Studying Abroad: Where Museum Personalities Clash

Posted on August 2nd, 2017 by

By collections intern Amy Swartz. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

A few weeks ago we were tasked with reading pieces of John H Falk’s Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience. For our weekly blog post that week, I wrote a bit about my initial reactions to the piece. However, while reading parts of the book I was really struck by his museum visitor’s model as I myself have inhabited those many models at different points in my life. This past spring I studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark and had the amazing opportunity to visit many European countries. As someone who loves museums so much that I want to work in one for the rest of my life, all of my trips included some type of museum visit. During these museum visits, depending on which museum I visited and who I was with, my identity flipped and flopped.

Falk’s five identities are explorer, facilitator, experience seeker, professional/hobbyist, and recharger. I am most often an explorer. I go into museums seeking to discover, I pick and chose what I spend my time on, and I often have some background knowledge. When I am with my friends, who are often experience seekers but sometimes explorers, I often am in a semi-facilitator role. I want them to learn and enjoy their visit so that we can actively discuss it. However, while in Europe my identity was in flux. I found that in my experience there are two types of museum experience for those who are studying abroad and traveling: the explorer and the experience seeker.

A ship in the Viking Museum, Oslo, Norway

A ship in the Viking Museum, Oslo, Norway

The explorer traveler finds museums in new cities and decides that a museum visit would be a good way to learn about the city or country’s culture. They go simply because they think it would be a cool experience and are more likely to go to a museum that is either free or has a museum discount rather than an expensive museum. My time in Oslo fits this description. My sister and I did not know what to do in the city, especially since it was rather rainy our whole trip and the city is quite expensive. We bought a museum pass, which was a great purchase and visited the Fram Museum and the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, among others. I approached each visit solely as an explorer. I came in without any expectations or assumptions and simply enjoyed myself and learned a lot.

One of Monet’s Water Lilies Paintings in the Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris

One of Monet’s Water Lilies Paintings in the Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris

The experience seeker finds themselves at museums while abroad for the great or well-known works housed inside. They often operate on a limited schedule and work to check certain things off their bucket list The best example of this was my time in Paris. While at the Louvre, my best friend and I saw a lot but we narrowed down our visit to the greats: the Mona Lisa (an obvious choice), the Nike of Samothrace, and the Venus de Milo. We quickly went to the Le Musée de l’Orangerie next, only glancing in some galleries in order to get to Monet’s Water Lilies.

Me and my host sisters in the Kusama exhibit at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark

Me and my host sisters in the Kusama exhibit at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark

Other museums I visited brought out both personalities. While in Denmark I visited the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art with my visiting host family. Majority of my time there I was an explorer, hungrily consuming information. The Louisiana has an amazing collection and while there I actually saw a lot of works I later learned about in my Women, Art, and Identity course. However, I was also an experience-seeker as there was a well-known exhibit by Yayoi Kusama called Gleaming Lights of the Souls. In that moment I had to see it just to see it and have that experience – it was worth a bit of a wait, which turned out to be nothing based on the wait at the Hirshhorn Museum which had hours long wait lines.

I’ve found that one’s identity at a museum is very dependent on the circumstances of the visit. That’s why it is always beneficial for a museum to cater to multiple identities – which JMM does very well through its various educational programs, exhibits, and lectures.

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Once Upon a Time…11.04.2016

Posted on August 1st, 2017 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

1996174005

Date run in Baltimore Jewish Times:  November 4, 2016

 

PastPerfect Accession #:  1996.174.5

 

Status: Unidentified. Unknown wedding couple, c. 1920 – do you know them?

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Looking for Stories of Culture

Posted on July 31st, 2017 by

By exhibitions intern Tirza Ochrach-Konradi. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

Judaism is built on stories, which is natural for any religion. Religions are based on shared beliefs and the story format is the way a lot of that content gets passed down generation to generation. Religious stories act like pneumonic devices for religious beliefs. It would not be easy to compile, maintain, and memorize a giant bulleted list of religious beliefs, but it is attainable to establish, maintain, and recollect from a big book of stories.

Jewish religious stories are super accessible and have been carefully maintained but, the particular Jewish stories that I am interested in are less carefully stored. I am interested in the stories of Jewish culture and Jewish community. The stories that come from Jews as a group of people doing things together that are designed to share what it means to participate in Jewish culture. This is entirely personal bias. I am not a religious Jew and cultural Jewish stories resonate more with me.

I learned holiday traditions from my parents, but I also had those traditions reinforced through reading story books. In particular I remember reading The Matzah that Papa Brought Home which is by Fran Manushkin and illustrated by Ned Bittinger about Passover and Purim Play by Roni Schotter as well as ZigaZak! a Hanukah book by Eric Kimmel illustrated by John Goodell. As a child these stories helped me understand my family’s traditions and situate them into a larger culture. Participation in religious community was not right for us because we didn’t believe. We also didn’t live in an area with a high population of Jewish neighbors so these stories were the way I got a broader understanding of the traditions and holidays my family undertook.

The cover of The Matzah that Papa Brought Home.

The cover of The Matzah that Papa Brought Home.

This summer has been fun because the oral histories that I have been working with are basically big cultural Jewish stories. This includes the collection project I am focusing on. I have been part of conducting a major interview project for Beth Am. The congregation is collecting the recollections of members who were present during the earliest years of the synagogue. Some of these people are folks who went to Chizuk Amuno when it was in the Eutaw Place temple and chose to remain in the downtown location when the rest of Chizuk Amuno moved to their Stevenson location. The rest of the participants are individuals who joined very early on in the life of the congregation.

I do feel out of my depth when interviewees reference religious practices with words I’ve never heard before. However, even though this project revolves around a religious institution, I find that what I really get is a sense of how these people built a Jewish community. The stories I get to collect are full of accounts of how friends drew other friends in, how the membership took pride in being a “do-it-yourself” shul where everything from youth education to painting the building was undertaken by rank-and-file members, and how the biggest strength of the shul is its open and welcoming culture.

Watercolor painting of the Eutaw Place temple by Rod Cook. (JMM 1995.192.010)

Watercolor painting of the Eutaw Place temple by Rod Cook. (JMM 1995.192.010)

I’ve personally interviewed five people this summer and I’ve heard and transcribed the recordings of five more. Because these interviews are so intently focused on the one topic the effect of having heard all of the recollections is as if I have read the same story written out by ten different people. Each version highlights different events and participants. Together they build a picture of the full reality of the experience. It is awesome to have this front row seat in pulling together the piece. Like the books of my childhood, these stories have been able to share a sense of Jewish community and help me understand myself as part of a bigger culture.

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