Learning About Me, Museum-goer

Posted on October 25th, 2018 by

A blog post by Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.

Earlier this year, my family received the invitation to my first cousin’s October wedding in Snowmass, Colorado. When we discussed the possible trip, my husband and I decided to make a vacation out of it. Why fly all that way and only stay a few days? we asked ourselves. We extended the wedding weekend into an 8-day, Colorado vacation.

And what is a vacation without museums?

We visited several museums on our trip, and while I had fascinating experiences and left with very real memories, one of the most fascinating things about my museum visits on this trip was what I learned about myself as a museum-goer.

On our first day in Colorado, we spent time in the mile-high city, Denver. I’d heard great things about Denver’s history museum History Colorado, so it was our first stop.

History Colorado lived up to its reputation. On the first floor of permanent exhibits, they create an environment of a frontier-town Keota, Colorado. My 6-year-old daughter had fun “driving” a model T, retrieving eggs from a hen house and selling them in the general store for cash she then used to buy dry goods. My husband had a great time editing her photo to fit into the sample photo from the Keota Yearbook. (She was less excited about the end result. Please don’t tell her I posted it onto the internet…)

I enjoyed the Keota exhibition. I noted the use of the glass front cases with shelves all the way to the floor, and smiled as the museum educators replenished the eggs in the hen-house for kids to find. I read a few panels, and was interested by what I learned, but for the most part, I was not completely absorbed by any of the experiences.

We moved upstairs to additional exhibits. In their “Colorado Stories” core exhibit, History Colorado brings together a series of smaller exhibits that become vignettes to the visitor. Unlike the Keota exhibit, I found myself completely absorbed by some (Mountain Haven: Lincoln Hills, 1925-1965”) even as I breezed by others.

And then I got to Zoom In: The Centennial State in 100 Objects. This exhibit was a big white box, with 100 objects, labeled on platforms. Each label was numbered, and they were presented in order, roughly chronologically, from 1 to 100. There is no environment except the museum (though they do project landscape images on the back wall). There was no music, no interactives. It was not an immersive experience like the one downstairs, no props to create the environment, like the ones I’ve written about before.

Friends, I was transfixed.

As a museum-goer, that presentation grabbed me, and wouldn’t let me go. I needed to read every label, in order. The curators worked hard to make their 100 objects representative, so there were Native American artifacts juxtaposed against white settlers’ material culture which were adjacent to the personal effects of members of the Chinese-American community who came to Colorado en masse to work on the railroad. There were objects representative of everyday lives and others that carried the weight of historical significance. I found the juxtaposition arresting and fascinating.

I read every word in that gallery.

Somewhere in the 40s, there were visitors ahead of me who were not on pace with my reading. I got annoyed that they were in my way and I had to read out of order.

I laughed out loud at the story of the ceremonial silver railroad spike that was pawned by its delivery people and had to be re-acquired by its intended recipient (he was given a regular railroad spike wrapped in paper to make it look like it was silver in the ceremony).

I was captivated by the “Despondency” vase, created to express the feeling of living with tuberculosis by an artist who moved to Colorado to treat his tuberculosis. 

In the 1980s war veteran’s shawl from the Ute people, I saw resonance with artifacts in our collection. Jews in the 19th century, like American Indians of the twentieth century, integrated symbols of the U.S. into their ritual objects to assert their co-equal identities as Americans and as Jewish or Ute. (Note that this Ute example of integrating identities through clothing is particularly interesting to me as I work with Joanna on developing the original exhibition, Fashion Statement.)

I even enjoyed the curators’ call for comment—they asked visitors to suggest the 101st object for their exhibit.

After I left the Zoom In exhibit (long after my family had moved on), we came upon Denver A to Z. It was a fun exhibit where I learned a bit more about the city I was visiting, but I found it’s layout disorienting. It wasn’t in alphabetical order, and that left me feeling like I was out of sorts.

Visiting the Keota exhibit, Zoom In, and Denver A to Z in the same trip, a pattern in my museum-going preferences became plain. In an immersive experience, I let the environment wash over me. I didn’t feel the need to read every text or interact with every artifact. I passed through the environment and waited for stories to grab me. In an exhibit like Zoom In, on the other hand, where the environment is nothing other than a gallery, I felt the need to understand every artifact, to absorb every label. I sought out the stories behind every one of those 100 objects.

The contrast is an interesting insight into the kind of museum-goer I am. What kind of museum-goer are you? Do you know? What presentation of story is more compelling to you? What kind is easier for you to learn? Maybe you’ll pay a bit more attention next time you visit a new exhibit to how you react to the environment, the label copy, and the artifacts. All of these questions come into play as curators, registrars, exhibit designers and other staff work to put together exhibits. I’m having a great time watching the interface between what museums create and how visitors interact with that creation—both at JMM and at museums I visit around the region and the country.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




It’s interesting to me; is it interesting to you?

Posted on July 9th, 2015 by

What do people find interesting? This is what I thought about as I scrolled through the 50 page exhibit script, looking for the best items.  Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America, opening in Spring 2016, will be a traveling exhibit. This means that it will start here at its “home institution” and then it will travel to other museums for display. But first, other museums need to agree to host the exhibit, and to do this they will look at a marketing package which includes a list of its best objects, photos, and documents. This list is what I worked on.

Many questions popped up as I determined which items were the “best”. Would people other than me find this interesting? Does it sort of summarize the section of the exhibit that it is in? And is it instantly visually interesting, or would someone need to know the context of the item to understand it? A good number of items in the exhibit will also be loans from other institutions, so I had to make sure we were actually on track for a successful loan before I added it to my “best objects” list.

So what did I choose? 36 objects, items, and documents out of the 400 some items in the exhibit. The items work together to capture the big idea of the exhibit as well as being just plain interesting! The items described below are three of my personal favorites.

Ma’aseh Tuviyya, Tobias Cohen, 1708, Germany National Library of Medicine

Ma’aseh Tuviyya, Tobias Cohen, 1708, Germany
National Library of Medicine

This image is from an early 18th century book about medical practices. Written in Hebrew, and published in Germany, it provides a fascinating look into how medicine and the human body were viewed in the past. This specific image is a metaphor between the human body and a house. Intricately detailed, one can see the different rooms of the house on the right that symbolize parts of the body.

JMM 1991.35.24

JMM 1991.35.24

This is quite possibly the strangest piece in the exhibit, a ring made with vulcanized rubber and a porcelain molar. It was made by Edmund Kahn for a marriage proposal to Gertrude Fried in 1904. Being a student in dental school, he could not afford a ring. He created this interesting thing from things he found in the lab, and it is without a doubt very strange. But it shows more than just a man’s craft skills, it gives a view into life into what dental school was like for students.

JMM 1995.151.15

JMM 1995.151.15

When Sinai Hospital in Baltimore was built, it was primarily a Jewish institution. However, it was obvious that it would need to cater to other cultures in order to survive. So these foreign language phrase cards were made to help with this diversity. The hospital staff could use these phrase cards to communicate with non-English speaking patients, resulting in a hospital that was truly for “everybody”.

These three items stood out to me among the 400 some items in the upcoming exhibit. They are visually interesting and vital to the understanding of the exhibit. Hopefully other institutions will see this too and want to host the exhibit, Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America.

SophiaA blog post by Exhibitions Intern Sophia Brocenos. To read more posts by interns click HERE.

 

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Hutzler family porcelain dishes, circa 1878

Posted on November 17th, 2014 by

Today we have two pieces from a larger set of porcelain dinnerware, owned by the Hutzler family of Baltimore.

Sauce boat (JMM 1995.137.001) and dessert plate (JMM 1993.161.001), circa 1878.

Sauce boat (JMM 1995.137.001) and dessert plate (JMM 1993.161.001), circa 1878.

We have a sauce boat, with molded (attached) underplate, 9 inches long; and a dessert plate, 8.5 inches in diameter.  The decoration manages to be both elaborate and – at least compared to some other examples of late 19th century French porcelain – fairly restrained: the pink is bright and the morning glories are plentiful, but the gilding is kept to a minimum, and the entwined initials (off to the side on the plate, and on one end of the boat) are relatively subtle.  Both pieces are marked on the reverse with the cartouche of Adolphe Hache & Pepin LeHalleur of Vierzon and Paris, France. Hache & LeHalleur, a porcelain decorating firm, exhibited at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, and won a Gold Medal at the 1878 Paris Exposition. (That 1878 award was proudly added to the maker’s mark, as you can see from the photo below.)

The reverse of the dessert plate: “1878 Méd.e D’or [Médaille D’or (Gold Medal)] Paris / Ad. Hache & Pepin LeHalleur / Vierzon [and] Paris”

The reverse of the dessert plate: “1878 Méd.e D’or [Médaille D’or (Gold Medal)] Paris / Ad. Hache & Pepin LeHalleur / Vierzon [and] Paris”

The custom initials on each piece, an H flanked by a D and an E, stand for David and Ella Hutzler, the original owners of the full dinnerware set. In 1874, David Hutzler (1843-1915), one of the three brothers who founded Baltimore’s Hutzler Bros. high-end department store, married Ella Joline Gutman (1855-1942), daughter of Joel Gutman, who owned a neighboring high-end shop.

According to family stories, “Grandfather Hutzler” (David) commissioned the full dinnerware set “at the Paris Exposition.”  But which Paris Exposition? The maker’s mark dates from between 1878, when Hache & LeHalleur won their award, to 1889, when the firm’s name (and mark) changed.  That gives us the 1878 and 1889 options to choose from, and I lean toward the 1878 Paris World’s Fair or Exposition as the origin of our dinnerware set.  Something sold directly at the Exposition would not have that “We won an award!” mark on it already (unless the firm was very confident, I suppose), but it makes sense that porcelain custom-ordered at the fair, then manufactured afterward, would include mention of the maker’s just-awarded Gold Medal.

A close-up view of the decorations on each piece, including the elaborately entwined initials.

A close-up view of the decorations on each piece, including the elaborately entwined initials.

A side note on the color: Today, we tend to associate pink so closely with femininity and girlishness that it’s easy to apply those same attributes to antique pink… but we shouldn’t necessarily do so.  Not only was pink an entirely appropriate color for boys until the early 20th century, but this particular shade of “French pink,” introduced by Sevres in the mid-18th century, was a very popular ground color for china and porcelain. The Hutzlers showed good taste in acquiring a fashionable, expensive, and custom-made set, and no doubt they enjoyed serving family and friends from their French porcelain.

After Ella died in 1942, her children made an inventory of the family home on Eutaw Place in order to appropriately distribute their parents’ belongings. A “pink Limoges set of china” – almost certainly the set from which these pieces originated – was listed next to son Albert’s name; the set was likely divided up further and given to the younger generations as time passed.  Our dessert plate was donated by Albert’s daughter, Caroline Hutzler Bernstein; the gravy boat came to us from Patsy Perlman, one of David and Ella’s great-granddaughters through their daughter Cora.

Though we don’t have the full set (no pink-china dinner party vignettes for our museum, alas!) these two pieces help us illustrate a variety of stories, from Baltimore residents’ access to European fine goods, to a well-to-do couple’s use and display of said goods, to the way a family deals with a deceased parent’s estate.  When browsing my “blog post potential” list today the dessert plate caught my eye, thanks to its charming decorations; but when you look closer, there’s much more to it than just what’s on the surface.

JoannaA blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts from Joanna click HERE. To read even more posts about our collections click HERE.

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