum and something for everyone to connect with. The Farm Museum goes out of its way to be family friendly and has areas specifically designed with children in mind. I learned a lot about the history of Carroll County and about how farms operated. There is so much to see at the Carroll County Farm Museum and I will definitely have to go back to make sure I can take it all in.

More information about the Museum can be found here.


Medicine and Soda Fountains: The Pharmacy at the Baltimore Museum of Industry

~Intern Ash Turner

Within the Baltimore Museum of Industry, a small pharmacy sits with its wooden doors wide open. Although this old-school pharmacy no longer serves customers, it immerses its visitors into the history and evolution of Baltimore pharmacies. Complete with a soda bar, a register, and cabinets filled with jars and medicinal ingredients, I was taken in by how charming it was to step back in time for a little while during my museum visit.

Picture of the Pharmacy “storefront.” Above the door is a green-striped awning and a “Geo A. Bunting, Druggist” sign. Window displays sit on the left and right side of the door.

Reflection of me in the soda bar mirror as I take a picture of the exhibit’s bar.

I enjoyed that this exhibit was more of an immersive environment rather than a traditional exhibit. The Pharmacy had only a few captions, preferring to leave the visitors’ curiosity with the items themselves. The captions and descriptions that were included were placed either in the window displays near the door, or at the front of the room, so that they didn’t interrupt the immersive space created. For me, leaving the space mostly free of curatorial text painted a better picture of how an old pharmacy might have looked, and it helped the room feel like it was an actual storefront.

Photo taken while looking in from the Pharmacy’s front door toward the right side of the room. Pictured from left to right: A display of cameras in a cabinet, a metal register, and a wooden medicine cabinet.

Close-up photo of pharmacist mixing tools.

I felt steeped in the time period and culture, rather than feeling like I was just reading about the period, which is an experience I feel is unique to museum installations. I also tend to read everything in museum exhibits, so the few placards and posters included in the Pharmacy provided me with the perfect amount of information to digest in a single viewing. Overall, I enjoyed how the exploration of this space was left up to me as a visitor, because I found it intriguing and inspiring to step into this space and let my curiosity lead the way.


Odyssey: Jack Whitten Sculpture, 1963-2017

~Intern Alexia Orengo Green

Having only been in the city of Baltimore a little over a month, one of the places I was extremely thrilled to visit was the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA). At the Museum, I had the opportunity to visit the new exhibit Odyssey of Jack Whitten’s work. The exhibit displays the evolution of Whitten’s work since 1963 to 2017, through personal items that belonged to Whitten, Whitten’s stories, and sculptures. By doing this, the visitor connects with the art, and has a glimpse of Whitten’s working process. The exhibit is divided on three parts: Whitten’s early work, Greece, and Black Monolith series. Odyssey serves as biography and memorial for the late artist, who died on January 20, 2018.

At the beginning of the exhibit the visitor is presented with Whitten’s early sculptures, which the Civil Rights Movement heavily influenced. From his early works, one of the must striking sculptures is Homage to Malcom, which he dedicated to Malcom X. This piece is completely asymmetrical and combines different techniques and materials, which make the piece even more powerful.

Homage to Malcom. Via The Art Newspaper.

The first room of the exhibit also contains a large picture of Whitten’s studio, allowing the visitor to see where Whitten created his art and got his inspiration from. This photo in conjunction with his personal notes, allow the visitor to see the process Whitten followed when creating his sculptures. Having a picture of Whitten’s studio and reading his personal notes also forms a bond between Whitten, his art, and the visitor.

Jack Whitten’s studio wall. Via BMA.

Because his wife had family in Greece, Whitten spend a great amount of his time there. An anecdote that stayed with me after the exhibit was regarding Whitten’s first visit to Greece. There, he dreamed with a large piece of wood, which he later found during his stay and created a sculpture. The stories behind Whitten’s work and the Greek sculptures from Minoan and Mycenean Greece that are found through the exhibit, transport the visitor to Whitten’s experiences there.

The third part of the exhibit focuses on the Black Monolith series Whitten created. Whitten’s series contrast heavily with the rest of the exhibit because of the dark and vibrant colors they have. The most striking piece of the series is Atopolis: For Édouard Glissant. To create this piece, Whitten layered paint to make it look as it were small tile pieces. Atopolis is Greek for “without place.” The tittle of the piece contrasts with the scene that is shown. Atopolis depicts an aerial view of a city, from its main hub to the more spread out areas.  The large piece attracts the attention of the visitor from the moment they enter the room.

Atopolis: For Édouard Glissant

Odyssey is a spectacular exhibit that showcases the work of a significant artist that was able to influence the world through his art.

Be sure to visit the exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art!


House & Home

~Intern Cara Bennet

The National Building Museum’s permanent exhibit, “House and Home,” employs various exhibition techniques to help visitors explore the various social and cultural meanings and connotations of the American “home.” The exhibit utilizes several components including objects, photographs, models, film, timelines, maps, and text panels. These various components make the exhibit accessible to people with different learning styles by allowing them to focus on the aspects of the exhibit that interest them the most. The variety of exhibition techniques also keep the audience engaged by preventing the monotony of an exhibit solely comprised of a single component.

The primary purpose of the exhibit is to convey how a house becomes a home and show what “home” means to a diverse group of Americans. For the most part, this message is successfully conveyed throughout the exhibit. The first room features walls of photographs that depict different families and their homes and the various activities that take place in their homes. The theme of diversity carries on into the next room which features a wall of household objects and includes many multi-cultural objects such as a mezuzah, a tortilla press, and an Islamic prayer rug. This theme is reiterated on the left side of the room which features full scale models of different construction methods which exemplify just some of the many diverse styles of American homes. The models of iconic houses in the center of the room such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Falling Water” also emphasize the variety of American homes and highlight houses that were the first to experiment with certain construction techniques and designs.

Model of Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic home “Falling Water.” Image via.

“House and Home” is an object driven exhibit. The highlight of the exhibit and the section visitors appeared to be most drawn to is the wall of household objects. These are objects that are familiar to most visitors and evoke an emotional or nostalgic response. At first glance these objects appeared to be displayed randomly. The objects had no context and were displayed next to objects from different time periods. For example, a beanbag chair from the 1980s was displayed next to a slipper chair from the 1850s. At first, I found this arrangement confusing and frustrating but once I realized that the objects were organized by room (i.e. kitchen, yard, living room) I gained a greater appreciation for the display and the message the curators were trying to convey. Throughout history and across social lines people have chosen to furnish their homes with objects that represent themselves and their pasts. These ordinary objects reflect their owners’ ideals, values, and aspirations. Objects and houses represent the lives of the people who own them.

The Object Wall. Image via.

While most of the objects in this section are familiar and easily recognized by the audience, label panels below the objects provide context and authenticity. Each label panel features a basic drawing of the outline of each object which is numbered and corresponds to the text label which briefly describes the object and its provenance. Unlike the dollhouses and the model houses, the objects in this section are not displayed behind glass. The only barrier between the visitor and the objects is a low wall and a few feet of space. The lack of glass could indicate that these objects are less important than most museum objects, however this was an intentional decision on the part of the curators and exhibit designers. The lack of glass makes these objects more accessible. These objects are everyday objects that visitors already have a connection to and displaying these objects openly increases the visitors’ connection to the objects by giving them the sense that they can reach out and touch them.

“House and Home” is a fairly accessible exhibit. The flow of the exhibit is clear and linear. Each room flows into the next room preventing the visitor from getting lost or confused. The objects and models in the exhibit are arranged so that they can easily be seen by all visitors. The dollhouses in the first room of the exhibit are encased in glass and placed in the center of the room so that visitors can easily move around them to view the rooms from different angles. Similarly, the models of iconic houses which are displayed in the next room are placed in the middle of the room and are low to the ground allowing children and visitors in wheelchairs to view them more easily.

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