A Volunteer Field Trip – Right Next Door!

Posted on March 19th, 2018 by

A blog post from JMM Volunteer Coordinator Wendy Davis. To read more posts from Wendy, click here.

One can learn much about a building, but it doesn’t come to life until you have seen it filled with people using it for its intended purpose.    On Shabbat, March 3rd, a group of Jewish Museum of Maryland volunteers had that opportunity.  At the invitation of Rabbi Etan Mintz, we participated in the morning service and had a delicious lunch at B’nai Israel, one of the two historic synagogues on the Jewish Museum of Maryland Berman campus.  We were warmly welcomed by the congregants and the rabbi.  All of our male volunteers who were present at the service were given honors during the Torah service and I had the honor of walking with the Torah in my arms in the women’s section.

Inside the sanctuary with some of our volunteers, Phil Sagal, me, Marvin Spector, and Larry Levine.

Instead of a sermon by the rabbi, after services, Fred Shoken, a congregant who is extremely knowledgeable and passionate about the history of B’nai Israel spoke to the entire congregation using questions we had previously submitted as his general outline.  Did you know that when the building was built, Hebrew words were carved in stone above the exterior doorway?  It originally identified that the building was the Chizuk Amuno Congregation and the date of the building.  When B’nai Israel moved into the building, the original congregation’s name was filled in and recarved with the name of the new congregation.    When the exterior was restored in 1987, some of the filling in of the letters was removed, leaving an overlap of both names.  In the sanctuary, all the beautiful woodwork is original except for the mechitzah (the fence separating the men from the women) and the railings leading to the ark.  Rabbi Mintz showed everyone interesting historic objects from the congregation’s collection including a list of yarhtzits written on parchment.

Standing outside the synagogue.

Typical for synagogues, at the end of the service, the president of the congregation, Shelly Mintz, who is also a JMM volunteer, made announcements.  As expected, she included information about upcoming events and services. But her words also expressed how this oldest continuously operating synagogue building in Maryland is still the place of active Jewish involvement.

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Matisse, Diebenkorn, Church, and Kassman

Posted on January 12th, 2017 by

Enjoy our jaunty shot of the exhibit title!

Enjoy our jaunty shot of the exhibit title!

Last week, thanks to tickets through the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance, Rachel and Joanna visited the Baltimore Museum of Art’s exhibit “Matisse/Diebenkorn,” which brings together the work of these two artists, Henri Matisse and Richard Diebenkorn, for the first time.  As always when museum professionals visit other museums’ exhibits, we had Thoughts.

Alas, no photographs allowed in the exhibition.

Alas, no photographs allowed in the exhibition.


I’m not an art historian by any means, but I did take a few classes in college – just enough knowledge to make me dangerous.  For one thing, I thought I knew Diebenkorn’s work, but the first gallery showing his early abstract work confused me; thus my very first Thought was, ‘Oops, I was picturing someone else.’ Pro-tip: look at the exhibit website before visiting, instead of just thinking you know what’s going on.  The BMA’s helpful list of things to know includes “[Diebenkorn] moved between abstraction and figuration,” which would been useful if I’d read it ahead of time.  Thankfully for my ego, the third gallery included works that were more familiar.

I used to have a print of this painting hanging in my kitchen. I know art exhibits should not always be about familiarity and recognition, but it is still a pleasant feeling. Cityscape #1 (1963) via SFMOMA.


Having no background in art history, I tend to find the labels at art exhibitions a little too concise, containing little more than title, date, artist, and who owns the piece now. I was thrilled to find that BMA Senior Curator of European Paintings & Sculpture Katy Rothkopf, who curated the Baltimore-occurrence of this show chose to use meaty labels, often including contextual details about the techniques used, the artists’ lives during the period of the piece’s creation, and particularly helpful explanations of how one piece could have been inspired by another.

A perfect example – Joanna and I loved the label for Matisse’s Reclining nude with arm behind head (1937) which included a reference to a “stumping” and was immediately followed by an explanation of the technique and what it does for the piece!

Thank goodness for the internet - and wikiArt! Here's Chabot Valley (1955) and Corsican Landscape (1898), two of the images paired in the exhibit.

Thank goodness for the internet – and wikiArt! Here’s Chabot Valley (1955) and Corsican Landscape (1898), two of the images paired in the exhibit.



I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of books from Diebenkorn’s own library, all focused on Matisse’s work. Not only did this help strengthen the exhibit’s argument – that Matisse was a heavy influence on Diebenkorn – but it also showed a willingness to break out of the traditional “art, and art only” style of exhibition and include supporting artifacts and documents, a willingness which I think many art museums have recently embraced.


I agree with Joanna! Including material beyond the artworks themselves really rounds out the experience for me. I would urge all art curators to go even further if possible – I love when there are multiple photos of the artist at work, images of the artist’s workspaces, even cases with their tools.



The BMA offered audio guides, which (at least when we were there) nearly every guest accepted.  I am not personally a fan, though I know many people very much enjoy them, and they can be a useful tool for conveying additional information without overloading the walls with text.  But one reason I don’t like them is that they discourage conversation. This type of exhibit, with labels asking visitors to actively look at each image and compare them to others in the gallery, seems particularly well-suited to dialogue… but everyone is just listening to their headsets.  Rachel and I did not have headsets so we felt free to discuss (quietly, don’t worry), and I think that enhanced our experience. I did see at least one other pair of women braving the isolation of the headphones to talk about what they saw, which made me happy – especially because one of the women said to the other, as if continuing an earlier “Hmm, I’m not so into these” conversation, “Well, I would take a Diebenkorn if someone gave it to me.”  Me too!


I will say that having everyone else in the gallery wearing headphones made me much more comfortable voicing all my thoughts and opinions to Joanna! I’m often worried about disturbing other visitors or making anyone feel judged (we don’t have to like the same art, after all), so on a (very) personal level the popularity of the audio tour worked out great for me. But I also know I would have enjoyed the experience much less without the ability to turn to Joanna and discuss.

If you’re hoping to see the exhibit yourself, make plans to go soon – the show closes on January 29th!

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JMM Interns take over Washington D.C.

Posted on June 27th, 2011 by

Last Thursday, the 23rd of June, all the interns, plus Rachel Kassman and Elena Rosemond-Hoerr, took a day field trip to Washington D.C! After an early morning start by car and train, we got to D.C. about 10 A.M. and did were released to do some exploring around the Mall. I went with interns Codi and Morgan to the National Museum of the American Indian as well as the National Gallery of Art sculpture garden.

Choctaw Indian Dance outside of the National Museum of the American Indian

Our first major stop and tour of the field trip was at the American Museum of American History. There, we learned the extensive process of making a museum more interactive while teaching the visitors about the exhibit. Overall an informative tour about a possible type of job in a museum.  I also got the chance to see the dress I had been waiting to see for a long time, the one worn by Michelle Obama at the Inauguration Ball of President Obama! No matter your politics it really is a beautiful dress.

The dress and accessories worn by Michelle Obama.

From there we did more exploring and I went with Codi and Morgan to the Rotunda to finally see the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I’m glad I finally was able to see them!

Posing with one of the new Humvees at the Armory.

Our last stop of the day was to the Armory of the National Guard of D.C. We were given a tour by the new curator, Lt. Miranda Summers, of the in-progress National Guard Museum. I definitely feel much more privileged to be working in a well catalogued and organized museum after seeing the collections at the Armory. With the end of the tour we headed home after a full but very informative day. I am greatly appreciative to the internship coordinators for structuring and including field trips such as this one to expand our knowledge about Museum work. I’m excited to see where we go next!


A blog post by summer intern Mary Barthelme.


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