What's New - February 2012

The Magnes Reopening & New Mexican Centennial Events

The Magnes Opening, Sunday, January 22, 2012

      I was pleased to accept the invitation to attend the opening of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. For decades I've drawn extensively on collections at both the Magnes and the Bancroft, and looked forward to celebrating their collaboration. In 1981, when contracted to write Pioneer Jews: A New Life in the Far West, I was directed to the now defunct Western Jewish History Center at the Judah L. Magnes Museum. Its archivist, Ruth Rafael, personally introduced me to its extensive library and comprehensive collection, supported by three annotated bibliographies and a guide to its oral history collection. She also apprised me of the Jewish files in the Western Americana Collection at the Bancroft Library. Thereafter, each visit included fruitful stops at the Bancroft and the Magnes. When the two co-ventured, I felt as if two beloved, but vastly different friends, had partnered. How was this unprecedented collaboration functioning?
       Extraordinarily well, I thought upon arrival. Despite heavy rain, an umbrella-toting crowd had assembled in front of the building. Tom Bates, Berkeley Mayor, was reading was reading a proclamation in honor of the newly restored edifice. Next came the foot-tapping, rain-be-damned, celebratory mood induced by the energetic UC Berkeley Marching Band.
       Partially funded by the sale of the old Magnes' 8,600 square-foot property for approximately $2 million, San Francisco architects Pfau Long and Oakland designers Picassa Studios handsomely redesigned a new 25,000 square foot home for the Magnes Collection. While the building still bares markings of its history as a university printing mill, the main exhibition space has been refitted with attractive reclaimed elm display cases, and a sleek burnt orange and silver façade. With double the previous storage space, the facility will accommodate in-house eighty percent of the 15,000-item collection.
       Inside, thousands of well-wishers browsed the exhibitions. Of these, the primary focus is The Magnes Effect: Five Decades of Collecting, With this exhibit, Director Alla Efimova and her team examine the global impact of the museum's collecting practices over the last 50 years and lay the foundation for several diverse exhibitions to come. The festivities also included additional displays by contemporary artists, klezmer music (some dancing in the aisles), joyous reunions, drinks, and tantalizing hors d'oeuvres.
       For more, visit their website: www.magnes.org.

New Mexican Centennial Events

       In celebration of the 100th anniversary of New Mexico statehood, the New Mexico Jewish Historical Society dedicated its fall, 2011 conference to a program titled The Jewish Experience in Twentieth Century New Mexico & the Institutions that Made it Possible. The event featured twelve well-known authorities on New Mexico Jewish history and included reflections on the changes and continuities in the state's Jewish community, the Jewish experience in state government, and Jewish involvement in the state's national research labs. Another conference highlight was a reception and book-signing honoring Naomi Sandweiss, author of the newly published book Jewish Albuquerque: 1860-1960. Long-awaited, this history recounts the story of early settlers on the Rio Grande, the burgeoning business opportunities that lured them, and the esteemed roles they came to fill in local government, commerce, and community life.
      Two exhibitions on Jewish life in New Mexico are currently being shown and will run until the end of February. Adventure, Adversity and Opportunity is now at the Albuquerque Jewish Community Center.The show features 42 panels of photos and text that chronicle early, mostly German Jewish immigrants and the roles they played in building the young state. The slightly smaller, 30-panel companion show Adventure, Adversity and Opportunity: Our Jewish Pioneer History in New Mexico is now at the Carlsbad Museum and Arts Center and focuses on synagogues, the Freudenthal family of Las Cruces and Jake Gold of Sante Fe. Both arose from an exhibition titled Jewish Pioneers of New Mexico that ran from 2000-2004 at the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe and subsequent book of the same name. In sponsoring these exhibitions, the New Mexico Jewish Historical Society hopes to apprise the public of this important, albeit little known, segment in New Mexico's history.
       For more information, view the New Mexico Jewish Historical Society's website: www.nmjhs.org.

      The next quarterly email will feature current and upcoming Western Jewish museum exhibitions and programs. We currently plan to include California Dreaming: Jewish Life in the Bay Area From the Gold Rush to the Present showing at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco until October 16, 2012, and Jewish Homegrown History: Immigration, Identity and Intermarriage, scheduled to run at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles from March 29, 2012 to September 2. We urge other Western Jewish Museums to send us information about exhibitions and programs appropriate for the May newsletter.

- Harriet Rochlin