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Friday, April 25, 2014

Planning for Family Programs—Project Update: teen and family focus groups tell us what they like to do at museums

We are now past the third phase of our work with consultant Linda Norris in re-evaluating our program offerings for family audiences. The first phase was asking our stake holders to share their ideas. This past winter we met with staff members and docents and had them define family audiences. Norris wrote a terrific summery of the workshops on her blog, The Uncataloged Museum. In the workshop staff and docents worked in teams to create innovative ideas for programs specifically for teen, early learner, and family audiences.

After learning from our internal group we looked outside our institution. Throughout the month of February we collected statistics and information from local and national museums and      libraries on their offerings and successes in working with family audiences.  In particular we noted program costs, timing and repetition of programs, early learner and teen programs, as well as innovative festivals and exhibitions.   

The third step was to ask our intended audience, “what do you want from the Rosenbach?”

On April 8, eleven teens from local high schools and junior high schools met with us to talk about what they like to do at museums, when do they visit, and what are some of their favorite experiences. One teen noted, “When you actually interact with things the experience is more real.” another “I want to be a curator; I want to be behind the scenes and learning about my neighborhood.” We asked them to consider a list of possible programs which we might   offer at the Rosenbach such as creative writing workshops, or a mood-ring  application for your smartphone which would list novels and literary characters which “match” your mood. Some  of the teens offered up their own ideas, “I thought of an idea, because I like writing and poetry based on a character in a book. You would have to have a sort of reading group and then write poetry or lyrics.”

On April 13, we took to the streets with clipboards and asked local families in the park to tell us about their wants and needs. The feedback was surprising and informative! One family with a 3 year old shared that “quiet places aren’t good” and another with a 5 year old said “we like if we (husband and wife) can also talk but 85% of the time we choose a program we think our son would like.“

Up next...program prototyping! This summer and into the early fall we will test out some of these ideas.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Sendak in the '60s

Judging by this sidewalk sign the good folks at Capogiro gelateria (just up 20th Street from the museum) must have paid a visit recently to our new exhibition Sendak in the '60s.  Sendak's original drawing of Max and Moishe the Wild Thing is part of the exhibition that explores his most productive and experimental decade.  It was a decade of ups and downs for the young artist.  He created his greatest successes like The Nutshell Library, Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen (begun in 1969) in that decade, but also struggled with ill health, the death of collaborators, family, and pets, and major shifts in the children's publishing industry.  Yet he managed to publish 34 books in those ten years (depending on how you count the 4-book Nutshell Library); throughout the 1970s, he would publish just 8.
Intro image courtesy of photographer Nancy Crampton: Maurice Sendak at Lake Mohonk, NY, 1968.  (C) Nancy Crampton, all rights reserved.  

One of the best ways to experience Sendak's energetic experimentation in his books from the '60s is to get them in your hands and hear what they have to say.  We worked with the aptly-named Night Kitchen Interactive to develop a set of Sendak books that talk to you, whispering (through a cleverly embedded audio device) a secret about how Sendak conceived or constructed that particular book, and how that was visionary at the time.  And, of course, you can check out original artwork for the books in the gallery, too--from "greatest hits" like Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen to the often-overlooked-but-no-less-sublime Higglety, Pigglety, Pop! and Lullabies and Night Songs, along with plenty of '60s surprises (like a William Steig dummy book, courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia, and a Sendak drawing for The Hobbit).  And if you get hungry looking at all the cool artwork you can always grab a gelato afterwards....

 Patrick Rodgers is Curator of the Maurice Sendak Collection at the Rosenbach and loves gelato. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Sign Here

When giving tours or talking with people about the Rosenbach, I often get questions about "autographs" and whether the Rosenbach collects them.  The word "autograph" comes from the Greek for "self" and "write" and when we talk about an "autograph document" here at the Rosenbach, we are talking about an item that is handwritten by its author (rather than a secretary or copyist). An "autograph document" does not necessarily mean that it is signed. 

In common parlance, however, people often refer to autograph collecting in terms of collecting signatures of famous people. In general, that was not Dr. Rosenbach's approach. He certainly wanted to buy, sell, and collect manuscripts written by famous people, both literary and historical, but he wanted the items to be substantive--he was interested in the whole document, not just the signature. Of course there were some exceptions, for example, there are some Abraham Lincoln documents in which we have only his signature or only Lincoln's portion of a document with the rest clipped away. Another exception was Dr. Rosenbach's Signers Set.

"Signers Sets" are sets of 56 documents, each bearing the John Hancock of a signer of the Declaration of Independence (bad pun fully intended). William Buell Sprague assembled the first such set, beginning in 1815/6 when he was employed by the Washington family, who allowed him to take letters as long as he left copies. Most of the items in Dr. Rosenbach's Signers Set set are full documents, but the point of the collection was the signatures. For example, Button Gwinnett, a Georgia signer, is represented by a will he witnessed--the only part of the document that is in his hand is the signature.

Joseph Stanley, will witnessed and signed by Button Gwinnett.

Savannah, Georgia, 29 May 1770. AMs 545/17, rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia

Detail from Joseph Stanley, will witnessed and signed by Button Gwinnett.
Savannah, Georgia, 29 May 1770. AMs 545/17, Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia

Gwinnett's is often celebrated as the rarest signer signature; there are 51 known examples. Its scarcity is influenced by his not having had a substantial pre-Declaration political career, his death in a duel in 1777, the end of his family line before the 19th century, and the repeated destruction of Savannah. There are other rare signers, even some who may be rarer, but as Ryan Speer, the compiler of a recent Gwinnett census explains, "Button Gwinnett has had the benefit of better publicity!"

Signer's sets had a heyday in the 1920s and Dr. R. bought eight Gwinnetts between 1926 and 1934: one for himself and the remainder for the Rosenbach Company. Speer notes that "one of the most spectacular purchases of a Gwinnett autograph, if not the most spectacular, was made by Philadelphia bookseller Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach in 1927, when he paid $51,000 for autograph Number 36 in the census below—a 1776 letter of the Marine Committee of the Continental Congress bearing the signatures of Gwinnett and five other signers of the Declaration of Independence. Rosenbach, now a somewhat obscure figure, played an underappreciated role in increasing the visibility and inflating the market value of signers’ signatures and other manuscript Americana." The value of Button-graphs crashed with the stock market however, and did not recover until after Dr. R's death.

As a corrective to Gwinnett's media dominance, let's also remember Thomas Lynch Jr., a signer from South Carolina who died at age 30 and whose signature may actually be the most rare. Dr. Rosenbach noted that "genuine Lynch signatures are excessively rare;" because of that rarity he had to content himself with just a signature, one found on the frontispiece to Sophocles Tragedies.
Thomas Lynch Jr., signature. [ca. 1770] AMs 1084/6. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia
With that, I'll sign off.

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

Friday, April 04, 2014

Four Scores on 150 Years Ago

We've written before on this blog about Dave Burrell and his ongoing five-year series of compositions for the Civil War 150th (see here, here and here); this year's performances, Listening to Lincoln, will take place next week on Thursday April 10 and Saturday April 12. But this year there's more--a companion installation, entitled Four Scores on 150 Years Ago, which opened on Wednesday and runs through May 25th.

This installation looks at all four years (thus far) of Burrell's Civil War compositions and displays his research notes and musical scores alongside the historical materials which inspired him.  For example, in this case focusing on the 2014 compositions you can see Burrell's hand-written scores and drafts of Monika Larsson's poetic lyrics along with a page from Lincoln's 1864 Baltimore Address which was the genesis of the idea of "Listening to Lincoln."

Among the other historical items in the installation are Lincoln's notes on recruiting black soldiers, an early printing of the Emancipation Proclamation, an album belonging to Confederate spy Belle Boyd, sketches from John Brown's trial, and an account of the death of Elmer Ellsworth, an early casualty of the war who was revered as a Union martyr.

AMs 811-2_1 Ellsworth photograph (Large)
Matthew Brady, carte de visite photograph of Col. Elmer Ellsworth. 1860. AMs 811/2.1
Four Scores also gives you a chance to  revisit past performances through audio and video from Burrell's concerts and to watch interviews with the artist himself describing his creative process and what the works mean to him. The chance to bring all of this together in one space--the historical documents, Burrell's working materials, his thoughts, and the music itself--is a real treat!


So join us next week for the concert and any time through May for Four Scores

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