Individual folders are identified in the following way: record group# -- box# -- folder#, as in R.G.1-10-32. Please use this format in citations and when referring to files for any other reason.
The Jewish Museum traces its history back to 1904 when Jewish Theological Seminary board member Mayer Sulzberger, an important benefactor of the Seminary's library, donated twenty-six Jewish ceremonial objects to the library to "serve as a suggestion of the establishment of a Jewish museum." During its earliest years the museum consisted of two exhibit cases (donated by board member Felix Warburg) in the library reading room on the second floor of the Seminary's old building on West 123d St. In November 1931, the museum, while still considered a department of the library, officially opened as the Museum of Jewish Ceremonial Objects (sometimes called the Museum of Jewish Ceremonial and Historical Objects) in its own room on the first floor of the Schiff building - today's Stein Chapel. Librarian Alexander Marx remained in charge of the museum, but Dr. Paul Romanoff was hired to be the curator. He remained from 1931 until his death in 1943.
The Seminary's annual Registers list exhibits and donations during the years the museum was at the Seminary. The most heavily attended exhibit during this period was the one put on in 1935 to celebrate the octocentennial of Moses Maimonides' birth. Some important collections were received during this period. In 1925 Felix Warburg purchased the Benguiat Collection for the museum. It remained in storage until it was put on display for the first time at the 1931 opening.
In 1939 the museum received the contents of the Jewish museum of the Great Synagogue of Danzig. Members of the Jewish community there, with the assistance of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, sent the torah scrolls, books, ceremonial objects, and textiles to the United States for wartime safekeeping. The Danzig Collection remains in the possession of the Jewish Museum today. Other important collections received during these years include the Friedenberg, Friedman, and Mintz collections.
In January 1944 board member Frieda Schiff Warburg donated her house at 1109 Fifth Avenue to serve as the museum's new home. In May, 1947 the newly renamed Jewish Museum opened in the Warburg house. During the years in between (the delay was caused by wartime conditions) the Seminary convened advisory groups of architects, art critics, and art historians, including Ely Jaques Kahn, Richard Krautheimer, Paul and Percival Goodman, Meyer Schapiro, and others. These, together with Frieda Warburg, and Seminary administrators Louis Finkelstein, Alexander Marx, and others discussed both the physical renovations of the building and the aims of the soon to be reborn museum. Correspondence, reports, and minutes produced by members of this group present their ideas. These can be found in box 1. (More of this material can be found in R.G.1, General Files - see the note about related collections, below.)
Stephen Kayser was appointed the Jewish Museum's new curator when the Museum reopened in 1947. Kayser remained the curator of the museum through the 1950s. In the 1960s he was replaced by a series of directors under whose leadership the Jewish Museum came to be known for its controversial exhibits of contemporary art. Today the Jewish Museum's exhibits focus solely on Jewish art, history, culture, and religion.
Bilski, Emily D., "Seeing the Future Through the Light of the Past: The Art of the Jewish Museum," in Nina Cardin, ed. The Seminary at 100: Reflections on the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and the Conservative Movement New York: Rabbinical Assembly, Jewish Theological Seminary, 1987, 143-154.
Kampf, Avram, "The Jewish Museum: An Institution Adrift," Judaism 17, (Summer, 1968): 282- 298.
Miller, Julie, "Planning the Jewish Museum, 1944-1947" Conservative Judaism 47 (Fall 1994): 60- 73.
Miller, Julie and Richard I. Cohen, "A Collision of Cultures: The Jewish Museum and JTS, 1904- 1971" in Jack Wertheimer, ed., Tradition Renewed: A History of The Jewish Theological Seminary vol. 2 (New York: JTS, 1997)
Rosenbach, A.S.W., "The Seminary Museum" in Cyrus Adler, ed., The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Semi-Centennial Volume New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1939, 144- 153.
The Jewish Theological Seminary's annual registers list museum exhibits and acquisitions and provide historical information about the museum.
These records of the Jewish Museum come from the files of the Jewish Theological Seminary, thus they document JTS's role in the administration of the museum while the museum was physically located at JTS, and for a period afterward.
The first set of administrative records, those dating from 1943 to 1946 (Series I), document the administration most thoroughly, since they were accumulated during the years that the museum was located at JTS. After 1947, when the museum moved to the Warburg house on Fifth Avenue, JTS's role in the museum's administration diminished. As a result, records from the period beginning in 1947 or 1948 only document those aspects of museum administration that were still handled at JTS including publicity, financial matters, and some matters relating to general oversight.
Included are: general administrative files divided into two groups, 1943-1948 and 1948- 1976; printed material, late 1940s-1970s, consisting of announcements, invitations, exhibit catalogs, and schedules of events; files documenting the construction of the List Wing, mainly 1960-1963; and material documenting the museum's annual Purim Ball, 1960-1964. The files of three Seminary administrators, Chancellor Gerson Cohen, Executive Vice-President Arthur Jacobs, and Vice-Chancellor David Kogen are also included here. They are restricted.
Photographs and floor plans of the Museum's "Masada" exhibit of 1966-1967 were retrieved from an album kept by Seminary president Louis Finkelstein and added by the Ratner Center to this collection in 1998.
I. Administrative Files, 1943-1948
II. Administrative Files, 1948-1976
III. Announcements, Invitations, Catalogs, Schedules, 1947-1970s
IV. List Wing, 1960-1970
V. Purim Balls, 1960-1964
VI. Gerson Cohen Files, 1971-1980
VII. Arthur Jacobs Files, 1951-1975
VIII. David Kogen Files, 1969-1974
IX. Masada Exhibit, London and New York, 1966-1967
Box 1, Folders 1-35
The files document the period from the donation of the Warburg house in January, 1944 to the dedication of the Jewish Museum in its new building in May, 1947. The main topic covered here is the planning for the newly separate and enlarged museum. The ongoing operation of the museum, still at JTS, is covered to a lesser extent. The physical renovation of the building, and the newly formulated aims of the museum are both treated here.
Included are minutes of the committees convened by JTS to plan for the museum; correspondence with new curator, Stephen Kayser, research fellow Guido Schoenberger, architects Percival Goodman and Konrad Wachsmann and others; budget information; press releases; reports; and other material. Of note is a report by Paul Goodman and Benjamin Nelson titled "Notes For a Museum of the Jewish Faith"(box 1, folder 29) which constists of a floor-by-floor exhibit plan of the Jewish Museum (Paul Goodman was architect Percival Goodman's brother). Comments on the report by Richard Krautheimer, Guido Schoenberger, and others are included.
Also of note is a file containing requests from groups for museum tours, which gives a sense of the variety of people who came to the museum while it was still at JTS. Additional letters from visitors can be found in the library's collection of Jewish Museum Records.
Box 1, Folders 36-43; Boxes 2-4
This later group of administrative files, while larger than the earlier group, documents the museum more thinly. During the period these records cover much of the administration of the museum took place at the museum itself. These records document the seminary's side of museum administration. Included here is a miscellany of materials documenting both administrative and curatorial matters. Approximately half of this series consists of files documenting exhibits. These contain correspondence, memoranda, financial information, notes, floor plans, printed material, and other material documenting the work behind some Jewish Museum exhibits, ca. 1959-1980. The museum's Masada exhibit, 1967, is one of the more thoroughly documented ones here. For more about the Masada exhibit see series IX, below. Also of note are photographs, legal agreements, lists, and other material documenting a diorama of Jewish history put on display at the museum in 1950.
Included here are catalogs, announcements, invitations, and schedules for exhibits, concerts, lectures, and other programs at the Jewish Museum from the late forties through the seventies. The museum's inaugural program in 1947 is included.
Catalogs from the following exhibits are included here:
(There are additional Jewish Museum exhibit catalogs in Record Group 11, Communications Department Records.)
Box 7, Folders 3-23; Box 8, Folders 1-4; Oversized Box 3, Folders 1-2
These files document the construction of the museum's List Wing, 1960-1964, related alterations to the Warburg house, the cornerstone laying, 1962, dedication, 1963, and a proposed honorary degree to artist Marc Chagall.
Included are correspondence, bids, contracts, bills, and other communications and agreements between the Seminary and the architects and contractors. Correspondence, memoranda, invitations, press releases, fact sheets, and clippings document the cornerstone laying, dedication, and reopening. Of note are photographs of architectural renderings of the List Wing, some slightly different from the completed building.
In 1963, when the Jewish Museum reopened, the Seminary wanted to confer an honorary degree on Marc Chagall and have a retrospective exhibit of his work at the museum. Chagall refused. Drafts of the Seminary's letter to Chagall, a copy of the letter sent to him, a typed translation of Chagall's response (the original is not here), and some related correspondence and notes are included. Also included is a copy of a transcript of a television program: "Directions '62, A Glimpse of the Inner Life of Marc Chagall."
Box 8, Folders 5-13; Oversized Box 3, Folder 3.
Each year the Jewish Museum held a Purim ball (also called the Queen Esther Ball) as a fund-raising event for the museum. The museum's Purim ball was patterned on a series of Purim balls put on between 1862 and 1902 by the Purim Association of New York. Included here are programs, invitations, press releases, clippings, correspondence, and memoranda documenting the planning and publicity for the 1960-1964 balls. Two original drawings of ball gowns, one by designer Pauline Trigere (with a fabric sample), have been transferred to the collection of the Seminary Library's Jewish Art Department. Of note are photographs of pages from the nineteenth century Purim Gazette, probably used for reference by planners of the museum's ball.
Box 10, Folders 1-21
Box 10, Folders 22-48; Box 11, Folders 1-26
Box 11, Folders 27-42
All three of these series, due to their recentness and sensitivity, are closed. During the years these files cover the Jewish Museum was administratively a department of The Jewish Theological Seminary. As a result, officers of the Seminary oversaw certain aspects of the museum's administration. The files of Seminary Chancellor Gerson Cohen and Vice-Chancellor David Kogen cover a range of administrative matters. Executive Vice-President Arthur Jacobs oversaw the museum's financial affairs.
Included here are three floor plans and 39 photographs of the Masada exhibit of 1966- 1967. The exhibit was shown at the Jewish Museum in New York and at the Royal Festival Hall in London. One of the floor plans is from the London exhibit and some, possibly all of the photographs are.
These plans and photographs were originally in an album found in the Brush Dormitory room used by Seminary president Louis Finkelstein. Finkelstein, who travelled to London during this period, may have assembled the album, or else it may have come into his possession by some other means. The album itself has been discarded for preservation reasons.
Additional records documenting the history of the Jewish Museum can be found in other collections in the Ratner Center, in the Seminary library, and at the Jewish Museum itself.
For material at the Seminary, see below:
R.G. 1, General Files: the General Files contain correspondence files for all the people involved in the Jewish Museum during the years it was at the Seminary. There is extensive correspondence with Frieda Schiff Warburg concerning the donation of her house, its renovation, and plans for the relocated Jewish Museum. Correspondence with the group of art curators, architects, and others brought in to consult about the museum is included here. These consultants include Percival Goodman, Ely Jacques Kahn, Richard Krautheimer, Meyer Schapiro, Guido Schoenberger, and Konrad Wachsmann. The files for librarian Alexander Marx, and files headed "Library" and "Museum" contain reports, correspondence, and memoranda documenting the early years of the museum. Some correspondence of curator Paul Romanoff is also included here. One file contains information about the Danzig collection (it is headed "Danzig"). The General Files aso contain correspondence between museum officials and Seminary representatives after 1947. Read the introduction to the General Files inventory for an explanation of how to use these files.
R.G. 2, Board of Directors Records: included here is the Seminary's correspondence with members of its board of directors. The file for Frieda Schiff Warburg contains some information about the museum.
R.G. 11, Communications Department: the Seminary's Communications Department, earlier called the Office of Public Information, continued to handle museum publicity for several decades after the museum left the Seminary building. As a result, the Communications Department's records contain press releases and exhibit catalogs, as well as correspondence and memoranda about museum events. Of particular note are files concerning the arrival of the Danzig collection in 1939. These include drafts and finished copies of the Seminary's brochure about the collection; clippings of newspaper and magazine articles about the collection; and two copies of the 1933 Danzig museum catalog, in German.
Ratner Center Photograph Collection: Photographs of the museum, both at the Seminary and the Warburg House, can be found here. Consult the Ratner Center's photograph database.
Michael M. Zagayski Papers, 1934-1977: Zagayski (b.1895) was a Polish/Jewish collector of art and Judaica who emigrated to the United States in 1940. His collection was displayed at the Jewish Museum several times. In 1958 Zagayski agreed to fund the construction of a holocaust memorial building on a site adjacent to the Jewish Museum, and to donate his collection to the museum. After the plan fell through, the List Wing was built on the site and Zagayski sold his collection at auction. These papers document Zagayski's efforts to build the holocaust memorial, his activities as a collector and art patron (notably with Ossip Zadkine and Nathan Rapoport), and other matters.
The Seminary library's rare book room contains two small collections of material about the Jewish Museum. They are:
Frieda Schiff Warburg Scrapbook: This album contains letters, photographs, clippings, and other material documenting the donation of the Warburg house to the Seminary.
Jewish Museum Records: This group of records contains correspondence of Alexander Marx and Paul Romanoff; letters from museum visitors; material about the Danzig collection (including the 1904 and 1933 Danzig museum catalogs and a program from a memorial service for Lesser Gieldzinski, 1910); correspondence concerning loans, donations, and purchases of objects; newspapers clippings about museum exhibits; press releases and correspondence with the press, and other material from the 1930s and 1940s.
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