More than a Run of the “Mill”

Posted on February 22nd, 2019 by

Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker and Director of Collections and Exhibits Joanna Church collaborated on this month’s edition of JMM Insights which, somewhat coincidentally, is all about collaboration! Missed any previous editions of JMM Insights? You can catch up here!


Have you ever heard of “The Mill” at Stevenson University? Well until last year we hadn’t either. That’s when we held a new projects briefing for Will Backstrom, Senior Vice President for Client and Community Relations at PNC Bank. Will, who has been a great friend and supporter of JMM, stopped the conversation when we brought up the topic of Fashion Statement (the exhibit on the way in which clothing expresses personal and social identity) and Stitching History from the Holocaust (a traveling exhibit from Milwaukee. that celebrates the creative talents of a designer who perished in the Shoah).

Will, who keeps tabs on Baltimore’s cultural scene, pointed out that just as our exhibit was closing next summer the Maryland Historical Society would be putting on a major exhibit of their extraordinary collection of clothing. He thought we might cross-market our projects. And then he had one other thought, “what about the Mill?”

The “Mill” it turns out, is a capstone course for students at Stevenson University with an interest in design. It brings together students from departments like Fashion Design, Graphic Design, Film & Moving Image, and Business Communications to work together, almost as if they were a design and marketing agency, on solving a specific, real-world problem. With Will’s help, JMM, the Maryland Historical Society, and Stevenson U faculty and students came together and we became “clients” of the Mill.

Stevenson students in the Mill are incorporating our project into a much larger endeavor: a public affairs campaign to reinvigorate the fashion industry in the city of Baltimore. They developed a name for the effort (Stitching MD Together), a brand (stitchingmdtogether.org), and a full plan to research, educate, engage, and, they hope, encourage a growth in the fashion industry in the state. They are even hoping that, when the Maryland campaign is successful, other states can use the same template.

As part of this collaboration, JMM staff have visited the Mill classroom a number of times, listening to student presentations, discussing the upcoming projects, and even presenting a unit on social media marketing. Students have also used JMM and MdHS for their research into the history of the fashion industry in Baltimore and in Maryland and are creating a documentary film. Their research proved interesting and productive in more ways than we initially anticipated!

Stevenson University students setting up for documentary filming in the JMM Library, October 26, 2018.

As part of the students’ documentary project, they came to the JMM to interview Joanna, and film some of our textile collections. To make sure those pieces got a good showing, Trillion and Joanna turned the library into a miniature photo studio and prepped a variety of outfits to a presentable display standard, ready for their respective close-ups. A handy side benefit of this process was that we were able to take some good photographs for our own purposes, in advance of the upcoming Fashion Statement exhibit.

This ermine coat (complete with tails sewn into the interior seams), made by Havelock and Selenkow, Baltimore, was a 35th birthday present to Alene Steiger Adler from her husband Charles Adler, Jr., in 1941. It will be featured in “Fashion Statement,” opening April 7, 2019. Gift of Amalie Adler Ascher, JMM 1989.167.30a.

The student film crew got some on-the-ground experience (not that they weren’t already quite skilled) along with the footage they needed for their documentary. In addition, they got the chance to take a close look at museum artifacts, and at techniques for interpretation and display. An article of clothing can tell you so much about the person who wore it and the times and culture in which it was worn, but people haven’t always given that idea much thought; sharing that insight, and seeing students’ respond to it, is a delight. We think this deeper understanding of the roles of clothing and fashion will help them strengthen their campaign.

Joanna talking with Grace Clark, part of the Stitching Maryland Together Communications team, prior to the interview.

In addition to the deliverables of the research and the documentary, we’ve also been partnering with Stevenson students for some of the details of the visitor experience in Fashion Statement, the JMM-curated portion of the double-bill opening April 7th. The interactive experiences in our exhibits are often among the most memorable to our visitors, and among the most complicated for museum staff to create. For Fashion Statement, Stevenson professors have helped us brainstorm interesting mechanisms for engaging visitors even as their students are helping us make those ideas a reality. We are working with several different Stevenson classes and individual students to achieve the interactive visitor experience. From graphic artists to aspiring fashion designers, the collaboration with the University is providing JMM with fresh ideas and talent as well as providing students with real-world, client-driven experiences.

All of these many positive outcomes have much to remind us about the power of partnership and collaboration. And with deep gratitude to Mr. Backstrom, whose eyes lit up when we told him about Fashion Statement, we reiterate the truth of the fact that one person has enormous power to make a difference: all of these synergies and win-win moments were made possible by a single conversation many, many months ago.


 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Shanghai in Context

Posted on February 21st, 2019 by

A blog post by JMM Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. You can read more posts by Marvin here.

Question from a member on opening night: “How did you manage to translate the exhibit into Chinese?”

The self-evident confusion in this question inspired today’s blogpost. I realized that this visitor was under the impression that the JMM had created the Jewish Refugees and Shanghai exhibit when, in fact, most of it was designed and developed in China by the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum and “shipped” to us electronically. The translation was from Chinese into English, not the other way around and even this translation was done in Shanghai (with some editing for grammar and style by JMM).

Only the three cases (and a small wall to the left, not pictured) that connect the story to Maryland were actually curated by our exhibits team.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been really pleased with the response to the exhibit. We had wonderful feedback from our Members’ Preview event on Feb. 2. Two Sundays ago, demand for the program with Dr. Oyen was so high that we had to take down the partition wall in the Orientation Plaza to accommodate the 140+ guests who wanted to hear the lecture. But the story above got me thinking about supplying some of the context that might not be self-evident in the exhibit.

1. This exhibit tells the story of the survival of the Jewish community in WWII, not the broader story of Jews in China.

Though the exhibit begins in the 1930s, there has been a Jewish presence in China since at least the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907 AD). The earliest documentary evidence of that presence consists of letters from merchants following the Silk Road (Baghdad to the Chinese capital at Xi’an). By 1163 the first synagogue was built in Kaifeng (and at least two other Chinese cities have synagogues in the 12th century) (image via).

These early communities were made up of Jews from Iraq and Persia – but over time, through intermarriage and conversions they became undistinguishable from their Chinese neighbors, except in their religious custom. In 1605, the first papal ambassador assigned to China, Matteo Ricci, was shocked to “discover” a Chinese community with a rabbi, a synagogue and religious rituals very similar to those he had seen in Italy. Over time religious life declined. The last rabbi in Kaifeng died in 1810 and the synagogue was abandoned following the Taiping Rebellion (the most devastating civil war in human history – 20 to 30 million casualties).

2. The exhibit tells the story from a Chinese perspective.

Several people have noticed the absence of a panel dedicated to Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese consul in Lithuania (image via).

Sugihara courageously saves the lives of more than 2000 Jews by issuing transit visas to Japan. Those who escaped from Lithuania in 1940 ended up in Shanghai before the war’s end.

By contrast, the Chinese consul in Vienna, Dr. Ho Feng-Shan, who also saves thousands of lives with exit visas following the Anschluss is honored with his own panel.

Both men are recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. Why this discrepancy in coverage in the exhibit? This is, after all, a traveling exhibit from China and given the Chinese experience under Japanese occupation, I think some reticence to acknowledge Japanese heroes is understandable.

I suggest that those wishing to explore Sugihara’s life further might read Rabbi Marvin Tokayer’s account in the book The Fugu Plan, a copy of which we’ve made available in the mini-library in the center of the exhibit.

3. So who is responsible for Jewish survival in Shanghai in WWII– the Chinese? or the Japanese?

David Sassoon (pictured in tuxedo) is among the first merchants in the opium trade and an early member of the International Settlement in Shanghai.

I believe the answer to this question is very complicated – it’s both and it’s neither. Multiple factors contributed to the positive result. It begins with the circumstances that allowed for the creation of the “International Settlement” – a rare geographic zone that did not require entry visas. The pre-existing Iraqi and Mizrahi Jewish communities in Shanghai (including the great merchant families like the Kadoories and Sassoons) also played a key role in keeping the community afloat in the early years. The Japanese and Chinese consuls mentioned above both facilitated the escape from Europe. The Chinese provided some aid to their new Jewish neighbors after Japan established the Hongkou ghetto. And finally, Japan’s resistance to the German Meisinger Plan for the extermination of Shanghai’s Jews was critical to the survival of the Jewish community (and is credited in the exhibit).

4. Can something awful lead to something good?

I can’t let the mention of “International Settlement” pass without pointing out that this key element in Jewish survival had its origins in a very unfortunate set of circumstances (image via). Here’s the story:

To be profitable cargo trade needs to have full ships in both directions. But in the late 18th century, Europeans and Americans hungered for much of what China had to offer – porcelain, tea and spices. But China had little need of exports from the West. The British merchants had a solution to this problem. Ship a product to China that could be guaranteed to create its own sustaining market: opium. I regret to say that the Sassoons were among the British citizens profiting from the trade of opium from India to China. When the Chinese – to protect their population – seized the opium and jailed the merchants, it led to the First Opium War. China lost. And this led to the first of the so-called Unequal Treaties (the Treaty of Nanjing), treaties which effectively ceded pieces of Chinese territory to European control. America followed the British lead and also got a concession in Shanghai.

For the sake of improved commerce the American and British lands were combined to create the beginning of Shanghai’s International Settlement. Japan was able – through concentrated effort – to rescind the Unequal Treaties imposed on that nation … and eventually even eked out its own concessions from China. But the Japanese army wanted more. In 1931 taking Manchuria and by 1937 controlling large swaths of coastal China as part of its “Co-prosperity Sphere”– including Shanghai. Japan, however, carefully respected the rights of other European powers, avoiding conflict with the International Settlement prior to December 7, 1941. In this way, the greed of the colonial powers indirectly creates a haven for Jewish escape from the Holocaust.

I hope you find these additional contexts intriguing and that you will take advantage of the opportunity this exhibit, and its associated programs provide for deeper exploration.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Once Upon a Time…05.04.2018

Posted on February 20th, 2019 by

The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week. If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contact Joanna Church by email at jchurch@jewishmuseummd.org

JMM 2003.53.100

Date run in Baltimore Jewish Times: May 4, 2018

PastPerfect Accession #: 2003.053.100

Status: Unidentified – do you know the names of any of these Kraus family members, c. 1930?

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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