Outreach Within the Local Community

Posted on June 24th, 2019 by

Blog post by JMM intern Megan Orbach. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

The topic that I have chosen to write about in my first in depth blog post is Museums and community outreach in all its forms. Prior to beginning my internship at the JMM, I understood the importance of community outreach as far as donations and support go, to keep non-profit organizations, such as JMM, functioning. However, after starting and being here for a few weeks I have been privileged to learn about more ways that a museum can participate in outreach within the local community.

On one of my first days of my internship I was given the opportunity to observe a program that was held at the museum with two Baltimore city public schools. This program gave students the platform to tell stories from their lives. The students did this by making a video slideshow with the help of their teachers that would be presented to other students in their classes and to students of different schools. I got to experience watching two classes’ stories. These stories told of how students met their best friends to how they are dealing with the loss of a parent. Some of the students remarked that they liked the project because they felt that it finally gave them a voice. On the other hand, some liked it because it allowed them to see how similar others’ stories could be to theirs and in turn, sparked the potential for new friendships.

Students from Morrell Park and Graceland Park participated in Personal Stories: PROJECTED, coming together to share their short films with each other.

I was pleasantly surprised by this program because of the impact I saw it had made on students just by observing one session. Further, as a younger student myself, I had been on field trips to various museums but I had never participated in any programs with both my teachers and museum educators like the one I observed.

Museums exist to educate their guests and to tell stories. I have realized since starting my internship that museums also exist to reach out to their local communities and to help make a difference. I read an article written by Caldor Zwicky who is an assistant director at the MoMA for teen and community partnerships. Zwicky details his firsthand experiences working with local students through art classes and school visits. He also discusses an art program, likely similar to the story telling program at JMM, in which he recalls noticing the “yearning” of students to be paid attention to. Just like at JMM where students visited and participated in a project that helped them to find their voice, Zwicky’s art program encouraged the students he worked with to find theirs. He also told of his own participation in an art class at a museum when he was younger, recalling that it changed his academic and general life for the better, so much so that it contributed to his working at a museum today.

Calder Zwicky in 2016, working on an art project in association with his work at the MoMA.

All the programming that JMM does with local schools and other organizations in the community makes me even more proud to be an intern here. Of course, these programs are able to be in existence because of generous donations from community members and this allows me to see, once again, the importance of fundraising/development (the department for which I intern) and its essential role in making a difference.

As someone who is looking to work for a non-profit organization one day, potentially a museum, I am so appreciative of being afforded the opportunity to observe programs like the one I did and to see how much of an impact they can make.

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Bernstein’s Style

Posted on June 24th, 2019 by

Part 4 of “Saul Bernstein: Baltimore Artist,” written by Jobi Okin Zink, former JMM collections manager. Originally published in Generations – Winter 2001.

Several of Bernstein’s student works, including a charcoal drawing, “Woman Seated with Apron,” reside in the Museum’s collection and illustrate his mastery of the academic, traditional style. His ability to nuance shade and color convey the different weights and textures of his model’s lacy head covering, and heavy dress. It is easy to understand why Bernstein’s instructors offered favorable remarks about his works and recommended them for exhibition.

“Woman Seated with Apron,” 1897. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Trupp, JMM 1984.125.1

However, at the turn of the 20th century, Paris was the center for modern art and artistic innovation. Artists were no longer satisfied with painting the world literally as it appeared before their eyes. Impressionist techniques such as breaking up the surface of an artifact into bits and flecks of color, were spawning newer artistic methods. Although artists like Paul Cézanne and Henri Matisse were still a few years away from the breakthrough paintings that would inaugurate the Cubist and Fauvre are movements, they were already beginning to experiment with bright, vivid colors in unnatural combinations and to challenge the viewer by eliding the foreground and background in their paintings. In letters to Henrietta Szold and his brother Ben, Bernstein wrote that he was “uncomfortable” with the noise and heat in Paris, but one can also imagine that his discontent stemmed from a distaste for the new and unexpected approaches of modern art.

Saul Bernstein (right) recuperating from an appendectomy, at Hospital Cochin in Paris, June 1900. Gift of Jastrow and Alexandra Levin, JMM 1986.10.8a.

In the summer of 1900, after recovering from appendicitis, Bernstein moved to the small village of Laren, Holland. Here he continued to grind his own pigments and to paint in a traditional, academic style in which a painting of an apple looks like an apple and a representation of a chair reproduces the image of a chair. Bernstein used his landlord and local peasants as models and painted them as they were. The wrinkles on their faces and their gnarled fingers were neither imagined or exaggerated. Viewing Rembrandt’s paintings in Amsterdam enabled Bernstein to see how much variety he could achieve with a limited palette in his own works, particularly with the absence of blue in paintings like the Museum’s “Woman in A Chair.”

Saul Bernstein standing in a field in Holland, c. 1900. Gift of Peter Bernstein, JMM CP 25.2012.19.1.

Not all of Bernstein’s paintings were of Dutch interiors or peasants. In 1900 he completed “The Talmudist,” which is also on display in Framing the Collections. Numerous Dutch influences are evident: a spare interior with a window; a dark shadowy palette like Rembrandt’s; a hint of the sitter’s inner psychology. Although “The Talmudist” is larger than Bernstein’s other Dutch interiors in the Museum collection, it too is not a formal portrait, but a painting that includes a three-quarter view of a male figure on the right side of the frame. The title indicates that the subject is not an individual, but rather a “Type.” The old man with a long flowing beard has his left hand cupped to follow a line of text in one of the volumes stacked on the table. The viewer senses the scholar’s dedication as he pores over his books. The text is not visible, but from Bernstein’s title one understands that he is studying a chapter of Talmud.

“The Talmudist,” 1900. Gift of Stephen and Joan Kolodny, JMM 1993.165.1.

“The Talmudist” also differs from the majority of the works which hang salon-style along the Museum’s gallery walls in that the artist not only reveals character, but also evokes a setting and demonstrates his skill in rendering light and shadow. In the upper-left portion of the canvas Bernstein has painted a deep-set window with books arranged on its sill. The window-frame interior is a powder-blue that provides a strong contrast to the otherwise somber palette. The scene outside the window is blurred, preventing the viewer from recognizing the details of the setting; however, the viewer can follow the diagonal stream of light from the corner of the window, across the stack of books, and into the scholar’s face.

“Weaving Shop, Larren, Holland,” 1900. Museum purchase, JMM 1994.102.1.

Another painting in the Museum collection, “Weaving Shop, Laren Holland,” also completed in 1900, demonstrates again how Bernstein can take a “type” and create a beautiful genre scene. The painting depicts a weaving shop with a large window across the back wall and a young man standing on the right. Again, the viewer cannot discern the setting beyond the glass panes. The blond-haired, blue-eyed man wearing a stereotypic Dutch cap with a small visor, a brown vest over a blue chambray shirt, brown pants, and oversized clogs, stares directly at the opposite wall, although there does not appear to be anything there to fix his gaze. A large wooden loom or weaving machine occupies the lower left half of the canvas.

Continue to Part 5: Bernstein and Szold, publishing on July 1, 2019.


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Connecting to the Collections

Posted on June 21st, 2019 by

Blog post by JMM intern Elana Neher. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

In these first few weeks of my internship at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, I have learned about the JMM’s collection in a variety of ways. I have researched parts of the collections, inventoried others, and spent time in collections storage. Through this, I have started to become familiar with Jewish community of Maryland through the objects, documents, and photographs that have found their way to the JMM. For my first blog post, I would like to share the story of two of the people I have gotten to know through my research here.

Some of the sweetest people that I have come across in the JMM’s collection are Aaron and Lillie Straus, a married couple who lived during the late 19th century and the early 20th century and became beloved philanthropists in Baltimore. (Image: Lilie and Aaron Straus, Cohen Family Camp Airy Collection, JMM 1993.59.40.)

Aaron was a German Jew who was born in Baltimore and Lillie was born in St. Louis, MI. After Aaron graduated Baltimore City College, he ran a furniture store that grew into a chain of nearly one hundred large furniture stores throughout the country, primarily on the East Coast and in the mid-West. On one of his business trips, Aaron met Lillie and they moved to Baltimore after they married on June 9, 1889. Throughout their time in Baltimore, they lived in hotels; they lived at the Rannert Hotel then moved to the Belvedere Hotel. The couple was married for sixty-four years until Lillie passed away.

Lillie and Aaron had no biological children but became “Aunt Lillie” and “Uncle Airy” to hundreds of children. They created Camp Louise and Camp Airy, two Jewish summer camps for under-privileged children. Camp Louise, the camp for girls, was founded at Cascade in 1922 and Camp Airy, the boys’ camp, was founded at Thurmont in 1924. These two camps were located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Maryland. Aaron and Lillie frequently visited the camps and knew every camper by name. Aaron led services at the camps until he became blind and the library at Camp Louise was dedicated to Lillie after her death. Each and every camper had fond memories of the couple as evidenced by the letters they wrote to their Uncle Airy after Lillie’s death. The letters were filled with stories of Lillie’s kindness and care for each and every camper and showed what an immense impact that Aaron and Lillie had on the childhoods of so many people in the community.

Aaron & Lillie with campers at Camp Louise. JMM 2018.7.106.14c.

The couple were not just known for their summer camps, but for their philanthropic endeavors as well. They set up the Aaron and Lillie Straus Foundation in 1926 to facilitate their philanthropic work and continue it after their deaths. They were active members of and large benefactors to the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. The auditorium at the synagogue was even named the “Straus Auditorium” in their honor. In addition, they donated $100,000 to the Johns Hopkins Hospital Campaign to memorialize an operating floor. They also donated to the Associated Jewish charities and the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House Association, and they took interest in the YMHA and YWHA, now the JCC. In Aaron’s will, he left large amounts of money to many Baltimore-based charities.

Through the letters, newspaper clippings, and anniversary albums about the Strauses that are in the JMM collection, I began to feel connected to Aaron and Lillie. I found myself wondering what it would be like to wave at them at summer camp, to meet them at the hotel they were living in, or to hear them tell the story of how they first met in St. Louis. Through the stories of people like Aaron and Lillie Straus, I have come to feel connected to the Jewish community in Baltimore and it is only because of the time I get to spend with the collection at the JMM that I was able to learn about such amazing people.


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