Museum Matters, May 2015

Posted on May 1st, 2015 by

This has been a challenging week for all of us.  While we are grateful that JMM and its Historic Jonestown neighborhood were spared any physical harm in the events of the past few days, we are all scarred by the damage that the violence has caused to our city and deeply saddened by the underlying conditions that preceded the violence.

As I write this, none of us can be sure what comes next, but JMM is committed to be a part of the healing process.  As keepers of an important piece of the community’s records we know that our history has the ability to show us what we have overcome and to strengthen our will to build a better future.  You will find a piece of this history in the A-Mazing Mendes Cohen exhibit – where Jews and Christians in early Baltimore worked together to break down walls of prejudice.  You will find a piece of this history in the Voices of Lombard Street exhibit – the story of how Jonestown rebuilt itself in the wake of the riots of 1968.  In our archives, we have hundreds of other images and records of personal courage in the pursuit of social justice in Baltimore – from Rabbi Einhorn’s support of abolition to the desegregation of Gwynn Oak Park.  We plan on setting up a pop-up exhibit of some of these images and records in the coming weeks.  We invite your ideas for moments, people and events that should be a part of this display – see Joanna’s call for material below.

To make sure that everyone knows they are welcome at JMM, we’re offering free admission this week.  We hope that people who have not visited us before will take advantage of this opportunity to join us in celebrating the work of young Braille artists on Sunday and to hear our outstanding lecture on the role of women in early American Jewish life Thursday night.  Our website is always a “go to” source for last minute information on these programs.

We have also made the decision to do something tangible to support the city’s rebuilding efforts.  Two weeks ago we had already planned the “Ultimate Mendes Cohen Experience” for May 17 (see below).  This bus tour, which begins with a trip down North Avenue to the site of Mendes’ grave at the Baltimore Hebrew Cemetery, has taken on new meaning.  It is a reminder that the Jewish experience is deeply entwined with many neighborhoods in the city we have long-forgotten or neglected.  JMM has decided to donate 50% of the money we collect for this tour for the fund established by The Associated for the rebuilding of areas of the city recently damaged.  I appeal to you to join us for this special event – you will not only discover a hidden past, but you will help enable a revitalized future.

Thank you for standing with JMM and Baltimore

~Marvin

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

As Marvin mentioned above the JMM is putting together a pop-up exhibit featuring moments of social justice action from Maryland’s Jewish community. This striking image (from the 1965 March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, from the Library of Congress collections) may not be from Baltimore, but it serves as the jumping-off point for a display of photos, documents, and artifacts we hope will facilitate discussion among our visitors, both of past movements and current events. Most importantly, the exhibit will include space for your thoughts, stories, and contributions. Please contact me, Joanna Church, Collections Manager, if you have material that could be of use: jchurch@jewishmuseummd.org or 410-732-6400 x226.

Upcoming programs

All programs take place at the Jewish Museum of Maryland unless otherwise noted. Please contact Trillion Attwood at tattwood@jewishmuseummd.org / 410-732-6400 x215 with any questions or for more information.

May

Learning Your Letters: Braille Art: Exhibit Reception
Sunday, May 3, 1:00-3:00pm, FREE

Learning Your Letters: Braille Art is presented by the Jewish Museum of Maryland and the Braille Art Gallery. The exhibit features braille drawings by artists of all ages and all abilities, to promote braille literacy. The exhibit will be open to the public in the JMM lobby through May 3.

Sadie B. Feldman Family Lecture:
“One Apron…One handkerchief…2 brass Candlesticks”: America’s Jewish Women, the Early Years
Thursday, May 7, 7:00pm
Speaker: Pamela Nadell, American University
FREE

Join us as we celebrate Mother’s Day and take a closer look into the life of Mendes’ A-Mazing mother, Judith Cohen. Pamela Nadell of American University explores what it meant to be a Jewish woman and mother during the 18th and 19th centuries. In this lecture, as we learn more about the first Jewish women to make homes in America, we will also discover more about Judith Cohen’s son, “The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen.”

Mendes Cohen Bus Tour
Sunday, May 17, 9:00am
Tickets $30, $20 for JMM members

Tour Leader: Marvin Pinkert, Executive Director, Jewish Museum of Maryland

Walk in the footsteps of Mendes Cohen and join us for this ultimate experience, a bus tour of Mendes Cohen’s Baltimore led by JMM Executive Director, Marvin Pinkert. Mendes lived in Baltimore for most of his life and there are several fascinating locations awaiting exploration! We will spend the day visiting both sites of importance to Mendes and venues that now house some of his most valued possessions. The tour highlights Mendes Cohen and puts his story in a broader context of Baltimore and American Jewish history.

Venues will include the Maryland Historical Society, Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum and a special cemetery visit.  All admission fees are included in this program. Please contact Trillion Attwood at tattwood@jewishmuseummd.org or 410.732.6400 ext.215 to purchase tickets. Places are limited so please book early.

The JMM has decided to donate 50% of the money we collect for this tour for the fund established by The Associated for the rebuilding of areas of the city recently damaged.  We hope you will join us for this special event – you will not only discover a hidden past, but you will help enable a revitalized future.

The Puzzle Project: Israel Celebration at the Jewish Museum of Maryland
Sunday, May 17, 12:00 – 4:00 pm
Reception: 2:00 pm

Students attending local Jewish day school and after school programs have participated in a creative art project that will be on display at the JMM on Sunday, May 17, 2015. The Puzzle Project, inspired and created by New York artist, Tim Kelly, allows art to be easily accessible to anyone who wants to create personally meaningful artwork. Students participating in the program express themselves individually and collectively on their shared vision on what Israel means to them on blank white, 18’’by 18” puzzle pieces. This program is co-sponsored by the Center for Jewish Education and the Embassy of Israel.

Playing Jewish Geography in the Nineteenth Century: Mendes I. Cohen’s Travels to Europe and the Middle East, 1829-1835
Sunday, May 31, 1:00pm
Speaker: Prof. Daniel B. Schwartz, George Washington University
Included with Museum Admission

What might a Jew sailing from America to explore Jewish life in Europe and the Middle East in the nineteenth century likely have discovered in his travels? In this talk, Prof. Daniel B. Schwartz (George Washington University) will follow on the heels of Mendes I. Cohen’s voyage to and through the “Old World,” leading the audience on a tour of some of the major sites visited by Cohen from 1829 to 1835, and providing a mini-history of Jewish society in an age poised between tradition and change.

June

Annual Meeting
Sunday, June 7, 1:00pm
Samuel Boltansky Memorial Keynote Speaker: Senator Ben Cardin
Free

The JMM is excited to welcome Senator Cardin as our keynote speaker for our 2015 Annual Meeting. Senator Cardin has enjoyed a long career in American politics. He was the youngest elected speaker in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1979 – 1986 and today serves as one of Maryland’s representatives to the United States Senate.  Senator Cardin will draw upon his personal experiences to discuss what it means to be a Jewish politician today, the significance of his strong Jewish roots and how they have impacted his political career.

The program begins at 1:00pm with a presentation of the FY 16 slate of nominees to the JMM’s Board of Trustees for election by the Museum’s membership. The lecture will follow.

Refreshments will be served.

Flag Day
Sunday, June 14, time TBD
Speaker: Michelle Pagan 
Included with Museum Admission

Help us bid a fond farewell to The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen this Flag Day. We will have something for everyone with related crafts and trivia games throughout the day. At 1:00, Michelle Pagan, the conservator who worked on the textiles in The Amazing Mendes Cohen, will discuss her work on the jacket and flag that are on display.

Exhibits

Exhibits currently on display include The A-mazing Mendes Cohen (on display through June 14, 2015), Voices of Lombard Street: A Century of Change in East Baltimore, and The Synagogue Speaks!

On Display: April 15 through May 3
Learning Your Letters: Braille Art
Learning Your Letters: Braille Art is presented by the Jewish Museum of Maryland and the Braille Art Gallery. The exhibit features braille drawings by artists of all ages and all abilities, to promote braille literacy. The exhibit will be open to the public in our Museum lobby.

On Display: Sunday, May 17
The Puzzle Project: Israel Celebration at the Jewish Museum of Maryland
This one-day only exhibit features large-scale puzzle pieces decorated by students from local Jewish day and after-school programs that reflect their interpretations of what Israel means to them. Co-sponsored by the Center for Jewish Education and the Embassy of Israel.

More Programs

The JMM is pleased to share our campus with B’nai Israel Congregation. For additional information about B’nai Israel events and services for Shabbat, please visit bnaiisraelcongregation.org.  For more of this month’s events from BIYA, please visit biyabaltimore.org or check out BIYA on facebook.

Jewish Genealogy Society of Maryland May Meeting
Sunday, May 17, 1:30pm, the Pikesville Library’s meeting room
The Jews of Eastern Europe in the Age of Mass Migration, 1881-1914
(Program rescheduled from February)
Speaker: Dr. Kenneth Moss, Director of the Jewish Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University

The program is free for paid members and $5 for non-members. Refreshments will be available. Go to www.jgsmd.org for more information.
Hours and Tour Times

The JMM is open Sunday-Thursday, 10am – 5pm.

Combination tours of the 1845 Lloyd Street Synagogue and the 1876 Synagogue Building now home to B’nai Israel are offered: Sunday through Thursday at 11:00am, 1:00pm and 2:00pm.  We offer tours focused on the Lloyd Street Synagogue, Sunday through Thursday at 3:00pm and on Sunday at 4:00pm.  Our new Lloyd Street “1845: Technology and the Temple” tour is available every Sunday and Monday at 3:00 until The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen closes in June 2015.

The Museum is closed on Sunday, May 24 and Monday, May 25 in observance of Shavuot.

Get Involved

The JMM is looking for volunteers to help staff our front desk, work in the gift shop, and lead tours as docents. No prior knowledge or training is required. All that is needed is an interest in learning about the JMM, our historic sites, exhibits, and programs and a desire to share this knowledge with the public. All volunteers are provided with thorough training. If you are interested in learning more about our volunteer program, please contact Volunteer Coordinator Ilene Cohen at 410.732.6400 x217 or icohen@jewishmuseummd.org.

Membership

Revamped and revitalized, membership at the JMM is now better than ever – with new categories, benefits, and discounts to enrich every visit to the Museum for you and your friends and families.

All members receive our monthly e-newsletter, along with a 10% discount at the Museum store, free general admission to the Museum, free admission to all regular programs, attendance at exclusive member opening events and discounted weekday parking at the City-owned garage at 1001 E. Fayette Street.

Your membership provides much needed funding for the many programs that we offer and we hope we can count on you for your continued support. Memberships can be purchased online! http://jewishmuseummd.org/get-involved/museum-membership/ For more information about our membership program, please contact Sue Foard at (410) 732-6400 x220 or sfoard@jewishmuseummd.org.

JMM Museum Shop

Mother’s Day is just around the corner…Sunday, May 10!  The Museum Shop of the JMM has the perfect choice for a special gift for that special person. Our selection of jewelry is chosen with care, with a wide range of choices – come and visit the Shop, you will be surprised and your Mom will be delighted.  We will gift wrap your choice, mail it if needed, all in time for Mother’s Day!  Give us a call or visit the museum and make your gift giving a delightful experience.

Every purchase made in the JMM Museum Shop supports the mission and programs of the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

JMM Members receive a 10% discount on all purchases.

For further information, please call Esther Weiner, Museum Shop Manager, 410-732-6400, ext. 211 or email:  eweiner@jewishmuseummd.org

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Exhibit spotlight: The Cohen family’s wine cooler, early 19th century

Posted on April 20th, 2015 by

The artifacts on display in “The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen” exhibit are few, but fabulous.  Take, for example, this early 19th century silver-plated wine cooler, from the Cohen house on North Charles Street, Baltimore.

JMM# 1978.30.4, donated by Florence H. Trupp.

JMM# 1978.30.4, donated by Florence H. Trupp.

Donated to the JMM in 1978 by Florence H. Trupp, this 11 inch cooler is in excellent – if tarnished (more on that in a moment) – condition. It is unmarked, but was likely made in Sheffield, England, where many factories turned out a wide variety of silver-plated tableware and decorative items in what came to be known as Sheffield Plate.

Wine coolers were popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. Both functional and decorative, they were available in a variety of styles and materials, including silver, silver-plate, glass, ceramic, and wood; take a look at some examples in the collections of the Met, here. Our particular artifact was originally one of a pair, intended for use on the table in the dining room (or other party venue), each holding a single bottle. Crushed ice would be packed into the base and covered by the canister-shaped liner or insert, leaving the bottle sitting cool and dry inside the liner.

With the insert removed.

With the insert removed.

 “Wine Cooler with Bottle,” Anonymous, Italian, 19th century.  From the Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1953, Metropolitan Museum of Art. www.metmuseum.org

“Wine Cooler with Bottle,” Anonymous, Italian, 19th century. From the Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1953, Metropolitan Museum of Art. www.metmuseum.org

The donor informed us of the artifact’s history at the time of donation.  The Cohens were one of the first Jewish families of Baltimore, and they were members of the city’s social elite. A wonderful description of a fancy dress ball, given by Benjamin I. and Kitty Etting Cohen in 1837, can be found in a letter written by Rebecca Lloyd Post Shippen to her mother; Mrs. Shippen focused mostly on the important guests in attendance, but she also described the house itself:

“You remember that everything about the house is rich and expensive . . . . The principle Table extended the length of the Room, decorated with beautiful China, cut glass and Silver . . . . [Everything was] served in the best style.”  (Published in the Maryland Historical Magazine, Volume XIV, 1919.)

“The best style” certainly applies to this artifact. The campana (bell or urn) shape was a popular form; other fashionable elements include the shell handles, and the gadrooning around the collar and base.  When polished and gleaming, holding the best selection from your wine cellar, it would have been an impressive part of a well-set table.

A close-up look at the gadrooning around the top edges of the insert.

A close-up look at the gadrooning around the top edges of the insert.

That certainly lends credence to the idea that this particular piece belonged to a well-to-do family like the Cohens.  Even better is the fact that our cooler matches, almost exactly, the description found in the catalog of the 1929 auction of the Cohen household’s effects:

 “224. Pair Sheffield Wine Coolers. Urn shape on baluster foot. Handles with shell gadroon. All parts complete. Gadroon motif about foot and edge of mouth. Part of Judith Cohen wedding presents. 18th century. Height 11 inches. Width 11 inches.” From the catalog for the sale of “The Antique Furnishings of the Cohen House,” 1929.  JMM# 1984.20.2, donated by Arthur J. Gutman.

“224. Pair Sheffield Wine Coolers. Urn shape on baluster foot. Handles with shell gadroon. All parts complete. Gadroon motif about foot and edge of mouth. Part of Judith Cohen wedding presents. 18th century. Height 11 inches. Width 11 inches.” From the catalog for the sale of “The Antique Furnishings of the Cohen House,” 1929. JMM# 1984.20.2, donated by Arthur J. Gutman.

(It is worth noting that the cataloger, Robert Frank Skutch, assigned too early a date; this style is more typical of the 1810s-30s than the 18th century.  Sadly, that rather negates the wedding gift story, since Judith Solomon married Israel I. Cohen in 1787.)

The multi-day auction was covered by the Baltimore Sun in a series of articles; unfortunately, not every item caught the reporter’s attention, so I’ve not yet discovered the purchaser of the Sheffield wine coolers, nor their final price. (I did learn, however, that a delegate sent by Henry Ford – yes, that Henry Ford – got into a bidding war with Manny Hendler over a pair of lamps. Mr. Ford won.)  The newspaper reports indicate that the auction was a big deal both locally and in the broader antique-collecting community, in part because of the age and quality of the items up for sale, but also because of the Cohen family’s prominence in the city.  As Skutch noted in his Introduction to the auction catalog:

“The Cohen family from the beginning of the last century maintained open house. Here, mingled the culture, public spirit, and social grace of early Baltimore. Fine living was an inborn characteristic of this family, and they maintained a home worthy of the best traditions of Baltimore, and of Maryland.”

…As for the wine cooler’s current lack of shine, there is a good reason for it.  Silver is, in its way, quite fragile; the polishing and buffing you give your household pieces can be extremely damaging over time, and museums are particularly careful with their silver goods.  Removing tarnish actually removes a layer of silver, which is definitely to be avoided with silver-plated items; the mechanical process of handling and cleaning an artifact is an opportunity for accidental damage; and any polish residue – or even water – left in the nooks and crannies of decoration is both unattractive and harmful.

Left-over polish residue can be seen in the details of the handle’s shell motif.

Left-over polish residue can be seen in the details of the handle’s shell motif.

In an ideal situation, silver and silver-plated items are initially (and gently) polished, then stored and/or displayed in appropriately tarnish-inhibiting environments, thus minimizing the need for future cleaning.  In this case, however, the wine cooler was already in a tarnished state, and our exhibit design did not allow for an elaborate case; tarnish would have built up again over the months the artifact was on display.  Rather than create a need for multiple polishing sessions, we concluded it was safer to leave it be for now.  Though the visual impact is somewhat diminished, the wine cooler’s elegant form, expensive material, and general “extra”ness (what, you think I’d just put the bottle on the table? Oh no! I’ve got a fancy silver container!) nonetheless help us illustrate the Cohen family’s important position in Baltimore society.

Come see the Cohen family’s artifacts – and read the entirety of Mrs. Shippen’s letter – in person! “The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen” is on display at the Jewish Museum of Maryland through June 14, 2015.

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

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Did Mendes Play Tennis with Dragons? Read On To Find Out!

Posted on April 6th, 2015 by

Through our visitor’s thoughtful (and sometimes playful) questions, we are all learning more and more about Mendes, as an individual and as a representative of what life was like for the early Jewish Americans.

 

1) Did Mendes like sports?

Not that we know of…there’s no mention of sports in his letters.

 

2) Is there a connection between Mendes Cohen and the McKim Center of Baltimore? (Since the McKim Free School opened around the time of his childhood.)

The McKim Free School was a Quaker institution that was begun in 1821, by which time Mendes was 24 years old and not at all a child. We have no record of him being involved as a donor either.

If you want to learn more about the McKim Community Center or Free School, visit their website: http://www.mckimcenter.org.

The McKim School

The McKim School

 

3) How old was Mendes when he died?

Mendes Cohen was 84 years old when he died 1879.

 

4) Did Mendes keep kosher?

We believe that the family observed religious traditions in their home in Baltimore, but we don’t have actual confirmation that they kept kosher (which would have been difficult but not impossible during the early 1800s). There is some debate about whether kosher food provisions were provided during his service at Fort McHenry. Again, this is not something we can confirm, but it is possible since the father of another Jewish member of his militia was a shochet. During his travels, Mendes most likely did not eat kosher as that would have been quite difficult.

 

5) What were his siblings’ names?

  • Joshua (died as a baby at 3 months)
  • Jacob (1789-1869)
  • Solomon (died as a baby)
  • Philip (1793-1852)
  • Maria (1794-1821)
  • Benjamin (1797-1845)
  • David (1800-1847)
  • Joshua (1801-1870)
  • Edward (died as a baby at 8 months)

 

6) Did Mendes know any dragons? (asked by Elliot the Dragon)

Sadly, no letters mention dragon encounters (but maybe that letter got lost and we can hope!)

A secret dragon meeting perhaps?

A secret dragon meeting perhaps?

 

What questions are on your mind?

Let us know!

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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