The Usefulness of Ephemera

Posted on September 30th, 2015 by

A refrain I’ve heard several times while prepping “Paul Simon: Words and Music” goes along the lines of “Oh, too bad I got rid of all my record albums!” Fortunately, getting rid of records is not something the Church family does easily, and so a supply of Paul Simon and Simon & Garfunkel albums was ready to hand. My parents saved their records, even after there was no longer a record player in the house, because (among other reasons) there was space in the basement to store them. I myself saved some of their records because (among other reasons) I am sentimentally attached to things that my parents wrote their names on when they were young.

“M.C.M. ‘72” noted inside “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” courtesy my mother. The same thing can be found on the other albums pictured here. Don’t steal teenaged Margaret’s records!

“M.C.M. ‘72” noted inside “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” courtesy my mother. The same thing can be found on the other albums pictured here. Don’t steal teenaged Margaret’s records!

I am a believer in the significance of ‘ordinary’ artifacts – like my parents’ records – though I’m as susceptible as anyone else to the lure of the Famous Person’s Belongings. What I particularly enjoy, in all cases, is the story of how and why a particular artifact was saved. My favorite tidbit from “Paul Simon: Words and Music” is the fact that Simon didn’t know what happened to his red jacket from the Tom & Jerry days, until a cousin said something to the effect of “Hey, do you want this jacket back?” (How many rock stars wish they had such thoughtful relatives? And how many rock stars’ parents wish now that they hadn’t cleared out all those beat-up amps and stage costumes from the pre-fame era?)
There are several instances in this exhibit where the importance of artifacts – both to the artist and to the audience – is part of the narrative, explicitly and implicitly. I’d argue that, as exhibit visitors, some part of us is thinking about the how and why of artifact survival, even if most of our brain is taken up with “Wow, that’s the real thing.”
My challenge to you, potential “Words and Music” visitors, is to take a close look at the variety of objects, papers, and other visuals included in what is, technically, an exhibit about an audio format. Then, plan a hypothetical exhibit about your own favorite music. (Favorite from today, from your youth, from your own songwriting genius, whatever you prefer – this is an unstructured homework assignment, don’t worry.) The fun of exhibit creation is finding those particular items that will illustrate a concept and help the viewer make connections. What have you hung on to, accidentally or deliberately, that might help you explain to your hypothetical viewers why that particular song, artist, or genre of music is important to you? Is there a correlation between the important music, and the items you discover that you’ve saved? What would you include in the exhibit if you could go back and find a now-missing poster, t-shirt, or hand-written lyric?
P.S. This is not intended to make you feel badly for disposing of anything over the years. But if you have, spare a thought for the exhibit designers who have to deal with all the people who’ve told them, “Oh, too bad I got rid of all that stuff!”

JoannaA blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

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After the Show: the Breakdown of an Exhibit

Posted on February 10th, 2014 by

The most exciting part about visiting a museum is getting to view various artifacts within the exhibits, especially if the museum is featuring a new one. I myself had only been on the outside, until this January when I was asked to help break the featured exhibit down here at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

Forest and Jobi prepare packaging.

Forest and Jobi prepare packaging.

The museum currently has an exhibit called “Passages Through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War”. But as spring rolls around, so will new artifacts, and the process of packing up the show, in someways is as thrilling as seeing it as a visitor.

To start, there had to be photos taken of every artifact. These photos were then color coded based on their lenders. Lenders were a variation of individuals, museums, and historical societies.

The Color Code List

The Color Code List

Once each photo was matched to the lender, I then filed the loan form for each artifact with its picture. What sounds like slow work, was actually informing. I was able to read the descriptions and learn a little more about the artifacts and the Jewish involvement in the Civil War as well.

Following this, Jobi and I determined how the artifacts would be returned to their lenders. We organized and labeled  boxes, for packaging, to be sure that everything was returned to it’s original owner. There was a lot of measuring and labeling to do, but I was able to check out artifacts that were not put into the exhibit. This was a really cool advantage.

Measuring boxes

Measuring boxes

The last step of course, is to take the actual artifacts down, pack them up, and send them back! This of course will not happen until the exhibit is officially over. So before the final step is taken, be sure to stop by the museum and check out “Passages Through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War”, which ends February 27th at 5 pm.

 

A blog post by Collections Intern Forest Fleisher. To read more posts by interns, click HERE. If you are interested in interning at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, you can find open internship opportunities HERE.

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