Posted on July 19th, 2016 by Rachel
Like many historical societies and museums, we have a large number of photos in which some or all of the individuals are unidentified. We use a variety of techniques to address this problem, from archival research to crowd-sourcing; we also do our best, when accepting new donations, to ensure that we get the names and stories from the donors straight away.
Perhaps naturally, our focus in these endeavors has been on the Jewish community – but that doesn’t mean that only Jewish people are represented in our collections. Few communities live in a vacuum; we interact with other groups nearly every day, as friends, coworkers, and family, in shops and restaurants and on the street.
Herman Becker (second from left) with three unidentified employees of the Becker Sign Company, Baltimore, circa 1928. Gift of the estate of Herschel Elliot Becker. JMM 1989.102.10
Nurses Mary Mead (left) and Esther Farber Dubin (right) received Sinai Hospital’s Harry Greenstein Nurse of the Year award in 1971. Gift of the Nurses Alumnae Association of Sinai Hospital. JMM 2010.20.193
Unidentified photos are the bane of a collections manager’s existence. (One of them, anyway.) And yet it’s a perfectly understandable problem; many of us can’t remember the names of people in our own snapshots, let alone those of our parents and grandparents. (As a side note, here’s your reminder to clearly identify all your photos with full names, locations, and dates.) If the people donating the images don’t know who’s in them, what chance do we, the unaffiliated museum staff, have? Happily, there are often clues we can use to recover some names. And once we know the names, we should use them.
The back of this photo is identified only with the date, “June 1907.” Comparison with the rest of the family’s collection tells us that the infant is Klare Lobe, but the African American woman holding her is unidentified. A little digging in the records shows that in 1910, when the census was taken, the Lobes were boarding with the Rayne family on Linden Avenue, Baltimore. In that year the Raynes’ household included three live-in servants, all African American: cook Laura Pitts, 47; “waiter” Eben Pitts, 12; and housemaid Lena Drummond, a 27 year old widow. It’s possible that Lena is the young woman holding Klare in this 1907 photo. Gift of Marjorie Scott. JMM 2002.045.016
Ruth Weinberg Leven compiled a photo album showing her family’s everyday life in the early 20th century. She carefully labeled each image with both the date and the first names of the participants. In this 1907 photo, on the porch of their Baltimore home are Weinberg siblings Martin, Helen, and Leonard, with Lizzie, a young African American girl in what is probably a maid’s or nanny’s uniform, holding Ruth Weinberg in her arms. Unfortunately, Lizzie was not “living in” in 1910, and so does not appear in the census (the servants listed in the household are white); more work must be done to identify her last name. Gift of Jan Weinberg. JMM 1922.214.171.124a
Employees of Wolf Salganik & Sons, a wholesale butcher shop, pose on a rooftop, circa 1935. As in the photo above, we’re fortunate in that someone has noted a few names on the photo itself, including Mabel, Mary, Sophie, and – the sole gentleman in the photo, and also the only African American – Bob. It would certainly be convenient if the original note-taker had also jotted down these folks’ last names and job titles, but historians know that a little clue is better than none. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Salganik. JMM 2004.27.7
Jewish Family and Children’s Services employees, 1971. Though this photo is not annotated, it contains an even better clue: the woman in the center is wearing a name tag. She’s Mrs. Ida Louise Carr, Homemaker and Home Health Aide for JFCS. (The other two women are still unidentified.) Gift of The Associated. JMM 1997.134.147
Unfortunately, what we’re more likely to find in our collections are photos with no known names at all, or – like this photo – with only the white individuals identified. In this case, while on a picnic in Harford County in 1920, Sylvan Eckhaus, Ruth Davis, Henry Hoffman, Miriam Davis, and Joe Naviaski posed with a young African American man, probably the driver. He looks in many ways like he’s part of this jovial group – he even has a cigar to match Mr. Eckhaus’s – but the fact that his name was not remembered hints that he was more likely a chauffeur, whose services and vehicle were hired for the day. Gift of Betty N. Eckhaus. JMM 1992.7.14
Now more than ever we need to do our best by the people – all the people – who can be found in our collections. True, their stories may not be our stories to tell; the goal isn’t to lay claim to them, but to make sure these images are accessible, remembered, and known… and that can start with a name. It’s a small thing, perhaps, but a vital one.
As always, if anyone can help us identify any people, locations, dates, or stories that accompany these images, please let us know!
For more images showing African American life in and around Baltimore, start with the Afro-American archives or the Maryland Historical Society.
A blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.
Posted on February 14th, 2011 by Rachel
By Robyn Hughes, MA
Yesterday I attended docent training for the Jewish Museum of Maryland’s Spring exhibition titled Loring Cornish: In Each Other’s Shoes. This exhibition explores the shared experiences of African Americans and American Jews which include: violent persecution, discrimination, poverty, transcendence, hope and prosperity through the prism of the 1950s and 1960s Civil Rights Movement in the United States. The creator of the exhibition, Loring Cornish, is a Visionary Artist who utilizes found objects as the medium for his three dimensional vividly colored mosaics. Mr. Cornish explained to us at the docent training session that he felt deeply inspired to create an exhibition that has a social action theme.
A piece in the JMM lobby
As I entered the exhibition, I felt as though I was embarking upon a journey back in time to the Civil Rights era southern United States. The large brilliantly colored pieces of art which filled the gallery were replete with Civil Rights era iconography, which included images of a large gold painted peace symbol and Civil Rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., President John F. Kennedy and U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy. The first piece that I viewed was titled Target Shalom (peace), which featured the aforementioned Civil Rights leaders with drops of blood on one side of the piece and a large gold colored peace symbol on the other side. I was immediately struck by the juxtaposition of the black colored background with the contrast of the bright gold colored peace symbol. This juxtaposition of light and dark colors is a recurrent theme throughout the exhibition. This use of color opposition reminded me of the contrast between the feelings of fear and despair, and the feelings of idealism and hope, which were all recurrent themes that existed as a constituent part of the collective consciousness of the Civil Rights Movement.
Encountering “March on Washington:
The second piece that I viewed was titled March on Washington. This piece was filled on one side by square shaped white colored glass pieces which were joined together to create the soles of human feet, which were set against a black background. The instant that I saw this piece, it evoked images in my mind of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington DC.
Docents diligently take notes
The third piece that I encountered was titled Montgomery Bus Boycott. This piece was composed of pieces from a variety of brand name tennis shoes such as Nike and Reebok. The pieces of white and camel colored shoes together formed the words Montgomery Bus Boycott. As I gazed at this piece, I reflected upon the juxtapositions of the lack of civil liberties and of the poverty that many African Americans and American Jews faced in the past in contrast with the civil liberties and the economic prosperity that many from both communities enjoy today, due in large part to the Civil Rights Movement.
Engaging with the art
The fourth piece that I explored, titled Souls Awaiting Justice, was for me the most powerful piece in the exhibition. The front side of the piece was covered in brightly colored glass stones, which Mr. Cornish explained symbolized the hope, the prosperity and the achievement of African Americans and Jews; while the opposite side of the piece featured leather, which was meticulously sculpted into a representation of dead bodies. The base which was created by Rashaud Williams in collaboration with Mr. Cornish featured a six candle menorah meant to represent the six million Jews who were murdered in the Shoah (Holocaust) and chains which symbolized the enslavement of African Americans. I was moved by the sense of hope that was offered by the one side of the piece and I felt a deep sense of loss when I viewed the opposite side of the piece. I imagined both the graphic sight and smell of dead charred human flesh that is found in mass graves.
“Souls Awaiting Justice”
My journey through this powerful and evocative exhibition culminated with the vividly colored piece titled Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going. This piece dramatically depicted the transformative sojourn of the African American and the American Jewish communities and the optimism that such a sojourn engenders. This one of a kind exhibition has made the Civil Rights Movement, which was created and experienced by African Americans and American Jews real for me in a personal way that can not be replicated by a two dimensional documentary, lecture or history text book.
*photographs by Jennifer Vess