Daffodil Dilemma

Posted on April 18th, 2016 by

Here’s a fun fact for your Monday: Maryland is home to the country’s oldest daffodil club.  The Maryland Daffodil Society was founded in 1923, and held its first show at the Elkridge Club in 1924.

Truth be told, I was not previously aware that there were any daffodil societies in the U.S., let alone that Maryland had the oldest one.  However, I am a fan of both daffodils and dedicated affinity groups, so I was delighted to learn about the Society through some archival evidence in our collections: Mr. Malcolm’s Daffodil Dilemma, circa 1970.

Gift of Rita Lowenstein. JMM 1993.73.1

Gift of Rita Lowenstein. JMM 1993.73.1

Artist and gardener Malcolm W. Lowenstein (1899-1973), descended from several notable Baltimore Jewish families, was himself a noted figure in the city.  You might remember shopping at Malcolm’s Gifts on North Charles Street, or Malcolm’s House and Garden Store on Reisterstown Road; or perhaps you’ve come across the memorial sundial at Cylburn Arboretum, made by local artists Reuben Kramer and Perna Krick from Lowenstein’s design and installed in his honor in 1974.

Malcolm W. Lowenstein and his tame mockingbird, ca. 1960.  Gift of Rita Lowenstein. JMM 1992.185.3

Malcolm W. Lowenstein and his tame mockingbird, ca. 1960. Gift of Rita Lowenstein. JMM 1992.185.3

As a young man, Lowenstein studied at the Philadelphia Textile School, and in the 1930s and ‘40s he took out a number of design patents for housewares, many featuring birds, sea creatures, and other natural elements.  Throughout his life he worked with many local organizations including the Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland, the Horticultural Society of Maryland, and Beautiful Baltimore, Inc.

“Gold Crown” detail, from JMM 1993.73.1

“Gold Crown” detail, from JMM 1993.73.1

Among the papers and photographs donated to the JMM by Lowenstein’s widow Rita was this little handmade booklet, featuring eleven drawings of daffodil varieties.  It’s not clear if this was directly related to the Maryland Daffodil Society, but it seems likely; Lowenstein served as Vice President for many years, and the Society still awards the Malcolm W. Lowenstein Memorial Award “for the design showing the most originality or creative effort” at its annual daffodil show.

“Cheerfulness” detail, from JMM 1993.73.1

“Cheerfulness” detail, from JMM 1993.73.1

I’m partial to daffodils, but thanks to this booklet I’m realizing that I know very little about them.  I’d thought “cheerfulness” was simply an evocative title for the drawing above, but no, it’s the name of an official variety. I now know that, according to the American Daffodil Society, “there are between 40 and 200 different daffodil species, subspecies or varieties of species and over 25,000 registered cultivars (named hybrids) divided among the thirteen divisions of the official classification system.”  So much for my own classification system, which can be summarized as “there are big ones and little ones, and some of them have different colors.” I do prefer the yellow ones, which is why I’ve chosen these three drawings to share.

“Stoke” detail, from JMM 1993.73.1

“Stoke” detail, from JMM 1993.73.1

Baltimore’s daffodils seem to have bloomed early this year, but if Mr. Lowenstein’s drawings have whetted your appetite, hurry to the Maryland Daffodil Society’s annual show, which will be held in Towson tomorrow and Wednesday (April 19th and 20th, 2016).

Bonus daffodils! An illustration from a giveaway bookmark, advertising the book department at Joel Gutman & Co., circa 1915. Anonymous donation.  JMM 1993.141.17

Bonus daffodils! An illustration from a giveaway bookmark, advertising the book department at Joel Gutman & Co., circa 1915. Anonymous donation. JMM 1993.141.17

JoannaA blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

JMM Insights: Shammes or Shamus?*

Posted on April 15th, 2016 by

Starting May 1st!

From May 1 to July 10, 2016, our Historic Jonestown neighbor, the Carroll Mansion will be transformed into a showcase for some of the most innovative manufacturers and craftsmen in Baltimore and across the nation. The Mansion has been designated the “All American House” by the MADE: In America organization.  To celebrate, the city invited other historic sites to participate in presenting “Baltimore’s American Treasures.”  We couldn’t resist recognizing our own Lloyd Street Synagogue as the “All American Synagogue.

Built in 1845, the Lloyd Street Synagogue is the third oldest Jewish house of worship still standing in the United States.  The building was designed by Robert Cary Long Jr., a prominent architect of churches during that time. Nearly every component of the original building along with the 1860 renovation and addition were the result of American craft and manufacturers.

For several months a great team of interns and staff have been scouring  through records and photos related to the material culture of the building and its contents.  By “material culture” we mean the physical evidence of a culture; and the interpretation of objects and the social context in which they were made and employed.

Article on re-dedication of the Lloyd Street Synagogue, 1905

Our research included Baltimore City Directories from 1843-1845; newspapers, congregational  minutes, Maryland Historical Society archives, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Archives, and the JMM’s own thorough research files, etc. The building has had such an extensive history, serving first as a traditional synagogue founded by German immigrants, and transformed later into a congregation that embraced reform traditions. The building was later sold to a Lithuanian Catholic Church and years later sold again to immigrants from Eastern Europe that transformed the building into a thriving center for Jewish tradition in East Baltimore.  Each of the congregations used local manufacturers and craftsmen to build and design many of the elements featured in the buildings like the Holy Ark, the organ, and the pews.

Bell illustration by Jonathon Scott Fuqua

We’ve come up with many fresh insights, but found ourselves still struggling with a few unanswered questions.  Where did the original torah scroll come from, what happened to the church’s bell, and how did we get conflicting stories of how the current chandeliers were acquired?  We decided that the best way to resolve these mysteries was to “crowdsource” the clues.  And that has led to the idea of putting together – “The Book, Bell and Candle Mystery” experience, a tour of the Lloyd Street Synagogue with an interactive twist.  Part of the Book, Bell and Candle Mystery, will be to share with you the new stories and clues we’ve uncovered about the ritual objects used in the building.  But part will also be to get your input on unanswered questions that we still have pertaining to the objects, so we can crack the mysteries.

Rendering of LSS chandelier

The Book, Bell and Candle Mystery will debut on Sunday May 1st @ 3:00 p.m., and continue at that same hour every Sunday through July 3.  Whether you identify with a synagogue shammes or an investigative shamus, you’ll find something in this experience that opens a new window on this great historic site. So put on your “gumshoes” and your thinking caps and join us in our search for answers.

*For those of you struggling with the pun in the title – click here to see the explanation (and have no “shame.” Half our staff couldn’t figure it out either. -MP)!


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

A little bit of linguistic trivia!

Posted on April 14th, 2016 by

Shammes Vs. Shamus

Word detecting!

Word detecting!

A shammes (Yiddish) or shammash (Hebrew) is the caretaker of a synagogue, sometimes compared to the sexton or beadle of a church.  The word shammash literally means “servant.”  Same word to describe the candle that lights the Hanukah menorah.

A shamus (rhymes with “famous”) is a popular expression for a policeman or hard-boiled detective in popular use in the 1930s and 40s… as well as Broadway musicals about detectives (see “City of Angels”).

I had always assumed that “shamus” came from the Irish name “Seamus,” but according to Merriam Webster the origin of the word “shamus” (first used 1925) might actually be “shammes”!… as it appears that its early use involved a comparison between the work of a store detective and the work of a synagogue caretaker.

-Marvin Pinkert

Posted in jewish museum of maryland


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