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