Performance Counts, September 2014

Posted on September 19th, 2014 by

Baltimore Embraces its 19th Century Heritage

The good news is “we won.”

You probably noticed that there was some commotion this weekend about events that took place two centuries ago.  Beyond the Blue Angels, the rockets red glare and the Spanish galleon, there was a genuine embrace of the relatively tiny group of defenders who made sure that the flag and the nation was still there.

We are intensely proud of having been a part of the Star Spangled Celebration week, a chance for us to remind the public of the long roots of the Jewish community in this city and this state.  Of course, JMM’s focus was on one particular defender: the truly amazing Mendes Cohen.

Collections Manager Joanna Church and Assistant Director Deborah Cardin install Mendes' newly conserved jacket.

Collections Manager Joanna Church and Assistant Director Deborah Cardin install Mendes’ newly conserved jacket.

Installation of the maze was completed on September 7th.  We had a sneak preview for donors, members of the 1845 Society and the Lloyd Street League, and members of the board of our partners, the Maryland Historical Society on September 9th.  Feedback was extremely positive as reflected in notes we received after the event:

We were totally impressed with the A-mazing Mendes exhibition and appreciated the amount of research, talent, and work that went into the project.

Your exhibit is absolutely wonderful and a great tribute to Mr. Cohen. Of course Mendes is good story material. What a fun concept and I am recommending you to my whole staff.

‘The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen’ exhibit turned out really great! Fantastic Preview last night! Can’t wait to return and stroll “The A-Mazing… “ more slowly and a chance to absorb much more of its rich history.

Enjoying a few drinks at the Amazing Cocktail Hour sneak preview party.

Enjoying a few drinks at the Amazing Cocktail Hour sneak preview party.

This past Sunday was a very busy day for our living history actor.  Unlike the real Mendes Cohen who overslept on September 14 and had to run to his assignment at the fort, our “ghost” of Mendes started his day bright and early at Super Sunday.  As Mendes was one of the early members of the Hebrew Benevolent Society (a precursor of The Associated), we thought it was important Mendes participate in this annual effort to raise funds to serve the Jewish community in Baltimore and around the globe.

Mendes takes a few calls at Super Sunday!

Mendes takes a few calls at Super Sunday!

The next stop was the Creative Alliance’s “Hampstead Hill Festival”, marking the land battle that helped save the city.  Mendes not only gave a full performance (battling unexpectedly fierce winds) but also participated in an 1814 fashion show.  After Hampstead Hill, we made a brief stop at the Inner Harbor greeting guests to the Greater Baltimore History Alliance booth.

Mendes takes his bow to the applause of former JMM president Barbara Katz and the rest of the audience.

Mendes takes his bow to the applause of former JMM president Barbara Katz and the rest of the audience.

Mendes returned to JMM for a wonderful members’ opening.  The program included greetings from Debs Weinberg and Barbara Katz, Mendes’ short-version 1812 performance and a panel comprised of some of the creative and historical experts who made the exhibit and living history character a reality.

Part of the evening's panel.

Part of the evening’s panel.

If you missed this great opening week, you can still be a full participant in the Mendes Cohen celebration.  We are still busy recruiting volunteers for our stint as part of the Maryland Public Television fund drive on Sunday, September 28 from 5pm to 8pm.  Your willingness to volunteer a few hours at MPT will guarantee us on air access to an important audience.  For more details contact Rachel Kassman at rkassman@jewishmuseummd.org or call 410-732-6402 x225. 

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Meeting Mendes

Posted on August 27th, 2014 by

Our "real life" Mendes Cohen!

Our “real life” Mendes Cohen!

Thursday was the dress rehearsal.  I thought I would be immune to the effects of the performance.  After all, I already knew the Mendes Cohen story.  And I also knew that underneath Maggie Mason’s handsome costumes there was a fine actor, Grant Cloyd.  Yet from the moment Mendes came into the room brandishing his cane I was transfixed.  In the next thirty minutes “our” Mendes captured the spirit of the extraordinary soldier, businessman and adventurer who lies at the heart of our new maze exhibit.

Grant-as-Mendes leads the crowd in a rousing rendition of the Star Spangled Banner!

Grant-as-Mendes leads the crowd in a rousing rendition of the Star Spangled Banner!

There is an old joke in a Herb Gardner play about someone “getting the voices just right” for Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson.  It is truly impossible to capture the true sound of even the most famous speakers who lived in the era before sound recording.  For someone like Mendes Cohen, who was not a public speaker, there is no record of any kind of his style, accent or intonation.  But our script writer, Scott Fuqua, drawing on Mendes’ letters and journals, produced a 19th century patter that truly mirrors our character’s own vocabulary and diction.  The fact that Mendes comes across as so plausible is a credit to the talents of Scott, Grant and Baltimore’s premier living history director, Harriet Lynn.

Flat Mendes poses with actor Grant Cloyd, director Harriet Lynn, and writer Scott Fuqua after Thursday's performance.

Flat Mendes poses with actor Grant Cloyd, director Harriet Lynn, and writer Scott Fuqua after Thursday’s performance.

Thursday was just the warm up.  This last weekend I accompanied Mendes on a trip to Bladensburg.  They marked (I think “celebrate” would be the wrong word) the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bladensburg, the ignominious defeat and rout that led to the burning of Washington.  In 1814, Mendes had seriously considered joining a unit that came to the defense of Bladensburg, but wisely decided that his talents would be better used at Fort McHenry.  So our journey to the re-enactment was actually Mendes’ first trip to this Prince Georges County town.  We were warmly received despite the rainy weather.

Mendes meets Facebook friend Ranger Abbi Wicklein-Bayne at the Battle of Bladensburg Commemoration.

Mendes meets Facebook friend Ranger Abbi Wicklein-Bayne at the Battle of Bladensburg Commemoration.

This is, of course, just the beginning of travels for our newly revived “ghost” of Mendes – for our younger readers I think I need to point out that ghosts were what people believed in before zombies (a lot cleaner).  Next Sunday, Mendes travels to North Point for the bicentennial ceremonies there.  This will also be the first full performance of Scott and Harriet’s play.  On the 14th we have Mendes hopping – opening the morning with a stop at The Associated’s Super Sunday (after all Mendes was a leading Baltimore Jewish philanthropist in his time) followed by walk-arounds at bicentennial events at Patterson Park and the Inner Harbor.  He will finish his day with a mini-performance at our exclusive members’ opening event on Sunday night.  If you are in the top three categories of membership (the Living History Circle, the Lloyd Street League and the 1845 Society) you will be invited back for the full play at its JMM premiere on October 5th – so wouldn’t this be a great time to upgrade your membership.

Mendes sports a caftan and shares his journey down the Nile.

Mendes sports a caftan and shares his journey down the Nile.

Finally, I want to offer special thanks to those who are enabling this success.  These include the Maryland Heritage Authority and Maryland Humanities Council for their specific grants for the Mendes Cohen character.  And the exceptional work of education director, Ilene Dackman-Alon in shepherding the living history project from the beginning.

The Mendes road tour will continue throughout the year.  To schedule a Mendes Cohen performance for your school or organization please contact Abby Krolik, akrolik@jewishmuseummd.org or 410-732-6400 x234.

Marvin PinkertA blog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts related to Mendes Cohen click HERE. To read more posts by Marvin click HERE.

 

The Mendes Cohen Living History project was made possible in part by a grant from the Maryland Humanities Council, through support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the Maryland Humanities Council. This project has been financed in part with State Funds from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority, an instrumentality of the State of Maryland. However, the contents and opinions do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority.

 

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Living History – United Two Families

Posted on April 9th, 2014 by

I think museums are such fascinating places. They are wonderful spaces that promote learning and engagement.   Over the years at the JMM, I have enjoyed creating both public programs and educational programming that encourage both discovery and discourse with our visitors.  I love how history museums can enable individuals to make meaningful connections to the past.  Last spring was no exception, with the creation of our latest living history character from the Leo V. Berger Immigrant’s Trunk – Bessie Bluefeld.  I wanted to share with you an extraordinary circumstance that has united two families, showing just how important a role museums play in our lives.

Bessie & Charles, CP 69.2012.001

Bessie & Charles, CP 69.2012.001

Bessie and her husband, Charles Bluefeld immigrated to Baltimore by way of Locust Point in 1906.  Concerned about her husband working in construction, Bessie persuaded Charles to open a grocery store in Fell’s Point, and by the 1920s the Bluefelds were operating a stall in Lexington Market.  Bessie opened a food stand on a beach near Baltimore, and it became the seed for the Bluefeld Catering business. Traveling to Atlantic City and Florida, Bessie developed her refined taste that would later be known as the “Orchid touch” that gave Bluefeld Catering its edge as one of the premier kosher catering businesses in Baltimore – a business that would include her entire family. From 1937 to 1941, Bluefeld Catering blossomed, and Bessie was at the center of everything.    Although Bessie died suddenly in 1941, her husband and children maintained the kosher catering business she had worked so hard to build.  For decades, Bluefeld Catering was synonymous with elegance and quality in Baltimore’s Jewish community and beyond.

The JMM hired the actress, Terry Nicholetti to play the role of Bessie.  Terry wanted to learn more about Bessie, so we went to Bethesda to meet one of Bessie’s children, Mrs. Freda Bluefeld Cohen.  We had a lovely afternoon with Freda and she shared some of her memories of her parents and of her early years growing up in Baltimore along with 8 other siblings.  As I witnessed Terry and Freda chatting- I knew that these two women were destined to become special friends.

Terry brings Bessie to life.

Terry brings Bessie to life.

On April 30, 2013, Terry premiered the role of Bessie Bluefeld at the JMM to a crowd of 100 people.  Many of our visitors that evening were the grandchildren and great grandchildren of Bessie.  Following the performance, one of Bessie’s grandsons stood and was visibly moved by the performance.  He expressed his gratitude to the JMM for helping him to meet his grandmother that he never had the opportunity to meet as she had died prior to his birth.

Last week, I received a call at the JMM from one of Bessie Bluefeld’s granddaughters.  She had just learned that her Aunt Freda Bluefeld Cohen had passed, and she wanted to reach out to Terry Nicholetti to let her know, as she knew of the special relationship that Terry and Freda shared. I spoke to Terry the following day.  She told me that she was so touched to be notified by the family, and so sad because of the sweet connection that she shared with Freda.  Terry went to visit the family during the Shiva and Freda’s family welcomed Terry as if she were a member of their own family.  Terry shared with me, “When I took on this role, I had no idea how deeply I would be connected to so many dear people in Bessie’s life. I feel blessed.”

Terry and Freda

Terry and Freda

The Jewish Museum of Maryland plays such an important role in our community in helping people find connections and meaning to history. The Leo V. Berger Immigrant’s Trunk: Bessie Bluefeld Living History Performance is just another example of how our institution creates those meaningful connections.   This incredible performance has enabled one family to connect to its own history; but it has also given meaning to Terry Nicholetti, the actress who portrays Bessie- who has found personal meaning and contentment in her role.

ileneA blog post by Education Director Ilene Dackman-Alon. To read more posts by Ilene click here.

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