Passages Through the Fire

Posted on June 26th, 2013 by

Sometimes the curator feels as though every new exhibition requires a personal “passage through the fire.” The range of subjects exhibited at the JMM is always broad; the move from comic book superheroes to Civil War commemoration is dizzying.

But it’s fun. There are always fascinating new stories to learn. This week, we visited with Lance Bendann, descendant of Civil War era photographers David and Daniel Bendann, and current owner of the Baltimore gallery the brothers founded in 1859.

Soldiers of the Maryland Militia, 53rd Infantry Regiment, Company G, known as the Zouaves. Following the outbreak of the Civil War, the federal government placed Maryland under martial law and disbanded the state and local militias. Due to strong southern sympathies among Marylanders, an estimated 80% of the 53rd “crossed the Potomac” and joined the Confederacy, forming the nucleus of the 1st Maryland Confederate line. Image courtesy of Lance Bendann, Bendann Art Galleries, Baltimore.

Soldiers of the Maryland Militia, 53rd Infantry Regiment, Company G, known as the Zouaves. Following the outbreak of the Civil War, the federal government placed Maryland under martial law and disbanded the state and local militias. Due to strong southern sympathies among Marylanders, an estimated 80% of the 53rd “crossed the Potomac” and joined the Confederacy, forming the nucleus of the 1st Maryland Confederate line. Image courtesy of Lance Bendann, Bendann Art Galleries, Baltimore.

David and Daniel were young men when they moved to Baltimore from Richmond in the turbulent years before the war began.  Among the first to bring the carte de visite format to Baltimore, they took advantage of the “cardomania” (in which cardboard-mounted portrait photos were used as visiting cards and avidly traded among friends and collected into albums) sweeping Europe and America.

The brothers were artists, posing their subjects with an eye for pleasing composition, and creating elegant backgrounds for the sitters. These backgrounds were much admired by other photographers, so the Bendanns invented a process that allowed studios to purchase negatives for the “Bendann Brothers Backgrounds” to incorporate into their own photos. In 1872 the brothers were awarded a National Photographic Association Holmes Medal for this invention. A detailed explanation of the process can be found at http://photohist.classyarts.com/tag/bendann-backgrounds/.

As was not uncommon among Baltimore Jews, the Bendann men were Confederate sympathizers, having retained alliances dating to their years in Richmond. As a result, both brothers had a brush with the law. In 1862, David Bendann was arrested after an altercation with an unpleasant customer who was also a Union army captain. He was arrested, refused to take a loyalty oath, and served a three-month sentence, after which he signed a statement agreeing that he would “in no wise aid or encourage the Rebels.”  Daniel Bendann was charged in April 1865 on a charge of disloyalty, described in the complaint as “a Jew” and a “notorious, violent, and dirty sneaking Rebel.”

 Image courtesy of Lance Bendann, Bendann Art Galleries, Baltimore.

Image courtesy of Lance Bendann, Bendann Art Galleries, Baltimore.

After the war, both Union and former Confederate leaders continued to seek out the Bendann Brothers studio for a portrait while visiting Baltimore. They photographed Jefferson Davis, John S. Mosby, Chief Justice Taney, General Sheridan, Illinois governor Richard Yates, and more.

The Bendann Brothers story is just one among many that will be told in the upcoming Passages Through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War, originated by the American Jewish Historical Society and Yeshiva University Museum and augmented at the JMM with narratives from Jewish Maryland. The exhibition will open at the JMM on October 13, 2013.

karenA blog post by Curator Karen Falk. You can read other  posts by Karen and additional exhibition related posts  by clicking here.

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