JMM Insights: Learning By Doing

Posted on April 21st, 2017 by

Want to listen to a pumping heart? Save the day at Ft. McHenry by removing ammunition from a stockade? Turn a pickle into a light bulb?

If you’ve visited JMM in the last few years, you might have done all of the above.  The opportunities to “learn by doing” continue this summer with our next exhibit, Just Married!: Wedding Stories from Jewish Maryland now under development.

As you might expect, this exhibit features wedding gowns, accessories, invitations, and even ketubahs that are more than 150 years old.  But in making this experience accessible to people of all ages and all learning styles it will also contain “interactive” experiences.  Despite the 21st century jargon in the name, interactives in museums date back more than a century.

In 1911, Jewish businessman and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald took his 8 year-old son William to the Deutsches Museum in Munich.  There he saw something new in the museum world – instead of halls exclusively devoted to objects in cases, some of the exhibits had cranks and levers and pulleys.  These devices invited visitors not just to observe the scientific world but to understand it through participation. Rosenwald was so impressed with the impact of this new style of museum experience that he became determined to bring it back to America, to his hometown of Chicago – and so began the story of the Museum of Science and Industry, the nation’s largest science museum.

Over the course of the 20th century, interactives migrated from science museums to children’s museums and by the 1980s to natural history and history museums as well.  These exhibit units are sometimes characterized as “activities for kids,” but it is the experience of museum professionals that interactives receive as much of a workout from adults as children, if only vicariously (i.e. “Johnny, try pulling the crank first and then flipping the lever”).

In approaching the interactives for Just Married!: Wedding Stories from Jewish Maryland, we began, as always, with educational objectives…how do we transform the topic into a vehicle for inspiring in-depth exploration and critical reasoning?  What concepts and activities would fit our exhibit themes, while attracting visitors both young and old?  We came up with a mix of puzzles, tactile experiences, and audio rewards to engage the brain as well as the senses.

The meeple family tree

An important part of interactive planning is beta testing. Over the winter, we tested two of our activities, one on the public and one on the JMM staff.
Our seating chart puzzle, designed by our in-house game maven, involves a set of adorable but in-law challenged meeples [wondering what meeples are? (and no, the singular of “meeples” is not “merson”)].  Our meeple families: the color-coded Pinkerts and Greensteins, Silvermans and Goldbergs needs to be strategically seated to achieve a set of goals for the bride and groom.  In this way we hoped to transform a common problem into a 3-D logic puzzle – both entertaining and thought provoking.

A seating challenge!

We set a simple prototype in the JMM lobby and invited visitors to give it a try.  This gave us insight into what visitors found confusing – such as the fact that unlabeled meeples are indistinguishable (so who could say if cousin Steve was sitting where he should be?) We experimented with affixing tiny labels to the meeples, simplifying the game’s rules and clarifying how to reset the game board for the next player.  All of these small adjustments will contribute to successful interactive – a tool that promotes learning (and fun).

Curator Karen takes a crack at matching photos

Joanna’s match-the-photo puzzle was tested out on the staff in a slightly less formal manner (but with scorekeeping, which always adds to the fun). In this activity, players are asked to match the wedding and anniversary photos of several Maryland couples from various eras.  Our collections include some great images, thanks to generations of Marylanders celebrating the milestone anniversaries of parents and grandparents.  Eleven of our staff and volunteers gave the game a try; there were mixed results, score-wise (and yes, one person did successfully match all eight couples), but everyone found themselves engrossed in the challenge.

Marketing and Development Manager Rachel had a tough time as the inaugural tester

These trial games were invaluable.  In the case of the photos, Joanna learned that the original version – a scattering of sixteen photos from eight couples, with no indication as to which images were wedding and which were anniversary – was much too difficult for anyone who hadn’t been staring at the pictures for three days like she had.  A few tweaks to the set-up improved things considerably. Our goal is to make interactives challenging – but not frustrating, often a difficult “sweet spot” to find.Interactives are just one component in turning a space into an experience.  A strong interactive complements, but does not replace, memorable images or artifacts – but the right tools can transport the visitor from “watcher” to “doer” and give them a sense of personal ownership of an exhibit.

MarvinBlog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert (with assistance from Collections Manager Joanna Church). To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Living History and Beyond!

Posted on April 14th, 2017 by

Over the past 14 years, the Jewish Museum of Maryland has developed significant expertise in the creation of compelling living history characters, along with a national reputation for excellence in this medium.  In consultation with a team of professional historians, script writers, directors and actors, we have created historical performances based on extensive research.  These performances illuminate key themes about American Jewish history in an accessible and personal manner.  These interactive  performances incorporate reproductions of artifacts, photographs, and documents from the JMM collections.

Our first four living history characters

The JMM has created five living history characters, Ida Rehr, a Ukrainian immigrant who worked in the garment industry; Saul Bernstein, a Lithuanian peddler who became a professional artist;  Bessie Bluefeld, a Russian immigrant who started a renowned catering business;  and Mendes I. Cohen, veteran of the Battle of Baltimore, businessman, and Jewish adventurer.  Our latest character is Henrietta Szold, daughter of Rabbi Benjamin Szold and born in Baltimore in 1860, who premiered in September, 2016.  All five characters have performed around the region for students and adult audiences alike.

Natalie Pilcher with students from Western High School

A few weeks ago, the Henrietta Szold Living History character performed at Western High School in Baltimore City.  The education staff contacted the administration at the school about the possibility of having a performance at the school. Henrietta Szold graduated from Western Female High School in 1877 and in 1901 she became the first president of the Western High Alumni. There is a plaque in the school’s library that bears Szold’s name.

At the school-wide assembly over 960 students and teachers were in attendance. Following the performance, the students asked many questions to the actress that portrays Henrietta, Natalie Pilcher. The students were especially interested in learning about how she prepared for the Henrietta Szold role, and how she teaches acting and performance to area students throughout Baltimore City.

Following the successful Henrietta Szold living performance at Western High School, we started to think about the impact that all of our living history characters and performances have had on the community over the years. We examined our attendance statistics from FY14 to the present, and were quite pleased to see the reach that our living history characters have had on the community. I am certain you will also be quite impressed!

Ida Rehr
Over the past 12 years, the actress Katherine Lyons has engaged school groups with her wonderful portrayal of Ukrainian immigrant Ida Rehr.  Since July 1, 2013 she has given 42 performances –to over 1864 audience members. (1,769 students/teachers and 95 attendees from adult groups)

Katherine Lyons as Ida Rehr

Mendes I. Cohen
Over the past 3 years, actor Grant Cloyd has engaged school and adult groups with his portrayal of Colonel Mendes I. Cohen.  Since July 1, 2013 he has given 20 performances as Mendes to over 890 audience members. (371 students/teachers and 519 attendees from adult groups)

Grant Cloyd as Colonel Mendes I. Cohen

Bessie Bluefeld
Over the past 4 years, actress Terry Nicholetti has engaged adult groups with her wonderful portrayal of Bessie Bluefeld.  Since July 1, 2013 she has given 10 performances. (437 adult audience members)

Terry Nicholetti as Bessie Bluefeld

Henrietta Szold
Over the past 7 months, actor Natalie Pilcher has engaged school and adult groups with her portrayal of Henrietta Szold.  Since her debut she has given 13 performances to 1,737 audience members. (1,447 students/teachers and 290 attendees from adult groups)

Natalie Pilcher as Henrietta Szold standing next to her namesake.

The Henrietta Szold Living History Character was made possible through the generous support of the Kolker-Saxon-Hallock Family Foundation, Inc., a supporting foundation of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. Educational opportunities were made possible by the Jacob & Hilda Blaustein Fund of The Associated.

With all of the numbers combined our living history characters have performed a total number of 85 performances, seen by 4,928 audience members throughout the region since July 2013! By the end of this school year, it is highly likely that our living history program we will reach more than 5,000 audience members and beyond!

Our Living History Program performances are available for schools, public and private events and can take place at the Museum or outside venues.  To schedule a Living History performance or to learn more, please contact Graham Humphrey, Visitor Services Coordinator, ghumphrey@jewishmuseummd.org or call 443.873.5167.

~Ilene Dackman-Alon, Director of Education

ileneA blog post by Education Director Ilene Dackman-Alon. To read more posts by Ilene click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Greetings Graham: Passover & Beyond Edition

Posted on March 17th, 2017 by

Greetings Graham,

I’ll be visiting from out of town and was looking for things to do during Passover. What kind of special programs will you offer and what are your holiday hours?

I’m also looking for a special gift for the people inviting me to their seder, any recommendations?

~Elijah

 

Dear Elijah,

We hope that you will be able to visit us when you are in town! While we will be closed starting at 3:30 pm on Monday, April 10th through April 12th as well as April 17th and 18th. Still, I would encourage you to visit at other times to take a docent-led tour of our two historic synagogues and explore our exhibits Voices of Lombard Street and Remembering Auschwitz: History, Holocaust, Humanity. We are open Sunday through Thursday, 10am – 5 pm.

On Wednesday, April 5th at 7pm, the Global Theatre Project in partnership with the Immigration Outreach Service Center of Baltimore and the Jewish Museum of Maryland presents An Explorer’s Desire – theater, self-reflection and dialogue about the immigration and refugee crisis which will be followed by a “Walk of Remembrance and Refuge.” In addition, we have a special Family Story Telling program on April 16th where you and your whole family can create a beautiful piece of art that reflects your family’s history.

Esther’s Place

While you are at the JMM, visit Esther’s Place and speak with Devan Southerland, our Shop Assistant, who would be more than happy to show you all of our unique merchandise. We have everything you need for your seder including cooking books, beautiful wooden seder plates, matzah trays, salt water and horseradish bowls. We even have color changing Passover mugs and matzah-themed aprons. I am confident we can fulfill most of your shopping needs!


Greetings Graham,

I am getting ready for Passover by cleaning out my closet and found pictures from my wedding (which I have to say was the wedding of the century), and from my friend’s wedding. I have more pictures than I know what to do with! I heard that you will be putting on an exhibition about Jewish weddings and thought it would be a nice surprise for my friend if her wedding was included. How do I go about doing this?

~Busy Cleaning

Dear BC,

Yes! In conjunction with our upcoming exhibition Just Married! Wedding Stories from the Jewish Museum of Maryland, we are in the process of creating an online exhibition, Marrying Maryland which will feature photos and invitations from as many different weddings as we can find. We are looking for material from all weddings that occurred in Maryland and had some connection to the Jewish community.

You can find out more on our website about how to send us your pictures. Don’t delay though, because the virtual exhibit as well as the physical exhibit opens on June 18th!


Greetings Graham,

I’ll be bringing some of our former players back to Baltimore in late May and want to show them a bit of culture. What do you recommend?

~Mike Cuellar

Dear Mike,

There is a lot going on at the JMM in late May to keep your players occupied!  The highlight is  our Annual Meeting, which will feature Steven V. Roberts, a professor, columnist and best-selling author who has been a journalist for more than 50 years.

Roberts will deliver the Samuel Boltansky Memorial Keynote address. His talk will focus on how immigrants have provided a continuous source of vitality and ingenuity to this country since its founding (not news for Cuellar and Aparicio).  He will also explore  the special responsibility of Jews to welcome strangers – a responsibility that has its roots in Exodus and the story of Moses’ exile.

As you plan your visit, keep in mind that while we are open on Memorial Day, the JMM will be closed May 31st and June 1st for the holiday of Shavuot.


Greetings Graham,

I’ve been going to Camp Airy for years and now am a camp counselor. I’m looking for ideas about field trips for our summer camp. Will you be offering anything special this summer?

~Young Idealist

Dear Young Idealist,
We would love to have your camp visit! One of our trained educators will take your group on a highly interactive tour of our two historic synagogues, Lloyd Street and B’nai Israel. While on the synagogue tour, your campers will step back in time and learn what it was like for Jewish immigrants to come to Baltimore in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  In fact, our Lloyd Street Synagogue, the third oldest still standing in the country and the oldest in Maryland, was the home of three different congregations – two synagogues and a Lithuanian Catholic Church. In addition, you will see a matzah oven and stand atop the oldest existing mikvah complex in the country.

Your campers will also explore our immersive exhibits Voices of Lombard Street and the Synagogue Speaks. Depending on the age of your campers, we an also offer a hands-on archaeology activity where campers piece together and date reproduced fragments of objects found around Lloyd Street Synagogue during its archaeological excavation. If you would like more information about our experiential educational programs, I encourage you to visit our website.

In addition to touring our historic synagogues and exhibits, we have just developed a self-guided walking tour of the Historic Jonestown Neighborhood made up of the oral histories of the people who lived and worked in this area. If you wanted to make it a full day outing, add on a visit to the Flag House which tells the story of the sewing of our flag that inspired our National Anthem.  I, (ghumphrey@jewishmuseummd.org) or our Education Director, Ilene Dackman-Alon, idackmanalon@jewishmuseummd.org, would be more than happy to help plan your visit!

~Visitor Services Coordinator Graham Humphrey

Have your own “Greetings Graham” question? Send him an email at ghumphrey@jewishmuseummd.org!

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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