Posted on July 19th, 2016 by Rachel
Like many historical societies and museums, we have a large number of photos in which some or all of the individuals are unidentified. We use a variety of techniques to address this problem, from archival research to crowd-sourcing; we also do our best, when accepting new donations, to ensure that we get the names and stories from the donors straight away.
Perhaps naturally, our focus in these endeavors has been on the Jewish community – but that doesn’t mean that only Jewish people are represented in our collections. Few communities live in a vacuum; we interact with other groups nearly every day, as friends, coworkers, and family, in shops and restaurants and on the street.
Herman Becker (second from left) with three unidentified employees of the Becker Sign Company, Baltimore, circa 1928. Gift of the estate of Herschel Elliot Becker. JMM 1989.102.10
Nurses Mary Mead (left) and Esther Farber Dubin (right) received Sinai Hospital’s Harry Greenstein Nurse of the Year award in 1971. Gift of the Nurses Alumnae Association of Sinai Hospital. JMM 2010.20.193
Unidentified photos are the bane of a collections manager’s existence. (One of them, anyway.) And yet it’s a perfectly understandable problem; many of us can’t remember the names of people in our own snapshots, let alone those of our parents and grandparents. (As a side note, here’s your reminder to clearly identify all your photos with full names, locations, and dates.) If the people donating the images don’t know who’s in them, what chance do we, the unaffiliated museum staff, have? Happily, there are often clues we can use to recover some names. And once we know the names, we should use them.
The back of this photo is identified only with the date, “June 1907.” Comparison with the rest of the family’s collection tells us that the infant is Klare Lobe, but the African American woman holding her is unidentified. A little digging in the records shows that in 1910, when the census was taken, the Lobes were boarding with the Rayne family on Linden Avenue, Baltimore. In that year the Raynes’ household included three live-in servants, all African American: cook Laura Pitts, 47; “waiter” Eben Pitts, 12; and housemaid Lena Drummond, a 27 year old widow. It’s possible that Lena is the young woman holding Klare in this 1907 photo. Gift of Marjorie Scott. JMM 2002.045.016
Ruth Weinberg Leven compiled a photo album showing her family’s everyday life in the early 20th century. She carefully labeled each image with both the date and the first names of the participants. In this 1907 photo, on the porch of their Baltimore home are Weinberg siblings Martin, Helen, and Leonard, with Lizzie, a young African American girl in what is probably a maid’s or nanny’s uniform, holding Ruth Weinberg in her arms. Unfortunately, Lizzie was not “living in” in 1910, and so does not appear in the census (the servants listed in the household are white); more work must be done to identify her last name. Gift of Jan Weinberg. JMM 19220.127.116.11a
Employees of Wolf Salganik & Sons, a wholesale butcher shop, pose on a rooftop, circa 1935. As in the photo above, we’re fortunate in that someone has noted a few names on the photo itself, including Mabel, Mary, Sophie, and – the sole gentleman in the photo, and also the only African American – Bob. It would certainly be convenient if the original note-taker had also jotted down these folks’ last names and job titles, but historians know that a little clue is better than none. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Salganik. JMM 2004.27.7
Jewish Family and Children’s Services employees, 1971. Though this photo is not annotated, it contains an even better clue: the woman in the center is wearing a name tag. She’s Mrs. Ida Louise Carr, Homemaker and Home Health Aide for JFCS. (The other two women are still unidentified.) Gift of The Associated. JMM 1997.134.147
Unfortunately, what we’re more likely to find in our collections are photos with no known names at all, or – like this photo – with only the white individuals identified. In this case, while on a picnic in Harford County in 1920, Sylvan Eckhaus, Ruth Davis, Henry Hoffman, Miriam Davis, and Joe Naviaski posed with a young African American man, probably the driver. He looks in many ways like he’s part of this jovial group – he even has a cigar to match Mr. Eckhaus’s – but the fact that his name was not remembered hints that he was more likely a chauffeur, whose services and vehicle were hired for the day. Gift of Betty N. Eckhaus. JMM 1992.7.14
Now more than ever we need to do our best by the people – all the people – who can be found in our collections. True, their stories may not be our stories to tell; the goal isn’t to lay claim to them, but to make sure these images are accessible, remembered, and known… and that can start with a name. It’s a small thing, perhaps, but a vital one.
As always, if anyone can help us identify any people, locations, dates, or stories that accompany these images, please let us know!
For more images showing African American life in and around Baltimore, start with the Afro-American archives or the Maryland Historical Society.
A blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.
Posted on November 23rd, 2015 by Rachel
If you were tasked with coming up with a concept for a new core exhibition project that would tell the story of Maryland Jewish history for audiences of all ages and backgrounds, one that integrated new technologies and featured innovative exhibition design strategies, where would you start? One way to begin the process is to take a look at model exhibit projects across the country and to speak with leading museum professionals in search of inspiration. I was lucky enough to take part on a three-day fact finding mission to Minneapolis and St. Paul to do just that.
The JMM has recently embarked on the planning process to develop an exhibit that will replace Voices of Lombard Street. Our vision is to create an interactive exhibit that engages diverse audiences in learning about the many nuances of Maryland Jewish history, that highlights our outstanding collections and is truly a 21st century exhibit, meaning that it takes advantage of new technology and theories of how best to engage visitors through design.
Members of our exhibit advisory committee have spent the past few weeks traveling to other cities in search of innovative projects to help inform our project development and planning. In the beginning of the month, I had the privilege of visiting the Twin Cities with two other committee members, Program Committee Chair, Jerry Macks and Anita Kassof, Executive Director of the Baltimore Museum of Industry (and former Associate Director of the JMM). During our three day trip, we visited six museums, enjoyed the famed Midwestern hospitality (while not enjoying quite as much the cold weather) and took lots of notes. Here are some of the highlights of our trip.
Our first stop was the American Swedish Institute (www.asimn.org), which is located inside an early 20th century castle built by a Swedish immigrant who became a newspaper magnate. The museum’s entrance is in a modern visitor center built recently to house a beautiful and inviting gift shop, café and public program space. The museum definitely had its charms including the beautifully handcrafted interior design features as well as friendly and knowledgeable volunteers. The third floor of the house contained exhibits on such topics as the history of Swedish immigration to Minneapolis (we would have loved to have learned this info earlier in our visit) as well as on Swedish hospitals and music. The ASI’s mission to serve as a cultural center for people of all backgrounds, including many new immigrants who currently reside in Minneapolis, resonated with us and spoke to the significant role that ethnic specific museums can play in their communities.
One of many elaborately tiled fireplaces at the American Swedish Institute.
Next up, the Bakken Museum (www.thebakken.org), a quirky museum founded by inventor Earl Bakken to house his collection of medical equipment and electrical devices. The museum’s exhibits feature an abundance of interactive displays that delight visitors of all ages and teach about an array of scientific principles. One of the things we most enjoyed about the museum was its promotion of social experiences among visitors through activities that involved more than one person.
For example, at Benjamin Franklin’s Electricity Party, one person turned cranks while another grabbed a metal bar to light sparks and ring bells.
Another highlight was the Cabinet of Curiosity that featured favorite artifacts from the museum’s collections selected by staff, volunteers and board members. It was fun to read why individuals selected the objects that they did and a nearby iPad provided additional information about specific artifacts.
Cabinet of Curiosity
The next day was spent in St. Paul which is situated a mere 8 miles from Minneapolis across the Mississippi River. Our morning was spent at the impressive Minnesota Science Museum (www.smm.org/). The highlight of the visit was having the chance to meet with Paul Martin, Senior Vice President of Science Learning, who shared with us his vast knowledge about exhibit design and visitor engagement. It was enlightening hearing Paul’s observations about the many factors that play into visitors’ experiences and what kinds of things we should be taking into consideration as we begin planning our new core exhibit. Paul also kindly showed us around the museum’s exhibits which gave us the chance to see how these theories play out in an array of exhibit spaces. Most impressive were the Collector’s Corner where visitors are encouraged to bring in specimens from nature that they can research and, if they like, swap what they’ve brought for something else in the exhibit as well as a temporary exhibit that helps visitors explore and understand complex mathematical principles.
Minnesota Science Museum
We also had the chance to see the groundbreaking exhibit, Race: Are We So Different? that challenges conventional notions of race. We left after three hours feeling energized and inspired.
From there, we walked a short distance to the Minnesota History Center, which contains exhibits exploring Minnesota history. Our initial impression was, honestly, not so great. It was a little difficult to find our way around and the first two exhibits we saw were packed with school kids. While we were impressed with the experiential nature of the exhibits as well as the many opportunities for hands-on engagement, we found them lacking in interpretation.
Although there definitely were some cool interactives such as stations where visitors could scan QR codes found on objects to learn more.
We persevered, however, and moved on to a quieter section of the museum where we experienced a beautiful exhibit honoring the lives of Minnesota’s “Greatest Generation,” the men and women who lived through the Depression and World War II. Another enjoyable exhibit explored the science behind Minnesota’s weather. As it was a rather chilly day (at least Anita, Jerry and I thought so – we were shocked to see people walking about without coats!), it was interesting learning about the extremes of weather that Minnesotans experience (and made me appreciate living in Baltimore much more).
For our last day, we ventured back to Minneapolis for one of the coolest museums I’ve ever visited. Mill City (www.millcitymuseum.org) is operated by the Minnesota History Center and built on the ruins of what was once a booming flour mill. In the cavernous space, visitors learn about the importance of the milling industry to Minneapolis’s history and the role that the Mississippi River played in its development. The museum experience takes advantage of its location by completely immersing visitors in the factory environment of a flour mill and one of its most unique (and fun) activities is an elevator ride that delivers the history of the mill through recorded oral histories and period sets that are revealed as the doors of the elevator open onto different floors. The elevator lets visitors out on the top floor where there is an observation deck that provides stunning views of the river.
View from Mill City.
The exhibit on the lower level of the mill includes a thorough history of the milling industry complete with a variety of interactive activities (many of which are low tech), a working kitchen where volunteers provide baking demonstrations (this is one of the few museums I’ve experienced that includes both smell and taste as integral parts of the visit) and a brief but informative film that provides an overview of Minneapolis’s history.
Mill City lower floor exhibit
Although we were somewhat fatigued after spending so much time visiting museums, our flight home didn’t leave for a few hours so we decided to add one more non-history /non- science museum to our tour and visited the Walker Art Center (www.walkerart.org), a leading contemporary art museum. Our visit happened to coincide with the first Saturday of the month which is their free day so the place was teeming with visitors, many of whom brought their children for the variety of hands-on art workshops. While it was refreshing to have the chance to view art (and the collection is outstanding), we were definitely feeling a little overwhelmed and museumed out, so we did not stay too long.
All in all, Jerry, Anita and I were thrilled to have the chance to see such a variety of outstanding museums. We came away with many terrific ideas that will certainly inform our exhibit planning process.
A blog post by Deputy Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts from Deborah click HERE.
Posted on October 28th, 2015 by Rachel
Here at the JMM, some of our portrait collection is hung on move-able racks in one of our storage rooms, meaning there are certain faces that greet you when you access the archives.
Collections Storage Room 2, JMM, on a Tuesday
Last week, thanks to the position of the racks, one of our 19th century ladies caught my eye several times; when, coincidentally, I came across her catalog record, I decided to delve into a little research on her history.
Fredericka W. Herstein, mid 19th century, donated by David Herstein. JMM 2005.60.1
This is Fredericka (also known as Frädche) Wiesenfeld Herstein (1797-1873), painted by an unknown artist. Family information tells us that she was born and raised in Germany; her first husband, Joseph Wiesenfeld, died around 1820; by 1824, she had married Meyer Herstein. Immigration records show that in 1854 Meyer and Friedrike (Fredericka) Herstein, along with their daughter Bertha, traveled from Bremen to New York on the Hansa. Shortly thereafter they made their way to Baltimore, where their son Nathan may have already been established as a clothing manufacturer. Meyer died around 1858, and the 1860 census shows Fredericka living in the Baltimore household of Nathan and his young family. She died in 1873 and is buried in the Oheb Shalom Cemetery, Baltimore, as Fradche Herstein, “our beloved mother.”
At first glance the painting itself is not terribly informative. It is unsigned, with no inscriptions to tell us the date, sitter’s name, or place. On the other hand, it is in great condition and in a relatively modern frame, telling us that over the years Fredericka’s portrait was well cared for as a treasured family heirloom. Looking more closely, the image gives a few other clues to her story – not many, but enough to start the speculation engines.
The donor suggested this was painted in the 1840s, and the fashion – a gown with dropped shoulders and wide sleeves, and the sitter’s center-parted ringlets – could support that. However, a few factors (including the high, straight waistline) make me think it may be from the late 1850s, when those details would still apply, but would make up a slightly different silhouette if we were seeing her at full length. (Here are two summaries of mid-19th century fashions, from the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, if you’re interested.)
As much fun (seriously!) as it is to parse out the various details of a subject’s attire, when dating old photos and paintings it is important to remember that just because the fashion prints for a particular year are showing haute couture, not everyone adopted those trends immediately (or ever). What was hot in New York or Paris might not make it to the seamstresses and tastemakers of far-flung cities for quite some time. And who among us hasn’t clung to a comfortable and/or flattering garment, in defiance of shifting hemlines and changing color palettes? Fashion and clothing style are good clues, but they don’t always provide the definitive answer we’re looking for.
Detail view of Mrs. Herstein’s brooch. JMM 2005.60.1
Speaking of color palettes, that’s another telling element of this painting: the black gown and black lace cap indicate that she’s likely dressed in mourning, at least to some degree. The brooch pinned to the center of her collar features the image of a man, currently unidentified and perhaps the object of her grief. While it could be a son, or another recently deceased relative, or even her first husband Joseph Wiesenfeld (who died around 1820), I’m inclined to think it may be her second husband Meyer Herstein, who died in 1858. If so, then this was painted in the United States – possibly even in Baltimore – in the late 1850s, when she was herself in her early 60s, which I think matches her apparent age and fashion choices.
…And this is the tipping point of the slippery slope that should be avoided, or at least approached with caution, by imaginative Collections Managers. I can (and have!) come up with lots of theories and scenarios for the subjects of this and other portraits, but while entertaining, they shouldn’t be taken as anything other than speculation. In reality, I know that my reasoning is a trifle circular (1850s makes sense for the dress, so it must be Meyer’s brooch, so it must be the 1850s), and that there’s lots more research to be done before we can suggest with more conviction when this was painted, and under what circumstances. But that’s the fun of historical research! There’s always something else to look up, and more stories to uncover.
Fredericka asks: What do you think? JMM 2005.60.1
A blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.