Check the Label

Posted on April 19th, 2019 by

This month’s edition of JMM Insights comes from Tracie Guy-Decker, deputy director. She’s sharing a behind-the-scenes look at one aspect of the development of our two newest exhibits, Fashion Statement and Stitching History from the Holocaust. Missed any previous editions of JMM Insights? You can catch up here!


When I was about 7, I really wanted Jordache jeans. It was the early eighties. They were twice the cost of the Wranglers, but they also brought a currency with them the Wranglers just didn’t have. The Wranglers might have fit, but I believed the Jordache would help me fit in.

Despite my first-grader experience with jeans, historically, clothing labels were usually hidden from everyone but the wearer. Their generally “hidden” status makes the importance of labels all the more remarkable. Clothing labels can carry a lot of weight – I don’t mean literal pounds, but rather intellectual, sociological, and emotional heft.

Labels are a way for designers and manufacturers to make their mark (literally) and for clothing wearers to assert their belongingness to social circles. This ubiquitous “artifact within the artifact”—and all the associations it brings with it—is a common thread between Fashion Statement and Stitching History From the Holocaust.

Our wonderful “Fashion Statement” logo, by Jeremy Hoffman of Ashton Design, was inspired by several of the local clothing labels in the JMM collections (for details, see the end of this post). From the stitched border to the swooping, elegant font, Jeremy captured the essence of a high-end dressmaker, tailor, or department store’s look, without directly copying any particular shop’s logo.

We worked with Jeremy and his team through several iterations to get to the final design. Both the JMM and the Ashton Design team looked and thought deeply about the implications of font choice, word placement and size, and the relationship between the words in the logo to each other. The images above may look incredibly similar, but to a designer’s eye, the tiniest details matter!

For the in-gallery version of the logo—the first thing you see as you enter the gallery—the Ashton team came up with the brilliant idea of actually stitching the letters. They designed a board with pre-drilled holes at the appropriate places to allow them to render their existing logo design in a thick thread. The effect is of a giant clothing label.

Our colleagues at the other JMM (Jewish Museum Milwaukee) and at the Costume Shop that created Hedwig Strnad’s designs for Stitching History From the Holocaust also approached their work with an understanding of the power of the clothing label.

As they poured their hearts and passion into the project of making Hedy’s designs real, the artists at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater Costume Shop decided that the dresses needed a label. Regardless of how finished the dresses might look, they could not be complete without a label to identify their designer.

Hedy’s signature, found after several years of research into her story, was used to create her own label, one that—at least for these dresses—she sadly never achieved in reality.  Hedy’s label transforms a very personal element from one of the surviving letters and creates a brand identity out of it. When we see it applied it to the professional, stylish recreations of her designs, we are reminded both of the power and importance of the clothing label, and the talent and skill Hedy could have brought to the American fashion industry, had her story ended differently.

If you haven’t seen them, yet, we invite you to come and see Fashion Statement and Stitching History at the JMM. And whether you’ve seen them or not, try to pay attention to clothing labels for a few days. What reactions do you have when you see them in your own clothes or in the store? You might be surprised at how the label alone can evoke thoughts or emotions. After all, clothing is a language. We use it to communicate with one another about who we are and where (and with whom) we belong. Labels are one form of punctuation in that unspoken language.


Label Collage:

1. Jeannette Beck, Baltimore, Maryland. Gift of Isidore Schnaper, JMM 1992.112.2. 

2. D. Adler, Ladies’ Tailor, Baltimore. From fur-trimmed opera coat owned by Anne Adler Salganik (daughter of David Adler, the tailor in question). Gift of Gordon J. Salganik, JMM 1990.133.2.

3. (top) M. Greenberg, Merchant Tailor, Baltimore, Md. Roll of nine unused labels. Gift of Zelda Cohen, JMM 1988.159.2.

3. (bottom) G.F. Adler Sons, Designers and Tailors, Baltimore. Roll of nine unused labels. Gift of Ruth Lev, JMM 1990.10.6a.

4. Florence Esther – Baltimore. From a custom-made cloche hat owned by Margot Zipper (object 34 in “Fashion Statement”). Gift of Margot Zipper, JMM 2013.58.2.

5. Charlow, Custom Tailors, Since 1899. Gift of Kenneth Charlow, JMM 1990.203.5.

6. Wolf Cohn, founded 1895, Baltimore, Md. From a bespoke ladies’ suit jacket owned by Naomi Biron Cohen. Gift of Maxine A. Cohen, JMM 2004.114.1.

7. Minna Myerburg, Pikesville, Md. From a satin evening gown owned by Margot Zipper (photo accompanies object 34 in “Fashion Statement”). Gift of Margot Zipper, JMM 2013.58.4.

8. Estelle-Fanchon, Baltimore. From a pink chiffon dress worn by Sara Fox Hettleman. Gift of Ellen Kahan Zager, JMM 2015.45.2.

9. K. Katz & Sons, Tailors, Baltimore. From morning coat owned by Samuel Sakols (object 16 in “Fashion Statement”). Gift of Blanche Sakols Schimmel, JMM 1987.39.2.

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Fashion Statement: Students as Storytellers Part 2

Posted on April 11th, 2019 by

This post was written by JMM School Program Coordinator Paige Woodhouse. To read more posts from Paige, click here!


(This is Part 2 of a two-part blog post about the latest education programs offered at the Jewish Museum of Maryland for our special exhibits: Stitching History from the Holocaust and Fashion Statement. Missed Part 1? You can check it out here.)


At the Jewish Museum of Maryland, we are stories tellers. We are also storyfinders, storykeepers, and storyprotectors. We are finding new stories all the time. Our current special exhibit, Fashion Statement, is composed of items of clothing that tell stories about their wearers.

During their recent visit, students from John Ruhrah Elementary Middle School had the opportunity to become storytellers. Thinking critically and creatively, they worked in small groups to create stories about the clothing items on display in Fashion Statement.

Students from John Ruhrah’s 7th grade work together to complete their puzzle.

Piecing together a puzzle is like piecing together the story of an object. As each new fact is discovered, another piece of the puzzle falls into place, eventually revealing the whole picture. The 6th to 8th-grade students started with a puzzle. Working together as a team, they completed the puzzle to reveal an item of clothing from the exhibit.

Students made observations about their item of clothing in the exhibit.

After locating their item in the exhibit, students made observations about it. Taking their cue from Nancy Patz’ book “Who Was the Woman Who Wore the Hat?” students asked questions that a researcher would ask when trying to learn more about an object in a Museum. What is the clothing item? What material, or materials, is it made of? Who wore it? Why do you think someone would wear this specific item? Why was it chosen to be on display by the Museum?

Students used their observations and questions about their object to write stories.

Then, mimicking the rhythmic lyrics of Nancy Patz’ book, students worked together to complete fill-in-the-blank stories for their items. Who was the person who wore the (blank) coat? What was she like? Was she (Blank)?

Students thought about what questions they would want to ask the owner of the item. They came up with questions like: “Why did you put your name on it? Why this color? Where was it made? Was it comfortable?”

Taking an active role as the storyteller, students were empowered to think about what clothing represents. In the case of Stitching History from the Holocaust (see Part 1), clothing was a means for survival and representative of a talent lost to the world. In Fashion Statement, clothing is a way to express your identity.

At the end of the visit, students considered: What can we learn about people through their clothing? What can’t we learn about people from their clothing? What does clothing mean to you?

I encourage you to think about these questions as you visit Fashion Statement and explore how Jewish Marylanders, and all human beings, use clothing as one of the ways we assert who we are.

Thank you to the 6th to 8th-graders at John Ruhrah Elementary Middle School for visiting the Jewish Museum of Maryland this spring. If you are interested in bringing your school, summer camp, or group, please contact Paige Woodhouse, School Program Coordinator, at pwoodhouse@jewishmuseummd.org or 443-873-5167.


Not all stories fit on a label in an exhibit. Looking to learn more about some of the items on display? Check out some “extras” here.


 

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More than a Run of the “Mill”

Posted on February 22nd, 2019 by

Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker and Director of Collections and Exhibits Joanna Church collaborated on this month’s edition of JMM Insights which, somewhat coincidentally, is all about collaboration! Missed any previous editions of JMM Insights? You can catch up here!


Have you ever heard of “The Mill” at Stevenson University? Well until last year we hadn’t either. That’s when we held a new projects briefing for Will Backstrom, Senior Vice President for Client and Community Relations at PNC Bank. Will, who has been a great friend and supporter of JMM, stopped the conversation when we brought up the topic of Fashion Statement (the exhibit on the way in which clothing expresses personal and social identity) and Stitching History from the Holocaust (a traveling exhibit from Milwaukee. that celebrates the creative talents of a designer who perished in the Shoah).

Will, who keeps tabs on Baltimore’s cultural scene, pointed out that just as our exhibit was closing next summer the Maryland Historical Society would be putting on a major exhibit of their extraordinary collection of clothing. He thought we might cross-market our projects. And then he had one other thought, “what about the Mill?”

The “Mill” it turns out, is a capstone course for students at Stevenson University with an interest in design. It brings together students from departments like Fashion Design, Graphic Design, Film & Moving Image, and Business Communications to work together, almost as if they were a design and marketing agency, on solving a specific, real-world problem. With Will’s help, JMM, the Maryland Historical Society, and Stevenson U faculty and students came together and we became “clients” of the Mill.

Stevenson students in the Mill are incorporating our project into a much larger endeavor: a public affairs campaign to reinvigorate the fashion industry in the city of Baltimore. They developed a name for the effort (Stitching MD Together), a brand (stitchingmdtogether.org), and a full plan to research, educate, engage, and, they hope, encourage a growth in the fashion industry in the state. They are even hoping that, when the Maryland campaign is successful, other states can use the same template.

As part of this collaboration, JMM staff have visited the Mill classroom a number of times, listening to student presentations, discussing the upcoming projects, and even presenting a unit on social media marketing. Students have also used JMM and MdHS for their research into the history of the fashion industry in Baltimore and in Maryland and are creating a documentary film. Their research proved interesting and productive in more ways than we initially anticipated!

Stevenson University students setting up for documentary filming in the JMM Library, October 26, 2018.

As part of the students’ documentary project, they came to the JMM to interview Joanna, and film some of our textile collections. To make sure those pieces got a good showing, Trillion and Joanna turned the library into a miniature photo studio and prepped a variety of outfits to a presentable display standard, ready for their respective close-ups. A handy side benefit of this process was that we were able to take some good photographs for our own purposes, in advance of the upcoming Fashion Statement exhibit.

This ermine coat (complete with tails sewn into the interior seams), made by Havelock and Selenkow, Baltimore, was a 35th birthday present to Alene Steiger Adler from her husband Charles Adler, Jr., in 1941. It will be featured in “Fashion Statement,” opening April 7, 2019. Gift of Amalie Adler Ascher, JMM 1989.167.30a.

The student film crew got some on-the-ground experience (not that they weren’t already quite skilled) along with the footage they needed for their documentary. In addition, they got the chance to take a close look at museum artifacts, and at techniques for interpretation and display. An article of clothing can tell you so much about the person who wore it and the times and culture in which it was worn, but people haven’t always given that idea much thought; sharing that insight, and seeing students’ respond to it, is a delight. We think this deeper understanding of the roles of clothing and fashion will help them strengthen their campaign.

Joanna talking with Grace Clark, part of the Stitching Maryland Together Communications team, prior to the interview.

In addition to the deliverables of the research and the documentary, we’ve also been partnering with Stevenson students for some of the details of the visitor experience in Fashion Statement, the JMM-curated portion of the double-bill opening April 7th. The interactive experiences in our exhibits are often among the most memorable to our visitors, and among the most complicated for museum staff to create. For Fashion Statement, Stevenson professors have helped us brainstorm interesting mechanisms for engaging visitors even as their students are helping us make those ideas a reality. We are working with several different Stevenson classes and individual students to achieve the interactive visitor experience. From graphic artists to aspiring fashion designers, the collaboration with the University is providing JMM with fresh ideas and talent as well as providing students with real-world, client-driven experiences.

All of these many positive outcomes have much to remind us about the power of partnership and collaboration. And with deep gratitude to Mr. Backstrom, whose eyes lit up when we told him about Fashion Statement, we reiterate the truth of the fact that one person has enormous power to make a difference: all of these synergies and win-win moments were made possible by a single conversation many, many months ago.


 

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