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Friday, February 22, 2013

Training Museum Professionals

So how do museum staff learn to be museum staff? There are many different pathways, as those of us at the Rosenbach can attest, but it typically involves a combination of study and practical experience. Here at the Rosenbach we have an active internship program to help train the next generation of museum and library professionals and for this week's blog post we asked current collections intern Anne Baker to talk a little about her graduate school work in museum studies. Her post gives a glimpse into the many different kinds of skills that are bound up in a museum career.
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When most people think of museums, they tend to recall the objects that they hold. So much more goes into sustaining a museum than what can be seen on the outside. Behind the walls that hold the paintings, beyond the cases used to display artifacts, there is a whole stealth network of volunteers and staff that put time and energy into creating the best museum experience possible. 

I attend the University of the Arts and am enrolled in a Masters Program in Museum Communications. I know, what does this mean? This communications program involves everything from PR and marketing to development and collections management. I have learned many skills, most of them of through group projects based on real world experiences.

I write a lot of papers, mostly on museums and case studies, covering everything from dissecting the mission statement, the history, and programming, to their collection and exhibits. I also study audience development, where we take surveys at museums, input the data, and write a report based on our findings. Collections is my favorite class. In this class we discuss collection policies and how to catalog objects using computer software. We also work on a collections project for an institution. My group's project consisted of measuring objects and antique furniture to find out the square footage that the objects took up and come up with an alternative storage plan. 

I am currently taking a class in PR and Marketing where we take a museum, find their marketing weakness, and create a new strategy. This includes everything from what the museum brand is, to designing a new logo, creating new materials and ads, and then marketing the new brand to the community.  In a previous class my classmates and I learned basic graphic design to help us design our marketing materials.

Photo Taken by Bre Wucinich of a scavenger hunt in downtown Philadelphia for a group project

I take a lot of field trips, which is so much fun.  As a class we have gone to New York City and are planning to go to Gettysburg in a few weeks. I have also gone to the Wagner Free Institute of Science, the Rodin Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Penn Museum (just to name a few) for class projects and assignments.

Through experiences at the Rosenbach I have learned, and am continuing to learn, more about collections; how they are organized, cataloged, and cared for.  I have also been taught what it takes to put together an interesting exhibit: the prep work; design; content; objects; and research.  (I also get to see amazing objects, letters, manuscripts, and works of art!)

I still have one more year to go and many more classes to take, but everything that I learn and will continue to learn helps to shape the Museum field for the future. 

What people make up the museum?  The Board, Director, Administrators, Marketing Designer, Exhibits Designer, Curator, Collections Manager, Registrar, Visitor Services (The Front Desk), the Membership Office, Marking and Public Relations Coordinator, Director of Communications, Development Director, Librarian, Custodian, Educational Programmer, Volunteers, Docents, and many more.  So next time you are in a museum look beyond the walls and the art and remember our job is to serve you.

Anne Baker is a Museum Student at the University of the Arts. She is from Delaware, Ohio, just north of Columbus. She enjoys Art History (Italian art) and painting and is currently interning at the Rosenbach in the Collections Department, which she describes as "a blast, I have learned so much!"

Friday, February 15, 2013

Memento Maury

(C) 2013 by the Estate of Maurice Sendak.

My Brother’s Book, the last book completed by Maurice Sendak before he died in May of 2012, was published ten days ago and it has already sparked a number of interesting literary associations ranging from Shakespeare to Austen.  It makes sense that a number of reviews so far have examined the book through a Shakespearean lens—one reason being that no less a Shakespeare scholar than Stephen Greenblatt wrote the foreword to the book and recently published a reflection on it in the New York Times, and no less a playwright than Sendak’s friend and collaborator Tony Kushner has done interviews about the book for NPR and elsewhere.  As both Greenblatt and Kushner have noted, Sendak’s love of Shakespeare ran deep, and My Brother’s Book makes use of characters—among them a bear—dialogue, and motifs from Shakespeare’s late “romance” A Winter’s Tale (ca. 1610-11).  

But as is true for most of his books, Sendak conjured My Brother’s Book from more than one element, drawing on not just Shakespeare but venturing into the cosmic imagery of William Blake, echoing the fraternal bonds of Theo and Vincent van Gogh (whom Sendak greatly admired), and giving shape to existential questions Sendak grappled with after the deaths of those closest to him, including his partner of 50 years, Eugene Glynn, and his own brother, Jack.  Five years Maurice’s senior, it was Jack who co-oped “Maury” (as Maurice was sometimes known during their childhood in Brooklyn) into illustrating the outlandish tales he wrote when they were kids (Sendak recalled one of those stories, “They Are Inseparable,” in this interview we did with him in 2007).  Maurice said they were like the Brothers Grimm, and he always looked up to his big brother and his big imagination.  The Brothers Sendak collaborated on two books together: The Happy Rain (1956) and Circus Girl (1957).  When Jack died, Maurice struggled to give expression to his grief.  In another interview (while it’s not available online it is on our DVD There’s a Mystery There: Sendak on Sendak), Sendak talked about how a favorite weeping cherry tree outside his studio window happened to bear the brunt of his sorrow: “I quit noting that tree right after my brother died.  I thought if my brother could die, then I don’t care about that tree.  So I took it out on the tree.  The tree was no more aware of me taking it out than it was when I hugged and kissed it.”  Sendak’s other, and more important outlet for his grief was poetry, and he began writing the poem that eventually became My Brother’s Book.  In the story, a fairy-like “meadow bird,” assisting Guy in his quest to find his lost brother, says, “Ask of the wild cherry tree: Does he live?  Is he dead?”  At the book’s climax Guy finds his way from a winter limbo to a kind of spring-time purgatory, “Its caverns and corridors paved with painted petals, wound round a wild cherry tree dusted pink,” where he finds his exiled sibling.  Just as Max imagines a forest growing in his bedroom in Where the Wild Things Are, Sendak associated nature with an escape to another world in My Brother’s Book, the key difference being that Max returns from that place to his world as it was, while Guy’s world is forever altered, shattered, and without the promise of return.  Yet the ending of the book—the reunion of Guy with his brother Jack amidst the branches of the cherry tree—implies a certain reconciliation with that loss because it is not really a loss at all, but a transformation, a “sea change” to borrow again from Shakespeare.  

My Brother’s Book is an unusually cosmic book for Sendak, taking place across continents, galaxies, constellations, and netherworlds.  But at the center of this vastness we see Sendak again wrestling with death and what lies beyond.  My Brother’s Book may be more Sendak’s Tempest than his Winter’s Tale.  It begins with a similar violence from the heavens, stages its own monstrosities (the bear) and ethereal spirits (the “meadow bird”), and acts as Sendak’s literary goodbye: just as Prospero voiced Shakespeare’s farewell to theater (recall his “we are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep” speech), so Sendak signed off his final book, “Goodnight, and you will dream of me.” 

Tell us what you think about Sendak's posthumous book: What literary and artistic associations do you see?  What other Sendak books does it bring to mind?  

--Patrick Rodgers is the Curator of the Maurice Sendak Collection at the Rosenbach Museum and Library

Friday, February 08, 2013

Mary, Queen of Scots

On February 8, 1587, Mary, Queen of Scots, was executed after almost twenty years of imprisonment. The anniversary seemed a good time to showcase a letter from Mary. (Yes, this date is in the Julian calendar not the Gregorian, but we're going to ignore that for convenience sake).

George Vertue, Maria Scotorv Regin et Franciae Dotaria.  illustration for Paul de Rapin-Thoyras, The History of England. 1735. MS 1569/12
Our letter dates from 1571, when Mary was imprisoned at Sheffield Castle. Her retinue had been reduced following a Spanish plot on her behalf, and this letter was written to her departed "Faithful and good servants." We have only the first two pages, but the full text is known.

Mary, Queen of Scots, autograph letter. Sheffield castle, [18 September 1571]. MS 569/12
The letter is in French, but here's the translation of our portion, as given in Turnbull's "Letters of Mary Stuart" (1845):

My faithful and good servants seeing that it has pleased God to visit me with so much affliction and now with this strict imprisonment and the banishment of you my servants from me I return thanks to the same God who has given me strength and patience to endure it and pray that this good God may give you like grace and that you may console yourselves since your banishment is on account of the good service which you have rendered to me your Queen and mistress for that at least will be very great honour to you to have given so good proof of your fidelity in such an exigence and if it shall be the pleasure of the good God to restore me to liberty I shall never forget you all but shall reward you according to my power At present I have written to my Ambassador for your maintenance not having it in my power to do better towards you as I should wish and now at your departure I charge each one of you in the name of God and for my blessing that you be good servants to God and do not murmur against him for any affliction which may befall you for thus it is his custom to visit his chosen I commend to you the faith in which you have been baptized and instructed along with me remembering that out of the Ark of Noah there is no salvation and like as you make profession of no other sovereign than myself alone so I pray you to profess with me one God one Faith one Catholic Church as the greater portion of you have already done And especially you who are recently reclaimed from your errors strive to instruct yourselves very rigidly and found yourselves in the faith and pray to God to give you constancy for to such God will never deny his grace and to you Master John Gordon and William Douglas I pray God that he may inspire your hearts I can do no more

Secondly I commend you to live in friendship and holy charity with each other and to bear with each other's failings and now being separated from me assist yourselves mutually with the means and graces which God hath given to you and above all pray to God for me and give my very affectionate remembrances to the French Ambassador in London and tell him the state in which I am And in France present my humble duties to all my uncles and friends and particularly to my grandmother whom let some of you hasten to visit for me Beseech my uncle to urge strongly the King the Queen and Monsieur to assist my poor subjects in Scotland and if I die here to grant the same protection to my son and my friends as to myself according to the ancient league of France with Scotland...

Kathy Haas is the Assistant Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog

Friday, February 01, 2013

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam by Edward Fitzgerald

This week's post is another in a series adapted from papers on Rosenbach objects written by our wonderful new class of docents.

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Interior of front cover of Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, the astronomer-poet of Persia. Translated into English verse. Edward Fitzgerald, trans. London: Bernard Quaritch, 1859. EL3.F553r859

Part translation, part creation, part nihilistic vision, and part joyful celebration of nature and wine, English scholar and translator Edward Fitzgerald’s The Rubiayat of Omar Khayyam is a widely influential work from the Victorian period. The work is typically described as a translation of poems attributed to twelfth-century Persian mathematician and scholar Omar Khayyam, but whether The Rubaiyat as we read it in English is a translation, a retelling, or something in-between, has often been debated. Whatever its definition, The Rubaiyat is a stunning work of poetic revision, popular since the Victorian era, and still influential today.

Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, the astronomer-poet of Persia. Translated into English verse. Edward Fitzgerald, trans. London: Bernard Quaritch, 1859. EL3.F553r859

To define The Rubaiyat as a translation is not altogether accurate; in fact, the original work may not even be entirely authored by Omar Khayyam. The Rubaiyat is actually a collection of four-lined verses called rubai, often referred to as quatrains in English verse. The rhyme scheme of these Persian verses follows an aaxa pattern, though some verses stray from this scheme. The English translation by Fitzgerald focuses on one complete day in which Omar Khayyam wakes up, contemplates life and death, drinks, and describes the experience of being alive. (This concept may seem familiar to Rosenbach fans, as we have another famous, influential work in our collection along these same lines…)

Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, rendered into English verse. Edward Fitzgerald, trans. London: Bernard Quaritch, 1872. EL3.F553r 872

Fitzgerald probably first encountered a “complete” rubaiyat attributed to Khayyam in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. His translation of the Persian rests in the Victorian traditions of revision and interpretation. Victorian authors and translators often concerned themselves more with their interpretations of literature written in other languages rather than accuracy, and Fitzgerald is no exception. He sometimes described his rubaiyat not as a translation but as a “rendering” of the original work. He also revised his own work continually.

Front cover of Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, the astronomer-poet of Persia. Translated into English verse. Edward Fitzgerald, trans. London: Bernard Quaritch, 1859. EL3.F553r859

In fact, Fitzgerald produced four editions of The Rubaiyat in his lifetime, and a fifth was published posthumously. You can compare the text of these different editions at We have several editions at the Rosenbach: a first edition from 1859, a third edition from 1872, and a fourth edition from 1879, all published by Bernard Quaritch. We also have two autographed prints of stanzas from The Rubaiyat signed by Fitzgerald, which exemplify the popularity of the poem during Fitzgerald’s lifetime. Along with these are two notes: one with a suggested translation for Fitzgerald and one from Fitzgerald declining a different suggestion, with the admissions that he was both “painfully aware of [his] limitation” in the translation while still battling “the inclination to adjust and amend." It's no wonder Fitzgerald produced so many editions of this text!

Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, and the Salman and Absal of Jami.  Edward Fitzgerald. trans. London: Bernard Quaritch, 1879.EL3.F553 879

Though The Rubaiyat holds an important place in Victorian culture and literature, and was immensely popular after a time, it was not an immediate success. The first edition sat for so long at Quaritch that it ended up in the penny box before finally being noticed by Pre-Raphaelite poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Soon after the Pre-Raphaelites celebrated the poem, it rose in popularity. Today, The Rubaiyat is still widely available in print—so widely available that some copies cost less than three dollars on Amazon. Though not the most talked about poem in literature today, The Rubaiyat shows no signs of disappearing from the literary canon, nor from our collection.

Ivy McDaniels is a member of the Docent Training class 2012 and currently a docent apprentice. Her love of English Literature drew her to the Rosenbach’s collections