JMM Insights: Dross into Gold

Posted on November 18th, 2016 by

In the middle ages, alchemists sought out the philosopher’s stone that could turn base metal into gold.  They never found it.  But in 19th and 20th century America, entrepreneurs, mainly poor immigrants of Jewish or Italian heritage, found a way to turn waste materials into productive assets – in the process, not only transforming metal, rag and rubber, but also their own lives and their own communities.

In October 2018 the Jewish Museum of Maryland will launch a major national traveling exhibit called American Alchemy: Junk to Scrap to Recycling that will for the first time bring the largely untold history of this industry to a wider public.

Bales of rags. Shapiro Company, Baltimore, Maryland, 1942

Bales of rags. Shapiro Company, Baltimore, Maryland, 1942

We have been laying the groundwork for this project for nearly a year (in fact its origins go back to ideas generated in 2008).  We have been researching photos and artifacts, assembling an exhibit team, developing budgets and funding plans.  But it was just yesterday that the project had its formal launch as we invited leaders of scrap businesses from across the region to convene at JMM.  Neal Shapiro, former president of Cambridge Iron and Metal here in Baltimore, and a consultant on the project helped assemble the gathering.  We took them through Beyond Chicken Soup:  Jews and Medicine in America – a project that has much in common with our new venture:

> a similar scale and blend of “real things” and interactive experiences;

> a paired effort to explore both history and technology (and for the American Alchemy exhibit we will also add the art of recycling);

> an exhibition that works equally well for school groups and general visitors.

After the brief tour, I described our concept – it has a scope that stretches from an ad for scrap brass and copper by Paul Revere to the first car shredders to the latest metal analyzer guns.  I also explained that while it would inevitably have a lot to say about the Jewish community (it’s estimated that just a few decades ago 80% of all scrap CEOs were Jewish), this particular exhibit was about the whole story of the industry – and would include people from all ethnic backgrounds who made the transformation from push carts to global enterprises possible.

An automobile graveyard outside Baltimore, Maryland, August 1941. Courtesy Library of Congress.

An automobile graveyard outside Baltimore, Maryland, August 1941. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Next, we swapped stories.   We learned about businesses with unlikely sites (e.g. Jersey Shores, PA), unlikely artifacts (e.g. a terrorist bombed Israeli bus – it was saved, not scrapped) and unlikely misfortunes (e.g. what happens when you drop a large battery in downtown DC).  But more importantly we learned that we were “family” – as some of the senior members of the group recounted their memories of the parents and grandparents of their assembled “competitors.”  Even I got to tell a few stories about the scrap metal and rag businesses owned by my family – and lessons learned that carry over to my work in museums.

So many stories around the room

So many stories around the room

On Monday we take the next step in our project’s development – a team meeting in New York, with our curator, Jill Vexler (also grew up in a scrap business household) and our designer, Alchemy Studio led by Wayne LaBar.  We’ll be taking this huge topic and compressing it to 2,000 square feet – even a bigger trick than compressing a car into a bundle of metal with a hydraulic press!

If you are reading this newsletter and happen to have photos or documents related to the scrap industry, please contact Deborah Cardin at dcardin@jewishmuseummd.com.  If you are just interested in learning more about the exhibit and staying in the loop as our plans progress feel free to contact either Deborah or me.

-Marvin Pinkert

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Greetings Graham: Halloween Edition

Posted on October 21st, 2016 by

No Tricks, Just Treats!

Greetings Graham,

I am always on the hunt for other worldly spirits and was looking for a new location to explore. Do you have any suggestions?

The Ghost Busters

 

Dear GB:

While we have not heard of our Museum campus being haunted, I would encourage you to take one of our regularly scheduled tours of our two historic synagogues, Lloyd Street Synagogue and B’nai Israel, to learn about the different congregations that worshipped there as well as to admire the beautiful architecture. On the tour, you will also be able to appreciate the building in a whole new light (with fewer dark shadows) as we have recently completed some improvements to the Lloyd Street Synagogue. We have repaired missing lamps, installed new carpeting, cleaned the cushions for the pew seats, and repainted areas that suffered scars and scuffs from wear. There is also a new mezuzah affixed to the doorpost of the synagogue. While we did not find any ghosts, we did uncover a beautiful spiritual place.

A spruced up synagogue!

A spruced up synagogue!

 

Greetings Graham,

In my travels around the world, I overheard you have a wonderful exhibit on Jews and Medicine.  Could you tell me a bit more about it?

The Golem

Dear TG:

Yes, we are in the last ninety days of the Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America exhibit, as the exhibit closes on January, 16, 2017! Inside the exhibit, you’ll journey through the worlds of health in the mid-20th century, from med school to the doctor’s office, hospital, lab and pharmacy-and even a trip to the gym. You will also view rarely seen historic manuscripts, experience hands-on encounters with medicine and ethics, and examine the links between traditions and contemporary practices. You may also learn some surprising facts in the exhibit. For instance, did you know that in the 20th century, Jewish nurses were expected both to learn to serve tea properly AND to sing Christmas carols! Or that in the 19th century, anyone who could afford to pay tuition could attend medical school (a high school diploma was not even needed). If you would like to find out more, please visit our website. We hope you will visit soon, and maybe you can even bring a friend or two!

Come explore Beyond Chicken Soup!

Come explore Beyond Chicken Soup!

 

Greetings Graham,

I am the headmaster of a wizarding school and a student of mine told me that he flew into your Museum last month to see the world premiere of Henrietta Szold’s performance. Can you tell me more about Henrietta and how can I arrange the actress to perform at my school?

Professor Dumledore

Dear PD:

We launched our newest living history character, Henrietta Szold, last month to rave reviews. Henrietta Szold, was the daughter of a rabbi who broke with the traditional role of women to become a champion of Jewish engagement. Her tenacity and courage played a vital role in the expansion of social services, medical services and the founding of the state of Israel.

Natalie Pilcher Smith as Henrietta

Natalie Pilcher Smith as Henrietta

Henrietta is eager to begin performing at schools, senior centers, synagogues and other organizations. Please contact me at 443-873-5167 or by email at ghumphrey@jewishmuseummd.org to schedule your visit. The cost is $300 plus mileage per performance, but we also offer subsides for schools. If you are at the Museum you may also try and spot the bust and plaque of Henrietta!

 

Greetings Graham,

I’m normally pretty busy this time of year, but a few of my friends are asking of things to do in the area. I usually go drinking on Halloween itself, but do you have anything to get me in the mood the day before?

Count D

Dear CD:

We have planned our ghoulish stuff for pre-Halloween, Sunday, Oct. 30th (which is also our Free Fall Day, freaky, right?) Our special lecture will be “Collecting, Preserving and Exhibiting: Exploring the Collections of the Nation’s Medical Museum”. You never know what lurks in their basement. When you are in the Museum, check out our shop where we have some medically themed merchandise, some of which might make nice gifts for Dr. Moreau or Dr. Frankenstein or other similarly disposed physicians on your Halloween treat list.

Some perfectly spooky options for this Halloween!

Some perfectly spooky options for this Halloween!

For more creepy fun you can also stay connected to the JMM by visiting our social media pages where we are featuring the hashtag #PageFrights, which is a month long social media celebration of Halloween. And if you need a break from the radio’s endless repetition of Monster Mash – we have something for you too: The ShowTime Singers will also be offering a free after hours concert at 5pm where they will be performing songs that audiences can easily relate to – and perhaps even sing along with – like Broadway tunes, patriotic numbers and even a little rock and roll.

 

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JMM Insights: The Great Chicken Soup Cook Off

Posted on September 23rd, 2016 by

As you read this, The JMM is preparing for our first Great Chicken Soup Cook Off.  We are in search of Maryland’s best chicken soup. We’ve invited   aspiring chefs–from newbies to bubbies–to show us their culinary skills in a bid to receive the coveted title of Maryland’s Chicken Soup Champion.

The cook off tasting will take place at the JMM on Sunday, October 9th from 1 to 3pm. It is inspired by our current exhibit Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America, and a certain televised baking contest. We have held various food related programs over the years at the JMM (including the ever- popular Gefiltefest, a gefilte fish cook-off), and we’re aiming to continue this successful tradition.

The Soups

The competition has been divided into three categories: Traditional, Alternative and Free From. Unsurprisingly the traditional category filled up quickly with eager participants. We are looking forward to trying a variety of traditional chicken soups including Grandma Esther’s Golden Delicious Soup and Beverly’s Bewitching Soup.

Entries in the Alternative category also sound really tasty.  They   include a Chicken Soup Maryland Style (don’t worry this doesn’t include any crabmeat) and a Lemongrass Chicken Soup. In the Free From category we are looking forward to trying a No Chicken “Chicken Soup”.

For those of you who think you’ve got what it takes to win the coveted prize,  there are still spaces available in the Free From and Alternative categories, so enter here TODAY!

The Awards

Trophies & More!

Trophies & More!

Participants are eligible for a variety of awards beyond the overall Chicken Soup Champion. Prizes will be awarded for the best soup in each category, plus an under 16 award, director’s choice and the all-important people’s choice award.

The Tasting Judges

We need you!

We need you!

Our team of tasting judges all work in the Baltimore metropolitan area. We will be joined by Tom Lovejoy, executive chef at Eddie’s of Roland Park, Mark Davis from Michael’s Café and Sam Gallant of WTMD. However we need your help!  For the people’s choice we need you to taste test all of the yummy soups, then vote for your favorite. This is a great opportunity to help choose the Chicken Soup Champion, and you get to taste lots of delicious soups.

 Everything Else

The soups will be the stars of the day but there is plenty more to do while you are at JMM after you have cast your vote. In addition to visiting our exhibits and historic synagogues, we have lots of chicken soup inspired activities. This includes chef demonstrations of their own twists on this classic dish, hopefully inspiring you to try at home.  Plus, to help in your future culinary endeavors, a chance to plant your own herb garden, specially designed for making chicken soup! We’re even planning a special kids craft project to decorate their own special chicken soup bowl to take home.

The cook off is certain to be a great day for the whole family so buy your tickets here!

~Trillion Attwood, Programs Manager

P.S. If you can’t attend, you can recreate the day at home! We will be making all of the recipes available online after the event with the help of Beyond Bubbie. We’ll also share our specially created playlist on Spotify, featuring all of the greatest chicken inspired songs. Keep an eye on our Facebook page for more details.

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