Posted on June 22nd, 2016 by Rachel
“We’re going to have a party! A page-turning party!” Joanna turns around while she walks and smiles as she tells me the plan for the day, which includes working on my oral histories project and, apparently, now a party. She goes on to explain that some of the historical manuscripts in the exhibit Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine actually need to have their pages flipped every three months to prevent damage. I nod, and she tells me and my fellow Collections intern Tamara to be ready after lunch. At two, I head back to the library, ready to party it up in the exhibit as promised, and run into Joanna holding a power drill and pushing Maxine, one of our carts specially designed for carrying artifacts (bubble roll taped to a moving cart, very high-tech). Now, I’m excited—power tools AND artifacts? I eagerly beg to use the drill and Joanna laughs as she hands it over. We pick up Tamara and we’re off to the exhibit.
Joanna explains the process further as we set up to start changing the manuscripts. Books as old as these (ours are from the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries) are delicate and sensitive to light and climate. Having the books open can damage pages, and too long under even gentle lights is bad for the book. Joanna explains that it’s unusual to have artifacts this old at JMM, since it’s an American-based museum. However, these books are from the collection of prominent Baltimorean Jew Harry Friedenwald and are all about medicine, making them perfect for the exhibit. The books aren’t actually part of the museum collection, though; they’re on loan to us from the National Library of Israel. Joanna describes how the books came overseas, and the process of loaning them: “The books got their own seat, first class! Our budget did not like that.” They came all the way across the world with their own librarian to be in this exhibit, which I thought was very cool.
Fun with power tools!
Carefully, I begin to use the drill to take out the screws holding the glass cover in place over the shelf in the wall designed for climate, humidity, and light control. After we remove the first glass case, I ask Joanna if she needs to be wearing gloves, since the books are so fragile. Joanna says no—she’s following the “clean hands” policy of collections work, in which she washes her hands to prevent oils and bacteria from her hands damaging artifacts like these books but doesn’t put on gloves so she still has the ability to feel what she’s doing. Joanna explains that this is the best policy since she’s more likely to notice if something is going wrong if she can feel what she’s doing, like a page about to tear or the book about to fall. The JMM Collections team mostly follows the “clean hands” policy, the only exception being for artifacts that are metal that might be unhealthy for humans to touch.
Joanna ever so carefully turns the pages of In Dioscoridis Anazarei de medica material by Amatus Lusitanus c. 1558.
After she washes her hands, Joanna takes out the first book on its stand, carefully placing it on Maxine in order to turn the pages. Each book had been placed carefully in the shelf on a book stand that Joanna tells us was precisely designed to fit the books and the pages they’re currently on, even so far as having to have their plastic melted and reshaped numerous times on the day the exhibit was installed in order to achieve perfection. Joanna checks her list—each book has a specific page to turn to in order to reduce the damage as much as possible. One of the interesting things about collections work, I’ve learned, is that all exhibiting does damage to artifacts. It’s unavoidable. For instance, for the upcoming weddings exhibit, one of the primary considerations for the dresses is whether or not they can withstand exhibition, since textiles are especially sensitive to such exposure. However, without exhibiting an artifact, why would we keep it? The best way to preserve an artifact is store it in a windowless, lightless, lifeless box somewhere, but it’s importance to the museum is in using it to teach about history, and that’s impossible without exhibition. Next, Joanna carefully removes the plastic holding the book pages down and turns the pages as we all watch; she jokes that she’s nervous, having never worked with artifacts this old before, but the pages turn fine and we get through all the books without any mishaps.
Although it might have been peculiar to think of this page-turning as a party, I did have fun seeing behind the scenes of how museums keep up their exhibits and manage to compromise between an artifact’s need for shelter and a museum’s need for exhibit. I realized that there’s a lot more work and thought put into each and every aspect of exhibition and collections than I had ever considered and that artifacts such as these books are actively preserved by the museum, not simply encased in glass and left on display. When we visit museums nowadays, all too often the glass cases and small placards can make us forget that these objects are real, but watching Joanna turn the pages on a book so many centuries old was definitely an eye-opening look into the physical materiality of artifacts and the daily preservation work of museums.
A blog post by Collections Intern Gina Crosby. To read more posts by and about interns click HERE.
Posted on June 22nd, 2016 by Rachel
I thought I’d take some time to share some of the visitor feedback we’ve received at the Museum whether on post-it notes in the Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America exhibit, comment books in the Voices of Lombard Street exhibit or expressed to me at the front desk.
The comment board
At the end of the “Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America” exhibit, visitors have the opportunity to share their thoughts and feedback by leaving post-it notes on a board. Here is a selection of some of the comments we’ve received:
“I love the structure and the interactive exhibits!”
“Exhibit called my attention to things about which I’d previously been unaware”
“Varied, informative, entertaining – Wow!!”
“Very informative exhibit that invites visitors to explore the Jewish medical experience and to also see themselves within the context of its evolving history. Thanks!”
“So fun! I feel like I have gone back in time!”
I suspect that the person who wrote the last comment may have been referring to features such as the recreation of a corner drugstore.
We also had a few comments from graduates from the Sinai Hospital School of Nursing saying that they had a wonderful experience and that the exhibit brought back many memories.
As I was walking through the Voices of Lombard Street exhibit, I noticed that our visitors had completely filled out the comment book at the end of the exhibit. It was a pleasure reading through it the book and hearing about visitor’s connections to our neighborhood. One visitor thanked us for reviving memories of his youth. Several others remarked how the exhibit reminded them of how their immigrant grandparents grew up.
Another described coming down to Lombard Street with her father to get corned beef while also playing with the chickens in the wooden cages.
In addition to written feedback, I sometimes get people coming up to the front desk telling me stories of their connections to Jewish Baltimore or of their connection to our collections. A few days ago, I heard from a rabbi who went on the Lloyd Street Synagogue tour that his great grandfather, was the melamed, or teacher of the synagogue from the Bavarian village of Gaukoenigshoffen, where one of our Torah scrolls came from.
The scroll he was referring to was our Kleeman Torah which was rescued by Louis Kleeman during Kristallnacht in 1938 and then smuggled out of Germany in 1940.
This story had a tragic end because on March 24, 1942, the 40 year old Jewish community of Gaukoenigshoffen disappeared when the remaining 37 Jews were deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp.
Despite the sometimes sad stories I hear, one of my favorite parts of my job is hearing how our exhibits and collections touch visitors and often reconnect them to a part of their past that they thought they had lost. I hope you will all continue to leave your feedback!
A blog post by Graham Humphrey, Visitor Services Coordinator. To read more posts by Graham click HERE.
Posted on June 21st, 2016 by Rachel
Have you ever seen those movies where a family owns a store and they all have to do every job? Think “indie” films with a limited budget and but with a talented cast and crew that has big ideas. That’s pretty much what it’s like here, a lot of work, a lot of planning sometimes it’s random, but there are amazing people all abound. In the West Wing, where I work, there is always more to be done than the assignment that I get in the morning. I was actually talking to Ilene Dackman-Alon and Trillion Attwood about the amazing people that you get to meet in such intimate work environments.
Me attempting to assemble cookie platters from IKEA for the Annual meeting.
My job, officially, is to work in the Education and Programs department working on the creation of programs associated with exhibits, tours and school groups. However, that isn’t all I do. Sometimes I get asked to make flower arrangements, and set up cookie trays from IKEA or to work the front desk or take inventory of the gift shop. However, these little tasks are wonderful.
There is a consensus among the Education interns that working the front desk is our favorite activity. Each intern has a different reason, but for me it is mainly because of Betsy. One afternoon I was asked to cover the front desk and at first I dreaded it, but then I met Betsy, youthful lady who turns 90 in July. She stole my heart. We talked politics and history. She told me stories about typewriters and how she transitioned to technology today. She told me about how much she loves life, a refreshing point of you to have by the way.
I think what I truly realized about working in such a small museum is how much passion it really takes. I have never met a group of people who are more dedicated and willing to do literally whatever it takes to keep this operation up and running. There are so many volunteers that come in, so clearly this place is worth putting forth the effort. Just look at Betsy. Almost 90 years old, and she still comes in to volunteer. Now that’s something to be proud of.
A blog post by Education & Programs Intern Rachel Morin. To read more posts by and about interns click HERE.