Inescapable: The details make the story more real

Posted on June 22nd, 2018 by

This month’s edition of JMM Insights is brought to you by JMM Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.

Tonight, our latest original exhibit Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini opens at a members-only preview (by the way, if you’re reading this and you don’t yet have a ticket, I am sorry to tell you that we are completely sold out. Please come on Sunday to see the exhibit and take in the Magic of Jonestown outdoor festival).

Since our JMM Insights newsletter is supposed to give you, the JMM insider, an inside look, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about an underappreciated component of exhibits: props.

I have written before about the power of objects in museums. One of our interns recently tackled the question Do Museums Need Objects, and another intern wrote yesterday about objects in this exhibit. But what I want to talk about are the physical items in exhibits that are not, in fact, artifacts.

I admit that I am a little biased in focusing on this for Inescapable, since one of the more charismatic of the props in the show, the Edison cylindrical record player, belongs to my husband, David. But that’s only part of the reason I wanted to talk about props with you. Before I worked in a museum, I admit that I never once thought about props in museum exhibits. Maybe you’re in the same boat. But in my opinion, they can be the details that complete the story.

My husband’s Edison player gives a visual context to the recording of Houdini’s voice. It helps conjure the experience for the visitor. Curators and exhibit designers use props to help create an environment in which you, the visitor, can encounter the artifacts.

In Voices of Lombard Street, we use a lot of props to create a fully immersive environment. In most instances, museum props are used to make your museum experience a more immersive one, and immersion helps make your visit there memorable (I discussed the importance of memorability when I wrote about how we measure the museum).

In addition to David’s Edison player, there are several props in the Behind the Curtain section of Inescapbale.

There are props integrated into interactive elements, and there are reproductions of photos and posters throughout the exhibit. But don’t worry, Dear Reader, we are not trying to fool you! Our labels will tell you everything you need to know about an object or image, including the nature of what you’re looking at (original or reproduction), where the artifact, image or prop came from, and who owns the intellectual property (if anyone). (Note that if there is no label on an object in a JMM exhibit, you can be pretty sure it’s a prop.)

And so, JMM Insider, you now have a choice as you encounter exhibits, whether here or at other museums. You can use your new insights to take a peek behind the scenes, noting where we Museum Professionals have introduced props to enhance your experience, or you can ignore the details on the labels and allow yourself to be fully immersed. Either way, at least when it comes to this exhibit, I trust you’ll enjoy the effect of all our effort.



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Houdini’s Shackles Case

Posted on June 20th, 2018 by

Blog post by JMM intern Alexia M. Orengo Green. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

As many of you may know, the Jewish Museum of Maryland is opening Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini. This exhibit puts Houdini’s story in a new perspective that most people do not know. Houdini’s Jewish legacy. Before coming to the Jewish Museum of Maryland and learning about the upcoming exhibit I did not know that Houdini was Jewish, which surprised me. The exhibit connects Houdini’s Jewish heritage, his life’s work, and Maryland through artifacts such as newspapers, his straitjacket, and his shackles.

Title Houdini exhibit. Photo by Alexia M. Orengo Green

This week one of the other interns and I had the amazing opportunity to help set up this magical exhibit. We were given the opportunity to set up the case for Houdini’s shackles and part of his lock pick set. Before starting to set up the case, we selected the fabric we were going to work with, which was a black velvet that went with the color scheme of the exhibit. Afterwards, we saw the different artifacts we were working with, which gave us an idea of the possible layout we were going to create. To better present and add dimension to the case, we decided to elevate with props several of the artifacts.

Props used to create the case.  Photo by: Alexia M. Orengo Green

When creating the case, the artifacts that were heavier and bigger were put on the back of the case while the smaller ones were set up on the front. By doing this, the visitor can see the multiple artifacts without having to hover over the exhibit case. An example of the smaller artifacts in the front of the case would be the lock pick set. The set was placed in front of the case in a line, so the visitor could better compare each of the tools Houdini used. So, it can be better appreciated on the right of the lock pick set, we placed a hair pin that Houdini also used to open locks. After we finished setting the artefacts on the table we began to adjust some of them to improve the case’s presentation and make space for the labels.  We also decided to move some of the artifacts, so the case could have a good contrast.

Exhibit case. Photo by: Alexia M. Orengo Green

From the exhibit case we created, my favorite artifact was a pair of shackles that we set at the top left corner of the case. This pair of shackles were my favorite because they were the most unique from the collection. The shackles are rigid, oxidized, and cannot bend, but the most interesting thing from the shackles is their key. What intrigues me the must of the key is the H” that it has on the middle to indicate the shackles were Houdini’s. This small detail, which may not be noticeable at the beginning, makes the shackles stand out.

Participating on the creation of the Houdini exhibit was an amazing experience. Being able to work behind the scenes of an exhibit and with artifacts that belonged to Houdini is an incredible honor. This exhibit creates a new narrative encompassing Houdini’s Jewish heritage and his connection with Maryland. Anyone that goes to see the exhibit will have an astonishing time.


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Posted on June 8th, 2018 by

Museum Matters: June 2018

From where I sit, every new exhibit is magic. An empty gallery takes on a new coat of paint, walls and cases are installed, artifacts carefully laid in place, interactives tested and with a little dramatic lighting – tada, it’s an exhibit. Of course, this description omits the months of research, design, negotiation for objects and images, writing and editing… and just plain hard work that goes into a project. But to me it still feels like magic and, hopefully, that’s the way it feels to you too!

This month’s opening is even more magical than usual: 1) it has something to do with the subject matter; 2) we’ve infused the exhibit with magical touches and 3) we’re planning a truly spectacular launch experience on the 24th – an experience so big it won’t even fit in our building. This year all our neighbors in and around Jonestown are coming to Lloyd Street to help us celebrate our community’s metamorphosis. Stilt walkers, face painters, ranger tours and the “high” point of the afternoon: Dai Andrews dangling from a crane, escaping from a strait jacket nearly 50 feet above the crowd. Who can say that isn’t magic?

Insider tips:

1. Consider parking downtown and taking the Charm City Circulator to the Magic of Jonestown Festival – it runs on Sunday and it’s free!

2. Alternatively you might want to park at one of the parking lots in Little Italy and make the short walk to Lloyd Street (our usual Lloyd Street lot – as well as all of Lloyd Street between Baltimore St. and Lombard St. will be closed that day).

3. Repeat after me – “it’s not going to rain, it’s not going to rain, it’s not going to rain” – but if by some chance we are faced with a deluge – check our website for plan B.


Upcoming programs
All programs take place at the Jewish Museum of Maryland unless otherwise noted. Please contact our Programs Manager at / 443-873-5177 with any questions or for more information.


Thursday, June 21st 

Members Only Preview*
​Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini
Exhibit opens at 6:00pm
Lloyd Street Synagogue doors open for seating at 6:30pm
Program begins at 7:00pm


*Not a member? Join today!

Sunday, June 24th, Noon to 4pm

Magic of Jonestown Festival

Celebrate the opening of Inescapable: The LIfe and Legacy of Harry Houdini​ with a day of fun!

Thursday, June 28th at 7:00pm

Romania’s Journey from Darkness to Light: An American Ambassador’s Memoir
Speaker: Alfred Moses


Sunday, July 1st at 1:00pm

The Psychic Contest
Speaker: David Jaher, author of ​The Witch of Lime Stree

Sunday, July 15th at 1:00pm

Houdini Unbound
Speaker: David Saltman, author of ​Houdini Unbound

Sunday, July 29th at 1:00pm

Mrs. Houdini: The Woman Behind the Magician
Speaker: Victoria Kelly, author of ​Mrs. Houdini

>>View the full JMM calendar of events here.<<

Also of Interest
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  For more of this month’s events from BIYA, please visit or check out BIYA on Facebook.

Sunday, June 10th at 4:30pm

The Campbell Brothers: A Sacred Love Supreme
Creative Alliance at B’nai Israel
Location: B’nai Israel Synagogue
Get Tickets Now

Esther’s Place

New at Esther’s Place!

Summer is upon us and so is the installation of our upcoming exhibit Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini. To celebrate, Esther’s Place is featuring brand-new merchandise centered on themes of identity, adventure, invention, and the great “escape” many plan for and covet this time of year: travel. Fuel your sense of adventure with our Ticket Stub Diary or unleash your creative powers of invention with our Mini Masterpieces Notebooks. We also have a beautiful new selection of key chains and car mezuzah designs to inspire and guide you on your travels this summer and beyond.

Please note: in order to get ready for our exciting summer, Esther’s Place will be closed on June 13 and 14!


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