Behind the scenes: Staging the Civil War Exhibition

Posted on October 3rd, 2013 by

Coming Soon!

Mounting an exhibition about the Civil War requires strategy, leadership, and forethought—not unlike planning for an actual battle. Fortunately for us, there is no bloodshed or casualties. Here’s a quick look at our “troops” behind the scenes of the installation process of Passages Through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War.

It all starts with an empty gallery and a ladder.

It all starts with an empty gallery and a ladder.

Blue painters tape is a great way to mark the spacing for the temporary walls.

Blue painters tape is a great way to mark the spacing for the temporary walls.

A scale model of the gallery allowed Karen and Mark to “hang” the exhibition before the artifacts arrived on site.

A scale model of the gallery allowed Karen and Mark to “hang” the exhibition before the artifacts arrived on site.

Cases are installed and painted.  We let them “off-gas” and completely dry over the weekend before we even think about putting artifacts inside.

Cases are installed and painted. We let them “off-gas” and completely dry over the weekend before we even think about putting artifacts inside.

Rachel captured the artistic side of a bucket of screws that was on hand to install the walls and cases.

Rachel captured the artistic side of a bucket of screws that was on hand to install the walls and cases.

While “the guys” (Pete, Scott, John, Stoney, and Paul) were setting up the walls and cases in the gallery, I was busy with the delivery of the exhibition.

The objects arrived in clearly numbered boxes, which made it easy for me to check them off my packing checklist.  This system was also very helpful for condition reporting each object. (See last post about condition reporting )

The objects arrived in clearly numbered boxes, which made it easy for me to check them off my packing checklist. This system was also very helpful for condition reporting each object. (See last post about condition reporting )

Nothing beats an old fashioned hand-lettered colored piece of paper to designate the various exhibition sections.

Nothing beats an old fashioned hand-lettered colored piece of paper to designate the various exhibition sections.

Karen and Scott go through a bunch of artifacts that will be installed in one section.

Karen and Scott go through a bunch of artifacts that will be installed in one section.

A slightly nervous executive director wanders into the gallery and wonders (aloud) whether we are still on target to open the show on time.

A slightly nervous executive director wanders into the gallery and wonders (aloud) whether we are still on target to open the show on time.

Karen assures him that we are much further along than it looks.

Karen assures him that we are much further along than it looks.

Mounting the dramatic three-part entrance panel really sets the stage for this exhibition.

Mounting the dramatic three-part entrance panel really sets the stage for this exhibition.

An image of The Pratt Street Riots makes another dramatic statement at the opposite end of the exhibition.

An image of The Pratt Street Riots makes another dramatic statement at the opposite end of the exhibition.

Rather than drilling holes directly into the large graphic, the guys map out the weapons case with blue tape.

Rather than drilling holes directly into the large graphic, the guys map out the weapons case with blue tape.

 Since the length is the same as the wall, you can play with measurements on the floor without making unnecessary holes in the wall. Trust me, there was a lot of tweaking and re-aligning!

Since the length is the same as the wall, you can play with measurements on the floor without making unnecessary holes in the wall. Trust me, there was a lot of tweaking and re-aligning!

Once the measurements are adjusted, its time to put the exhibit on the wall.

Once the measurements are adjusted, its time to put the exhibit on the wall.

Karen uses an empty case as a temporary shelf for items that will eventually go on the wall.

Karen uses an empty case as a temporary shelf for items that will eventually go on the wall.

Many smaller artifacts will go into cases. We always keep a protective layer between the artifacts and the painted surfaces.

Many smaller artifacts will go into cases. We always keep a protective layer between the artifacts and the painted surfaces.

 The dashing Joshua Lazarus Moses and the sword of his brother, Perry Moses are mounted.

The dashing Joshua Lazarus Moses and the sword of his brother, Perry Moses are mounted.

 Paul ponders the spacing on another wall, and wonders if the carefully measured pieces will “read” to the public. Believe me, this important step can make or break the continuity of the exhibition story.

Paul ponders the spacing on another wall, and wonders if the carefully measured pieces will “read” to the public. Believe me, this important step can make or break the continuity of the exhibition story.

Can you guess what is going to be over here? Hint: It’s shaped like a triangle and has doors.

Can you guess what is going to be over here? Hint: It’s shaped like a triangle and has doors.

There is still a lot going on in the gallery, but things are really shaping up!  Come to the museum on October 13, 2013 and see the complete transformation!

There is still a lot going on in the gallery, but things are really shaping up! Come to the museum on October 13, 2013 and see the complete transformation!

JobiA blog post by Senior Collections Manager Jobi Zink. To read more posts by Jobi click here.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Behind the Exhibition Scenes: Condition Reporting

Posted on September 25th, 2013 by

I haven’t sat at my desk must in the last two weeks, which means I haven’t returned phone calls or answered e-mails. If you’ve felt ignored by your favorite registrar-intern wrangler-supervisor- conference presenter-emergency management coordinator-photo order filler-type person, please be assured that I haven’t been ignoring you intentionally! I’ve been performing the essential registrar’s task of condition reporting.

My office is such a disaster area, I’m not sure you would even find me if I were in there!

My office is such a disaster area, I’m not sure you would even find me if I were in there!

Honestly, writing condition reports is one of my favorite parts of being the registrar. (This is only superseded by marking accessing numbers on artifacts.)  What’s so exiting about doing condition reports, you ask? The answer is in the minutiae. The condition report is the document that describes the detailed condition of every facet of each artifact. A completed condition report will document how the objects looked when we received it from the lender—and note any changes that occurred while it was on display. This is a form of insurance protection. In addition to vandalism and theft, light, water, temperature and humidity, pests and honest accidents can easily affect the condition of artifacts on display.  If a lender says, “I gave you that painting in perfect condition. Now look at it! It’s got holes in it. I want your insurance company to cover the damages.”  We can show them the signed and dated condition report that clearly describes the size and location of each hole, scratch, dent, or mar when the piece arrived at the Museum.

 

So how do you begin making this report?  I like to start with a basic template that includes the exhibition name, whether its an incoming report or an outgoing report, and spaces for basic information like object ID or loan number, exhibition ID, exhibition section, and object name. It could have a checklist of frequent condition afflictions—rust, discoloration, accretion, loss, folds, cracks—or it can be free-form (essay style!) there may be space to draw the object and its damage, though its more common now to just use a printed digital photograph. Some museums skip the paper reports altogether and use the condition report module in their collections database!

A blank condition report.

A blank condition report.

In the case of Passages Through the Fire, most of the artifacts came directly from the originating institution, and there were pre-existing condition reports. And, since this is a traveling exhibition, Bonni-Dara Michaels from Yeshiva University Museum came down to help condition report the objects. I was grateful because Bonni-Dara has already seen each object and she knew the object IDs, which helped facilitate the process of checking items on the list because one thing is for certain: I couldn’t tell one civil war soldier from the next!

Don’t panic that the registrar is not wearing gloves. The artifact is still wrapped in plastic.

Don’t panic that the registrar is not wearing gloves. The artifact is still wrapped in plastic.

I think Bonni-Dara and I made a great team for the condition reporting process. I would find the object in the box and call off its exhibition number, and Bonni-Dara would find the condition report. After unwrapping each object we would examine each piece. We’d compare what was written on the original report with the artifact in (gloved) hand. If there were additional problems that I found, Bonni -Dara could verify if these were pre-existing conditions. Fortunately, when dealing with Civil War era objects, its usually obvious when its newly damaged. Fortunately, there were few changes from the outgoing condition reports that Bonnie wrote after de-installation at YUM and the incoming reports that we worked on last week.

 Using the flashlight app on the iphone helps the registrars examine the objects.

Using the flashlight app on the iphone helps the registrars examine the objects.

While the fall interns gathered around us for a lecture on traveling exhibitions and condition reporting, Bonni-Dara and I emphasized the importance of taking photographs during condition reporting. Our written condition reports were also accompanied by a photograph of the object, making the verification tremendously easy. By looking at the photograph, you can see if a crack in the painting was 2 inches before it shipped or if it had grown during transit or unpacking.  The photographs could be used later, for insurance claims or conservation work if necessary, or just added to the database. The interns also got the opportunity to examine the artifacts and write condition reports themselves.

Rachel is really mad that I didn’t take a picture of the demonstration for interns, but here are photos of the interns with some of the swords in the Passages through the Fire exhibition.

Rachel is really mad that I didn’t take a picture of the demonstration for interns, but here are photos of the interns with some of the swords in the Passages through the Fire exhibition.

Condition reporting is time-consuming business. You need to be detail-oriented and focused, with an extensive vocabulary related to damage (Fortunately, MRM5 – The Museum Registration Methods “bible” has an excellent glossary and sample templates). You need to know the object’s upper left from the upper right –and know if the person writing the original report was talking about the proper left—which is sometimes surprisingly difficult. It requires you to wear gloves while handling artifacts—and removing them to write the reports and to sharpen pencils regularly. While there is pressure to get the condition reports done quickly because the curator and the art handlers are anxiously waiting so that they can lay out the exhibition upstairs,  (You’ll hear about this in an upcoming blog post about staging the Civil War.) Condition reporting cant be don’t in haste. You can’t flip through notebook and say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah it all looks fine. “ Because they don’t look fine; there is almost always something to write about.

Now that they are handling the frame of a painting, Jobi and Bonni-Dara have on their white gloves.

Now that they are handling the frame of a painting, Jobi and Bonni-Dara have on their white gloves.

So why do I love condition reporting so much? Unwrapping artifacts for the first time is a bit like opening birthday presents! After discussing the artifacts with the curator and lender for hours, I’ve become attached to the stories that we will tell in the exhibition. There is so much excitement to see the artifact, to “meet” the people in the photographs, and “experience” the artifacts in person.

You’ll  have to come to the Passages Through the Fire exhibition to learn about the individuals who wore these medals and badges.

You’ll have to come to the Passages Through the Fire exhibition to learn about the individuals who wore these medals and badges.

 

JobiA blog post by Senior Collections Manager Jobi Zink. To read more posts by Jobi, click here.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




JMM Insights, August 2013

Posted on August 16th, 2013 by

This Sunday Zap! Pow! Bam! takes its final bow.  But our comic book comrades aren’t the only super heroes we’re losing this week.  We also say good-bye to this year’s class of interns.  It seems like just yesterday I was asking Jobi to introduce our young colleagues.  Now I have asked her to summarize their accomplishments.

Hail and Farewell

Interns in dumpster

You probably have already seen or heard about our wonderful summer 2013 interns in some way—whether it has been through the spotlights in JMM Insights, the Intern Spotlight on the JMM blog, or through their own posts on the blog, twitter, and Facebook (if not, you can see what they’ve been blogging about here). The interns were asked to tweet weekly and write two blog posts about their experience over the course of their internship. Not only does this give them a chance to publish about their projects and work, but it gives public a chance to get to know them as well.

As the official “Intern Wrangler” it is my honor to brag about these amazing emerging professionals and their many significant contributions to our museum, whether it was behind the scenes in collections, developing the scenes in exhibitions, or in the public eye with our programs.

fed hill intern

Saul L. Ewing, LCC in Memory of Robert L. Weinberg Collections Interns:

Katharine Harper, Kathleen Morrison, Erin Pruhs, and Clare Robbins worked with our photographic, archival, archeological, and three-dimensional collections (respectively). Although most of their time was spent our climate-controlled basement, they truly helped me run the collections department smoothing during the transition to the reduced department.  They processed and housed many of our recent accessions, adding hundreds of new items to the database. Collectively they photographed or digitized upwards of 1,000 objects and photographs, bringing us to the astounding milestone marks of 90% and 70% of 3D and photo collections that are accessible in digital format!

LSS_Erin 18

Some individual highlights of their work include: Kathy selected the next 6 months-worth of Snapshots photographs for our partnership with the Jewish Times. Kathleen developed a spreadsheet of Baltimore Phone and City Directories, checking for duplicated (there were none). Erin read the Lloyd Street Synagogue Archaeology reports, refined existing records, and sorted the “new” archaeology collection from the 1996 expansion. Clare worked on an expansive condition report notebook for the 100+ original artifacts in the Voices of Lombard Street exhibition and brought oversized documents to be scanned at the Baltimore City Archives.

Labeling (Tweet 6-20)

To understand how the departments are intertwined, collections interns were also involved in some exhibitions work. They worked together to condition report and rehouse objects from the Chosen Foods traveling exhibit, and pulled various objects and archival materials from our collections for the Passages Through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War exhibit. Each collections intern also transcribed a health-related oral history interview with a Maryland Jew—each more than an hour in length—for the benefit of the upcoming Jewish Health and Healing project (2015).

OH transcribing

Saralynn and Sheldon Glass Education Interns:

Trillion Attwood and Marissa Walker, our Education and Program interns, hit the ground running! Within a week they were giving tours of our synagogues and exhibitions to visitors, and planning exciting events for the Museum. Together they worked on several successful events including Clark Kent’s Bar Mitzvah party; How to Create Your Own Superhero workshop; and the Tom Chalkley and Craig Hankin discussion—drawing over 140 people to the Museum. Trillion and Marissa created two Late Night on Lloyd Street programs: Best Hebrew Workshop Ever and A Taste of Jewish and Israeli Art events.

Hebrew Workshop

Lest you think it was all fun and games, Marissa and Trillion both created new educational materials relating to topics ranging from the immigration of Jews from Germany to Locust Point and the Voices of Lombard Street exhibit. In addition to providing tours to the public, they each guided (or corralled!) 6 groups of 25 ‘Super Kids’ through our campus (300 kids!) in a 5 week period. Whew!

Picture 009

Trillion also assisted in planning a group of 120 from the Meyerberg Senior Center to the Newseum. She helped install our Jews on the Move exhibition, and with planning the Super Art Fight, and this Sunday’s Up, Up and Away event, as well as the upcoming September Late Night on Lloyd Street. It is no surprise that with her enthusiasm and proven efficiency, Trillion was recently hired by the Jewish Museum of Maryland as the new Programs Manager.

 

Saul L. Ewing, LLC in Memory of Robert L. Weinberg; Barbara Katz; Johns Hopkins University Andrew W. Mellon Exhibitions interns:

The summer 2013 exhibition interns Elaine Hall (Ewing), Todd Nesson (Katz) and Yonah Reback (Mellon) worked on the Jewish Health and Healing; Passages Through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War; and The Amazing Mendes Cohen exhibitions. Their projects ranged from preliminary background research for future projects, as well as urgent assistance for the immediate exhibition.

Elaine

Elaine Hall read 40 oral histories, articles, and books relating to Jewish health and healing, extracting about 500 useful quotes for future use, conducted internet and database research relating to the topic, brainstormed and helped with the beginning stages of planning for the future exhibit. She also wrote a description of the current ideas for the exhibit, and documented where future researchers can go from here.

Civil War Model

Todd Nesson has been essential in the organization and design of  Passages Through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War; providing background research, producing labels, adding 60 items from the JMM collections to the upcoming exhibit (pulled by the collections interns), and finding 30 objects to add to the exhibit from 8 different lenders.

Yonah

Although his internship was officially at the JMM, Yonah Reback found himself in the Maryland Historical Society archives for most of his internship. He attempted to sort through the archives and the apparently illegible handwriting of Mendes Cohen. Yonah got a start on collecting interesting facts and bits of information about the man and the legend. Rachel Cylus will be proud!

Flag House

We also sent our interns out on field trips to different museums and cultural institutions. The education interns went to Gettysburg for inspiration on Civil War educational programs that would appeal to a wide range of students. Marvin Pinkert led a tour at the National Archives. The interns celebrated Flag Day at the Flag House and Museum; attended an evening event at the Walters Art Museum; visited the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture; toured the United States Holocaust Memorial Museums off-site storage; and learned the ins and outs of crating! The interns also participated in hands-on workshops at the JMM.

Lobby Display

One workshop, led by Rachel Kassman, focused on the creation of a small lobby exhibit. Working together in groups, the interns were tasked with creating lobby displays based on a single subject areas and utilizing the JMM collections. Clare and Erin’s future exhibit will detail archaeology at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, and has interactive activities. Trillion and Marissa’s display will introduce the public to Nechama and Paul Spector, local teachers who moved to America in 1949. Now on display, Elaine, Katharine, and Kathleen’s exhibit coincides with the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Equality, revealing the Maryland Jewish connection to the civil right movement of the 1960s. This was an excellent way for the interns to gain some practical experience in the creation of exhibits and to be able to see a tangible finished product of their 10 weeks at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

 

-Jobi Zink & Elaine Hall

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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