A Whirlwind Tour: Seven Exhibits at Four Museums in Six and a Half Hours

Posted on March 22nd, 2018 by

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

Oh, the trials of museum work, when you HAVE to go see an exhibit! When someone on staff needed to head to New York City to check out a few exhibitions, I nobly sacrificed myself – and, in this case, my mom as well – for the cause.  Dutifully, last Thursday we took the train up to NYC to see as many of the exhibits on my list as possible before taking an evening train home.

Every museum field trip day should begin with a Leonard Nimoy inspirational quote. This one is featured in “Jews in Space: Members of the Tribe in Orbit,” 2018.

First up: “Jews in Space:  Members of the Tribe in Orbit,” at the Center for Jewish History. Melanie Meyers, one of the curators, gave us a one-on-one tour of this exhibit, which may come to the JMM sometime in the future.  It covers a fascinating variety of themes under the banner “space,” looking at Jewish contributions to everything from astronomy and space travel to science fiction and popular culture. Objects and books came from private collectors, such as astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman (who did the first Torah reading in space) and the collections of the CJH’s partner institutions, including the Leo Baeck Institute and YIVO.

An 18th century printing of a 14th century astronomy text by Isaac ben Joseph Israeli, LBI collections, on display in “Jews in Space: Members of the Tribe in Orbit,” 2018.

Altogether this is a delightful look at a topic about which I knew very little, my dad’s Isaac Asimov collection notwithstanding. I particularly enjoyed the ritual objects loaned by Hoffman, which he adapted for space travel: a velcroed mezuzah for his bunk, a traveling menorah (no candles, of course). The first attempt at a dreidel game in space was captured by NASA, complete with an earth-bound voice on the radio asking Hoffman to explain Chanukah for “all of America.”

“Starlight: Hanging Grid II” by Cooper Joseph Studio in the Rotunda of the Museum of the City of New York.

After a quick lunch, it was off to the Museum of the City of New York, where I wanted to check out “Mod New York” and “New York at its Core” as comparative research when planning our own upcoming fashion and core exhibits. We also took in quick trips through the galleries of “New York Silver” and “Beyond Suffrage,” though to be honest we didn’t really do justice to any of these exhibits; time was passing, and the final museum was calling us.

Our last stop for the day was the Jewish Museum. “Veiled Meanings: Fashioning Jewish Dress, From the Collection of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem” was, along with “Jews in Space,” my main reason for the day trip; several of our volunteers had praised it, and as a textile show it was even more relevant, in many ways, to our upcoming “Fashion Statement” exhibition than “Mod New York.” It was also just about to close – sorry, if you haven’t seen it already, the last day was March 18th! – so there was no time to waste.

My volunteers were right; it was a wonderful exhibit. So wonderful that I didn’t take any photos (though I doubt they were allowed, to be honest) because I was too busy looking. If I give in and buy the hefty catalog, you’ll have to make an appointment to visit the JMM Library to take a look.

I find myself always looking for the lions. Left: detail of a menorah, for which I neglected to get the info, but which I couldn’t resist including; right, birds and lions and sunflowers adorning an ark from Sioux City, Iowa, hand-carved in 1899 by Abraham Shulkin. (Note the bonus, and accidental, call-back to Leonard Nimoy.) Collections of the Jewish Museum.

Finally, we took in the new “Scenes from the Collection,” which was equally wonderful, and almost made up for the fact that I misread the café’s closing time so we ended up bagel-less. Noshing aside, the exhibit is a showcase of the broad scope of the museum’s collecting interests, from a variety of eras, places, and artforms. Judaica, stereograph photos, and textiles rub shoulders with modern art and “Orange is the New Black” clips. As I walked through the portrait section, I found old friends like Cindy Sherman and Kehinde Wiley, and new friends like this fine fellow:

Self-portrait by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, 1814-1816. Would that we could all paint ourselves this confidently in our mid-teens! Collections of the Jewish Museum.

Ending our day on this high note, my mom and I made our way back to Penn Station for a noisy dinner in an Irish pub, and then a quiet train ride home. Our exhibit to-do list: Fully checked off, and then some. Sadly, it may be someone else’s turn next time such a monumental busman’s-holiday sacrifice is required, but I’m sure my time will come around again soon.

 

SPACE! My attempt at a space-y pose failed miserably.

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Two souvenirs from a European vacation, 1911

Posted on February 21st, 2018 by

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

Isaac Hecht (1864-1913) was a prominent businessman in the small Maryland town of Havre de Grace. He owned a hotel and saloon; served as president of the several banks, the local taxi cab business, and the Havre de Grace chapter of the Fraternal Order of Eagles; and was active in city politics and local philanthropy. He and his wife, Elizabeth Weis of Baltimore, had two sons: Lee I. Hecht, born 1888 (later a well-known judge in Baltimore), and Lawrence, born 1899.

Isaac Hecht (at far right) and others in an automobile donated for a raffle held by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, Havre de Grace, ca. 1910.  Gift of Isaac Hecht II. JMM 1991.198.3

All of that biographical background is to set my readers up for this delightful souvenir plate from our collections.  It is made of fine porcelain, hand-painted in gold, with holes on the reverse – this was definitely intended for display, not dinner – and features a photograph of a well-to-do family above the caption “Karlsbad 1911.”

Porcelain souvenir plate, hand-painted, 1911. Made by A. Hoffman. Gift of Eleanor Hecht Yuspa. JMM 2010.8.4

We know, thanks to the donor, that the photograph shows Isaac, Elizabeth, and Lawrence.  Conveniently – and this is why I love souvenirs since, after all, they’re supposed to remind you of a specific time and place – the plate itself gives us the time and the place.

Elizabeth, Lawrence, and Isaac Hecht, on vacation in Karlsbad, 1911 – as shown on their souvenir plate. Gift of Eleanor Hecht Yuspa. JMM 2010.8.4

A little further research tells more of the story. Karlsbad, also known as Karlovy Vary, was a spa in Bohemia; now in the Czech Republic, at the time of the Hechts’ visit it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  It was a fashionable resort for many decades, though its fortunes faded after WWI; in 1911, the year our Hechts visited, it saw over 71,000 visitors, and even hosted a fancy chess tournament.

Though his businesses were in Havre de Grace, not Baltimore, Isaac Hecht was important enough to rate notice in the Sun’s social news.  Articles from the summer of 1911 tout the maiden voyage of a new luxury steamship line from Baltimore to Europe:

“The date when Baltimoreans will have their first chance to secure first cabin accommodation on a trans-Atlantic liner from this port is now only a short time off – June 28. On that day the magnificent North German Lloyd liner Friedrich der Grosse will make its first trip from Baltimore. Besides being the largest passenger ship ever to sail from this port, it will be the first vessel to carry first cabin passengers from this city, and, if patronized well enough, will be the first of a regular series of sailings by the finest ocean liners in the service of the North German Lloyd.”  (“Rush for First Cabin,” Baltimore Sun, June 8, 1911)

“Greetings from the ship Friedrich the Great.” Image courtesy Passengers in History.

The article continues, “Prominent person from all parts of Maryland in nearby States will also be on the ship, and the list of passengers is increasing daily. Among the most recent entries are Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Hecht, together with their son and Mr. Hecht’s brother, all of Havre de Grace…. Mr. Hecht is president of the Havre de Grace Banking and Trust Company.”  (I. Lee Hecht, older than his younger brother Lawrence by 11 years, was already off on his own.) A few months later, social news from Havre de Grace includes the tidbit that “Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Hecht and son, who have been spending the summer in Europe, have sent home quite a collection of pictures, bric-a-brac, needlework and other things for the various booths at the coming hospital bazaar.” (Baltimore Sun, October 8, 1911).  The trip to Karlsbad was even referenced in Isaac’s 1913 obituary, when the author noted that Mr. Hecht had leased his hotel “a couple of years ago. . . in order to go to Carlsbad, Germany [sic], for the benefit of Mrs. Hecht’s health.” (Baltimore Sun, May 21, 1913)

Two close-up views: hand-painted flowers (left) and the makers’ marks (right). Gift of Eleanor Hecht Yuspa. JMM 2010.8.4

I particularly like the bit about the family acquiring “bric-a-brac,” as it ties in nicely with their fancy “Porzellan-Fotograf” plate.  This was a substantial souvenir, more costly than a spoon or a fan, and more personalized than a book of photos, or a mug with the town’s name printed on it; it was meant for display, a reminder to yourself and your visitors of that pleasant visit to a prestigious, high-society resort.

But I promised you two souvenirs of the Hechts’s visit to Karlsbad, so here’s the other one; this one is of a much more plebian, transient nature, but is no less informative, and a bit more poignant.  Amongst a small collection of postcards received by Emanuel and Fanny Weis Hecht of Havre de Grace is this one, sent from Karlsbad on September 18, 1911.  The two families were double-in-laws; Emanuel was Isaac’s brother, and Fanny was Elizabeth’s sister. Emanuel ran the Hecht’s Hotel during Isaac’s long absence; he and Fanny had just had a baby daughter, Hannah, the year before. This postcard carries Rosh Hashanah greetings in German and Hebrew on the front, with an illustration of “The discovery of Moses.”

Gift of Elizabeth Hecht Goodman. JMM 1997.45.9

Addressed to Mr. & Mrs. E. Hecht and “Miss Hannah,” the message on the back reads, “Dear Brother and Sister and Little Hannah. A Happy New Year and many of them. Hoping you [are] all in the best of health. I wish I was home to spend the Holiday. With love, Isaac Elizabeth and Lawrence Hecht.”  After all, vacations are well and good … but sometimes you’d rather be home with family during the holidays.

Gift of Elizabeth Hecht Goodman. JMM 1997.45.9

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“Baltimore, the Liverpool of America” – In Which Trillion Was Right All Along

Posted on January 26th, 2018 by

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

As always, it’s the odd little hidden gems in the collection that warm a registrar’s heart.  I recently happened upon this book, and – being a sucker for municipal encomiums of the past – I took a closer look.  Here for you today we have a Souvenir of Baltimore, printed in 1898 by A. Hoen & Co. of Baltimore, “compiled expressly for the American Pharmaceutical Association” in dedication “to its members in commemoration of the forty-sixth annual meeting, held August, 1898” in Baltimore.

Souvenir of Baltimore, 1898. Museum purchase. JMM 1987.140.1

Alas, the Jewish community is not featured with any prominence in this volume, in the photographs that make up the bulk of the book, the history of the city, or the contemporary statistics and achievements.  We can’t be ignored altogether, of course:

Among the photos of commercial institutions is this one of “Joel Gutman & Co., Dry Goods and Notions.” From Souvenir of Baltimore, 1898. Museum purchase. JMM 1987.140.1

Featured religious institutions include both “The Oheb Shalom Synagogue” (i.e. the Eutaw Place Temple) and “The Associate Reform Church.” From Souvenir of Baltimore, 1898. Museum purchase. JMM 1987.140.1

The Hebrew Orphan Asylum is listed here with other “Charitable institutions,” and Oheb Shalom and Har Sinai are listed amongst the city’s “400 churches [sic], representing nearly all denominations.” From Souvenir of Baltimore, 1898. Museum purchase. JMM 1987.140.1

We’re also represented in a less obvious – but still financially important – way, as the concluding statistics touting “the leading industrial and distributive trades” in the city include $15,000,000 for “Manufactured Clothing,” and $6,000,000 each for “Shirts, Drawers, and Overalls” and “Straw Hats” – all trades in which the Jewish community was quite active, if not indeed the leaders.

To me, though, the most striking thing about the book is this proclamation on the first page:

“Baltimore City, The Liverpool of America.” From Souvenir of Baltimore, 1898. Museum purchase. JMM 1987.140.1

Well okay, then.  Perhaps this mostly struck me as peculiar because I had just, less than an hour previously, been talking about Liverpool with a former resident. And I know only a very few facts about the city of Liverpool, most of which have to do with either music or football … neither of which topics bring Baltimore immediately to my mind (“Baltimore Hit Parade” and the Ravens notwithstanding). It’s clear that this comparison would have meant something to its readers in 1898, but this book never actually explains it.

Thus, as always, to the internet we go! It turns out this was not just a one-off comparison. Our friends at A. Hoen & Co. had earlier published a map of the city, with the same title, as a newspaper supplement in 1872; the Mercantile Advancement Company published a 231 page book, Baltimore: The Gateway to the South, the Liverpool of America in 1898; and in 1894 a local newspaper doubled-up on the city’s nicknames, publishing a two-volume celebration titled The Monumental City, the Liverpool of America: A Souvenir of the 121st Anniversary of the Baltimore American.

Title of the 1872 map by A. Hoen & Co.

More helpful, however, is this April 1875 article from Scribner’s Monthly (“An Illustrated Monthly for the People”) which makes the comparison more explicit, focusing on Baltimore’s industrial strengths, rapid rise in population, and “remarkable development of its terminal facilities” (i.e., the harbor and the railroads). Not only did that make us the Liverpool of America, it apparently made us “the fashion.”

I didn’t find the phrase used in the 20th century (at least not on an internet search), but in some ways the comparison stayed true, if progressively less flattering, as industry dwindled and each city’s future become rather less rosy … and then, in the late 20th century, an arts scene helped bring each city back to life.  But here’s Trillion to talk more knowledgably about it!

I lived in Liverpool for about ten years, initially for University but I stayed when I met my husband. It is a wonderful city, with a fascinating history and amazing people. If you ever have a chance to visit Liverpool I would highly recommend taking the opportunity, you don’t need to love The Beatles, but you will hear them almost everywhere you go in the city. I didn’t anticipate finding similarities between the two cities but as soon as I arrived in Baltimore they quickly became apparent. The biggest similarity is history, both cities were important ports meaning there was a huge amount of wealth at one point and an international community. The impact of this can especially be seen in architecture, both have some amazing historic buildings highlighting their status as international cities, plus they both have wonderful museum collections gathered from around the world.  Adding to this however both cities experienced trouble during the twentieth century and have seen this impact the way in which they are viewed nationally and internationally. It seems though that the local communities of both have come together to develop a thriving arts and culture scene that attracts visitors from around the world, bringing back just a little of that former glory.

 The cities have their differences, but I frequently find a certain comfort in the similarities, making Baltimore feel not quite so far away from home. ~Trillion

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