Greetings from the New Collections Manager!

Posted on September 29th, 2014 by

Greetings, blog readers! My name is Joanna Church, and I’m the new Collections Manager at the JMM.  There’s something a little nerve-wracking about starting a new job; before starting here, I wondered: What will the office be like? How tricky is the commute? Will the new colleagues be pleasant? And is there a coffee maker?* For those of us who work with museum collections, however, there’s one almost-guarantee when joining the staff of a new museum: The collections themselves – no matter what they actually are – will be interesting.  In my few weeks here at the JMM, this has definitely proved to be true.

I am a Maryland native, but new to Baltimore. Searching our database for something first-blog-post-appropriate, I found a foam hat that says “Welcome to Baltimore.” Thank you, hat!

1992.190.001, front view

1992.190.001, front view

This old-fashioned hat, with a four inch high crown, was made around 1990, mimicking the style of a circa 1900s boater (right down to the ‘woven straw’ look to the molded foam). The printed paper ‘ribbon’ around the crown reads in full, “Welcome to Baltimore UAHC NFTS ’91.”  The donor, E.B. Hirsh, was one of thousands of delegates to the Union of American Hebrew Congregations/National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods biennial convention, held in Baltimore from October 31st to November 5th, 1991.

1992.190.001, front view

1992.190.001, side view

According to the Baltimore Sun there were plenty of important issues discussed at this meeting of representatives from over 850 Reform synagogues. Nevertheless, what’s a convention without a party? Our hat and its welcoming message have an opening-day-festivities vibe, suggesting that there were opportunities for fun amidst the more serious activities.  (If any readers attended the conference and can share some info, please do!)

As for the type of hat itself, straw boaters or “skimmers” were popular summer headwear for men and women in the late 19th – early 20th centuries. Here are a few Baltimore residents sporting the style in 1924:

Abe Sherman, his father Moses, and two unidentified men at Abe Sherman's newsstand in Battle Monument Square, August 1924. Donated to the JMM by Brig. Gen. Philip Sherman. 1989.021.001

Abe Sherman, his father Moses, and two unidentified men at Abe Sherman’s newsstand in Battle Monument Square, August 1924. Donated to the JMM by Brig. Gen. Philip Sherman. 1989.021.001

By the 1950s, however, the boater had dwindled from everyday garb to costume, and it is most likely to be seen today on members of a barbershop quartet; actors in a production of, say, “The Music Man;” or attendees at a political rally. Though I can’t tell you exactly why a boater became appropriate convention-wear, it’s enough of a stylistic trope that plastic and Styrofoam hats are marketed specifically for these events.  Our example was manufactured in the U.S. by the Lewtan Line, a company founded in 1947 by Marvin Lewtan.

…As you may have guessed by now, things are my thing. I look forward to sharing more of the stories and histories of the JMM’s fabulous artifacts, images, and archival records!


*Answers: Great; not bad so far; absolutely; and (thankfully) yes.

JoannaA blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church.


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JMM DATEBOOK: September 2014

Posted on September 24th, 2014 by

Happy New Year from the JMM!

1991.009.005 small

1991.9.5 May you have peace, substantial earned income, good business success,enjoyment, happiness, salvation, pleasantness and everything good. – Rosh Hashonah greetings in Yiddish and Hebrew from August 30, 1917.

We have the perfect way to start the new year off right – by helping the Museum THIS SUNDAY at the Maryland Public Television telethon from 5pm – 8pm. We have gathered a core group of volunteers but could still use more help! Volunteers only need to answer phones for people calling to pledge and take down their information. Plus MPT will be providing kosher meals for all our volunteers.

This is an important opportunity for the Museum to reach out to a broad audience and particularly to share the news about The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen exhibit. To volunteer please email Rachel Kassman ( by NOON on Sunday, September 28th and join in on the fun!
L’Shana Tova!

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Why Museums Need Guinea Pigs

Posted on September 22nd, 2014 by

A few days ago we had our first opportunity to test out the educational programs we’d created for school groups visiting The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen exhibit. The 8th graders at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School were brave enough to sign up to be our guinea pigs!

Picture 1

Checking out the exhibit

Going into it, our education staff was unsure if we could manage more than ten students at a time inside the maze. Nightmareish images of children hiding in unseen corners and running roughshod over the interactives flooded our minds. Limiting the number of students allowed in the maze at one time would of course make planning field trips for large groups very awkward. We had to be creative about our use of time and space. The plan we came up with was based on the average group size of 40 students. We would split them in half—20 and 20—between Voices of Lombard Street and The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen. The 20 in Mendes Cohen would then be split again—10 and 10. The first group of ten would be led through the exhibit, while the second group did an archival activity in the Orientation Space. They would switch at 15 minutes, and then, at the half hour mark, switch with their classmates in Voices, and repeat.

Picture 2

Hard at work

We learned a lot by observing a school group go through the exhibit. The first thing we learned—much to our relief—is that it’s not as terrifying to take students through the maze as we’d imagined. We decided that it would not be impossible to even take up to 20 students at a time. The next thing we learned was that we really needed to give the students more time to go through the exhibit. It has so much to offer—from the fun of going through a maze, to the neat objects on display, and the hands-on interactives dispersed throughout the corridors and “rooms”—and no one was benefitting from having to rush through it.

The teacher also expressed her disappointment that we had put as much emphasis on the archival activity as on the exhibit itself. She felt that the archival activity could as easily be done in the classroom as at a museum, and she’d hoped for a more hands-on experience for her students. While I don’t think we should completely discount the appropriateness of utilizing our primary resources during a museum visit (many schools have limited access to these kinds of resources), we did take her critique to heart.

Afterwards, we went back to brainstorming:  how could we supply just enough structure to make the school’s visit intellectually stimulating without making it seem like just another day in the classroom? How could we best get a group of students to not just walk through the maze, but to actually engage with its content? We had previously assumed that these two activities had to be separated—hence the archival activities. Now we needed to come up with a way of bringing the two together.

A major theme of the exhibit is the puzzle of Mendes Cohen’s complex identity. The exhibit seeks to demonstrate the different aspects of his character with his objects, letters, and actions. There are puzzle pieces scattered throughout the exhibit that list his attributes—e.g. “Family Man” and “Proud Jew.” Each of these puzzle pieces lifts up to reveal a question about how we know that Mendes was all of these things. At the end of the exhibit, we turn the question to the visitor: what are the attributes that make up you?

Picture 3

A “make your own” puzzle piece

It was this central theme that led our Education Director, Ilene Dackman-Alon, to a breakthrough idea. For the next school group that visits us, we will ask the students to work in pairs to find each of the puzzle pieces in the exhibit, and to write down the answer to each one’s question.  At the end of the exhibit, we will ask them to think of attributes that describe their own class. Each pair will contribute their attribute to a piece of the class puzzle that they will then get to take back to school with them!

We are very excited about this new plan! It can be daunting to have to go back to the drawing board after working so hard to come up with the first lesson plans, but actually knowing what it looks like to take a school group through the exhibit helped us shape what we hope will be an even better one.


abby krolikA blog by Visitor Services Coordinator Abby Krolik. To read more posts from Abby, click here.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

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