It Takes a Village

Posted on June 24th, 2015 by

 

Unfortunately, not all exhibits are permanent, and in the case of The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen, there was an expiration date. That date was Monday, June 15, 2015 when Minotaur Mazes (hyperlink: http://www.minotaurmazes.com/) came to pick up their traveling exhibition, and Mendes Cohen would be on his way to a new adventure in Texas. The morning began early as everyone from the museum’s Deputy Director, Deborah Cardin to the summer interns were breaking down the a-mazing maze.

First, Joanna Church, the Collections Manager, and the conservators, moved out the fragile and valuable objects such as Mendes’s flag. Pictured here is one of the conservators using nitrile gloves to handle objects.

First, Joanna Church, the Collections Manager, and the conservators, moved out the fragile and valuable objects such as Mendes’s flag. Pictured here is Sanchita  Balachandran, curator & conservator, using nitrile gloves to handle objects.

Laying out the panels

Next came down all the panels, both graphic and green, and they were carefully rolled as to not leave any crease marks.

IMG_1304

The interactives that all the visitors love to play with were unscrewed from the exhibit, and packed carefully in Styrofoam or even blankets. They were placed in the crate carefully and strategically so that damage would not occur during transportation.

Things got serious when Tracie Guy-Decker, the Associate Director for Projects, Planning and Finance (right), began using a power drill like a boss.

Things got serious when Tracie Guy-Decker, the Associate Director for Projects, Planning and Finance (right), began using a power drill like a boss.

Then the poles were strategically unscrewed and pulled apart bit by bit. For people without a lot of arm muscles (me), the struggle was real.

Then the poles were strategically unscrewed and pulled apart bit by bit. For people without a lot of arm muscles (me), the struggle was real.

The poles were also placed in the wooden crates tactically so that when it would be ready to set up in Texas, the poles that would be going on the floor (the foundation) would be the first to come out of the box. That way, the exhibit can literally be built from the bottom-up.

The poles were also placed in the wooden crates tactically so that when it would be ready to set up in Texas, the poles that would be going on the floor (the foundation) would be the first to come out of the box. That way, the exhibit can literally be built from the bottom-up.

Once we were sure everything was loaded, the top of the crates were screwed in. By Tuesday morning, Mendes Cohen was ready to leave the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

Once we were sure everything was loaded, the top of the crates were screwed in. By Tuesday morning, Mendes Cohen was ready to leave the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

For a smaller museum, we often rely on each other to succeed, no matter what position you have. This was made clear when almost every department head, conservator, intern, and a museum educator, graciously set aside their day to pack up an exhibit. It may not necessarily take a village to de-install an exhibition, but it’s certainly more fun to.

Stay tuned for our upcoming exhibit, Cinema Judaica, opening Wednesday, July 1st!

IMG_0994A blog post by Education and Programs Intern Eden Cho. To read more posts from interns click HERE.

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JMM Insights, June 2015: Farewell to Mendes

Posted on June 19th, 2015 by

As the nation celebrated Flag Day this past Sunday, the JMM made one last connection to the life of Jewish Baltimorean extraordinaire, Mendes Cohen, through activities and a talk with conservator Michelle Pagan that explored one of the most iconic objects on display in the exhibit, the flag that Mendes.  Mendes created the flag in 1832 as he sailed up the Nile River proudly displaying his love for his country. This event marked the culmination of our ten month celebration of the life and times of Mendes Cohen and his family. We were thrilled by the positive response we received from visitors, many of whom expressed their surprise at never having heard of Mendes before, as well as their delight in finally ”meeting” this amazing man.

The following is a summary of exhibit highlights:

Accolades – Coverage of the exhibit on WYPR and MPT, as well as in articles in the Jewish Times, the Forward and Humanities (the magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities), helped spread the message encouraging people to come and discover the story of Mendes Cohen. It was hard to top the Forward’s review which encouraged readers to “Forget the National Aquarium: The Cohen exhibit – along with the museum’s permanent exhibit, “Voices of Lombard Street” makes the Jewish Museum of Maryland a must visit for tourists to Baltimore.” To cap things off, the JMM was a recipient of the 2015 Leadership in History Awards Winners for The A-mazing Mendes Cohen by the American Association of State and Local History.

On the cover of the Baltimore Jewish Times

On the cover of the Baltimore Jewish Times

PartnershipsThe A-mazing Mendes Cohen is an example of a model collaborative project and was brought to fruition through several important partnerships. We opened the exhibit during weekend festivities celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore which gave us the opportunity to partner with several local agencies and to be part of such anniversary events as the commemoration of the Battle of Bladensburg and the Defenders Day Celebration at North Point.

Mendes at Bladensburg

Mendes at Bladensburg

The Maryland Historical Society, as the repository of the bulk of the Cohen family papers, was vital to the exhibit’s success. We are so grateful to Burt Kummerow, president of MHS and his staff, for granting us access to their rich collections of material and to lending us such important documents such as the firman that Mendes received from the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire allowing him entry into Palestine and his travel diary.

Travel Firman, courtesy of Maryland Historical Society.

Travel Firman, courtesy of Maryland Historical Society.

As we began planning the exhibit, JMM executive director Marvin Pinkert had a brainstorm that proved transformational.  He reached out to Kelly Fernandi of Minotaur Mazes and the notion of capturing the twists and turns of Mendes’s life through a physical maze design was born. Kelly became an enthusiastic member of the Mendes Cohen Fan Club and contributed not only to the exhibit design but also to content and image research. Thanks to weekly meetings (by phone as Kelly is based in Seattle) we enjoyed a high degree of collaboration with our designer whose strong vision for the exhibit helped shape its final outcome.

New Findings – Each new exhibition involves extensive research in the JMM’s archives and collections as well as at other repositories. While we thought we knew a lot about Mendes Cohen and had previously created an educational resource kit exploring his connections to 19th century Palestine as well as published an article in Generations, our knowledge about Mendes and his family continued to expand as we uncovered new information through many different sources. Thanks to the painstaking efforts of researcher, Joseph Abel, Ph.D, who transcribed the bulk of the letters that Mendes wrote home from abroad, we were able to place Mendes at many seminal 19th century events including the student revolts in Paris, the coronation of a new king in England and the installation of a new Pope in Rome.

A couple of very special visitors made it to the last day of The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen!

A couple of very special visitors made it to the last day of The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen!

The most wonderful new piece of research was unveiled at our penultimate program, an exploration of the Cohen Family Tree. The exhibit claims that there are no known descendants of Israel and Judith Cohen. Genealogist Dick Goldman decided to challenge this assertion and was able to find new branches of the family descended from Alan Cohen III who changed his name to Clarke (hence, our difficulty in finding relatives) after he converted to Catholicism. Alan’s grandson Ronald Brown was one of our very last visitors to the exhibit on Sunday.

The Ghost of Mendes Cohen – The exhibit served as inspiration for the development of the JMM’s newest living history character, none other than Mendes himself, who comes back from the grave to revisit select moments from his incredible life. After debuting performances during many of the War of 1812 commemorative events that took place last summer, Grant Cloyd, the actor who portrays Mendes, has been busy visiting schools, synagogues and other venues. We look forward to continuing to offer performances even beyond the duration of the exhibit.

Grant Cloyd as Mendes

Grant Cloyd as Mendes

Education – More than 300 teachers and 2100 students participated in field trips and living history performances in conjunction with The A-mazing Mendes Cohen. Students from local public, private, parochial along with Jewish day and congregational schools visited the JMM.  We also had student groups visit from the outlying counties, including Howard, Montgomery, Prince Georges, and Anne Arundel County. Students visited from Forest Hills, New York and Philadelphia,  and also came from Ashkelon, Israel – Baltimore ‘s Sister City in Israel.

JMM educators created a rich array of educational resources including archival exploration activities (giving students the opportunity to explore primary sources related to his life), puzzle making games and scavenger hunts. Because Mendes’s life connected with so many important worldwide events, we were able to tie in school visits and resources with a wide array of curricular objectives.

The Gunpowder Challenge

The Powder Magazine Challenge

All of the students loved the interactives in the exhibit- especially the powder magazine and the world map stringing activity.  Students loved racing against the clock to ensure that the magazine did not explode.  Students loved learning where Cohen travelled and learned names of countries and cities throughout Europe and the Middle East.  Students also loved hearing about Cohen’s journal entry of July 4, 1832, documenting his travels on the Nile River, hoisting the flag made by Cohen’s Egyptian crew. Students also thought that it was “very cool” to see the actual flag that was hoisted on Cohen’s ship as well as  some of the Egyptian antiquities that Cohen brought back to Baltimore.

Mendes' hand-made flag, 1832

Mendes’ hand-made flag, 1832

Programs – The JMM held a record number of public programs this year and many of them were inspired by the life experiences of Mendes. Through panel discussions, scholarly and author talks, performances and family workshops, we explored such topics and themes as the War of 1812, 19th century travel, Egyptology, the fight to pass the Jew Bill, textile conservation and genealogy.

Hieroglyphs from our hands-on Egyptology Family Day.

Hieroglyphs from our hands-on Egyptology Family Day.

We were especially pleased with our Mitzvah Day program, inspired by Mendes’ attempts to piece together his identity, we made puzzles for children spending the holidays in The Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai Hospital. It was a wonderful day that saw families work together to create something really special. In total we made enough for all of the children visiting the hospital over the holiday period.

Senator Ben Cardin address the Annual Meeting crowd inside the Lloyd Street Synagogue. Photo by Will Kirk.

Senator Ben Cardin address the Annual Meeting crowd inside the Lloyd Street Synagogue. Photo by Will Kirk.

This year our Annual Meeting was also inspired by Mendes, specifically his time spent in office. We were honored to welcome Senator Ben Cardin to the museum to be our keynote speaker. A surprising success was our Sephardic Lecture Series, inspired by Mendes’ own heritage. We had two great programs exploring Sephardic history and Ladino.

During the course of the exhibit we started to record some of our programs, if you missed one of the lectures above check our website, you may still have a chance to explore a little more of Mendes Cohen’s life.

The maze is packed and out the door, the flag and jacket are back in our vaults – Mendes, like Elvis, has left the building – but the legacy is still with us.  As a team, we had so much fun with this project.  Don’t be surprised if Mendes and his siblings join us again in a future project.

 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Responding to #BaltimoreUprising

Posted on May 12th, 2015 by

A JMM “pop-up” exhibit, “In Every Generation” explores Jewish involvement in the struggle for justice

"On Friday, May 1st, we brought the Jewish community together and marched in solidarity with our neighbors to City Hall, where we rallied in the name of #JusticeForFreddie. " Photo by Marc Shapiro/Baltimore Jewish Times.

“On Friday, May 1st, we brought the Jewish community together and marched in solidarity with our neighbors to City Hall, where we rallied in the name of #JusticeForFreddie. ” Donated by Jews United For Justice, Baltimore Chapter. Photo by Marc Shapiro/Baltimore Jewish Times.

Monday, April 27 was my fifth day on the job as the new Associate Director of the Jewish Museum of Maryland. It was also the day that the protests over Freddie Gray’s death turned violent.

That Thursday, just three days after the riots in Baltimore, my first staff meeting at the JMM had a very different agenda than originally planned. For my new colleagues and me, regular museum business simply couldn’t compete with what was happening in our city.

Marvin told us he thought the historical community in the region should band together and create some sort of response to what was going on, but that he was having a hard time coordinating with his counterparts.

Ilene Dackman-Alon, the Education Director, asked “Why can’t we just do something on our own?” and “Yes, let’s do something,” immediately echoed around the table. I felt a surge of pride to be the newest member of this team that is not willing to “wait for the dust to settle.” I was grateful, too, that my professional role would give me this concrete way to respond to the unrest in my beloved hometown.

Created by the Associated, April 2015.

Created by The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, April 2015.

In an email to friends of the Museum later that day, Marvin wrote, the “Jewish Museum of Maryland is committed to being 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.”

Within days, JMM Collections Manager, Joanna Church, had put together a short list of photographs and artifacts from the Museum’s collections. From that list the exhibit’s ad hoc committee (of which I was honored and humbled to be a member) selected the most appropriate materials to display. We also reached out to local activist groups, including Jews United for Justice, in an effort to collect and document the current situation.

”Soviet Jews protest their oppression demand their freedom let my people go.” A group of young men working on protest posters at the JCC, January 1973. Photo by Sussman Photography, JMM 2006.13.1553.

”Soviet Jews protest their oppression demand their freedom let my people go.” A group of young men working on protest posters at the JCC, January 1973. Photo by Sussman Photography, JMM 2006.13.1553.

In her call for materials for the exhibit, Joanna wrote, “we hope this exhibit will facilitate discussion among our visitors, both of past movements and current events…most importantly, the exhibit includes space for visitors’ thoughts, stories, and contributions.”

The exhibit is now on display in the lobby of the Museum. We’re calling it “In Every Generation,” and we’ve included artifacts and photographs from the 1860s, 1910s, 1930s, 1960s, 1980s and 2015. We’ve set up a guest book (which will become a part of the museum’s permanent collection) for visitors to record their thoughts, reactions and stories. We’ve also left a little room, expecting that we may need to add to the materials on display.

Freedom Seder, c.2000s. JMM 2013.044

Freedom Seder, c.2000s. JMM 2013.044

To donate materials to “In Every Generation,” contact Joanna Church, Collections Manager, at jchurch@jewishmuseummed.org. The Museum will also accept digital submissions through the use of #InEveryGeneration on social media. Digital collections will be shared with the public via the Museum’s Facebook page, fb.com/jewishmuseummd.

Tracie Guy-DeckerA blog post by Associate Director Tracie Guy-Decker.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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