The Last Drop of Chicken Soup

Posted on January 13th, 2017 by

Performance Counts: January 2017

The time has come. On Tuesday, January 17, the doors to the Feldman gallery will remain closed, even when the Museum opens at 10 AM, so that our ambitious exhibit, Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews & Medicine in America, can make way for the next occupant of the 2000 square foot space. It will also need to be made ready for its next venue, the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage.

Lest you think this is merely a matter of packing a box or two and heading to Cleveland, we thought we’d review some of the numbers of where Beyond Chicken Soup has been and what it takes to get it to the next step.

The exhibition consists of 229 artifacts, of which, 82 are on loan from other institutions or individuals. The artifacts from the JMM collection will be lovingly returned to their homes in our collections, until it is time for them to be meticulously packed for travel. Some of the materials on loan will be returned to their owners only to be re-borrowed. A conservator from the National Library of Israel will be traveling 6000 miles to oversee the removal of 8 volumes on loan from NLI. She will hand-carry her precious cargo, originally collected by Dr. Harry Friedenwald, the 6000 miles back to Israel. These volumes, while an important and impressive part of the exhibition, are too fragile to go on tour.  Instead, we have hired an expert book binder to spend approximately 70 hours creating facsimiles of each of them. The facsimile copies will be created precisely to mimic the original volumes, down to the way they sit in their cradles.

To be facsimiled!

To be facsimiled!

Beyond Chicken Soup boasts 25 cases, 122 panels and 131 captions that will all need to be crated or palletized for storage and eventually to travel the 364 miles to the Maltz Museum of Jewish History. There are 10 screens (5 TVs, 3 touchscreen monitors and 2 iPad tablets), 8 hands-on activities, and 3 audio loops from oral histories. The technology will require its own special treatment as it makes ready for its new home. There is precisely one “slice” of a real ambulance with working lights that will need to be removed from the wall and prepped for shipping. Additionally, there are 26 images or quotes that are applied directly to the wall. These will need to be re-printed for each new venue at which the exhibition appears.

Just one of the many environments to be de-installed, packed, and shipped!

Just one of the many environments to be de-installed, packed, and shipped!

We anticipate that the deinstallation will take somewhere in the vicinity of 200 to 250 man-hours to complete. That will involve everything from the meticulous, white-gloved work of removing artifacts from their mounts to the dirty and dusty job of sledgehammering the walls that were created expressly for the exhibition. It will also involve a lot of cleaning, patching and painting to make the gallery ready for our next exhibition, Remembering Auschwitz: History, Holocaust, Humanity.

Once the dust has settled and the artifacts, furniture, technology, and informational panels make their 364-mile-journey, if Beyond Chicken Soup’s run here is any indication, the Maltz Museum of Jewish History can anticipate 4,749 total visitors, including 1,401 students and teachers, and 791 adults through scheduled groups. Of course, we had the help of more than 25 public programs we hosted while the exhibition was mounted.

If you haven’t seen this one-of-a-kind exhibition, yet, don’t wait! You have only 2 more days to see it here in Baltimore (this Sunday and Monday).

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Owning our “Roots”

Posted on June 1st, 2016 by

At the AAM Conference in DC last week, my favorite session (somewhat unexpectedly) was the networking meeting of the traveling exhibits group.  In this unusual “speed dating” exercise, 35 exhibit providers are allowed about 2 minutes each to pitch their latest traveling exhibits.  I came to promote Beyond Chicken Soup:  Jews and Medicine in America as well as our future exhibit American Alchemy: From Junk to Scrap to Recycling.  But what started out as a sales effort soon became an exercise in nostalgia.  To start with I ended up being seated at a table comprised of staff from my two former employers – Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry and DC’s National Archives Museum – walking in at that awkward moment when they were sharing “Marvin” stories.  When the program began Kelly Fernandi of Minotaur Mazes was the lead-off speaker and he gave a shout out to me and to The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen.  When it was my turn, I included a joke about the Paul Simon exhibit and several subsequent speakers slyly referenced my name as a way to link to that joke.  The last person on the agenda was “Dino” Don Lessem.  Don has developed a specialized enterprise that mounts large national tours of dinosaur exhibits coming out of China.  As he finished his pitch, he said “and I want you to know that I wrote a play 42 years ago in which Marvin played a singing dog”.  The room cracked up, but Don was telling the truth.  We were classmates at Brandeis and he wrote a musical orientation show based on the Wizard of Oz and yes, I was Toto.  What had started as a sales meeting had become a roast!

The meeting also triggered a serious thought about how we own or deny our past, both personal and collective.  It is easy to lay claim to resume achievements – a whole lot tougher to embrace what we’ve learned from our personal failings – and tougher still to accept ownership of the historic failings of our society.  In Judaism, our annual recitation of the “al cheyt” prayer is just one example of a recognition that we need to take ownership of acts we did not personally commit but are still a part of our communal legacy.

This is all an explanation of why I’ll be watching this week’s remake of the mini-series “Roots” with such keen interest.  For the original series, the executive producer was David Wolper and the producer was Stan Margulies.  Several of the directors and writers of individual episodes were also Jewish.  The idea of re-introducing the series for the 21st century has its origins with David’s son Mark Wolper.

The History channel has commissioned a remake of the miniseries after acquiring rights from David L. Wolper's son, Mark Wolper, and Alex Haley's estate.

The History channel has commissioned a remake of the miniseries after acquiring rights from David L. Wolper’s son, Mark Wolper, and Alex Haley’s estate.

This is the way he describes the start of his journey in the Observer:

The younger Wolper knew that he had to create a new version of the series after having a tumultuous time getting his own 16-year-old son to watch it. “It was very difficult to keep his attention. After it ended he said, ‘Alright Dad, I understand why this is important, but it’s like your music, it just doesn’t speak to me.’ In that moment I knew why we needed to do this. No one is going to go back and watch it – it’s 40 years old and it looks very dated, it’s slow, it’s not produced at the high level that television is produced at today so I knew it needed to be redone.”

One of his early steps was to recruit LeVar Burton, the original Kunte Kinte, as co-producer.  In an article in Mother Jones, Burton is asked why he would choose to remake a piece of media as iconic as “Roots”.  I found his response interesting:

Well, how often have we seen Holocaust stories? I bring that up because there’s a wonderful tradition in Jewish culture that is about “never forget.” In insisting that this story is passed onto each successive generation, it has become part and parcel of Jewish identity. Human beings have remarkably short memories, and so it is essential that we continually remind ourselves.

Short memories – and powerful mechanisms for distancing ourselves from history we find uncomfortable.  In the time of slavery, Jews were a part of a white society that benefited from the suffering of slaves. My ancestors did not arrive on these shores until the 1890s, however, when our family accepted the mantle of American citizenship we became owners of all of American history – the glory of our democracy, the success of our innovation and the horrors of our exploitation of peoples of color.

So this Memorial Day, I simultaneously take pride in the role of American Jews in pushing our nation towards accepting accountability for a troubled past, and repentance for historic actions (and in-actions) that we can never fully repair – pardon us, forgive us, atone for us.

 MarvinA blog post by JMM Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.

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JMM Out and About

Posted on April 16th, 2014 by

Part of my role at the museum is to handle the reservations of one of our travelling exhibits, Jews on the Move: Baltimore and the Suburban Exodus, 1945 – 1968. The exhibit has been in storage for several months but is currently on display until April 14th at Beth Israel Synagogue.

In addition to displaying Jews on the Move, we also had an evening lecture there last week about some of the themes it highlights. The lecture, titled Jews on the move: A Conversation, was led by Dean Krimmel, a museum consultant who was a member of the team that developed the exhibit. The talk gathered a great audience and created a huge amount of conversation.

Dean Krimmel at Beth Israel

Dean Krimmel at Beth Israel

Dean started the lecture by asking a few questions, and he asked those who answered “yes” to stand. We were asked:

  • Were you part of the suburban exodus?
  • Were you born here in Baltimore?
  • Have you lived here for your adult life?
  • Are you a newcomer?
Getting some exercise at Beth Israel!

Getting some exercise at Beth Israel!

Unsurprisingly, the first two questions had a huge response, with most of the room standing. The final question, received a much smaller response, but it was interesting to see what people considered a newcomer to be. I knew I certainly would fit within this category, having only been here for a year. What surprised me was that people who had lived here their entire adult life still considered themselves newcomers! However, I quickly learned that, unless you went to high school in Baltimore, some will consider you a lifelong newcomer. This also led to another interesting point: this city is unique in that, when asked “what school did you attend?” you are not being asked about college but rather about high school.

The high point of the evening was hearing all of the conversations that were inspired by the program, both during the lecture and after, around the exhibit. People discussed their memories of moving to the suburbs, the reasons for doing so and some of the restrictions that they faced. Many people had similar experiences with regards to their suburban exodus, especially relating to their experiences with real estate agents.

We were also treated to a little of the history of Beth Israel and its movements by Bernie Raynor.

We were also treated to a little of the history of Beth Israel and its movements by Bernie Raynor.

There was also plenty of reminiscing prompted by images in the exhibit, especially regarding schools and shopping centers.

There was also plenty of reminiscing prompted by images in the exhibit, especially regarding schools and shopping centers.

 We also looked at some of the original advertisements for the newly built homes during the suburban exodus.

We also looked at some of the original advertisements for the newly built homes during the suburban exodus.

Overall, everyone had a lovely evening. The chatting continued for an hour after the lecture finished. Everyone shared memories and even remembered some things thought long forgotten.

Trillion BremenBlog post by Program Manager Trillion Attwood. To read more posts from Trillion, click here.

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