More than a Run of the “Mill”

Posted on February 22nd, 2019 by

Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker and Director of Collections and Exhibits Joanna Church collaborated on this month’s edition of JMM Insights which, somewhat coincidentally, is all about collaboration! Missed any previous editions of JMM Insights? You can catch up here!


Have you ever heard of “The Mill” at Stevenson University? Well until last year we hadn’t either. That’s when we held a new projects briefing for Will Backstrom, Senior Vice President for Client and Community Relations at PNC Bank. Will, who has been a great friend and supporter of JMM, stopped the conversation when we brought up the topic of Fashion Statement (the exhibit on the way in which clothing expresses personal and social identity) and Stitching History from the Holocaust (a traveling exhibit from Milwaukee. that celebrates the creative talents of a designer who perished in the Shoah).

Will, who keeps tabs on Baltimore’s cultural scene, pointed out that just as our exhibit was closing next summer the Maryland Historical Society would be putting on a major exhibit of their extraordinary collection of clothing. He thought we might cross-market our projects. And then he had one other thought, “what about the Mill?”

The “Mill” it turns out, is a capstone course for students at Stevenson University with an interest in design. It brings together students from departments like Fashion Design, Graphic Design, Film & Moving Image, and Business Communications to work together, almost as if they were a design and marketing agency, on solving a specific, real-world problem. With Will’s help, JMM, the Maryland Historical Society, and Stevenson U faculty and students came together and we became “clients” of the Mill.

Stevenson students in the Mill are incorporating our project into a much larger endeavor: a public affairs campaign to reinvigorate the fashion industry in the city of Baltimore. They developed a name for the effort (Stitching MD Together), a brand (stitchingmdtogether.org), and a full plan to research, educate, engage, and, they hope, encourage a growth in the fashion industry in the state. They are even hoping that, when the Maryland campaign is successful, other states can use the same template.

As part of this collaboration, JMM staff have visited the Mill classroom a number of times, listening to student presentations, discussing the upcoming projects, and even presenting a unit on social media marketing. Students have also used JMM and MdHS for their research into the history of the fashion industry in Baltimore and in Maryland and are creating a documentary film. Their research proved interesting and productive in more ways than we initially anticipated!

Stevenson University students setting up for documentary filming in the JMM Library, October 26, 2018.

As part of the students’ documentary project, they came to the JMM to interview Joanna, and film some of our textile collections. To make sure those pieces got a good showing, Trillion and Joanna turned the library into a miniature photo studio and prepped a variety of outfits to a presentable display standard, ready for their respective close-ups. A handy side benefit of this process was that we were able to take some good photographs for our own purposes, in advance of the upcoming Fashion Statement exhibit.

This ermine coat (complete with tails sewn into the interior seams), made by Havelock and Selenkow, Baltimore, was a 35th birthday present to Alene Steiger Adler from her husband Charles Adler, Jr., in 1941. It will be featured in “Fashion Statement,” opening April 7, 2019. Gift of Amalie Adler Ascher, JMM 1989.167.30a.

The student film crew got some on-the-ground experience (not that they weren’t already quite skilled) along with the footage they needed for their documentary. In addition, they got the chance to take a close look at museum artifacts, and at techniques for interpretation and display. An article of clothing can tell you so much about the person who wore it and the times and culture in which it was worn, but people haven’t always given that idea much thought; sharing that insight, and seeing students’ respond to it, is a delight. We think this deeper understanding of the roles of clothing and fashion will help them strengthen their campaign.

Joanna talking with Grace Clark, part of the Stitching Maryland Together Communications team, prior to the interview.

In addition to the deliverables of the research and the documentary, we’ve also been partnering with Stevenson students for some of the details of the visitor experience in Fashion Statement, the JMM-curated portion of the double-bill opening April 7th. The interactive experiences in our exhibits are often among the most memorable to our visitors, and among the most complicated for museum staff to create. For Fashion Statement, Stevenson professors have helped us brainstorm interesting mechanisms for engaging visitors even as their students are helping us make those ideas a reality. We are working with several different Stevenson classes and individual students to achieve the interactive visitor experience. From graphic artists to aspiring fashion designers, the collaboration with the University is providing JMM with fresh ideas and talent as well as providing students with real-world, client-driven experiences.

All of these many positive outcomes have much to remind us about the power of partnership and collaboration. And with deep gratitude to Mr. Backstrom, whose eyes lit up when we told him about Fashion Statement, we reiterate the truth of the fact that one person has enormous power to make a difference: all of these synergies and win-win moments were made possible by a single conversation many, many months ago.


 

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New Faces and New Spaces

Posted on January 11th, 2019 by

This month’s edition of Performance Counts comes from Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker. To read past editions of Performance Counts, click here. To read more posts by Tracie, click here.


This January, as we say goodbye to Harry Houdini, I thought we should also take a few moments to say hello to some of the newer members of the JMM team and to acknowledge the new(ish) roles some of our number are enjoying.

The newest member of our staff, Emma Glaser, is not entirely new to the JMM. Emma Glaser (pronounced GLAZE-er) interned with the JMM Education Department in the summer of 2014. Emma graduated from Smith College, and completed graduate work at the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Museum Studies at SUNY Oneonta. In addition to her time with us in 2014, Emma interned at the National Museum of American Jewish History.

Emma started as the Program Assistant back in September. In that role, she is helping to plan and execute events and programs for students and adults. She masterfully guided JMM’s mitzvah day celebration to fruition, and has been an important addition to the JMM team. If you haven’t yet had a chance to meet Emma, please say hello next time you’re in the building.

Emma’s position, Program Assistant, was made possible by the promotion of our Program Manager, Trillion Attwood. Trillion has been skillfully orchestrating our top-notch programming since 2013, though Trillion didn’t always want to be an event planner. With degrees in Egyptology, Trillion, like so many among us, is a tried-and-true Museum professional.

When, in this fiscal year, we wanted to create a new position, Curatorial Assistant, to provide additional skills and support to the collections and exhibits team, we saw an opportunity to serve the Museum’s needs while providing more and different challenges for Trillion to use her skills. As of this fiscal year, Trillion is both Program Manager AND Curatorial Assistant. While her colleagues (guilty!) often forget which hat she is wearing on which day, Trillion has been splitting her time 50/50 between event planning and collections and exhibit management. She even has two email addresses!

Speaking of promotions, we recently were delighted to offer a brand new position to a very capable member of our staff. If you’ve visited the JMM in the past year, you’ve met Paige Woodhouse. Paige has been our exceedingly talented Visitor Services Coordinator since October of 2017. In that time she has worked wonders in cleaning up our procedures and our communications channels. Everything she does she does with an air of professionalism and cheerfulness that is noticed by her colleagues and her customers alike.

When, through the generosity of the Cohen Opportunity Fund of the late Suzanne Cohen (z’’l), JMM was able to create a new School Program Coordinator position, Paige decided to apply. Though she had some stiff competition from a number of highly-qualified candidates, Paige was offered and accepted the position – a promotion – and will transition into those duties as soon as we are able to find a successor for her in the Visitor Services position.

This is an exciting time at JMM. In addition to our future evolution, which will have a much more visible manifestation in bricks and sticks, we are already growing and adapting. Welcoming new staff–and new responsibilities for existing staff–is an important part of the organization’s progress.

Please say hello to Emma and “Mazel tov” to Paige and Trillion next time you’re in the building. And please stay in touch. These are exciting times in Jonestown. You don’t want to miss it!

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Repairing injuries with gold: 1 West Mount Vernon Place

Posted on January 3rd, 2019 by

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

One of the great perks of being a museum professional is visiting museums with other professionals. On Friday, December 21, I had double good fortune when Eleanor Hughes, Deputy Director for Art & Program at the Walters Art Museum hosted the JMM management team at the Walters’ historic site, 1 West Mount Vernon Place.

The tour of the house begins at the top of a spiral staircase in the house’s conservatory. The first thing you see as a visitor is a wall of glass shelving featuring ceramics from the Walters’ collection, all in a similar hue.

Eleanor begins her tour of the house by pointing out a small, somewhat unassuming bowl in the shelves. This little bowl seems to have a thin gold line drawn on the side facing the conservatory. This gold line, Eleanor explained, is in fact evidence of a crack that was repaired in the Japanese style of kintsugi.

I had heard of Kintsugi before, though since my visit to 1 West Mount Vernon, I’ve learned a great deal more about it. “Golden Joinery” is a Japanese practice of repairing ceramic vessels with layers of lacquer mixed with precious medals. This repair technique is also a philosophy—one that highlights breakage and repair as moments to be honored and celebrated, rather than hidden from view. I find the notion and the Japanese practice deeply beautiful.

Eleanor begins her tours of 1 West Mount Vernon with this bowl to encourage visitors to think about the practice of kintsugi as a metaphor for what she and her team have done with the historic site that was once known as the Hackerman House. In their research and decision-making about the visitor experience, they’ve decided to foreground the stories not just of the owners of the home, but those of the people who served in the house. These latter stories include written evidence, including a letter written by her own hand, of a woman, Sybby Grant, enslaved by the original owners of the house. As Eleanor acknowledged, this choice was not universally embraced by those in the family and orbit of the Walters. Nevertheless, she and her team, felt it was a necessary move in order to be true to the full story of the house. It was a necessary move for the Walters to take their place in the broader culture’s effort to acknowledge and repair the injuries of the past. It is their version of repairing a crack with golden lacquer.

From the conservatory, Eleanor led us into a front drawing room decorated with an assemblage of historic and contemporary art and material culture. A collection of ceramics in the room by contemporary artist Roberto Lugo mix traditional ceramic forms with contemporary images, including a portrait of Colin Kaepernick, a bust of Frederick Douglas (featuring a golden hair pick protruding from his curly hair), and other images of historic and contemporary African Americans including the artist himself.

In the dining room, the Museum staff’s curatorial efforts were in full kintsugi mode, gilding the crack of the history of enslavement in the house. An exhibit case in the room featured the letter written by Sybby Grant, an enslaved cook, to her master, Dr. Thomas, imprisoned for his support of the Confederacy. The dining room table was set with dishes, created by Roberto Lugo for the space, and featuring images from Sybby’s letter as well as her initials.

As we moved through that level of the house that juxtaposition continued. The library, the dining room, the hallways all were filled with both the traditional trappings of an historic house museum and contemporary art addressing the injuries hidden behind those trappings—including enslavement, dehumanization, and erasure.

When we asked Eleanor about the choice to include the Kaepernick piece in the drawing room, for instance, she talked about the importance of making space for contemporary voices in the historic house—especially from communities that had traditionally been silenced there. In our conversations after leaving the house, JMM management talked about the ways in which the juxtaposition invited visitors to rethink who and what belong in an historic house or an art museum. We talked about the importance and power of people—children and adults alike—finding resonance with their own lives inside the walls of the museum.

Though Eleanor didn’t name it at the time, kintsugi remains an apt metaphor for the joining of disparate art forms. After my visit to 1 West Mount Vernon, I’ve spent more time than I’d care to admit on the internet looking at images of kintsugi repairs. One method, called joint-call, involves repairing ceramics with missing pieces using similarly shaped fragments from a different broken object. The resulting product is a single unified piece of pottery made up of 2 aesthetically different works.

From the kintsugi-inspired second floor, we moved upstairs, past the now iconic view of the dome, to a more traditional set of gallery spaces. I say the spaces were more traditional, though the exhibits hardly were. The first room we entered was all about ceramics, but rather than organizing the artifacts by chronologically or by method or maker, they were organized by color. Pull out drawers in the exhibit cases invited visitors to learn a bit more about both the museum enterprise (the light and humidity monitor is labeled!) and about the process of making red ceramics.

In the next room we encountered ceramics that had literally moved around the world and been embellished along the way. My favorited example was this cheerful Chinese Buddhist figure wearing a golden hat and sitting on a golden bower made for him in France. As we moved through this portion of the house, Eleanor used her executive privilege as deputy director to raise the blinds for us in one of the rooms. The music and the art that is the city of Baltimore are a part of the fabric of this house, she explained.

Meanwhile, inside the house, she and her team are working to find ways to incorporate the artwork of the people of the city of Baltimore, including this installation of ceramic coins, created by visitors reacting to the story of Sybby Grant, or this amazing art room, where adults and children are invited to sit and create in reaction to what they’ve seen.

One of the ways we measure success here at JMM is whether our visitors feel inspired by their time here. We want to know if they’re thinking, talking, and doing as a result of what they see and discover with us. By that measure of success, 1 West Mount Vernon Place was a big success with the JMM team. From our spirited conversations over lunch about the role art museums vis a vis history museums in the movement toward making museums a cause to my embarrassingly lengthy time spent reading, learning and looking at kintsugi, to the research and thinking I’ve done about Sybby Grant since I left the house, it was an inspiring visit. And I only scratched the surface of what’s there.

The Walters is free. I highly recommend you schedule a visit. You might even check out their free app (search 1 Mt Vernon Place in the app store) before your visit (it will definitely be helpful during). The entry to 1 West Mount Vernon is an unassuming door on Charles Street.

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