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A Quick Trip to Philadelphia

Posted on November 14th, 2019 by

A blog post by Director of Collections and Exhibits Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.


Last week, I attended the Association of Registrars and Collections Specialists (ARCS) biennial conference in Philadelphia. It was my first ARCS event, and the longest amount of time I’ve been able to enjoy in that fair city… and while most of my time there was spent sitting in a hotel ballroom, I did manage to visit a few museums in my 2.5 days.

The conference focused on artifact and art handling, shipping, storage, and (my favorite) cataloging and registration. Topics ranged from the broad – dealing with the removal of controversial public art, for example, or the policies behind a large collections move – to the nitty gritty, such as which European airports have the strictest rules for art couriers. It’s always nice to be among your peers, people who understand the pain of poorly documented 50-year-old donations and the joys of matching up a “found in collections” object with its original paperwork.

My ARCS name badge, complete with “accession number”-style membership ID, and of course some JMM swag so I could be sure to represent.

You’ll be happy to know that Baltimore did represent at ARCS – beyond my own presence – thanks to Kate Gallagher of the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum, who presented an interesting session on their groundbreaking student-performed cataloging project.

Finding Baltimore’s Jewish community wherever I go: Here’s Mendes Cohen, in a way, serving as a representative sample of the museum’s cataloging project; souvenirs from his travels form an important part of the Archaeological Museum’s collections.

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Sessions and workshops and expo hall swag are all well and good, but any good museum conference involves some visits to, you know, museums. I only had time for two on this trip, but both were new to me, and both were delightful.

The façade of the Rosenbach museum and library.

First, I hit up the Rosenbach, where my JMM predecessor, Jobi Zink, now works. They are conveniently open late (and they offered free admission to ARCS attendees). As always my attention was split between average-visitor and museum-professional; in this case, I learned a lot from their current exhibit on Herman Melville, but I also appreciated the way the exhibit was fitted into and around the house’s windows, mantels, furniture, and other historic (and sometimes immovable) elements.  I was museum-raised in a historic house, and I’ve slotted many an exhibit around the table that had to be in that corner and the moldings that can’t be damaged.

Yes, I took this photo in appreciation of the exhibit window treatments and the way the designer and staff worked around the giant mirror – not to showcase the actual exhibit. You’ll just have to visit the Rosenbach yourself to learn more about Melville.

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I also made it to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ Historic Landmark Building, a gorgeous space just a few blocks from the conference hotel.

The entrance hall of the HLB.

I am always up for an art museum, and PAFA has a great collection with some interesting special exhibits currently on display… but I was particularly delighted with my visit because I accidentally ran into my old friend Charles Willson Peale, eternally showing off his museum.

“The Artist in his Museum,” Charles Willson Peale, 1822, in the collections of PAFA.

I’ve seen this mammoth* painting before, and in fact I have a small version hanging on my office wall, but I’d forgotten it was in the PAFA collections, so it was an unexpected pleasure to take another look. When viewed at full size, it’s easy to see my favorite museum-visitor portrait:

The woman on the left is so excited by what she sees! Is it the mammoth skeleton? A taxidermied dodo? A Peale portrait?  Some other artwork or wonder? Well, as far as we can tell – since Mr. Peale himself is in the way – what she’s really excited to see in the museum is…

SEATING! Look, it’s that rarest of exhibit items, a BENCH! If this young lady isn’t already a museum meme, she should be.

*Ha ha, get it? because it’s a large painting, and there’s a mammoth skeleton in it! That was an accidental pun but I decided to leave it in for your enjoyment, dear readers.


 

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Hanging Out in Philadelphia

Posted on September 5th, 2019 by

A blog post by JMM Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. You can read more posts by Marvin here.


I spent the last week in August in Philly.

It wasn’t exactly a summer vacation, more of a busman’s holiday. I had been invited to attend a feedback session on the Community Catalyst Initiative being developed by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). This was followed, two days later by the annual meeting of the American Association for State and Local History. In between, I had a chance to visit the Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes exhibit at the Franklin Institute, the recently developed Philadelphia Holocaust Memorial Plaza, the Barnes Foundation and the new Museum of the American Revolution. I skipped NMAJH, Eastern State Penn and the Philadelphia Museum of Art on this trip, because I had visited those fine museums earlier this year.  I also met with former JMMers Avi Decter and Melissa Yaverbaum, who send warm regards to all their friends in Baltimore.

What did I learn from my sojourn to the city of brotherly love? Let me start with the friendly neighborhood Spiderman (pictured above) – one of several life-size figures in the exhibit positioned as photo opportunities. While the exhibit contained many original pieces of artwork, original artifacts from the movies, film clips and interactive devices, it was these statues that were the clear stars of the show. People came to the exhibit because they were interested in the stories of the Marvel characters, but they were even more interested in seeing themselves as part of that story. In many ways, the “theme” of the week was self-reflection in public spaces.

That theme could certainly be found in the demonstration of Augmented Reality (AR) in the Rare Books room of the Free Library of Philadelphia. There we were treated to a prototype of a new software package that combined a search for clues with AR icons as a reward. For example, finding three clues related to Edgar Allan Poe would make a squawking 3-D raven appear on your screen. Visitors could then put themselves into the picture, appearing to hold or pet the raven. The software, designed by Night Kitchen Interactive in Philadelphia, is something we might think about incorporating into a future core exhibit. I found an earlier version of what was demonstrated at the library at this online site.

The idea of a virtual presence was also an important part of the development of the new Philadelphia Holocaust Memorial Plaza.

Built on the site of America’s first Holocaust Memorial (a statue by sculptor Nathan Rappaport) right on the Ben Franklin Parkway, the plaza allows visitors to access the voices of Holocaust survivors tied to both the textual and aesthetic elements of the space. These pillars, for example, compare the US Constitution to the legal and social systems of the Third Reich. Voices accessible on your phone via the iWalk app allow you to hear witnesses of the deprivation of liberties in Germany. Yet another idea we might build on.

The Museum of the American Revolution is well worth a visit. While it remains at its core, a museum of military history, it goes out of its way to tell the battle story through multiple perspectives: loyalists as well as rebels, native peoples and African Americans, and women in many different roles. It benefits from a corps of knowledgeable docents who are proficient at tailoring the experience to the interests of their audience.

This map of North America at the start of the Revolution is typical of the scale and scope of their presentations.

Lest you think my week was all fun and games, there was serious business at both conferences. The IMLS workshop offered participants the opportunity to test and review new tools under development for helping museums engage with their communities. Tools like “Journey Maps” (sample below) help institutions to track and evaluate projects that involve substantial community engagement over a period of years.

We’ll be using this type of tool to map the development of our Evolution Plan.

The AASLH Conference was co-sponsored by the Sites of Conscience organization, an international coalition of more than 275 historic sites and museums dedicated to “turning memory into action.” The title of this year’s conference, “What are We Waiting For?”, was a reference to the desire of much of the history museum world to engage in the tough work of swimming in the troubled waters of our times, paired with the fear of drowning in contemporary controversies.

One of the best workshops I attended at the conference was on “dialogic conversations” – a methodology for engaging visitors in difficult conversations in the hope of opening up channels for discourse in a polarized nation. Hint: the method involves asking questions that make the visitor a part of the story. Some of this thinking may be incorporated into future JMM exhibits and programs.

So last summer was Houdini and this summer was Spiderman – I can truly say I get my best ideas just “hanging around.”


 

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Travels with Grace: The 1926 Sesquicentennial Exposition

Posted on May 7th, 2019 by

Welcome to this week’s segment of our 2019 #TravelTuesday series: Traveling with Grace. This week, Grace and her family take a short visit form Baltimore to the neighboring city of Philadelphia for the Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition of 1926, which “was a world’s fair in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Its purpose was to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the signing of the United States Declaration of Independence, and the 50th anniversary of the 1876 Centennial Exposition.” -via.


 

1926 Sesquicentennial International Exposition logo, Philadelphia, PA. Via.

Monday Oct. 11: We took the party electric car and rode around the exposition grounds. Visited Liberal Arts Bldg. Rode up High St. replica of the that old historic thoroughfare where was held a colonial parade in full pomp and pageantry. Had an excellent dinner at the Russian Pavilion, then visited the Fine Arts and India Bldgs. And Treasure Island.

“Despite the many authentic historic sites in Philadelphia, a newly constructed Colonial High Street on the Sesquicentennial grounds became one of the popular attractions of the fair.” –PhillyHistory.org

Tues. Oct. 12 Visited a model of U.S.P.O. and Agriculture Bldg., Palace of Education. Dined at French restaurant. Visited Transportation Bldg. and Gladway. In the evening watched gorgeous display of fireworks around fountain with colored lights. Mr. Marks conducted us thru his model shoe factory.

Map of the grounds of the 1926 Seaqui-Centennial Exposition, Philadelphia, PA. Via.

Wed. Oct. 13 Visited the Pittsburgh Bldg. where they showed movies of the city’s industrial expansion. Paid a second visit to High St. where we saw the first school house, Washington’s home, Paul Revere’s smithy, a collection of dolls from every state and watched a performance of marionettes in a miniature theatre. The play was based on a domestic episode revolving about a tube of toothpaste. It was in 3 acts. Act I. 4 weeks after marriage. Act II. 4 months after. Act III 4 years after. A Town Crier announces the attractions on High St. Next we visit the Persian, Cuban, and Spanish Bldgs. Saw an aviatrix do daredevil stunts. Visit Florida and Penna. Bldgs.

“Bird’s Eye” view of the 1926 Sesqui-Centennial Exposition Grounds (Courtesy of the Bruce C. Cooper Collection). Via.

Thurs. Oct. 14 Lunch at Wanamaker’s. Took a trip in Grayline Bus to Valley Forge National Park passing Bryn Mawr college en route. Interesting tour of historic park.


Contents of Bldgs.

Persian Bldg. Silver – copper – jewels – rugs – shawls

Spanish Bldg. Paintings – tapestries

India Bldg. Mother-of-Pearl, Ivories, inlaid screens and tables, jade, precious stones, exotic scents

Liberal Arts Bld. Tiles (model baths and kitchens) (1 bath cost $6000), Radios, vacuums, [vetaphone?] picture of telephone industry (one of the first I have heard), Publishing houses display some of their finest editions including elaborate gold leaf works. Grolier Society among others. Wanamaker’s exhibit showing evolution of the flag. An Indian composer plays his work on violin in native costume. Displays of furniture and frigidaires which are now coming into popularity. Wallpaper and [lincrusty???] displays in model houses.

Fine Arts Bldg. Old and modern schools of painting, sculpture, bronzes, heroic status, wood carvings, tapestries. Many of Jules Massbaum’s fine collection on display.

“While Philadelphians had argued over competing visions for the fair and a celebration of culture or commerce, both impulses could be seen in Sesquicentennial exhibits such as this display by a Japanese trade association.” – PhillyHistory.org.

Commercial – Foreign. Japanese silk worm cultivation. Satsuma – Cloisinne products, exquisite colorings. A pagoda built entirely of real pearls and platinum which drops into a trick stage at night. Dolls and furniture from Spain – embroiders and peasant costumes from Czecko-Slovakia, glassware from Hungary, clocks and jewelry from Vienna, wedgewood pottery from England and Titania’s fairy palace.

Transportation Bldg. Trains, boats, aeroplaens, earliest and laters models. Many kinds of food displays.

Education Bldg. School systems on model plans, Farm School, Roosevelt Memorial Association health centres, camps, schools for blind, Y.W.C.A. groups, Zionist, Council of Jewish Women, manual therapy, forest preservation, sanitation, domestic science, art, athletics, traffic signals. One is thankful to rest in a little non-sectarian chapel, flower filled, a haven of quiet in which to think over it all.


Thanks for reading “Traveling with Grace,” a series where we’re sharing (and annotating) posts from the travel diaries of Grace Amelia Hecht, native Baltimorean, b. 1897 and d. 1955. Next week we’ll pick up with a new diary from 1929! As mentioned in my introductory post transcription errors sometimes occur and I’ve made my best guesses where possible, denoted by [brackets]. – Rachel Kassman, marketing manager

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