Intern Weekly Response: Exhibit Reviews

Posted on June 15th, 2017 by

Every week we’re asking our summer interns to share some thoughts and responses to various experiences and readings. This week we asked them to select one of the Museum’s two core exhibits, Voices of Lombard Street and The Synagogue Speaks, and write an exhibit review. 


 

Voices of Lombard Street: More Than a Blast from the Past

By Education Intern Sara Philippe

The Jewish Museum of Maryland’s Voices of Lombard Street: A Century of Change in East Baltimore offers an experience that will appeal to people of all ages – the opportunity to venture into a time and place that feel long vanished without the help of this exhibit. Immediately upon entering the Voices of Lombard Street exhibition room, the visitor is surrounded not just by echoes or recreations of the past, but also by the very words – both printed and voice recordings — of former residents of the neighborhoods the exhibit seeks to bring back to life through its detail- and daily life-oriented displays. The exhibit begins with an introduction to the geography of the area, providing a useful map of the neighborhoods under study that charts the history of its population changes, and a brief description of the immigration process that led to Jewish Europeans to this section of Baltimore.

An example of a life-sized image of a family, surrounded by quotes.

An example of a life-sized image of a family, surrounded by quotes.

With this basic information in mind, the visitor goes on to experience simple, yet evocative recreations of life on Baltimore’s East Side in the first half of the 20th century for the immigrants who became proud Americans who adapted their traditions to the demands of their new country and became mainstays of the neighborhood.  While plenty of text is available for reading, the exhibit is also replete with a mock kitchen and bathtub, outhouse, sweatshop, street-side where food products are sold, and deli, making it a perfect experience for the younger visitor who can pretend to make a dish with the plastic, but realistic-looking foods available, and an item of clothing with the old sewing machine. The life-size images of families that cover the space, along with the constant presence of actual quotes, makes for an experience that feels authentic and respectful of the neighborhood’s former inhabitants. The exhibit chooses to rely on what the neighborhood used to look and feel like, rather than let its current state cloud the visitor’s eyes.

My own family in East Baltimore in the 1910s.

My own family in East Baltimore in the 1910s.

The vibrancy of the exhibit is added to by discussion of the relationships between different groups that made their homes in the neighborhood, as it distinguishes between German Jews, many of whom arrived to Baltimore in the previous century, and Eastern European Jews who arrived only towards the end of the century, and between non-Jewish European immigrants and Black American residents. Perhaps what Voices of Lombard Street achieves best is a depiction of a neighborhood that is equally cognizant of the good and bad of the lives it resuscitates, as well as the neighborhood’s tumultuous transformations. It acknowledges the poverty and unsanitary conditions that many immigrants experienced along with the hope for and possibility of better futures, as well as showing how immigrants and their descendants moved out of the neighborhood, the effect of the 1968 riots, and the housing projects of the 1990s. Though the neighborhood at its present state may appear completely different than the neighborhood on which the exhibit focuses, Voices of Lombard Street is a must-see in order to gain an enriched and holistic view of a place that is much more than meets the eye.


 

Voices and Feelings of Lombard Street

By Education Intern Erin Penn

The Jewish Museum of Maryland’s Voices of Lombard Street exhibit tells the stories of historic Jonestown. Through a series of vignettes, the rich history of Lombard Street comes to life by incorporating all the senses. Like the exhibit’s title suggests, voices and various sounds fill the gallery space to enhance the visitor’s experience. Chirping chickens bring the viewer to a market place. Various conversations play around the table at a replica of Atman’s Deli, emphasizing the restaurant’s deep roots in the city. Lastly, rumblings and thuds display the intensity and fear of the immigrant experience. In addition to the auditory elements, this exhibit elicits hands on learning and experiments. Viewers can touch countless items and props. For example, the gallery invites visitors to step on the sewing machine. The weight of the sewing machine really emphasizes the difficulty of a sweatshop.

A hands-on interactive

A hands-on interactive

This exhibit creates a true mark of Baltimore’s past and present through not only using the voices but of recreating the experience and universe. The winding layout also pushes the viewer to travel back in time and escape. The narrow rooms and clear paths literally direct the visitor through a timeline and narrative of Baltimore. The physical space is very interesting and adds an additional dimension. This exhibit’s ability to evoke the senses and orientate the viewer truly provides an informative and purposeful space.


 

Voices of Lombard Street

By Exhibitions Intern Tirza Ochrach-Konradi

The exhibit is immersive. When you are in the kitchen section you hear the sounds of a meal being eaten, but you also hear sounds from the street front and deli. Period photos have been blown up to life size and encourage a human to human interaction with the viewer. The exhibition also incorporates pieces from the museum’s object collection, both in a more traditional pedestal presentation and directly into the scenes that dominate each area.

A pedestal layout of garment work related objects.

A pedestal layout of garment work related objects.

The exhibition delivers Lombard Street’s voices as promised. You can hear them all around you and they fill the walls visually. The wall mounted quote collections allow for the museum to prominently share a much larger diversity of commentary then would be possible in a purely auditory experience. The exhibit is visually and content lush. The viewer gets the sense and presence of the mass of people that populated Lombard Street.

A wall mounted quote collection.

A wall mounted quote collection.


 

Review of: “The Synagogue Speaks”

By Exhibitions Intern Ryan Mercado

From the outside, the Lloyd Street Synagogue looks rather unimpressive. It simply looks like a large mausoleum-type structure with large pillars in front and an impressive wooden door. The only indication it was ever a synagogue is the sign located to the left of the entranceway that states the name. Walking in and experiencing the sanctuary and lower exhibition hall does the building justice. It may seem rather silly for one to visit a house of worship, after all, most people know what to expect inside: pews, a central stage such as an altar or bema, and artifacts and artwork that pertain to the said house of worship’s religion. What exactly makes certain houses of worship into museums? Taking a look at other important religious landmarks, we can see that places such as Notre Dame in Paris, or Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, both have historical significance that pertains to the history of the city/ region it is located. They both also have longevity. The Lloyd Street synagogue fits into these two categories.

The Lloyd St Synagogue Sanctuary.

The Lloyd St Synagogue Sanctuary

Coming into the Synagogue as a convert to Judaism, I knew a fair amount about what is inside and how it pertains to religious worship. If you are not a Jew, the tour guide, Ms. Alana Hayes, or another volunteer from the JMM, will answer any questions you may have. Walking into the sanctuary, the tour guide allows you to sit down in the pews, feeling as if you are a part of the congregation. The lecture given by the tour guide is informative but may be a little overbearing for some who are not history-savvy. Once preliminary information is given, I was invited up to the bema to see how an orthodox congregation worships. I was also invited up to the Arch to see the three Torahs, one with a Holocaust themed dressing around it. What really struck me though was when I went upstairs to the women’s seating. Hearing the old floor boards creak under my feet and sitting in the pews above the sanctuary really did give me the sense of sitting among history and imaging what it must have been like. It was a very moving experience. The tour guide then led us down to the lower floor to an exhibit hall where we were shown a preserved matzah oven, and a mikveh section.

The Synagogue Speaks

The Synagogue Speaks

The downstairs exhibition area is the more traditional “brick and mortar” exhibition space with panels of information and photos. Interaction was also a big part of this section. A building-block model of the synagogue encouraged young children to play and reconstruct the building and a puzzle area was also present where kids could reconstruct the stained-glass Star of David that was a centerpiece in the sanctuary. What was most fun for me were the three TV monitors throughout the exhibit. I pressed the button to begin the short video clip where I learned of anecdotes about the synagogue’s three time periods as an orthodox synagogue, a catholic church, and then a synagogue again. The placards end at the present day where I was greeted with an explanation of how the synagogue came to be in the possession of the JMM. The mikvehs were the last part of the tour and I got excited to see them. They were the first Mikvehs I had ever seen in my life and I will be dunking into one in a few months as I finish my conversion. Overall this was a good experience. I came in knowing nothing about this building or why it was important and left with valuable information as well as feeling connected to the history. That is what a good exhibit is about.


 

The “Voice” of the Voices of Lombard Street

By Collections Intern Amy Swartz

Enjoying the exhibit!

Enjoying the exhibit!

The Voices of Lombard Street exhibit provides a multi-cultural look at the community around Lombard Street in Baltimore. The exhibit takes you on a winding tour – literally – of various aspects of life in the community, giving the visitor information about its residents. One thing the exhibit did particularly well is that each space represents a physical area. For example, when earning about home life, the visitor stands in a make-shift kitchen. Information about working conditions is accompanied by an actual sewing machine. Or one can learn about restaurants while sitting in a makeshift delicatessen.

An example of how the exhibit used artifacts to create a space.

An example of how the exhibit used artifacts to create a space.

The exhibit is also very kid friendly, providing handy infographics to make history accessible to younger audiences. With movable props and a dressing trunk, the exhibit provides a sense of fun. The exhibit also relies on personal histories as well, putting up quotes about day-to-day life from the actual residents from the area; this makes the history of the neighborhood more relatable. Overall the exhibit does a really good job of making the voices of the neighborhood heard and by relating the exhibit space to the content.


Stories and Sounds in Voices of Lombard Street

by Collections Intern Joelle Paull

School group reading a resident’s account of Lombard Street

School group reading a resident’s account of Lombard Street

Often the most compelling narratives are ones which capture a community in all of its particulars. Voices of Lombard Street does exactly that, allowing the visitor a glimpse into the vibrant life of historic Jonestown across generations. True to its title, Voices of Lombard Street presents some of the many personal stories of the inhabitants of Lombard Street. The visitor moves through the recreated interior space of an East Baltimore home and out into the gallery space filled with sounds of the street and images of daily life. The images are accompanied by quotes from neighborhood residents. These personal stories add another layer to the immersive experience and ultimately are what bring the exhibit to life. After all what is a neighborhood without the people that populated it? The many voices of Lombard Street ring out loud and clear.

Exploring Voices

Exploring Voices

After moving through scenes of Lombard Street, the visitor enters a recreation of Attman’s Deli, still on Lombard Street today.  Here voices literally fill the space as the visitor listens to conversations of deli patrons.  The diversity of stories and their delivery, including the didactic material and audio, support the many objects on display and interactive aspects of the exhibit — dining table, sewing station, deli sandwiches, and dress up. The stories and images throughout the exhibit bring the gallery spaces to life and engage the visitor in an personal way.

 


 

You can read more post by and about JMM interns here!

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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




Young Adult Night at the JMM with IMPACT and BJC

Posted on March 24th, 2017 by

On March 23, the JMM was thrilled to host a group of 85 young adults who participated in a program sponsored by IMPACT, the young adult division of the Associated and the Baltimore Jewish Council’s Holocaust Remembrance Commission.

Starting the evening with casual schmoozing

Starting the evening with casual schmoozing

The evening included opportunities for networking and schmoozing with food and drink. I was invited to give remarks about our new exhibit Remembering Auschwitz: History, Holocaust, Humanity as well as to lead tours. When asked how many people had previously visited the JMM, it was clear that the majority had not and I enjoyed having the opportunity to welcome the group and to hopefully pique their interest in staying connected with us.

After a few brief remarks about how the exhibit came together and our institutional goals for having it on view, I led a small group through the gallery while many others opted to view the exhibit on their own.

Viewing "Architecture of Murder"

Viewing “Architecture of Murder”

Viewing "A Town Known as Auschwitz"

Viewing “A Town Known as Auschwitz”

It was rewarding to hear such positive feedback from visitors who expressed their surprise at learning new insights into Holocaust history such as the fact that Oswiecim (the town that became known as Auschwitz) once served as home to a vibrant Jewish community. As always, I enjoy hearing from people about their personal connections to the stories on display. One woman in the group told me that her grandmother actually grew up in the town and she was incredibly moved to see photographs featuring the diversity of Jewish life from the 20th century.

Local high schooler Andrew Altman created this model of Auschwitz-Birkenau in honor of his grandfather.

Local high schooler Andrew Altman created this model of Auschwitz-Birkenau in honor of his grandfather.

Several program attendees had previously visited Auschwitz-Birkenau and when we stopped at the model by high school student Andrew Altman, they shared their experiences of what it was like to visit.

Viewing the "Holocaust Memory Reconstruction Project"

Viewing the “Holocaust Memory Reconstruction Project”

The final stop at the plaques that are part of the Holocaust Memory Reconstruction Project, served as another place for reflection as participants spent time reading the stories, commenting on the collages and sharing their connections to individuals whose stories are on display.

Small group conversations

Small group conversations

Following the tour, the group gathered in small groups in our lobby to hear from the grandchildren of survivors who shared their stories of survival. This format fostered conversation among participants and helped to continue the discussions that were begun in the gallery.

What a pleasure it was to work with our partners at the Associated and Baltimore Jewish Council to organize such a thoughtful program. We continue to be delighted by just how much Remembering Auschwitz resonates with audiences of all ages and backgrounds and look forward to hosting many more groups and programs. The exhibit remains on display through May 29.

deborahA blog post by Deputy Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts from Deborah click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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