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Stitching History’s New Beginning

Archive for April, 2016

Stitching History’s New Beginning

By: Ellie Gettinger, Education Director

I am sitting at LaGuardia reflecting on the past two whirlwind days. I am flying back after the opening of Stitching History From the Holocaust and completely overwhelmed by the experience. Walking into the gallery at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, I was bowled over the staging of the exhibit and seeing Hedy Strnad’s eight dresses staged in their beautiful space. I couldn’t let the experience go without reflecting on what this means for Jewish Museum Milwaukee and for me personally.

JMM is a small museum that opened roughly eight years ago. The materials that were donated by the Strnad family in 1998 before the Museum was a glimmer in founding director’s Kathie Bernstein’s eye. We brought new life to these materials–eight dress designs, one letter, two envelopes, and one picture–as they became part of JMM’s permanent exhibit. They are central to the story we tell and visitors were impacted by the elements of the story that we presented.IMG_20160412_122109

As we proceeded to research and curate this larger exhibit, many people were pulled into the orbit of this exhibit. The Strnad family, the team from the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Costume Shop, researchers and humanities scholars in Milwaukee, Prague, the producers and talent at The Arts Page, which airs on Milwaukee Public Television, students, docents, visitors–all became part of the cult of Hedy. They were pulled into the idea of giving this woman, this couple, this family back some part of the legacy that was taken from them. When the exhibit was in Milwaukee, we reached thousands of people. National publicity, including an article by Samuel Freedman in the New York Times and a piece on PBS Newshour Weekend, created a buzz and we received so many inquiries about whether visitors would be able to see this exhibit elsewhere.IMG_20160412_122128

All of this energy followed me on my trip to open Stitching History in New York. The audience in New York expands the reach of this story considerably. The curation and design in New York is just lovely, adding elements to the exhibit that enliven the story–I love the addition of Hedy’s Signature to the wall and the ingenious way in which they MJH team made the fabrics accessible to touch. More than this, the position of the Museum of Jewish Heritage overlooking the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, offer yet another narrative ark to the story. Here we see Hedy’s beautiful dresses in the shadow of icons of American immigration.

This is yet another beginning for this exhibit, another chance to induct more people into Hedy’s sway. And it is start of a broader national conversation in which people all over the country will have the opportunity to be part of this story.  At the end of the opening event, one patron came up to me and said, “I am taking Hedy with me.” She thanked me and this Museum for sharing her story. We hope that so many more will come away with this feeling.IMG_20160412_140036

The Szyk Haggadah

1936. Lodz. The Szyk Haggadah, The Family at the Seder.



The Szyk Haggadah Reminds Us of Struggles Past and Present

By Molly Dubin, Jewish Museum Milwaukee Curator

Passover and politics.  It seems rather fitting that as we find ourselves entrenched in the political campaign season, navigating the obstacle course of platforms, promises and pundits vying for prime real estate in our psyches, the holiday of Passover is just around the corner.

Passover – the commemoration of Hebrew slaves being released from bondage in Egypt and founding their own nation – is the quintessential story of the pursuit of freedom.  So while feeling inundated by ads and pulled in a multitude of directions can feel frustrating and daunting, in deference to our Jewish ancestors and all people of diverse backgrounds who have and continue to fight for the right to their convictions, it’s crucial to remember that the ability to live and practice one’s beliefs freely and the freedom to choose what those beliefs are, is something that should never be taken for granted.

Born and raised in Eastern Europe, Arthur Szyk witnessed the persecution of his fellow Jews and felt a responsibility to use his artistic talents to oppose injustice and provide them with a means of hope as the Nazi regime was rising to power.  In 1933 Szyk created his now world renowned Haggadah.  The Haggadah guides the set order of the Seder feast, a meal centered on symbolic foods which represents and recalls the Israelites exodus from ancient Egypt.  The rich, detailed illustrations which comprise ‘The Szyk Haggadah’ are symbolic as well.  The artist- activist infused the traditional Haggadah framework with powerful visual commentary on the theme of the universal struggle for human freedom.

Many works from ‘The Szyk Haggadah’ and several versions of the celebrated publication are on display as part of the original exhibit, Arthur Szyk: The Art of Illumination. This distinguished and exquisitely rendered book serves not only as a reminder of past struggles, but also of those we continue to grapple with today and the importance of fighting for justice and freedom for all.

Publication Day! No Jokes about it!

By Ellie Gettinger, Education Director

Today you may be expecting to see something funny or unexpected, it is April Fool’s Day after all. But I want to mark another celebration on this day. Today is the 115th anniversary of the publication of The Settlement Cook Book. This is an artifact that just keeps coming up–we hosted a successful program with the Wisconsin 101 project, in which we detailed the cookbook’s impact on state and national culture. I was interviewed recently by a national source to talk about the book and its Jewish content and next week I am giving a presentation about it at a local senior center. I won’t say that it gets the most attention, but it is certainly one of our most central stories. I have had visitors from everywhere–Atlanta to Ashwaubenon (one of my favorite Wisconsin town names), Jewish and non-Jewish–who relate to this cookbook and tell me their stories of growing up with it.

The cookbook appeared in numerous editions, but here is the story of the first. Lizzie Kander, leader extraordinaire of the Settlement House, goes to her board of directors, all men that she had recruited to be part of this endeavor to ask for $18 (roughly $500 today) to publish a cookbook. While the men signed on to Lizzie’s mission to acculturate new immigrants, they did not really see the practical application of a cookbook. Most of these men had cooks and I would venture that none of them had ever made anything in a kitchen. She went to her friend and publisher Merton Yewdale, who agreed to help her find advertising. They sold their product at the Boston Store and gave the first twenty to her students. This is the beginning of an icon…it became nationally known and famously James Beard said, “If I consult a cookbook at all, it is likely to be by one of these sensible flat-heeled authors like the famous Mrs. Kander.” That first edition raised over $500–more than $13,000 by today’s standards.

Below are two of my favorite icons from Settlement Cook Books–the formal table setting and some of the early ads that made it possible. Perhaps you can celebrate Settlement Cook Book Day as I like to call it, by using just as much cutlery as the illustration below shows!

Table Setting Cookbook Ads