Intern Weekly Response: Project Updates

Posted on June 21st, 2018 by

Every week we’re asking our summer interns to share some thoughts and responses to various experiences and readings. This week we asked them to share about their projects here at the Museum. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.


Exploring the Lloyd Street Synagogue

-Intern Alexia M. Orengo Green

By now I’m three weeks in on my internship at The Jewish Museum of Maryland and the experience has been great. I have been able to work on various projects regarding the Lloyd Street Synagogue. This incredible building constructed in 1845 is the first synagogue in Maryland.   Even though the synagogue’s history and architecture are impressive, they are not the only things that make the building significant. It is the synagogue’s impact on the Baltimore Jewish community that makes the synagogue unique.

Exterior of the Lloyd Street Synagogue Photo from the Jewish Museum of Maryland webpage.

My first project regarding the Lloyd Street Synagogue was updating the archival inventory of the synagogue. During the duration of this project I went through hundreds of documents concerning the synagogue. This project allowed me to learn about previous research done regarding the synagogue and the various restorations the building has had throughout the years. What stroke me the most from this project was the hard work and dedication the staff from the Jewish Museum of Maryland have put throughout the years to have the synagogue recognized by the city as a historical building. Without this hard work and dedication Baltimore would not have the Lloyd Street Synagogue.

Cuspidor from the Lloyd Street Synagogue exhibited on the “Voices of Lombard Street” exhibit. Photo by: Alexia M. Orengo Green.

After finishing updating the archival inventory I began working with the archaeological artifacts excavated in the Lloyd Street Synagogue. This project has fascinated me! I’ve been cataloguing and describing each of the artifacts found. I’ve been able to encounter fabric, ceramics, and even iron nails! What I love the most about this project is getting to study each artifact and see how it fits on the Lloyd Street Synagogue narrative. Every time that I work with archaeological artifacts I try to imagine how they used to look at their period and who used them. I believe this helps putting the artifacts on perspective and helps me connect with the story.

Both projects have been wonderful, and I can’t wait for what is next!


“Inescapable: From Script to Reality”

-Intern Cara Bennet

One of the coolest parts about working in a museum is seeing an exhibit that was once just an idea and some words on a page come to life. Over the past few weeks I have been working on updating the Houdini exhibition script to make sure that the text and labels match the panels that have actually been installed in the exhibit. Usually the script should be finalized before text panels have been printed but I’m learning that sometimes you just have to go with the flow and tweak things along the way. Reviewing the script has been a great learning experience. The Houdini exhibit has been a good example of the different ways an exhibit can be broken up into themes and still tell a consistent narrative. Reviewing the script has also given me an excuse to read every piece of text that has gone into this exhibit. Although I try, I’m never able to read every label and text panel at museum exhibits. Reviewing the script has made me appreciate how much effort and research has gone into this exhibit. Each label and text panel has been written to tell a fascinating story in a relatively small amount of space.

Behind the scenes…exciting things are happening!

After spending days reviewing the script, floorplans, and renderings I got the opportunity to watch the exhibit come to life. It has been so cool watching the exhibit come together piece by piece. While I haven’t had any experience with exhibit installation, this week fellow intern Alexia and I got to help clean all the vitrines in the exhibit. This may not sound super exciting, but it was so cool to get to contribute to this exhibit in some small way. Alexia and I also got the opportunity to help arrange the handcuff display. While we were concerned at first that the handcuffs and picks wouldn’t stand out enough against the black velvet fabric, the objects ended up showing up. I’ve learned that a small museum sometimes you just have to work with what you have and make the most of it.

Alexia and I were only slightly concerned about being trapped in the vitrine. Luckily, we weren’t asked to perform any Houdini inspired escapes.


Making Magic

-Intern Elllie Smith

For the last few weeks I have been helping prepare for the Houdini opening and the Jonestown Festival. For the Houdini opening we constructed houses of cards for table decorations and a card mobile that will decorate the lobby area. We will be making magicians hats and wands at the Jewish Museum of Maryland table at the Jonestown Festival. I spent my time last week prototyping the crafts. I was surprised how long it took me to figure out the exact measurements for the wands and the hats.

I am excited to see the culmination of all of our hard work at both of the events.

When I was not working on crafts and decorations for Houdini I was beginning researching for a pair of exhibits that will open next spring called Stitching History from the Holocaust and Fashion Statement. Stitching History is a traveling exhibit which was created at the Jewish Museum in Milwaukee.

It tells the story of a woman who attempted to gain asylum into the United States during the Holocaust. She tried to prove her value with her fashion designs. She unfortunately was not granted access into the United States and perished in the Holocaust. Her family in Milwaukee kept the designs and donated them to the museum where they were brought to life and now travel around the country. Fashion Statement will be an original exhibit created here at JMM which focuses on the Maryland connection to fashion and designs. I will continue to do research and work to develop programs for both of these exhibits.

For the education department I have been working on creating bags that can be taken on tours of the synagogues to engage children. The activities in the bags will be based around the Synagogue Speaks book. I am working on developing an activity booklet that parents can pick up at the desk before their tours. I am also working on the education aspects of Stitching History and Fashion Statement which include creating lesson plans and activities for school groups. It is a very exciting time at the museum right now and I look forward to seeing what the rest of the summer holds.


Planning Ahead

~Intern Marisa Shultz

It’s been a busy, but extremely exciting start to my internship here at the Jewish Museum of Maryland; let me catch you up on what I’ve been working on! Over the past two and a half weeks, I have started two major, overarching projects that I will work on throughout the course of my internship.

The first is planning programming for the Jewish Refugees and Shanghai exhibit from the Shanghai Jewish Museum that is set to open during the Lunar New Year of 2019. The exhibit explores the experiences of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution who settled in the port city of Shanghai, China. I feel well-equipped and especially excited for this task, as I studied Chinese in both high school and college. Last week, I spent a great deal of time familiarizing myself with the stories of the survivors of the Hongkou ghetto. From there, I have begun brainstorming programs. So far, I have found several potential speakers, a few hands-on events, and many activities for family day, and I am excited to continue looking for and planning programming that is educational, experimental, and fun!

The other major project is creating bags of activities for parents and grandparents to do with their children in the Lloyd Street Synagogue; these activities will be a supplement/experiential element to the book The Synagogue Speaks. So far, I have been working on finding ways to introduce families to the different congregations that used the Lloyd Street Synagogue, as well as providing an opportunity for parents and grandparents to teach their children about Jewish customs and traditions. I hope to make the bags modular, so the experience will be new and fresh each time a family returns to the museum. I have had the pleasure of working with Ellie Smith on this project and am looking forward to continued collaboration!

In addition to these projects, Ellie and I have both been hard at work on the final touches for both the Preview of Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini (6/21) and the Magic of Jonestown Festival (6/24).

I don’t want to give too much away and ruin the magic of surprise, but here is a sneak peek!

I have also been prototyping and building the “code books” for the Vanishing Elephant education program, which will help the kids crack the magic code! I am super excited to see this program in action!

It’s been an incredible two and a half weeks, and I am so proud to be part of this institution this summer!


Histories Found in Scrapbooks

~Intern Ash Turner

Daintily placed prom tickets and corsages. House addresses written neatly on envelopes. Valentines and birthday cards tucked between pages. I’ve been milling through all the odds and ends found in scrapbooks these past weeks, either to write detailed documents of what I find, or to search for specific information.

So far at the JMM, I’ve been learning how to process donated objects, mostly scrapbooks, and I’ve been learning how to correctly handle these objects. I’ve never looked through a stranger’s scrapbook before, much less written up a whole document on someone I don’t know based solely off of what they put in a scrapbook. I’ve also been able to see first hand how scrapbooks stay together and fall apart through the years.

Gift from Eleanor Yuspa, JMM 2015.008.008.

I’ve mostly been surprised by how tangible these different decades, these histories, feel to me now. Sure, I can read in a book about where someone lived in the 1930s, or read facts about who they married and when. But there’s something so much more fulfilling and engaging when you are looking for something else, flipping through pages filled with small objects and scraps of paper, and stumble upon someone’s address, only to realize that they lived on the same street as you – although they lived there 100 years ago.

Tickets pasted into Isaac Hecht’s travel scrapbook from a trip to France. Gift from Eleanor Yuspa, JMM 2015.008.005.

I’ve developed a deeper sense of how Baltimore as a city has changed, even just through the early to mid 1900s. I also appreciate, more than I did before, scrapbooks and the people who make them.

Picture inside Catherine Hecht’s scrapbook. Gift from Eleanor Yuspa, JMM 2015.008.004.

Although I’m only a few weeks into my internship, I’m really looking forward to handling more objects, more slips of paper and newspaper clippings, old advertisements and cartoons. I’m looking forward to the history, and the stories, they hold. I also am hoping to learn more about Baltimore’s history and my own sense of connection to its Jewish roots.

 

 

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Houdini’s Shackles Case

Posted on June 20th, 2018 by

Blog post by JMM intern Alexia M. Orengo Green. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

As many of you may know, the Jewish Museum of Maryland is opening Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini. This exhibit puts Houdini’s story in a new perspective that most people do not know. Houdini’s Jewish legacy. Before coming to the Jewish Museum of Maryland and learning about the upcoming exhibit I did not know that Houdini was Jewish, which surprised me. The exhibit connects Houdini’s Jewish heritage, his life’s work, and Maryland through artifacts such as newspapers, his straitjacket, and his shackles.

Title Houdini exhibit. Photo by Alexia M. Orengo Green

This week one of the other interns and I had the amazing opportunity to help set up this magical exhibit. We were given the opportunity to set up the case for Houdini’s shackles and part of his lock pick set. Before starting to set up the case, we selected the fabric we were going to work with, which was a black velvet that went with the color scheme of the exhibit. Afterwards, we saw the different artifacts we were working with, which gave us an idea of the possible layout we were going to create. To better present and add dimension to the case, we decided to elevate with props several of the artifacts.

Props used to create the case.  Photo by: Alexia M. Orengo Green

When creating the case, the artifacts that were heavier and bigger were put on the back of the case while the smaller ones were set up on the front. By doing this, the visitor can see the multiple artifacts without having to hover over the exhibit case. An example of the smaller artifacts in the front of the case would be the lock pick set. The set was placed in front of the case in a line, so the visitor could better compare each of the tools Houdini used. So, it can be better appreciated on the right of the lock pick set, we placed a hair pin that Houdini also used to open locks. After we finished setting the artefacts on the table we began to adjust some of them to improve the case’s presentation and make space for the labels.  We also decided to move some of the artifacts, so the case could have a good contrast.

Exhibit case. Photo by: Alexia M. Orengo Green

From the exhibit case we created, my favorite artifact was a pair of shackles that we set at the top left corner of the case. This pair of shackles were my favorite because they were the most unique from the collection. The shackles are rigid, oxidized, and cannot bend, but the most interesting thing from the shackles is their key. What intrigues me the must of the key is the H” that it has on the middle to indicate the shackles were Houdini’s. This small detail, which may not be noticeable at the beginning, makes the shackles stand out.

Participating on the creation of the Houdini exhibit was an amazing experience. Being able to work behind the scenes of an exhibit and with artifacts that belonged to Houdini is an incredible honor. This exhibit creates a new narrative encompassing Houdini’s Jewish heritage and his connection with Maryland. Anyone that goes to see the exhibit will have an astonishing time.

 

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“Do Museums Need Objects?”

Posted on June 13th, 2018 by

By collections/exhibits intern Cara Bennet. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

As I’m working towards my Masters in Museum Studies this question continues to haunt me. In his book, history professor Steven Conn poses the question “do museums still need objects?” In our age of rapidly changing technology, virtual reality and high-tech interactives threaten to overshadow and replace documents and artifacts in museums. Museums have come a long way from their early days of displaying “cabinets of curiosities.” Museums today place a much greater emphasis on education and visitor experiences which benefit from incorporating a variety of methods for conveying information, not just objects. While many museums have begun to fill their galleries with touch screens, photo booths, virtual reality experiences, and interactive stations, I strongly believe that museums still need objects.

Objects are powerful. Objects connect us to our past. Objects have witnessed history. Objects are symbolic. Objects are iconic. Objects are meaningful. Objects speak to us on a level that words cannot. Anyone who has ever visited a museum can remember a particular object or objects that truly resonated with them. An object that struck them for one reason or another and stuck with them over the years.

One of the first objects to give me this feeling was the Watergate door at the Newseum. I know it sounds really weird, especially because I wasn’t particularly interested in political history, Nixon, or the Watergate scandal at the time. I remember standing in front of the door and being inexplicably awestruck. I turned to my dad and said “Wow! That’s actually THE door?” I had remembered reading about Watergate in my history class and it suddenly hit me that I was standing in front of an object that played a role in a significant moment in U.S. history.

“Wow! That’s actually THE door?” Image via.

Another object that holds a special place in my heart is Owney the dog at the National Postal Museum. This is another tough one to explain to people. Yeah…my favorite museum object is a taxidermied dog. While he was alive, Owney, a scruffy mutt who liked the scent of mailbags, became the Railway Mail Service’s unofficial mascot and good luck charm once he started following the mailbags onto mail wagons and mail trains. Owney traveled all over the country and even the world. Mail clerks recorded his trips by adding medals and tags to his collar signifying each new place he visited. After Owney died, mail clerks raised money to have him preserved to memorialize him and commemorate his service. While I feel weird about taxidermy, I absolutely love this dog and his story.

Whenever I’m near the Postal Museum I’ll run in just to say hi to my pal Owney. Image via.

While I’m only a week and a half into my internship here at the JMM I’ve already had the opportunity to browse our collections database. I am thrilled by the variety of objects I’ve seen. As I continue to explore our collections I’m patiently waiting to stumble upon “my” object. The one that speaks to me. The one that will stick with me.

Do you think museums need objects? Do you have a certain object that has really resonated with you? Tell us about it!

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