Tag Archives: BMA Archives

Spatial Recognition

Print Exhibition Room, circa 1932-1940. Buildings and Grounds Photographs Collection, Archives and Special Collections, Baltimore Museum of Art. BGP003_002.

Print Exhibition Room, circa 1932-1940. Buildings and Grounds Photographs Collection, Archives and Special Collections, Baltimore Museum of Art. BGP003_002.

Melissa Wertheimer, BMA Archives intern

My love for archival research and processing began during my graduate studies at the Peabody Institute where I studied flute and piccolo. I’ve worked in the Peabody Institute Archives with special collections of music manuscripts, photographs, recordings, and ephemera. At the Walters Art Museum Archives, my work with curatorial records and special collections led to a lecture about the museum’s own Monuments Man. I was thrilled to expand my historical knowledge of Baltimore’s great artistic institutions during my five-month internship in the BMA Archives.

My first project at the BMA Archives was sponsored by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC): processing the photographs, negatives, and slides related to the BMA’s architectural history. The Buildings and Grounds Photographs Collection provides a visual timeline of the museum and the surrounding property’s physical growth, architectural changes, renovations, and various uses.

To boil down the contents of this collection to one word, it is all about space: why we create it, who it’s for, how it’s used, what it represents, and what the literal and figurative boundaries are. As a budding archivist in 2015 Baltimore, these questions hold particular relevance as I watch my adopted Baltimore home evolve. I’ve lived here for seven years, and I can’t help but notice that this city’s abundance of historical architecture serves as a quiet, nostalgic onlooker to change. I find it ironic and poetic that change is the consistent tie between old and new.

As a trained musician, especially a performer of contemporary music, these philosophical questions about space are vital to my understanding of artistic intent and creative musical programming.  When I perform, the space itself is important to me. Not merely the venue, but the layout of the space, the acoustics, and the allowance for movement. Professional musicians are used to adjusting for acoustics; the amount of reverb in a space directly affects how fast or slow a piece can be played without muddiness. But, I often feel the experience of sharing music in spaces with others falls short because the audience is a faraway clump of people. I’ve found that the slightest adjustments in performer/audience proximity and seat orientation make a world of difference. I even move about a space as I perform if that choice enhances the musical experience. I play with space in these ways to not only enhance the “weirdness” or “novelty” of a contemporary work, but also to breathe new life into canonical repertoire. In these ways, the concept of space itself is a vehicle for change.

During the four months I worked on the Buildings and Grounds Photographs Collection, one space struck me more than any other to mirror changes at the BMA: the Garden Room (not currently accessible to the public). Depending upon the decade, it could be called many other names: the Print Exhibition Room, the Members Room, the Sales and Rental Gallery, or the Café. Most recently, the Garden Room served as a temporary visitor’s entrance during the Historic Merrick Entrance renovation. This easily adaptable space is located on the ground floor of the BMA’s original John Russell Pope Building with the entrance facing onto the west museum grounds.

The story of this space is best told by the archival photographs themselves. I hope you enjoy the images and that they inspire you to consider the ideas of space and change as you move about any city you call home.

BGP004_001

Members Room, 1940s. Buildings and Grounds Photographs Collection, Archives and Special Collections, Baltimore Museum of Art. BGP004_001.

BGP006_001

Sales and Rental Gallery Publicity Photograph, 1955. Buildings and Grounds Photographs Collection, Archives and Special Collections, Baltimore Museum of Art. BGP006_001.

PC_Cafe1969Apr

Museum Café, 1969 Apr. Buildings and Grounds Photographs Collection, Archives and Special Collections, Baltimore Museum of Art. PC_Cafe1969Apr.

Contact me through my website, www.melissa-wertheimer.com.  Let’s nerd out together.

Summer in the BMA gardens

June 21 marks the first official day of summer, and a good time to explore the BMA’s Sculpture Gardens. Here in the Archives, the Photograph Collection holds images of many outdoor BMA events, from groundbreaking ceremonies for the Museum’s John Russell Pope building to children’s tours to the 1998 Caribbean Festival complete with steel drum band.

Maybe it’s the sunshine and trees, but as I’ve archived photos of these events I’ve noticed that people seem a little more at ease, and a little more willing to participate in activities than they might be in a traditional gallery setting. These two East Garden events from the early 1970s embody the spirit of the time:

Summerlight, an “environmental form” from the artist Robert Harding. May 23, 1970.

Summerlight, an “environmental form” from the artist Robert Harding. May 23, 1970.

Young participant in an outdoor sculpture event. August 12, 1972.

Young participant in an outdoor sculpture event. August 12, 1972.

Meanwhile, Janet and Alan Wurtzburger, at that time already major BMA donors of African and Pacific Islands art, were amassing a collection of sculpture at their Baltimore County estate, Timberlane. This collection was realized in the Wurtzburger Sculpture Garden, which opened thirty-five years ago this month.

Guests interact with the sculptures at the Wurtzburger Sculpture Garden dedication. June 7, 1980.

Guests interact with the sculptures at the Wurtzburger Sculpture Garden dedication. June 7, 1980.

Eight years later, in June of 1988, the Ryda and Robert H. Levi Sculpture Garden opened to the public. The garden showcases works from the second half of the 20th century, and as BMA Senior Registrar Melanie Harwood has blogged, the installation of large-scale sculptures has often provided quite the challenge for BMA staff. Thankfully, the rest of us are free to simply enjoy the gardens, whether on a reflective solo stroll or during one of the BMA’s many festive events, such as the Jazz in the Sculpture Garden summer concerts, which have been held since the 1980s.

Jazz in the Sculpture Garden audience, June 30, 1994.

Jazz in the Sculpture Garden audience, June 30, 1994.

BMA Photographs Collections are being processed through generous support from the National Historical Publications & Records Commission (NHPRC). The BMA Sculpture Gardens are free to the public and open Wednesday-Friday 10am to dusk, and Saturday-Sunday 11am to dusk.

Membership at the BMA – curing septic stomachs since 1940

Grace Smith in "Temperance" Costume and Joseph Katz in costume with placard, A Souvenir of Romanticism in America exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1940 Digital reproduction of 1 lantern slide, 4 x 3.25 cm Photograph Collection, Archives and Manuscripts Collections, The Baltimore Museum of Art. LS3.32

Grace Smith in “Temperance” Costume and Joseph Katz in costume with placard, A Souvenir of Romanticism in America exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1940
Digital reproduction of 1 lantern slide, 4 x 3.25 cm
Photograph Collection, Archives and Manuscripts Collections, The Baltimore Museum of Art. LS3.32

We’ve always suspected the healing properties of a BMA membership, but a recent find by colleagues at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art confirms that joining the BMA will make you well…

Illustrations associated with the exhibit A souvenir of Romanticism in America at the Baltimore Museum of Art, 1940. Leslie Cheek papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Two weeks ago, we received an email from staff at the Archives, noting that they had “uncovered an object in one of our collections which refers to the BMA.” The object – part of the Leslie Cheek papers, 1940-1983 – was an unusual one – a fold-out triptych that depicted three cartoon stomachs, each of which was in a different state of health. The top stomach was a septic stomach, “gangrened by rum and tobacco”; the second one was a sick stomach, “relieved by abstinence but unsatisfied”; finally, the stomach at the bottom of the triptych was a sound stomach, a state achieved “after joining the Baltimore Museum of Art.”

Our interest was piqued. Where had this object come from, and what did it refer to? Could we get any more information on it? Would joining the BMA still heal an ailing stomach?

To the BMA Archives!

To solve this mystery, we turned to Emily Rafferty, the BMA’s Head Librarian and Archivist. In short order, she uncovered the wonderful image above, which depicts Miss Grace Hooper Smith, BMA Membership Secretary, holding the triptych. In addition, the full description for the piece in our files gives far more context to the stomach cartoon:

Two images from the exhibition, A Souvenir of Romanticism in America (May 10 – August 10, 1940) at The Baltimore Museum of Art. At right is Miss Grace Hooper Smith, BMA Membership Secretary, dressed as a woman protesting the consumption of alcohol. The exhibition turned the museum top to bottom into a nineteenth century institution – publications were written in the florid style of the period, costumed actors were hired to greet museum-goers, and a Godey’s Ball was held for the opening. One of the publications was titled, “Popular Poisons, Tract No. 4: Rum and Tobacco” and it appealed to museum-goers to pledge temperance and membership in the Museum. On the left is likely Joseph Katz, a trustee at the time also in costume and holding a sign advertising the exhibition.

There you have it. Not only was the mystery unraveled, but we also get to take a delightful wander down memory lane. It seems like a perfect moment for #throwbackthursday.

What do you think? Does art cure what ails you? Do you have a favorite #throwbackthursday moment? Share it with us. We’d love to hear about the mysteries you’ve uncovered when looking into the past.