JMM Hacks the Museum with Museum Hack!

Posted on January 19th, 2017 by

“Professional development takes many forms,” says JMM director, Marvin Pinkert, “whether or not ‘Museum Hack’ represents a path we might follow, in the future it is without doubt a ‘best practice’ in the field of museum tours.  I was delighted that the whole professional team had the opportunity to experience it.”

The Museum Hack logo

The Museum Hack logo


Tracie: When I saw Nick Gray, the CEO of Museum Hack, give the keynote address at the Mid Atlantic Association of Museums (MAAM) in the Fall of 2016, I was intrigued. I had heard of the company before, but this was my first in-depth view of what this irreverent organization (their motto is “Museums are F***ing Awesome”) actually does. Gray’s address at MAAM was full of passion for museums and art. He was funny and crass and smart. He reported meteoric growth of his crazy idea (from hobby tours for his friends 5 years ago to a multi-million-dollar business today). The ballroom was full of museum professionals on the edge of their seats.

The Museum Hack motto takes no prisoners and its bright colors are pretty indicative of the exciting and invigorating experience JMMers were about to have.

The Museum Hack motto takes no prisoners and its bright colors are pretty indicative of the exciting and invigorating experience JMMers were about to have.

His presentation wasn’t perfect. At a meeting whose theme was about the importance of inclusiveness and accessibility, the $90 – $150 per person price tag of Museum Hack tours definitely gave folks pause. Gray was only able to say something like “we’re working on it” to the conference attendee who asked him about how very white and mostly male his staff seemed to be. Still, it was clear to me that this kooky guy was on to something. When I got back to Baltimore I told my colleagues about it. We decided that we wanted to learn more. I suggested that we take the whole staff to a Hack Tour of the National Gallery—the closest Museum Hack location. Last week, we finally made it happen.

Ten people stand in a semi-circle facing the camera to the side of the bottom of a large marble staircase.

JMMers are ready and rarin’ to go on our Museum Hack adventure!

The Museum Hack tour was like and not-like any museum tour I’ve ever been on. From the get-go, our tour guide told us that art history, composition, symbolism and all that are really interesting, but that if that’s what we wanted, we should buy a book, because that’s not what she was going to talk about.  From there we did a group, hands-in cheer of “Mu-seum!” (down on the mu up on the seum) and then took off from there to the crown jewel of the collection. We spent a little time talking about the subject of the painting, and then got a lot of history about how the National Gallery acquired it.

A young woman stands in front of a painting while others look towards her. She is holding a tote bag that reads "Museums are Fucking Awesome"

Hannah is positively gleeful as she relates the melancholy tale of Ginevra de’Benci.

The focus of our conversation about the rare Da Vinci painting of Ginevra de’Benci was the intrigue that surrounded it—from the “platonic” love affair that was broken off by Ginevra’s marriage to the James-Bond-esque suitcase in which it was transported to the museum (not unlike one that, as I type, is returning the Friedenwald volumes to the National Library of Israel!). We were invited to play mental and creative games with the artwork we encountered and with each other. In short, it was really fun.

In the few days since our National Gallery Hack, JMM staff have been having an ongoing conversation in various areas around Lloyd Street: “what if we had visitors…” and “we could invite people to…” I don’t know what the Museum Hack inspired, irreverent version of the JMM tour will look like. In fact, it may never happen. But even if there isn’t a direct product we can point to as a result of our shared experience, it has us all thinking about the Museum, our collections and our buildings in different ways.


Devan: As an artist and educator, I enjoyed the Museum Hack tour because it provided an opportunity to explore the works within the gallery while giving more backstory and historical information.  In addition, I would imagine that interactive tours like those would be beneficial for young people who are visiting cultural institutions like the National Gallery of Art as well as others around the country.  Not only would it spark more interest but assist with retention of the information so there’s at least one conscious or subconscious takeaway from the visit for them.

One of Devan's favorite pieces of the day turned out to be Tracie's selection for her museum pose!

One of Devan’s favorite pieces of the day turned out to be Tracie’s selection for her museum pose!


Karen: I’ve already retold some of the stories we heard from our tour guide, Hannah, on Friday. The long, sad story of Ginevra de’Benci had too much detail for me to remember, but I got some great mileage out of how Paul Mellon, art collector extraordinaire, was taken in by Han van Meegeren’s Vermeer forgeries. Hannah kept us interested, and moving for two hours and the time flew, although I have to say I was very grateful when she took a break—and broke the rules—and handed out chocolate.

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Shoes were in the way so off they come as Karen participates in one of the more kinetic activities of the day!

Some deductions about Museum Hack’s “rules” for tours that engage: 1. Use naughty words: every comedian since Lenny Bruce (at least) knows it thrills the audience; 2. Tell naughty stories (ditto); 3. Follow the money: isn’t this part of art’s allure? 4. Talk fast and walk fast; 5. Break the rules (see above: we must never, NEVER eat in the museum); 6. Have a through line—a story or activity that can thread throughout the entire tour; 7. Foster a little friendly competition, but not so much that your group can’t bond. Bottom line: I had a lot of fun!


 

The  Repentant Magdalen

The Repentant Magdalen

Deborah: As a mother who has watched the Disney film The Little Mermaid far too many times to count, I was particularly taken with the story that our amazing tour guide Hannah shared in front of the George De La Tour painting of Mary Magdalene (The Repentant Magdalen). Aside from the fact that the painting is stunning, Hannah connected the painting to a major plot point in the Dan Brown books surrounding a conspiracy to keep secret the fact that Mary Magdalene and Jesus had a child together. She then asked us to think about how this painting might be related to The Little Mermaid.

A conspiracy in action or just a good piece of art theory in practice?

A conspiracy in action or just a good piece of art theory in practice?

We were stumped until Hannah pulled out her trusty iPad and pulled up the scene from the movie where Ariel is singing “Part of Your World” about her longing to be human in a cave where she’s stashed all of her human treasures. Lo and behold, one of the things in her cave is a painting of Mary Magdalene from the same series that we were looking at! (Specifically, the painting Magdalen with the Smoking Flame.) This detail (along with the fact that both De La Tour’s Mary and Ariel have red hair) has led to an abundance of conspiracy theories involving Disney.

Deborah also won the “find a new lover for Ginevra de’Benci” contest, with her entry of Mary Magadelene, theorizing that these two put-upon women could find support and affectionate understanding with each other.

Deborah also won the “find a new lover for Ginevra de’Benci” contest, with her entry of Mary Magadelene, theorizing that these two put-upon women could find support and affectionate understanding with each other.


Marvin: I was impressed with the way that our guide engaged the audience.  One exercise involved finding potential companions for the unhappy young subject of DaVinci’s painting Ginevra de’Benci and capturing their images on our cell phones.  Another involved creating a tableau vivant of Copley’s painting of a shark.  While an art museum is very different than a history museum (the Lloyd Street ark doesn’t really lend itself to a tableau), the thought process about how to put the visitor into the action is something that I hope will animate our future thinking about tour experiences.

Presenting selections for Ginevra's new match.

Presenting selections for Ginevra’s new match.


Graham: While I have been to the National Gallery of Art many times, I have mostly explored the galleries on my own, so I was excited to go on Museum Hack’s tour. I enjoyed hearing some of the backstories about how the art was acquired and shipped to the NGA. I also liked learning about a forged Vermeer painting, international intrigues and exploring hidden corners of the Museum. I found the tour to be very high energy and interactive. It was fun re-enacting John Copley’s painting Watson and the Shark and posing in front of sculptures. It was also entertaining playing games like imagining romances between figures in artwork.

Joanna and Trillion present their best ballet legs in the Degas gallery.

Joanna and Trillion present their best ballet legs in the Degas gallery.

I liked how our guide incorporated technology into her tour, such as with her iPad and our smart phones. I appreciated receiving chocolate halfway through the day as a way to help alleviate “museum fatigue.” I believe that these kinds of tours are a great way to reengage millennials at museums. I look forward to working with our team to see how we may be able to incorporate some of these elements into our tours of Lloyd Street and B’nai Israel synagogues.


Joanna: The Museum Hack tour was a lot of fun, and not only because it’s always better to be in an art museum on a Friday. I’m not usually a tour-taker, but Hannah’s style – presumably typical of the Museum Hack guides in general – was informative, funny, brisk, and colloquial, making for both an entertaining morning (any morning that involves a tableau vivant is likely to be a good one) and a nice validation of my own style of tour-giving, which if not brisk is definitely colloquial.

JMM does its best Watson and the Shark – what do you think, did we pull it off?

JMM does its best Watson and the Shark – what do you think, did we pull it off?

That’s not everyone’s cup of tea, of course, but used in combination with more traditional formats, I think this type of tour can bring in new audiences, and give us a way to tell other, less academic or “main theme” stories about artifacts, art, and documents.  But please, no tableaux vivant in the JMM galleries without making sure there’s plenty of floor space!


Trillion: Working in public programs I was especially excited to attend the Museum Hack tour last week at the National Gallery of Art. I was hoping to find inspiration for future programs and I wasn’t disappointed. One of the things I found most enjoyable was the different ways in which we were encouraged to engage with the collection. Knowing a little about Museum Hack I anticipated posing beside art and recreating famous paintings as a team (technically referred to as tableau vivant) but what I found really interesting was our search for a suitor for Ginevra de’ Benci. It was a wonderful way of ensuring that we continued to explore and engage with the many pieces not featured ono our tour. As we shared our selections at the end of the day it was interesting to see artworks that hadn’t previously caught my eye.

Here's Trillion's selection for a new partner for Ginevra de’ Benci painted by Jean Siméon Chardin.

Here’s Trillion’s selection for a new partner for Ginevra de’ Benci painted by Jean Siméon Chardin.


Rachel: I’ve been to the National Gallery many times before – it’s one of my favorite places in DC to grab a few moments of calm and delight (I particularly love the many fountains and their related, ever-changing plant accessories – this time there were tiny potted orange trees with actual oranges on them!). I’ve even been lucky enough to get a specialized tour from Art Services Manager Daniel Shay (his daughter, Ginevra Shay, now the artistic director at The Contemporary, was once my winter intern in the photography collection!). But it is always fun to get a new perspective on a familiar favorite – and Museum Hack did not disappoint.

Hannah and The Alba Madonna.

Hannah and The Alba Madonna.

Being a “behind-the-scenes” type museum person, I especially enjoyed Hannah’s tales related to The Alba Madonna, including the Soviet sale of Hermitage paintings – and Russia’s desire to “borrow” the painting back at the end of the century. (If you meet Hannah, ask her about Titian’s Venus with a Mirror and its Russian reception!) Overall I loved the blend of facts about the pieces of art themselves with the stories of their journeys to the National Gallery.

Collections Manager Joanna blanches at the description of transferring The Alba Madonna from its original wooden backing to the canvas it lives on today – it was quite a piece of mad, experimental conservation science!

Collections Manager Joanna blanches at the description of transferring The Alba Madonna from its original wooden backing to the canvas it lives on today – it was quite a piece of mad, experimental conservation science!

Based on our post-tour lunch conversations and the many murmurings around the office, I think we can declare our Museum Hack experience a success!

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From Scrap To Screen

Posted on December 30th, 2016 by

Earlier this month you may have read about celebrations of Kirk Douglas’ 100th birthday.  Issur Danielovitch (the future Kirk Douglas) was born December 9, 1916 – though it appears that due to his mother’s misunderstanding of American custom, his birthday was always celebrated on Dec. 14th in his childhood.  When most people think of Kirk Douglas, they think of Spartacus or maybe Vincent Van Gogh… I think of scrap.

A young Kirk Douglas

A young Kirk Douglas

As I explained in last month’s JMM Insights  we are currently in the process of creating a national exhibit on the transforming business of scrap (update: one of our first transformations was the exhibit title – many people were confused by American Alchemy  – so our new, and hopefully final, title is Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling).

Now scrap yards have a significant place in popular cinema – playing “starring roles” in films as diverse as Goldfinger (the car crusher), Star Wars – The Phantom Menace (Anakin Skywalker’s first job), and Stand By Me (with “legendary” junk yard dog, Chopper).  Even animated films like Iron Giant and Wall-E feature aspects of the scrap business.

The Ragman's Son

The Ragman’s Son

However, the scrap business also has played a role in “inspiring” people to enter the world of film and television.  Kirk Douglas’ first autobiography, The Ragman’s Son (1988) describes his life growing up in Amsterdam, NY as the child of an immigrant junk peddler – his father apparently attempted to make a living with both scrap rag and scrap metal.  In Douglas’ case his dad, who he describes as more fond of booze than work, is an unsuccessful peddler.  He manages to take all the money Douglas saved from his childhood jobs and all of his bar mitzvah money and invest it in purchasing a load of scrap.  Unfortunately, the purchase is made in 1929 and the metal loses all its value in the commodities crash that follows the stock market crash.  Kirk Douglas still manages to make his way to college, winning a scholarship to St. Lawrence University.  Reading his book, I sensed little nostalgia for his father or the scrap business, except as obstacles he escaped.

 Russian-born American film mogul Louis Burt Mayer (1885 - 1957), head of production at MGM, circa 1935.  (Photo by General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)

Russian-born American film mogul Louis Burt Mayer (1885 – 1957), head of production at MGM, circa 1935. (Photo by General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)

Douglas was by no means the first to make it from scrap to screen – that distinction may belong to Louis B. Mayer, the guiding force behind Metro-Goldwyn Mayer studio.  According to Scott Eyman’s biography, Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer, Mayer was born near the current Ukranian/Belarus border in July of 1884.  Shortly thereafter his parents moved to New York, where his father Jacob was a scrap peddler on Long Island.  By 1892 his family had moved on to Saint John, New Brunswick where Jacob and his son Louis would spend nearly a dozen years collecting and selling scrap.  Aware of the difference in social status, Louis B. Mayer made the claim that the business was always metal, never rag.  Sometimes this meant salvaging shipwrecks that were not uncommon off the coast of New Brunswick – Louis and his brothers learned to dive to scavenge for metal.  Like Douglas, Mayer had an overbearing father and a childhood filled with hunger and hardship plus more than a little anti-Semitic harrasment.  But unlike Douglas, Mayer was unable to continue his formal education past age 12.  He did manage to get out of Saint John, taking a job with a scrap dealer in Chelsea, MA in 1904.  His scrap ventures failed but he did manage to land a job as manager at a small burlesque theater in 1907.  He had the idea of turning the theater into a movie house – “the home of refined amusement devoted to…moving pictures and illustrated songs”.  From then on, his only scrap would be celluloid.

Mandy shows off his trains

Mandy shows off his trains

For my third scrap to screen story I didn’t have to read a biography.  I actually witnessed my cousin Mandy Patinkin working in our family’s scrap yard.  Our grandparents, Max Patinkin and Simon Pinckovitch (a pair of brothers-in-law) had founded People’s Iron and Metal in Chicago in the early 1900s.  Mandy and I – we’re the same age and in the same class at Hebrew School – both worked at the yard in the summers of our teen years.  My recollection is that Mandy as the “extrovert” got the job in the air-conditioned office, kibitzing with the truck drivers when they weighed in and out.  As the “introvert”, I had the job operating the hydraulic press bailing metal in the oppressive heat.  Mandy and I have lost contact over the years so perhaps he remembers it differently – but my lesson from the scrap business was it’s better to be an “extrovert.”  Of course, both of us left the business behind but not without a fair amount of nostalgia.  Follow this link to the 60 Minutes piece where Mandy shows off his model train complete with a miniature of People’s Iron.

Eric Kripke

Eric Kripke

Now you might think that our generation would be the last to make the leap from scrap to screen but the story doesn’t end with Princess Bride.  Those of you following this fall’s history-bending series Timeless may be forgiven for not noticing the name of co-writer and co-producer Eric Kripke.  It’s one of several sci-fi series Kripke has helped create.  It turns out that when you look up Kripke Enterprises, what you’ll find is Kripke’s father’s scrap aluminum business in Toledo.  A long tradition continues.

MarvinBlog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.

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JMM Insights: December Bride (and Groom) Edition

Posted on December 16th, 2016 by

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Opening June 18, 2017

In last June’s JMM Insights I let you know that we were working on a project to draw objects, photos and documents from our rich collection to create the exhibit Just Married! Wedding Stories from Jewish Maryland (link: to the JMM insights article).  Six months later we are well on our way to our goal.  Joanna has combed our vaults for the most interesting invitations, ketubim, party favors and of course, beautiful wedding gowns.  We have engaged an innovative design team led by Jeremy Hoffman of Ashton Design, a Baltimore firm.  We are working on organizing all of the material into themes, looking at provocative questions about the meaning of the wedding and its symbols, the obstacles couples face and the way we remember wedding days.  We even have a section on the business of weddings.  Our education team is developing interactive experiences that we will incorporate into the exhibit – can you match the menu item or wedding tune with the right decade?

Rose Shapira of Pittsburgh married Sol Meyer Freedman of Baltimore on November 8, 1921.  Gift of Shirley Freedman, JMM 1989.211.9, 6.26

Rose Shapira of Pittsburgh married Sol Meyer Freedman of Baltimore on November 8, 1921. Gift of Shirley Freedman, JMM 1989.211.9, 6.26

Our collection is particularly strong in items from Baltimore from the late 19th century to the 1950s.  Our goal, however is to represent the broadest cross-section of the Jewish wedding experience in Maryland – small towns as well as the big city, early history as well as recent history, and inclusive of all kinds of marriages, from every denomination (and non-denomination).  This is where you, dear reader, are called on to help.  We’ve now made it easy for you to share images with us through our special new url:

Marrying Maryland

(link: http://jewishmuseummd.org/exhibits/marrying-maryland)

Here you can upload wedding photos and invitations (you can’t upload your gown, but a photo is much easier to store).  While not every photo may be displayed in the exhibit, all of them will become part of our on-line catalog…and who doesn’t want the chance to say that their wedding or their parents’ or grandparents’ wedding is preserved in a museum.

Deborah Kaplan, daughter of Dr. Louis Kaplan, married Efrem M. Potts on November 24, 1949 at Chizuk Amuno, Baltimore. Gift of Efrem M. Potts. JMM 1995.192..11, 239

Deborah Kaplan, daughter of Dr. Louis Kaplan, married Efrem M. Potts on November 24, 1949 at Chizuk Amuno, Baltimore. Gift of Efrem M. Potts. JMM 1995.192..11, 239

Besides preserving your own family history, you will be helping us build a documentary database of the wedding experiences of Jewish Maryland over time and this database will be of value to future generations.  Our highest priority is to get a photo, an invite and basic factual information on as many weddings as you can.  It doesn’t have to be your own wedding – but make sure that you have permission to send us the image; we don’t want to hear from Aunt Sadie that she never intended that bridesmaid’s dress to go public.

Florence Hendler married Howard Caplan on January 21, 1932, at the Southern Hotel, Baltimore. Invitation: gift of Naomi Biron Cohen, JMM 2009.58.9; photo: Anonymous gift, JMM 1998.47.4.59

Florence Hendler married Howard Caplan on January 21, 1932, at the Southern Hotel, Baltimore. Invitation: gift of Naomi Biron Cohen, JMM 2009.58.9; photo: Anonymous gift, JMM 1998.47.4.59

There are no restrictions on the date or type of ceremony… we welcome the quiet elopement as well as the grand ball; the couple could have had fifty years of wedded bliss or ended in a quick divorce (though my “Aunt Sadie” advice applies here too).  The only constraint is that there is some Maryland connection and some Jewish connection.  This photo for example is ineligible because the bride is from Pittsburgh and the groom from Chicago:

...but I like it anyway.

…but I like it anyway.

So help us demonstrate the incredible diversity of loving relationships in our community and in our state.  Add your image to the collection this December and we’ll thank you for it on Valentine’s Day!

~Marvin Pinkert

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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