Tag Archives: Museum

From the Collection: I See / I Think / I Wonder

Weisman_Pine-Bluff1

The image above comes from a collection of photographs and papers that belonged to Adele Marcus of Pine Bluff, Arkansas. According to the narrative sent by her cousin, Adele was the daughter of Lithuanian and Russian immigrants, and lived in Pine Bluff her entire life, from 1914-2000. We have a dozen of her papers from religious school, an Arkansas Jewish Assembly program in Hot Springs and her high school diploma.  Like most of our collections, we also inherited a handful of unmarked photographs.

Investigating and interpreting unlabeled photographs is both a challenge and a pleasure for museum professionals and other scholars. This one in particular (M. Wiesman? Hanging bananas? Feather head dress!?) , inspired me to use it as a teaching example on how to think critically about historical images. I like to engage students in “Be the Historian!” activities that incorporate artifacts, photos and documents to uncover stories from the past.

A favorite resource I use is called Artful Thinking and comes from Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. They have developed teaching methods to help teachers use works of visual art and music in their curricula in ways that strengthen student thinking and learning. While these techniques were developed for young students to think critically about art, I’ve found that the same “thinking routines” can be adapted for studying historical photographs.

Used on a regular basis, a routine like the one below not only teaches critical thinking but also encourages students to make a habit of it.

I SEE / I THINK / I WONDER
Use the following series of questions to help explore this photo.
What do you see?
What do you think?
What do you wonder?

This set of questions helps guide students towards an understanding of what they are looking at. They can make make careful observations, thoughtful interpretations and stimulate curiosity for future learning.

Others I like to use are THINK / PUZZLE / EXPLORE and LOOKING: TEN TIMES TWO

So now great internet community of learners, it’s your turn! Try it out!

Click on the image to make it larger, stare into those Jewish merchants’ faces and be a part of the discussion here by answering the three questions. With enough seeing, thinking and wondering we will be able to better understand who these people were, what their community was like and how their experiences might relate to our own lives.

Posted on March 15, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

From the Collection: When Life Gives You Wood, Make Ducks

I was in North Mississippi, visiting my husband’s family for the first time over Thanksgiving when I first heard about “the blind.” Being Jewish and from the North I had never heard this term, but after lunch we drove through the eerily empty and beautiful  delta fields out to his father’s duck blind. It was a camouflaged hideout, made to fit eight people and two dogs. They had flooded the field to attract ducks flying south for winter and filled the water with elaborate decoys that, with a flip of a switch flapped their wings, signaling to ducks flying overhead that this was a safe place to land.  When I asked about the small camp stove, I learned that the space served more as a clubhouse on early weekend mornings than a place for serious hunting.

I was reminded of that blind when I first spotted this beautifully crafted decoy in our museum collection. Created as a commemorative piece, it’s not bound for the flooded fields, but lives in our collection instead, as a symbol of both Jewish and Southern heritage.

Carved wood from Temple Ashe Chesed in Vicksburg

Carved wood from Temple Anshe Chesed in Vicksburg

This duck comes from a synagogue in Vicksburg, Mississippi.  Vickburg’s Anshe Chesed dedicated their first house of worship in 1870.  Like all great southern celebrations, the program began with a parade from the B’nai B’rith hall to the new temple, led by a police escort and Jaeger’s Brass Band from New Orleans.  The congregation spent over 100 years in the building until the late 1960s, when they decided to move out of downtown and build a smaller temple. Their original building was torn down.

Made of Wood from Mississippi's first synagogue built after the Civil War, it was Dedicated Temple Anshe Chesed May 16, 1868 and was located at 1209 Cherry Street, VicksburgGift from Benji L and Betty Lee Grundfest Lamensdorf"

“Made of Wood from Mississippi’s first synagogue built after the Civil War. It was Dedicated Temple Anshe Chesed May 16, 1868 and was located at 1209 Cherry Street, Vicksburg
Gift from Benji L and Betty Lee Grundfest Lamensdorf”

Before the old synagogue came down, though, congregants wanted keep something to remember it by. I can’t imagine a more perfect way to honor an important southern institution than to manifest it in this traditional art form.

Congregants Benji and Betty Lee Grundfest Lamensdorf  had a set of these wonderful decoys carved from the wood remnants of the temple, and one of them made its way into our collection. They serve as a reminder of what Jewish life once was, and still is in Vicksburg. The congregation, now over 160 years old, has shrunk significantly, but they still hold lay-led services and social gathering on most Shabbats. You might say these birds of a feather have done a great job sticking together, and we hope they continue to do so for many more Shabbats to come.

Posted on January 18, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

From the Collection: “What My Lady Should Not Wear”

There are moments as an archivist when something unusual (like a fur muff or a military notebook) sticks out from a standard inventory of confirmation photos and store ledgers. And then, sometimes, you come across a group shot of men in drag.

"What My Lady Should Not Wear"

No, this photo from is not from the Greenwood, Mississippi production of La Cage Aux Folles (written by Jewish composer Jerry Herman, who just so happens to be my first cousin twice removed!). That show wasn’t written until 1983, which puts these men way ahead of their time.

I couldn't write a better caption than the original. "Paris may have the Champs Elyses, but Greenwood now has the reputation of being the style center of the world."

The photo was featured in a newsletter put out by the  B’nai B’rith District Grand Lodge No. 7 in 1951.  While Jews were active members of local clubs like the Masons or Shriners, exclusively Jewish groups like B’nai B’rith were very important to the continuity of the Southern Jewish identity. Many families that worked and lived in smaller towns traveled to  larger cities like Greenwood for Jewish communal life. Potlucks and holiday parties were where they could network, discuss business, and, most importantly, find dates!

The event title alone, “What My Lady Should Not Wear,” gives the impression that this brotherhood of men knew how to get a laugh and certainly shakes any preconceived notions I may have had about  conservative Southern men. I just hope they got to keep the outfits.

Posted on October 26, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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