The Birth of an Exhibition…

Posted on April 29th, 2011 by

What was Lombard Street like in the early 1900s? When did Jews establish communities in Cumberland and Frederick? How do we memorialize loved ones who are no longer with us? Why do some Orthodox Jewish women cover their hair? This is just a sampling of the kinds of question the Museum’s exhibitions seek to answer. So how do we come up with the ideas for all the exhibitions we create?

The answers are as varied as our exhibitions.

Voices of Lombard Street

Voices of Lombard Street: A Century of Change in East Baltimore (2007), our exhibition about the old Jewish neighborhood, was inspired by residential redevelopment around the Museum. Back in 2000, the public housing hi-rises were imploded and replaced with new townhouses suggestive of the old row houses that lined the neighborhood’s streets in its heyday. We thought it might be a good time to explore how the area has evolved over the years.

We Call This Place Home

We’ve also looked beyond Baltimore. We Call This Place Home: Jewish Life in America’s Small Towns (2002) was a topic suggested by a Museum trustee from Frederick, who encouraged us to explore Jewish life outside Baltimore’s borders. The result was an exhibition that not only traveled to venues around the state, but also helped us build our collections of photographs and artifacts depicting Jewish life in small towns.

The Other Promised Land

Some of our exhibitions are suggested by our more junior colleagues: Over lunch one day in about 2000, an intern from Beth Tfiloh Day School started musing about what Jews do when they go on vacation. The result? The Other Promised Land: Vacationing, Identity, and the Jewish American Dream, a major exhibition that opened in 2005 in Chicago, came back home to Baltimore, and then traveled to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.

Intimacy. Image. Identity.

Intimacy. Image. Identity, which also opened in 2005, featured a series of photographs by intern Zoë Reznick, who shot the images as an undergraduate project. Her photographs explored the practice, among many Orthodox women, of covering their hair when they marry. Zoë wrote that her inspiration was to “examine the personal, material, and social implications of a tradition . . . and to capture the fine textures of scarves, the shapes of hats, the peculiarity and glamour of wigs.”

Nancy Patz: Her Inward Eye

Then there’s our more recent exhibition, Her Inward Eye (2010), which brought together three suites of work by local artist Nancy Patz. The germ of that exhibition was a conversation I shared with Nancy, Curator Karen Falk, and Senior Collections Manager Jobi Zink. One morning, we sat in Nancy’s lovely, sunny studio discussing “18 Stones” a series of drawings and poems imaging Dutch Jewish lives before the Holocaust. Nancy told us that the works were traveling to Holocaust Museum Houston and asked if we’d like to host the show at the JMM before it headed out west. Unfortunately, the grouping was too big for our lobby and too small for one of our galleries. Then inspiration struck: Why not combine “18 Stones” with two other series of Nancy’s work? Like “18 Stones,” her illustrations from “Who Was the Woman Who Wore the Hat” were inspired by the tragedy of the Holocaust and explored the realm of imagined memory. The two series naturally complemented a group of works Nancy had created about her mother, who died prematurely. The portraits of her mother evoked a relationship re-imagined and reclaimed. Together, the three series examine the meanings of memory and imagination, exploring their role in the creative process.

Some of our farthest reaching exhibitions have the humblest beginnings. Our former curator, Melissa Martens, once observed that every time the staff got together, we seemed to talk about food. She figured that any topic that engaged us all that fully had to be worth an exhibition. The result of Melissa’s observation is Chosen Food: Cuisine, Culture, and American Jewish Identity, opening here this fall and then traveling nationally. Chosen Food will be a vibrant, interactive exhibition that uncovers and interprets the many meanings of Jewish food. It’s a new way of looking at the old adage: You are what you eat!

Most recently, I’ve been thinking about developing an exhibition about nostalgia. The idea for the exhibition grew from a simple premise: Our visitors want to see themselves in our exhibitions, so why not give the people what they want? Obviously, nostalgia has some negative connotations—for many historians, it’s a “dirty word”—but it also has its place in history exhibitions. I want not only to display objects of nostalgia but also to plumb the meaning of the term and tell people something about individual and collective memory, constructed memory, longing, and their place in historical discourse. Plus, the material culture of nostalgia is practically endless. Just think of all the Superman lunchboxes, Sandy Koufax baseball cards, and Pimlico Restaurant menus we can display—all that, with an Allan Sherman record playing in the background.


A blog post by Associate Director Anita Kassof.

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Around the World in 10 Days…

Posted on March 9th, 2011 by

A few weeks ago I met an old friend who I had not seen for many, many years.  We spoke about our lives and our jobs and she asked me, “What does the program director do at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.”  So, I thought I would blog about what I do at the JMM!  Over the past ten days, I feel like I have traveled all over the world, between the many public programs and outreach opportunities that the JMM has participated in…… Here are some of the highlights…

The Netherlands

We visited Holland on February 24th when we held a book launch/Dutch tea and reception for the newest JMM publication, “18 Stones.” We welcomed noted author and illustrator, Susan L. Roth and Nancy Patz, to the JMM whereby our visitors learned from the artists how the book came to be.   “18 Stones” derives its title from the Jewish practice of leaving small stones on a grave. Actual photographs of Dutch Jews in the 1930s were the source for Patz’s oil pastel and charcoal portraits, which are accompanied by Susan Roth’s prose poems.  Daily life before the Holocaust is evoked by artworks as “The Marriage of Grietje and Aron,” in which the newlyweds seem to have so much to look forward to, and “The Recipe for Apple Kuchen,” in which the portrait of a smiling woman is accompanied by her recipe for an apple cake. Visitors to the event enjoyed Dutch treats of Gouda and edam cheeses, licorice, and chunks of thick bread with sweet butter and chocolate sprinkles.  I imagined myself walking along the canaled streets of Amsterdam and seeing a young girl that looked like Anne Frank talking to a school friend.

Nancy and Susan show off their hard work. Photo by Mark Mehlinger.

A delicious, Dutch-inspired spread! Photo by Mark Mehlinger.


On Sunday, February 27th, the JMM welcomed noted author, Antero Pietila (an immigrant from Finland) who wrote the acclaimed book, Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City. Antero’s book examines many of the famous neighborhoods of Baltimore and describes how segregation shaped our city, and how the migration from white to Jewish to black in many neighborhoods and its exploitation created the slums in Baltimore. Following Antero’s talk, celebrity radio host, Marc Steiner moderated a panel that included residents (both former and present) of the Reservoir Hill neighborhood.  I imagined myself living in the 1940’s, growing up as a teenager around Druid Hill Park as I was listening to the panel.

Photo by Mark Mehlinger.

Photo by Mark Mehlinger.


The next day, my colleague and friend, Simone Ellin (JMM Marketing director) got on a train and headed to Philadelphia to participate at the CAJM (Council of American Jewish Museums) Conference.  We had the opportunity to meet other colleagues from all country and from Jewish museums all over the world.  At the conference, we had the opportunity to visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art where we were the first group to see the new exhibition, “Paris Through the Window: Marc Chagall and His Circle,” that looks at the influence that Paris had on Marc Chagall and his fellow modernists from 1910 to 1920.  Just for a few moments, I imagined myself on the Champs-Elysees sipping a coffee at a sidewalk café.

Champs Elysees by Fernand Claver

Paris Through the Window: Marc Chagall and His Circle March 1, 2011 - July 10, 2011 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.


My friend Simone and I also had time for a bit of fun while in Philly.  We took in the movie Black Swan and we also visited the Eulogy Belgian Tavern, one of Philadelphia’s premier dining institutions that feature 21 drafts and 300 different bottled beers. The food is award winning and the restaurant is owned by a Belgian American family and staffed with a few employees from Belgium.  I remembered walking along some of the streets in Antwerp on Christmas Eve with my brother Jay and longing to eat all of the chocolate that I saw in the storefronts and seeing the Manneken Pis everywhere I turned.

Place Verte and cathedral, Antwerp, Belgium

This week, my position as program director started off with two programs sponsored by the Jewish Museum of Maryland.   We welcomed Lori Turner and Music Monkey Jungle/Kinderlach Rock to the JMM for a rockin’goodtime concert for the preschool set.  At the same time, the JMM was also invited to participate at the 51st Annual Interfaith Institute at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.   The year’s topic was “Immigration Challenges: Religious and Ethnic Responses.” The JMM’s program, Coming to America: Student Immigration Stories was highlighted at the conference.


El Salvador

This educational initiative was developed by the JMM and is designed to promote immigrant students from Baltimore City Public Schools to share their stories of immigration with other BCPS students. The JMM has the good fortune of working with two consummate professionals on this program, acclaimed storyteller, Jennifer Rudick Zunikoff and ESOL teacher extraordinaire, Sally Franklin.  These ladies both joined me on Monday at the program and the crowd of over 200 people had the privilege of listening to the stories of Patterson High School students Muluburan Bahre, from the African nation of Eritrea and Pablo Joseph Muñoz from El Salvador.  These students were so eloquent and poised telling their own stories that I found myself transported with Muluburan and Pablo to their native homelands of Eritrea in Northeast Africa and El Salvador in Central America.

It’s been an exciting ten days at the JMM!  I wonder where the next few weeks will take me.


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Tea with Nancy and Susan

Posted on February 25th, 2011 by

“Well, I certainly do like a good piece of apple cake,

who doesn’t? I’d love another piece, Grete.”

So begins “Recipe for Apple Cake,” one of the evocative poems in Susan L. Roth’s and Nancy Patz’s 18 Stones, just published by the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

The book’s food references—apple cake, honey cake, tea with lemon—were the inspiration for a Dutch-themed tea last Thursday, where we celebrated the publication of 18 Stones. Nancy and Susan held forth—delightfully—about the how the book came to be and how they worked together, and guests enjoyed quintessentially Dutch treats like bread with sweet butter and chocolate sprinkles, apple cake, biscuits with gouda cheese, and hot chocolate. And, no surprise, the flowers decorating the table were tulips.

18 Stones isn’t really a book about food, though. Susan’s poems and Nancy’s pastel drawings evoke Jewish life in fullness on the eve of World War II in Holland. By depicting what characters like Grete and Aron, Hendrik and Rosa ate, how they celebrated, fell in love, and built their families, Nancy and Susan truly honor the victims of the Holocaust.

Fittingly, Thursday evening’s program was at times somber and at times celebratory. But it was tasty through and through.

And, trust me, if you’ve never sprinkled chocolate shavings on your bread and butter, give it a try. You may just feel as if you’ve been transported to Amsterdam.

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