“School of Paris exhibition”
Since June we have been hosting the School of Paris exhibition featuring works by Chagall and Soutine and other Jewish artists.
This exhibition which has raised our standing on Manchester’s cultural circuit.
Through this and through our current partnership with Tate Liverpool, which is showing “Chagall Modern Master” we are attracting a new audience of art lovers.
I was lucky enough to visit “Chagall Modern Master” in Liverpool at the weekend. It is fascinating to learn how Chagall’s work developed and changed over time and how the works we are exhibiting fit into this. Chagall left his home village early in his life to break free of religious restrictions and yet most of his works contain Jewish symbols and references.
Here we are exhibiting two completely contrasting works by Chagall: – L’Acopalyse en Lilas, a response to the Holocaust and Le Cheval et L’Ane (the Horse and the Donkey), an illustration for one of La Fontaine’s fables.
The stories behind each these works are interesting.
Chagall was invited by Vollard an art dealer to illustrate La Fontaine’s famous fables, which are an important part of French culture. But people objected saying this was inappropriate as Chagall was a Russian Jew and not a French citizen. Vollard ignored the objections as he felt Chagall’s style had much in common with La Fontaine. As a result Chagall illustrated many of La Fontaine’s fables and they are all magical and charming.
Chagall and his wife Bella had escaped from the Nazi occupation of Franceand were living outside New York. There she fell ill and died. Chagall was devastated and his artistic output stopped abruptly. A little later he was horrified by the images of the Holocaust being shown in newspapers and Pathe news reels and this reignited his creativity. He came out of mourning and produced “Apocalypse en Lilas” and other works as a protest against the treatment of his fellow Jews.
The exhibition also shows works created by lesser known Easter European Jewish artists working in Paris at the same time as Chagall and Soutine. My own personal favourite is by Itshak Frenkel-Frenel. It’s only a small piece. Called “Shabbat Blessing” it is drawn in a cubist manner, and shows a woman lighting shabbos candles. The style itself means you really have to look at it before the woman’s headscarf, hands and the shabbos candlesticks emerge. In this 1920s drawing by an artist relatively unknown to me I can recognize a familiar weekly ritual carried out in Jewish families right through the centuries and up to the present time and beyond. And that’s why I like it!
We’re currently hosting the Jewish Theatre Company as they present Jack Rosenthal’s comedy classic “The Bar Mitzvah Boy”. We are sold out for every night and there are just one or two tickets left for Sunday’s matinee. Finally the phones have gone quieter but the building is buzzing with anticipation. Props are strewn around the general office and the main synagogue hall waits each night to be transformed into a theatre space.
The JTC have been rehearsing here at night and on Sunday afternoons for weeks. I had a quick chat with Fran the director to see how she felt about working here. Fran told me how much the cast had enjoyed working in such a beautiful environment and found it an exciting challenge. It’s great to have a ready made shul for one of the scenes. Having the audience on two side rather than just in front is an interesting situation to deal with. There have been problems with lighting and sound all of which have been sorted out.
The play is set in the 1970’s and the props particularly the furniture have been difficult to find. Most of the costumes were hired and some props were bought on Ebay. It will really be a trip down memory lane for some of the audience.
Fran has enjoyed directing a cast in which there is a wide range of ages. Younger cast members in particular are very open to suggestions and are eager to try out new ideas.
The characters in the play are so well crafted that the audience will easily identify with them and feel as if they have met them before. The mother Rita is a very comical character who is so bound up with the arrangements for the bar mitzvah celebration that she has almost lost sight of her son and his feelings. I wonder how many mothers of former bar mitzvah boys there will be in the audience and whether they will squirm a little as they watch Rita’s antics.
Finally Fran says she and the cast were nervous but excited about opening night and we now know that it went really well.
Since January we have been developing two new tours of the museum in order to improve the visitor experience. In both tours visitors can find out about Jewish life in Manchester through the experiences of real individuals who lived in the Jewish community in Manchester around 1912. One tour concentrates on the Jewish faith and the synagogue, while the other tour focuses on everyday life in the Jewish community at that time.
Our volunteer guides have been practising delivering the tours for weeks. Yesterday we officially launched the tours and invited people from other museums, from volunteering networks and from the press to coffee and cakes and the opportunity experience these new tours for themselves. We were overwhelmed by the response. About 60 people accepted our invitation and their feedback was very very enthusiastic.
When the museum closed to the public at 4:00pm staff and volunteers had their own little celebration which involved yet more coffe and cakes. Max our CEO thanked the volunteers for all their hard work and spoke about future developments at the museum. Rose our volunteer co-ordinator made sure that all volunteers were given their new smart blue t-shirts and fleeces. And then she made us all play team games! (which actually turned out to be very enjoyable).
At the end of all that anyone under the age of 35 (about 6 people) went out for a night on the town.
On Thursday March 7th we welcomed Maureen Lipman to the Museum. Our main hall was jam-packed with visitors all eager to hear what she had to say.
The event was organised to mark the start of our exhibition about the careers of Maureen and her husband Jack Rosenthal – “Jack and Maureen – A Creative Partnership”. Tickets had sold out almost as soon as they became available.
Our audience was not disappointed. Maureen spoke for a good hour and a half (without any notes). She spoke about Jack, about her mother, about Israel and being Jewish. She was in turns hilariously funny (talking about her Mum and telling jokes) and moving (when she spoke about losing Jack).
It really was a pleasure to meet her in person. We were delighted with the success of the evening.
It’s an absolutely glorious spring day here in Manchester– which is exactly what you’d expect.
In the exhibition room next door to my office there is a hive of activity. Yesterday the resources and material for our next exhibition were delivered. This is of course “Jack and Maureen – A Creative Partnership”. It’s about the lives and careers of Jack Rosenthal and Maureen Lipman.
The walls now display massive screen size posters of Jack’s face and Maureen’s face. Scattered around the room there are empty display cases, toolboxes, spirit levels, scissors, paint pots and tailors’ dummies. Stacked neatly to one side there are framed posters advertising films that Maureen appeared in like “The Pianist”. There is a tailor’s dummy dressed in one of Maureen’s costumes.
Out of this apparent chaos our Curator will create a fascinating and accessible exhibition in time for our opening on March 6th.
Right now in the corner of our exhibition room there’s a screen rotating photos taken by a Year 8 group from a school in Partington.. At first glance these look like a selection of general photos snapped on the school campus. However the significance becomes clear, when you learn that the photos were taken as a response to a Holocaust Education project run by the Imperial War Museum North and Manchester Jewish Museum. The windows, buildings and fencing of the campus were used to convey the concentration camps, while the pupils took pictures of each other to recreate the sense of isolation and despair experienced by the people.
These photos show what a powerful effect the Project had on the pupils.
There is a lot of activity going on in our exhibition room. It’s time to dismantle “Playing the Game: Sporting Life in Jewish Manchester”. I’m quite sad to see those pictures of sports teams and individuals from past and present being taken down. While it was still up it reminded me of how fabulous 2012 has been for sport in the UK. It kind of kept the Olympics alive in this little corner for a bit longer.
It is coming down for a good reason though. It will soon be replaced by the Peace Quilt exhibition, which was also inspired by the Olympics. The Olympic ideal is one of building a peaceful and better World. Children from countries all over the world were invited to create a drawing to represent what peace means to them. The results were transferred to material and stitched together to form the Peace Quilt. I have been reading all about it and am looking forward to taking a close look at each individual piece. There is sure to be a lot of variety but also many ideas in common.
This picture gives an idea of what just one of the peace quilt pieces looks like.
Right now we are really enjoying hosting a group of young volunteers who are in the middle of an exciting 10 week course here. The course is known as the “Building Bridges Project”. The course is being taught by a tutor from Salford College. They are all unemployed at the moment but when the course has finished they will receive a pre-employability diploma from Salford College to help them find employment in the future. Some but not all of them have only recently left further education.
The young volunteers and their tutor are a very lively bunch. At least two of them are from America and one is from Spain. It’s nice to hear the different accents. The classes are run in the exhibition room next to the general office on Mondays and Tuesdays. They are all busy chatting and working on various tasks on their lap-tops. Sometimes they seem to be having animated discussions and sometimes one of them is giving a presentation to the rest. One time as I walked through I overheard the tutor telling them a bit of teaching theory as they are going to have a try at teaching one of our visiting classes. I know at some point they are going to “buddy up” with existing volunteers to work in the shop and take visitors around.
I think we are really going to miss having them around when the course finishes.
Jeff Ingber table tennis champion
The launch of the museum’s latest exhibition “Playing the Game: Sporting Life in Jewish Manchester” took place on Thursday night 21st June.
We were delighted to get table tennis champion Jeff Ingber and Director of the National Football Museum, Kevin Moore to give the opening speeches to the sixty people present. The audience was made up of Volunteers and Friends of the Museum, as well as people who featured in the exhibition or who had helped with research.
Minutes before the first guests arrived I was handed a very high tech camera belonging to our CEO and asked to take photos of the event. Considering I have never owned my own camera and only take the odd snap using my phone, I wasn’t sure whether this was going to work. However, I rose to the occasion and found that I was really enjoying myself, approaching people and persuading them to pose in front of photos of themselves when they were younger. One of the pictures even found its way into a local paper!!
As someone who has only a passing interest in sport, I like the way this exhibition focuses on the social history behind the Jewish community’s participation in sport. I like the personal stories behind the athletes and I love the montage showing pictures of local Jewish sporting teams from the past. It would be easy to spend a couple of hours exploring this exhibition.
The summer holidays is the perfect time to view the exhibition, but for families with young children that is easier said than done. At the museum we like to cater for everyone. We are planning some Sport themed craft sessions for children. So families could combine a visit to the exhibition with one of our Family Friendly Craft workshops. For details of our three “Crafty Olympic Sessions” and our three “Perfect Pennants” sessions have a look at the website at http://www.manchesterjewishmuseum.com/whats-on.
Nearly everyone in the Jewish community, no matter how secular or how orthodox enjoys a good Friday night dinner. At the Museum we have noticed that whenever we put on an event involving food it is always very popular. So when it was suggested that we take part in the national “Museums at Night” project, we decided to throw our doors open on an evening in May and offer all-comers a good Jewish Friday night dinner – but on a Sunday!
First we had a meeting with a local caterer and decided which of the many traditional dishes on offer to have on our menu. Then we had a bit of a panic trying to work out how we would actually keep things hot on the night. The Curator’s grandma came to the rescue with a hostess wagon which she no longer needed. And she said we can keep it for future events.
Then it was decided that the only two Jewish members of staff should be “Shabbos Mummy” and “Shabbos Daddy”. That meant me and the Learning Officer! We made sure to be well informed about the dishes on offer and the customs and traditions associated with Shabbos.
So on Friday night 18th May I ate a hearty shabbos dinner with my family, gained 31bs and then on Sunday night 20th May I had to get ready to eat another hearty shabbos dinner with visitors to the Museum.
The guests arrived, introduced themselves and sat down to an attractively laid table. The Learning officer gave a background speech about the Sabbath and its customs, while we were distracted by delicious smells wafting through from the tiny kitchen. I demonstrated lighting the Shabbos candles and saying the blessing. The Learning Officer demonstrated blessing the wine before drinking it. All the guests were fascinated. But I think they were a little bit alarmed when the Learning Officer cut his finger while slicing the bread after blessing it. That is not a custom, we explained!
Over a delicious five course meal, the guests chatted and got to know each other. They asked questions and were even brave enough to join in some singing.
All the feedback we got was very positive and we want to do it again!!