“Henrietta Szold‘s Baltimore” Bus Tour Debut

Posted on May 4th, 2017 by

The past few months I have worked with historian Barry Kessler and Ilene Dackman-Alon on the Henrietta Szold’s Baltimore Bus tour, which launched this past Thursday with a bus filled with local Hadassah members from the Greater Baltimore chapter. In preparation for the tour, I helped to create a booklet that accompanies the tour filled with quotes and images related to Henrietta’s life in Baltimore. I also went on “practice tours” throughout the city with Barry and Ilene. To create the booklet, I searched through the JMM database to find pictures of Henrietta Szold (1860-1945) and her family as well as images of Baltimore’s cityscape that she would have seen or visited in the late 1800s.

Henrietta Szold, about 1910. Gift of M. Jastrow and Alexandra Lee Levin, JMM 92.242.7.4.7

Henrietta Szold, about 1910. Gift of M. Jastrow and Alexandra Lee Levin, JMM 92.242.7.4.7

It was especially meaningful to have this premiere tour be for Hadassah, the organization Henrietta Szold founded in 1912 to provide medical aid to the people of the land of Israel. Barry’s narration of the tour allowed us to imagine what downtown Baltimore looked and felt like in the late 1800s, when Henrietta was born and raised, and gave the Hadassah group a better understanding of the early life of their founder.

I learned a lot about the life of Henrietta Szold and her family in Baltimore, and I also learned a great deal about the city’s cultural and economic history while researching this tour and working with Barry. For example, I learned about the importance of Camden Station, located down the street from where Henrietta was born on South Eutaw Street, and how it was one of the gateways to the city. Camden Station had a significant impact on the economic life of Baltimore’s mercantile industry workers. Nearby, many impressive garment factory buildings sprung up bearing the names Strouse, Sonneborn, and Hamburger, which are now loft style apartment buildings. One highlight on the tour was the stop at the Oheb Shalom Cemetery on the east side of Baltimore near Dundalk. Many prominent Baltimore Jewish families have relatives who were buried here. We stopped to pay our respects to Henrietta’s family- Rabbi Benjamin Szold and his wife Sophie Schaar Szold and their other children (Henrietta is buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem).

Oheb Shalom Cemetery on O’Donnell Street. The group stopped at the gravesite of the Szold family. Photo by Alex Malischostak

Oheb Shalom Cemetery on O’Donnell Street. The group stopped at the gravesite of the Szold family. Photo by Alex Malischostak

Another memorable stop on the tour was the Oheb Shalom Eutaw Street Temple located in Bolton Hill, now run by the Prince Hall Masons. We were able to go inside the beautiful and historic sanctuary which the Masons have preserved so that others can learn more about this impressive building and its history.

Albert Queen, President of the Board of Trustees of the Prince Hall Masons addresses the tour group at the Eutaw Street Temple (former site of Oheb Shalom 1892-1960). Photo by Alex Malischostak

Albert Queen, President of the Board of Trustees of the Prince Hall Masons addresses the tour group at the Eutaw Street Temple (former site of Oheb Shalom 1892-1960). Photo by Alex Malischostak

Iconography from the Eutaw Place Temple inspired by the Great Synagogue in Florence, Italy, now the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge. Photo by Ilene Dackman-Alon.

Iconography from the Eutaw Place Temple inspired by the Great Synagogue in Florence, Italy, now the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge. Photo by Ilene Dackman-Alon.

Henrietta Szold: Living History Character was made possible through the generous support of the Kolker-Saxon-Hallock Family Foundation, Inc., a supporting foundation of the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

Educational opportunities were made possible by the Jacob & Hilda Blaustein Fund of the Associated.

Alex MalischostakPost by Museum Educator Alex Malischostak.

 

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An Historic Tour, 1984

Posted on April 27th, 2017 by

It isn’t only our historical collections that contain intriguing images. These three come from our institutional photo archives, showing a group of young students in costume at the Lloyd Street Synagogue in 1984.

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IA 1.0873

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IA 1.0874

They’re identified simply as “children from School #139 at the Lloyd Street Synagogue for Historic Baltimore Day, May 6, 1984.” A little research into City history shows that Historic Baltimore Day was held in May for about ten years, starting in 1980, with local students serving as tour guides at historic sites around Baltimore. According to the Sun, May 6, 1984 was the fourth annual event, sponsored by Baltimore Council of Historic Sites (later years were sponsored by the Peale Museum), with seventeen sites participating.

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IA 1.0875

Public School #139 was also known as Charles Carroll of Carrollton Elementary School, located a few blocks away from us at Central and Lexington.  It closed at some point recently; I haven’t pinpointed exactly when.  Alas, our files don’t contain any further information about the event, the student participants, or their work. They clearly prepared themselves well, for they’re wearing name badges and carrying booklets, and look more than ready to tell visitors about our historic synagogue. Do any of our readers remember attending this event, as a visitor or a guide? Can anyone identify any of the young docents shown here?

JoannaA blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

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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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