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Monday, October 31, 2011

Families Affected By Wartime: Part II

This is the second post in a series that will explore the Rosenbach’s newest initiative, Families Affected by Wartime. This ground-breaking initiative, which is still in the planning stages, will serve the military community, a population largely ignored by museums. The project aims to connect families from the past with those from the present, demonstrating the relevance of historical documents to our contemporary wartime experience.

Guest Post By Professor Jim Martin (Bryn Mawr College)

As a retired Army Officer, whose academic research and public service continues to focus on military members, Veterans, and their families, I have been thrilled to contribute to the development of the Rosenbach Museum's initiative - Families Affected by Wartime Project.

The Rosenbach has responded to the call from our nation's civilian and military leaders to become engaged in supporting our returning service members and their families, especially our "Citizen Soldiers" - those members (and families) from our National Guard and other Reserve Components whose service and sacrifice has been critical in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. While the Department of Defense and the Veteran's Administration have made considerable strides in addressing the needs of these returning Veterans and their families, "government" alone will never be able to meet all the challenges posed by wartime service. The well being of our military service members, Veterans, and their families requires the support of all citizens. Family, friends, neighbors, and other citizens must step up and provide the "welcome home" and the sustaining support these Veterans and families deserve. The transition for these members and their families can be hard and often include physical and emotional needs as well as employment and educational challenges that must be dealt with as part of reintegration. Our national identity is grounded in the way we honor our sacred commitment to our Veterans.

The Rosenbach collections provide an innovative and unique opportunity to reach out and engage military/Veteran families with an experience that will connect them with past generations of American's who have also served and sacrificed for our Nation's safety and security. As described in an earlier blog by Emilie Parker, the wartime letters and other materials from the collections from previous wars, relate directly to the contemporary experiences of military families. The Rosenbach’s initiative, to share these letters and help today's military/Veteran families connect with the experiences of earlier generations, provides a powerful message of caring and encouragement. As the Families Affected by Wartime initiative takes shape, I hope that everyone will follow its development and offer whatever support is needed to make it a success. The Rosenbach is setting a path for all museum's and similar community institutions to follow. This represents the kind of citizenship that marks us as One Nation! I encourage you to watch for further information on the Rosenblog.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Families Affected By Wartime

This is the initial post in a series of articles that will explore the Rosenbach’s newest initiative, Families Affected by Wartime. This ground-breaking initiative will serve the military community, a population largely ignored by museums. The Rosenbach houses an exceptional collection of wartime letters and documents which speak to the personal experience of war and the challenges faced by service men and women and their families. The project aims to connect families from the past with those from the present, demonstrating the relevance of historical documents to our contemporary wartime experience.

Over the next few months, project advisers as well as Rosenbach staff and trustees, will be sharing their experiences with the Families Affected by War project here on the Rosenblog. Contributors will include Lovella Calica, the Founding Director of Warrior Writers, Stephanie Himel-Nelson, the Director of Communications at Blue Star Families, James Martin, a retired US Army Colonel and a professor at the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research at Bryn Mawr College and Joyce Raezer, the Executive Director of the National Military Family Association.

Derick Dreher, John C. Haas Director, Rosenbach Museum & Library

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I’ve always had the utmost respect for those that joined the military in response to 9/11 and the families they left behind. But, I’ve often felt frustrated by the fact that I can’t actually do anything to show my support and respect. That changed the day that the Rosenbach became a Blue Star Museum. The initiative, organized by the military family support organization Blue Star Families, invites service men and women and their families to visit museums free of charge during the summer months. This program, based on a very simple idea, has been Blue Star Families’ most successful initiative to date and yet it stops tantalizingly short of providing the type of experience the Rosenbach aims to provide for its visitors. The Rosenbach is committed to engaging visitors in its collections, in part by encouraging them to share their own knowledge and experience. We encourage our visitors to talk back. So, how can we engage military families with our collections and encourage them to talk back? I wanted to find that conversational catalyst.

It turns out that I have a lot from which to choose. One of the most poignant examples in the museum’s collection is a Civil War era letter written by a father to his children in which he attempts to describe his wartime responsibilities.

“Papa wished very much to go home on New Year’s day to have a New Year’s dinner with Mama, Uncle and his dear children with Uncle Clem but Papa had to stay with his Regiment and take care of the soldiers who do not take good care of themselves.”
Alexander Biddle, autograph letter signed to his children. 3 January 1863. Rush:IV:30:27

I was struck by how contemporary this letter sounds; it could have been written by a parent stationed in Iraq in 2011. Encouraged by this discovery, the Families Affected by Wartime project began to take shape.

In May of this year, the Rosenbach was awarded a grant from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage through the Heritage Philadelphia Program to support the initiative. During the spring and summer, we reached out to individuals familiar with the needs of the military community to help guide our thinking. These advisers include representatives from military family support organizations, staff from Philadelphia’s VA Medical Center and the Pennsylvania National Guard. The advisers provided us with valuable information about the needs of the military community. They stressed that while organizations like the Veteran’s Administration and Blue Star Families provide support, there are still many members of the military community that feel a lack of support and experience isolation from their community.

An article written by the director of the Iraq/Afghanistan Deployment Impact Fund noted that “Warriors don’t come home to federal agencies. They come home to communities and families, and that’s where we can make a difference.” Our advisers agreed that this is true; organizations such as the Rosenbach can have a role to play in providing support for members of the military community. And we’ve come to realize that our quest to support military families is not an unrealistic endeavor, far from it. The issue of supporting the troops and their families can seem mired in conflict and debate. But, we don’t have to wait until government debates are resolved before taking action at the community level.

Emilie Parker, Hirsig Family Director of Education, Rosenbach Museum & Library

In a Nutshell

First off, a quick Dracula shout out. A recent announcement reveals that a journal belonging to Bram Stoker has been discovered by his descendants. The journal dates from 1871-1881, well before he was working on Dracula, but it's nonetheless a fascinating find. A published version, with annotations by Dracula scholar Elizabeth Miller (who also edited the facsimile edition of the Dracula notes) will be out next year.

But even as we Rosenbachers have Dracula on the brain, we're also hard at work bringing the great Rosenbach collection to folks in other ways. Our loyal blog readers know all about our in-house exhibitions, and have heard me talk about travelling exhibitions, but have you ever heard about the Rosenbach's panel exhibitions?

A panel exhibition is a series of large panels with images of objects and accompanying text printed on them to create a narrative. The exhibit is composed completely of these flat printed panels, with no original objects being loaned, so they can be used in places which do not have the security, environmental conditions, and staff to handle original objects.

A couple of years ago the Rosenbach was approached by Nextbook, a non-profit supporting Jewish culture, and asked if we were interested in creating a panel exhibit on Maurice Sendak, to be traveled by the American Library Association. Thus was born In a Nutshell: The Worlds of Maurice Sendak. You can read the exhibit script for this panel show and see images of the panels at the ALA site. There are currently 4 copies of the show traveling to libraries from Montreal to Oregon to Texas (the full list of venues is also available on the ALA site).

Each of the exhibition hosts has to create programming to accompany the installation, and our very own Patrick Rogers has been busy travelling around to many of the venues to give lectures. This weekend he's in St. Louis for the opening reception of In a Nutshell at the St. Louis County Library--you can hear a clip of Patrick speaking about the show in this page from the St. Louis Beacon. The new Brunswick Public Library has also posted video from its opening reception online, if you would like to hear Patrick wax eloquent about the Rosenbach and about all things Sendak at more length.

Panel shows offer yet another great way for the Rosenbach to fulfill its mission to "inspire curiosity, inquiry, and creativity by engaging broad audiences in exhibitions, programs, and research based on its remarkable and expanding collections." Shows like In a Nutshell help bring images of Rosenbach objects and the expertise of our staff to folks around the country, many of whom may never make it to Philadelphia. So if you are a far-flung Rosenbach fan, be sure to check out the exhibit if it travels near you! And if you are a fan who has seen the panel show, please swing by to say hello to the Rosenbach when you are in town!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Happy Birthday E. E. Cummings

Edward Estlin Cummings was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on October 14, 1894--Happy 117th birthday! As with so many 20th century literary figures, Cummings comes to the Rosenbach through the Marianne Moore collection. Moore initially met Cummings in the 1920s through her friends Hildegard & Sibley Watson; Sibley was President of The Dial magazine and a college friend of Cummings.

Moore admired Cummings's visual art as well as his poetry and Rosen-friends are undoubtedly familiar with the yellow rose painting he gave her which now hangs in the Marianne Moore room (click here to see it in our online catalog). Cummings gave the rose painting to Moore in 1938 and it was probably painted with her poem Injudicious Gardening in mind. In this poem, first published in 1915, Moore had challenged the idea of yellow roses as a traditional sign of infidelity. The theme had presented itself to her after she read the letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning--Robert's first flowers to Elizabeth were yellow, which he promised to rectify by planting a dozen white.

You can see other examples of Cummings's painting, including another yellow rose, in the Hildegarde Lasell Watson Collection of Artworks by E. E. Cummings at the College at Brockport.

After Cummings's death in 1962, Marianne Moore wrote a commemorative essay, in which, among other things, she admired Cummings's economy of expression. With that in mind, we will aim for brevity and sign off here.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Rosenbach Researchers

Who does research at the Rosenbach? The answer turns out to be all kinds of people--literary scholars, cheese specialists, artists, historians, Rosenbach docents, and fashion designers. We'll be celebrating the fascinating work that these folks have done in an upcoming exhibit Inquiring Minds, which opens November 23, but I thought I'd give a sneak peek at some of the projects that we'll be profiling in the exhibition.

Linne Mooney is a professor at the Center of Medieval English Palaeography, University of York. Palaeography is the study of historic handwriting. Her research at the Rosenbach involved some detective work about the scribe of our manuscript copy of Gower's Confessio Amantis, as part of a large research project on the 'Identification of the Scribes of Manuscripts of Major Works of Middle English Literature."

Cari Ann Brezina is a fashion design student at the Moore College of Art and Design and she used her research to create fashions inspired by Maurice Sendak--the design in the picture above was inspired by Ida's yellow raincoat in the 1981 work Outside Over There.

Robert Hicks is the director of our institutional neighbors: the Mütter Museum and Historical Medical Library of the The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. He was interested in some of our narratives of discovery for his recently published book Voyage to Jamestown: Practical Navigation int he Age of Discovery. Yes, that is Dr. Hicks on the cover of the book and there are even more images of him inside, wearing period costume and demonstrating the use of historic navigational instruments.

You'll have to come by Inquiring Minds when it opens to find out more about these projects and other great work involving our collection. Better yet, you too can join us as a researcher--no academic credentials required, just curiosity about the collections.