Thank You MAAM!

A blog post by Director of Learning and Visitor Engagement Ilene Dackman-Alon. To read more posts by Ilene click HERE.

Last week, I had the opportunity to travel north to the lovely Hudson Valley region to attend the annual conference of the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums (MAAM).  I am on the conference planning committee and I also serve on the MAAM Board as the representative for the State of Maryland.

The conference was held at the Thayer Hotel at West Point.

Upon my arrival, I dropped my things in my hotel room and walked up the street to the West Point Museum/US Army Center of Military History.  The Museum’s galleries have many displays relating to the history of the US army and its weapons and warfare. I learned that the Museum is the nation’s oldest federal museum and that the Thayer Hotel was named for Colonel and Brevet Brigadier General Sylvanus Thayer who was known as the “Father of West Point.”

Thayer was an early superintendent of the United States Military Academy and was an early advocate of science and civil engineering as part of the curriculum at the school.
One of the best things about the conference is having the opportunity to visit interesting and unique museums in the area.

I walked back to the hotel and met up with colleagues who were going to the Storm King Art Center. The place is beautiful and situated between two mountains on 500 acres of grounds.  It is breathtaking in so many ways when you see art and nature intersect.  The Museum has one of the largest collections of contemporary outdoor sculptures in the United States.

The sessions that I attended during the conference were very interesting and I loved learning about what other Museums are doing in the areas of programming and education.

I was particularly proud of our own Rachel Kassman who participated in a panel discussion about Balancing Social Marketing in Museums. Rachel did a fabulous job showcasing the JMM’s wonderful social marketing initiatives.  She was in great company with presenters from the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum and the Corning Museum of Glass.  The presentation that I connected with the most was one by Tamara Christian, President and COO of The International Spy Museum in DC.  Tamara spoke thoughtfully about the “The Culture of the Workplace” and shared her ideas about how to successfully change the culture of the workplace to be a more positive experience for all stakeholders.

One of the MAAM board members shared with me that she visited a unique Jewish historical site, called the Gomez Mill House and if possible, I should try and visit.  On the last day, I travelled north about 30 minutes to a town called Marlboro and found this little gem complete with a refurbished water wheel.

The Gomez Mill House touts itself as being The Oldest Jewish Dwelling in North America and tells the story of the six owners of the property.

Luis Moses Gomez, a Sephardic Jew and the son of a Jewish immigrant merchant, was one of one of the early Jewish families in colonial New York.  Gomez acquired about 3000 acres of land that was situated close to several American Indian trails and realized that this would be a good place for barter and trade. In 1714. he constructed a stone house to serve as both a trading post and fortress alongside a stream that was named Jews Creek. Gomez and his sons conducted business here for close to thirty years and Gomez later became the president of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in New York which was later named Congregation Sherith Israel.

My guide Rich was so knowledgeable about the building and shared with me so many interesting tidbits.  He also told wonderful stories of the other 5 families that used the original trading post and converted it to the present-day structure.   I loved learning about each of these families and of their contributions to the community and the region.

My two favorite stories in addition to the Gomez family was the story of Martha Gruening, a Jewish suffragist and civil rights activist, who bought the property to open a school.  I also learned that Arts and Crafts paper historian and artisan Dard Hunter built the mill in 1913 and later produced the world’s first one-man made books at the site.

Rich also shared with me that this beautiful chanukiah (ca 1840’s) (Hanukah menorah) was used at the White House Holiday Celebration in 1998 during the Clinton years.

I would recommend seeing this “gem” of a museum only second to the Jewish Museum of Maryland!


jewish museum of maryland

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