Greetings from the New Collections Manager!
A blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church.
Greetings, blog readers! My name is Joanna Church, and I’m the new Collections Manager at the JMM. There’s something a little nerve-wracking about starting a new job; before starting here, I wondered: What will the office be like? How tricky is the commute? Will the new colleagues be pleasant? And is there a coffee maker?* For those of us who work with museum collections, however, there’s one almost-guarantee when joining the staff of a new museum: The collections themselves – no matter what they actually are – will be interesting. In my few weeks here at the JMM, this has definitely proved to be true.
I am a Maryland native, but new to Baltimore. Searching our database for something first-blog-post-appropriate, I found a foam hat that says “Welcome to Baltimore.” Thank you, hat!
This old-fashioned hat, with a four inch high crown, was made around 1990, mimicking the style of a circa 1900s boater (right down to the ‘woven straw’ look to the molded foam). The printed paper ‘ribbon’ around the crown reads in full, “Welcome to Baltimore UAHC NFTS ’91.” The donor, E.B. Hirsh, was one of thousands of delegates to the Union of American Hebrew Congregations/National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods biennial convention, held in Baltimore from October 31st to November 5th, 1991.
According to the Baltimore Sun there were plenty of important issues discussed at this meeting of representatives from over 850 Reform synagogues. Nevertheless, what’s a convention without a party? Our hat and its welcoming message have an opening-day-festivities vibe, suggesting that there were opportunities for fun amidst the more serious activities. (If any readers attended the conference and can share some info, please do!)
As for the type of hat itself, straw boaters or “skimmers” were popular summer headwear for men and women in the late 19th – early 20th centuries. Here are a few Baltimore residents sporting the style in 1924:
By the 1950s, however, the boater had dwindled from everyday garb to costume, and it is most likely to be seen today on members of a barbershop quartet; actors in a production of, say, “The Music Man;” or attendees at a political rally. Though I can’t tell you exactly why a boater became appropriate convention-wear, it’s enough of a stylistic trope that plastic and Styrofoam hats are marketed specifically for these events. Our example was manufactured in the U.S. by the Lewtan Line, a company founded in 1947 by Marvin Lewtan.
…As you may have guessed by now, things are my thing. I look forward to sharing more of the stories and histories of the JMM’s fabulous artifacts, images, and archival records!
*Answers: Great; not bad so far; absolutely; and (thankfully) yes.