Networking with the Nation

Posted on May 19th, 2017 by

Blog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.

Last week, Collections Manager, Joanna Church and I attended the conference of the American Alliance of Museums in St. Louis.  We were two out of more than 4,000 museum professionals gathered there to discuss changing fiscal and social contexts, the most recent technological developments and yes, some general kibbitzing about people and exhibits creating a buzz.

Projections on the ceiling of Union Station in St Louis.

Projections on the ceiling of Union Station in St Louis.

Wearing my hat as a liaison between the museum world and our JMM members, I thought I might use this newsletter to share a few highlights of the conference and how they might impact our future.

The theme of the event was “Diversity, Equity, Access and Inclusion”.  The first featured speaker was Haben Girma, an Eritrean refugee who is also the first blind/deaf graduate of Harvard Law School.  Haben would have been an impressive orator in any forum… she had a wicked sense of humor and used it effectively to press the case for greater attention to access needs.  Her very presence spoke volumes as to how small acts of consideration can make big differences in enabling everyone to participate and contribute.

But the inclusion story was not only about accommodating disabilities, there were several sessions that dealt with demographic diversity.  On the opening day of the conference I represented the Council of American Jewish Museums (CAJM) on a panel entitled “Transcending Boundaries: The New ‘Identity Museums'”.  I was joined by moderator, Marsha Semmel (former Deputy Director of IMLS), Lisa Sasaki (Director of the Asian-Pacific American Center) and Antonio Rodriguez (Chair, AAM’s Latino Network).  We talked about the challenges of simultaneously meeting the needs of constituent and cross-over audiences, the ways that on-line and mobile devices are reshaping our delivery of content, and opportunities for collaboration with non-“identity museums.”  The recent CAJM meeting in Boston and JMM’s own work on our new core exhibit helped inform my presentation.

The conference was also our first opportunity to pitch our upcoming exhibit Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling to an assembly of traveling exhibit coordinators from both history and science museums.  Our exhibit – which includes a slice of technology, a shmear of history and a topping of environmental science – received a very positive reception.

A curiosity from the expo floor - this is a cut-out combined with a projection, but it felt like a hologram.

A curiosity from the expo floor – this is a cut-out combined with a projection, but it felt like a hologram.

Our main purpose at the conference though, is not to present, but to learn from others.  Joanna, for example, not only sat in on sessions about the nuts and bolts of collections registration and storage, but also attended programs that took a broader look at collecting strategies, audience engagement, and exhibit design within the framework of the theme of diversity and inclusion. Several speakers tackled issues of collecting and exhibiting traumatic history, recent events, and “risky” topics, issues we all wrestle with.  She quoted one speaker whose advice was “steal and adapt”: that is, when faced with a problem, we can look to our fellow museums for guidance, since it’s likely one of them has already encountered the same problem.  Joanna pointed out that diversity of types of museums in attendance at AAM is one of this conference’s great strengths, and it reminds herthat we don’t have to go it alone.

The math of music from "Math Alive" at the St. Louis Science Center.

The math of music from “Math Alive” at the St. Louis Science Center.

Speaking of museum diversity, it was on full display both in the projects highlighted in the sessions and in the venues for the evening events.  AAM’s award for excellence went to “Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration” at the Eastern State Penitentiary Museum in Philadelphia.  It is a bold concept, dramatically designed – can’t wait to see it.  In St. Louis itself, the stand-out project for me was “#1 in Civil Rights” at the Missouri History Museum – featuring the ACTivist in Action program, a unique fusion of theater and exhibit in one seamless experience.  A close runner-up for innovation was the “Math Alive” traveling exhibit at the St. Louis Science Center (I missed it during its premiere at the Smithsonian in 2012 – it appears to be holding up well for a five year old exhibit).  And perhaps the most impressive venue for the conference was the Missouri Botanic Garden, not just in terms of scale and beauty, but in the cleverness of its design.

From the venues to the sessions to the expo floor, we packed our bags full of new ideas to bring back to JMM.

The Japanese Garden at the  Missouri Botanic Garden

The Japanese Garden at the Missouri Botanic Garden

The Mediterranean Garden at the Missouri Botanic Garden

The Mediterranean Garden at the Missouri Botanic Garden

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The Color of Transformation

Posted on May 18th, 2017 by

A blog post by Associate Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.

JMM & Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling go to ISRI!

JMM & Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling go to ISRI!

Last month, Marvin and I attended that national conference of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) in New Orleans. JMM is working on an original, national, traveling exhibition about the Scrap industry. Entitled Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling, the exhibit is scheduled to open in the fall of 2018, and we hope to send it on the road to four or more venues. (Regular readers of the JMM blog may remember reading about it here.)  Marvin and I were in New Orleans, along with our contract curator, Jill Vexler, working on collecting stories, canvassing for artifacts, and soliciting financial support.

As a total novice to the industry—I’m not even working directly on the exhibit, but was filling in for a colleague at the conference—I was fascinated by what I found on the exhibit floor at ISRI—but maybe not why you expect.

Gershow Recycling facility. Photo by Jeffrey Katz.

Gershow Recycling facility. Photo by Jeffrey Katz.

I have been seeing images from scrap yards around the JMM office for months now. Most notably from the stunning photography of Board Member Jeff Katz, who provided images for our fundraising and marketing materials for the exhibition. Jeff’s photos are textural and gritty. They are also, at least as we ended up using them, black and white.

The exhibit hall at the ISRI conference in the New Orleans Convention Center was in living color.

An array of sunny equipment.

An array of sunny equipment.

As I wandered the floor, looking for swag to bring back to my 5-year-old daughter, I started to notice how brightly colored many of the pieces of sample equipment were.  There were a number of bright yellow items, which is to be expected, I suppose (my childhood toy crane was also a sunny yellow), but there were also bright orange machines and several blue sorters (that were so cool to see demonstrated).

And then I saw the pink one.

And then I saw the pink one.

And from there I started really paying attention. What goes into the manufacturers’ minds as they consider what color to make their equipment for the scrap yard? Some take a very utilitarian approach with dark gray equipment. That seems straightforward and expected. Tools of all sizes, even super huge ones, tend to be gray or silver or black. Why the bright colors? Why pink? I figured it was so that they were easily seen amidst the mountains of trash-colored scrap.

I guess I don’t need to ask why the airbrushed stars and bald eagle (whoa!).

I guess I don’t need to ask why the airbrushed stars and bald eagle (whoa!).

As I met more and more folks on the exhibit hall floor (we were something of an anomaly in an exhibit hall full of shredders and sorters and welders and other must-have technology for the modern scrap or recycling yard), and I told them the story of the exhibit again and again, something sunk in. The scrap industry and now the recycling industry is fundamentally a story of transformation. It is the story of transforming trash into raw materials even as it transformed unemployable immigrants into business-men and entrepreneurs.

I met several men and women who were in a third or fourth generation in the scrap business. They told me great stories of their grandfathers who built a livelihood out of what others considered trash.

And as I wandered the floor on the final day of the conference with these stories and the idea of transformation on my mind, I suddenly really appreciated the bright, look-at-me colors on the floor. These machines are not just tools. They are magical. They turn trash into raw material. That’s a remarkable thing.

Maybe the bright colors are practical—to make the super-expensive equipment highly visible. But to me, it’s more than that. Magical tools deserve magical colors. Colors that nature creates to showcase its beauty and the power are completely appropriate for machines that perform the transformation of matter.

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Family Fare: Baltimore Jewish Food Businesses Part 4

Posted on May 17th, 2017 by

Article by Jennifer Vess. Originally published in Generations 2011 – 2012: Jewish Foodways

Part IV: The Ma and Pa Shop: “My mother did all the cooking. We did all the rest.”[1]

Miss parts 1-3? Start here.

Family meant everything to the food businesses of the Jewish Baltimore community.  The typical pattern was similar to the story of the Rodbells – the father started a business based on the skills he already had, the mother took care of the children and home as well as helping out in the store, and the kids were put to work on the weekends and before and after school.  The store was often the family home with living quarters above or behind the business space.

Itzhak and Leah Brotman in front of their butcher shop on Lombard Street. Itzhak’s brother, Hyman, was also a kosher butcher. Courtesy of Saul H. Brotman. JMM 1991.170.6

Itzhak and Leah Brotman in front of their butcher shop on Lombard Street. Itzhak’s brother, Hyman, was also a kosher butcher. Courtesy of Saul H. Brotman. JMM 1991.170.6

Some stories varied of course.  Joe Mandell was a young man when he took over the deli on Lombard Street where he had worked for several years.  Rather than a wife and children helping out, Joe’s father and stepmother worked for him.  In fact his stepmother did all of the cooking at his first small operation on Lombard Street.  According to Mandell, “She was an excellent cook, her soups were like good wine.”[2]  At one point, Harry Attman, founder of Attman’s Delicatessen, owned and operated two stores several blocks apart – he ran one while his wife, Ida, ran the other.  While many people talk about husbands and fathers starting businesses, other stories have the wives and mothers using their skills to support the family.  Bluefeld’s Catering was established by Bessie Bluefeld, and Rena Kolman remembers the mother of a friend who “had a little grocery store that was made from a front room.  She came from the old country, no husband, and she raised three children there.”[3] However the store started, it all came back to family.

Hyman Brotman’s daughter Sylvia Brotman Spivak outside the poultry shop that she ran with her husband. Photograph by John McGrain. JMM 1995.187.13

Hyman Brotman’s daughter Sylvia Brotman Spivak outside the poultry shop that she ran with her husband. Photograph by John McGrain. JMM 1995.187.13

For some families opening up a little food shop was a means to another end.  Mothers and fathers may have needed the help of their children to make a living, but they had their eyes on different goals for the futures of their offspring.  Many wanted their children to get through school and move on to different professions.  Ida Attman urged her son Edward not to stay in the deli business (though her son Seymour did eventually take over).[4]   Rena Kolman’s parents made school the priority and hired a girl to help in their confectionary store rather than putting their children to work.  Without a second generation to carry on the business they eventually closed the store.[5]

Morris Hack worked at his father’s grocery store on George Street. Courtesy of Mamie Rosenfield Baker. JMM 1990.12.6c

Morris Hack worked at his father’s grocery store on George Street. Courtesy of Mamie Rosenfield Baker. JMM 1990.12.6c

Other businesses stayed in the family for generations.  Some of the most familiar and well-loved food businesses that came out of the Jewish community in Baltimore passed from parents to their adult children and sometimes even their grandchildren.  Many of those businesses, such as Hendlers Creamery, Saval Food Products, and Tulkoff’s Horseradish, became (or still are) large enterprises that reached beyond the local community to a regional or national level.  Other shops, like Attmans Deli remained local physically, but still draw in crowds from well beyond the neighborhood.

Continue to Part V: Mechanization and Innovation: “He had to get more machines to keep producing.”

Notes:

[1] Sid Mandell quoted in, Gil Sandler, “Taking Orders,” Baltimore Jewish Times, January 26, 2007.

[2] Joe Mandell interview, December 30, 1992, OH 319, JMM.

[3] Rena Kolman interview, May 18, 2006, OH 684, JMM.

[4] Edward Attman interview, November 28, 2005, OH 678, JMM.

[5] Rena Kolman interview, May 18, 2006, OH 684, JMM.

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