Wednesday, August 31, 2011

And the Artifact is...

On Friday, we asked if you could identify this artifact. While no one was able to name the object, many of you correctly determined that it was used in conjunction with textiles.

Photo property of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum
And the artifact is...a rug hook! Using this artifact as leverage, a craftsperson would pull loops of yarn or fabric through a stiff woven base, like burlap or linen. The end result is truly a work of art.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dated Dialect: The Forgotten Slang of Centuries Past

We've recently learned a few great bits of archaic slang which might have been familiar to the 19th century residents of 97 Orchard Street. Is that a Maltooler (pickpocket) smatter hauling (stealing handkerchiefs)? He'd better watch out for the crushers (police)!

Image Courtesy of the New York Public Library

Friday, August 26, 2011

Guess the Artifact: Shop Life Edition

Time for another exciting round of guess the artifact! This particular object is a contoured wooden handle with metal tip. There is a small hole at the end of metal tip. It is 13 cm in length.

Photo property of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum

Happy guessing! Check back on Monday for the answer...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Victoria Confino Onstage at Between the Seas

One of the most popular tours here at the Museum is our Confino Family Program, which introduces visitors to a family of Greek Sephardic immigrants who lived at 97 Orchard Street in the early 20th Century. On Saturday, September 3rd, Educator Elly Berke will take this program outside the Tenement with a presentation at Between the Seas, a festival of Mediterranean culture taking place here in New York City at the Wild Project.

Educator Elly Berke as Victoria Confino; Image Courtesy Crain's New York

The Confino program features 14-year-old Victoria Confino (as portrayed by one of our Museum educators), who introduces curious guests to her family's home, discussing their language, religion, favorite foods and family history. With grace and good humor, Victoria fields questions from inquisitive visitors of all ages as they explore her apartment.

The Confino Family Kitchen
For her performance at the Between the Seas festival, Educator Elly Berke has developed a new off-site interpretation of the program. She'll be portraying Victoria and sharing adapted versions of the stories our visitors hear when they visit 97 Orchard. Elly's terrific creativity and energy are sure to make this performance a memorable one. We hope you'll join us on the 3rd, but if you can't, remember the Confino program is also among our regular tour offerings!

Monday, August 22, 2011

And the Artifact is...

On Friday, we asked you if you could identify this artifact. It's tough to stump our brilliant readers,
but this one was particularly confusing. We had several great guesses, but no one hit on the correct answer.


This mystery object is...a cigar holder! It would have been used in John Schneider's Saloon to display an array of cigars to patrons. Perhaps John would have kept it in the back room, where preferred patrons, guests, and community leaders would have gathered to discuss neighborhood politics and issues.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Guess the Artifact: Shop Life Edition

As you might have heard, Museum staff are hard at work developing a new exhibit for the storefront at 97 Orchard Street, "Shop Life." We've already shown you some of the artifacts that we'll use to interpret these immigrant stories, but as we get closer to the opening of "Shop Life," we thought we would give you a peek at some of the other fascinating objects that we're gathering.

So, can you guess what this intriguing object is?

17 cm high and 9 cm in diameter, this mystery artifact is stamped metal, possibly brass, with nails placed in a circular pattern, four at the top and eight on the body. 

What could it be? (Hint: this object will be used to help interpret John Schneider's Saloon). Leave your guesses in the comment section and check back on Monday for the mystery reveal! 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

New Season, New Talks!

London, New Zealand, Mexico...Tenessee, Louisiana, California...we're lucky to welcome visitors from across the U.S. and the world here at the Tenement Museum. But of course we have a special fondness for our fellow New Yorkers, and we love the mix of locals and tourists who attend our free evening Tenement Talks series.

Like the city we call home, Tenement Talks are full of surprises: topics range from politics to cuisine, architecture, history and beyond. Curious locals and tourists alike gather in our Visitor Center for after-work drinks and a spirited conversation with some of today's most interesting writers and thinkers. Next month, our Talks return from a summer hiatus with a terrific fall lineup.

To launch our new season on September 7, we'll feature author Anna Solomon discussing her new book The Little Bride, the tale of a young Jewish mail-order bride who travels from Odessa to start a new life in 19th century South Dakota. We'll also enjoy the music of Tenement Museum Educator and musician Clare Burson, whose 2010 album Silver and Ash received rave reviews.

On September 8, we're thrilled to welcome actor, comedian and Obie-award-winning playwright Wallace Shawn. Shawn's diverse film career has included My Dinner with Andre, Toy Story, The Princess Bride and an unforgettable cameo in Woody Allen's Manhattan. Shawn will discuss his life and work and read from a selection of his essays.

Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory in My Dinner with Andre

On September 14 we'll round out an amazing week with author Julie Salamon reading from her book Wendy and the Lost Boys: The Uncommon Life of Wendy Wasserstein. Pulitzer Prize-winner, Broadway titan and the first woman playwright to win a Tony Award, Wasserstein spoke to a generation of women during an era of vast change.

In the season ahead, we'll collaborate with independent non-profit newsroom Pro Publica for a series of talks on current events. We'll also talk with writer and humorist Calvin Trillin, biographer Vivian Gornick and feminist historian Jean H. Baker, among many others.

With an amazing array of guests and topics, this fall's Tenement Talks are some of our most exciting events yet! Whether you're a visitor or a New Yorker, we hope you'll join us for a drink and a chat.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Meet the Neighbors: Mastihashop

August has arrived, and with it, quieter streets--making it the perfect time to explore the Lower East Side. Today, we'd like to introduce you to our new favorite local Greek establishment, the Mastihashop.

Photo courtesy New York Magazine

Located at 145 Orchard Street, Mastihashop gets is name from a little-known resin, Mastiha. Derived from the trunks of evergreen Mediterranean schinos trees, mastiha is only grown on the Greek island of Chios. Famous for its therapeutic properties, mastiha can be incorporated into all sorts of goods--pasta, extra virgin olive oil, face cream, shower gel, toothpaste, and soap.

According to Kitchen Caravan, "Mastiha has been used since ancient times for both its flavor as a spice, as well as for its therapeutic properties. It is an antibacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory, and has long been lauded for its beneficial use in skin care, oral hygiene, and for curing digestive disorders. [It has] a refreshingly alpine, and slightly camphoric aroma."

Mastiha--for the curious reader

After years of preparation, Mastihashop was opened in 2007 by sisters Artemis and Kalliopi Kohas, who were born to Greek immigrant parents in Allentown, PA. According to their web site, the sister aspire to create "a meeting place that will host products and flavors from many civilizations of the Eastern Meditteranean."

If you visit the shop, make sure to check out the tasting corner, where visitors can sample Turkish delight, gum, and sweet mastiha paste--another exciting (and unusual) flavor of the Lower East Side!

--Posted by Kathryn Barnard

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Meet the Neighbors: Angel Orensanz Center

In 1986, Angel Orensanz, a world-renowned artist, took a night-time stroll through the Lower East Side with one goal in mind: finding the perfect space for a sculpture studio. What he found was a dilapidated building at 172 Norfolk Street in desperate need of repairs.

After evicting the pigeons, clearing the snow, securing the floors and adding electricity, Orensanz opened the space in the late spring. Since that day, more than 1 million people have visited the Angel Oresanz Center—to hear concerts, attend services, see exhibitions, participate in weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs and all kinds of lectures, community events and holidays. But its popularity is not the only reason why we think the Angel Orensanz Center is a great neighbor.

Exterior of Angel Orensanz Center. Photo courtesy Angel Orensanz Foundation.

Like most of the structures on the Lower East Side, the Center has a rich history. Built in 1849, a group of German Jews known as Anshe Chesed (The People of Living Kindness) hired German architect Alexander Saeltzer to build what would be the first synagogue in the U.S. to embody the tenets of Reform Judaism: the pulpit facing the congregation; the prominent use of organ and other instrumental music; and the use of German. Much like other buildings in Berlin, the ceilings were deep blue with gold stars. A balcony surrounded the main space and two spires rose dramatically in the front.

However, from the 1880s to the end of World War One, the synagogue suffered—it was passed from congregation to congregation, and was closed for much of the time. The gold stars went missing and the German splendor faded away. Orthodox congregations moved the pulpit to face East, women were relegated to the balcony, and the organ was removed (it is now at a summer camp in upstate New York). The spires at the front were removed and services returned to the traditional length, with Hebrew as the only spoken language.

In the years during and after World War Two, the neighborhood changed and many members of the Jewish community began to leave the Lower East Side, resulting in the closure of synagogues across the City. The synagogue on Norfolk Street closed in 1974. The City boarded up the windows and cinderblocked the doors, but that did not stop the building from being vandalized—gates were stolen; books, Torahs, pews, and the grand chandelier in the center space were broken or destroyed. At one point in the 1980s, the City of New York intended to demolish the building, erasing its heritage in the community.

Norfolk Street Synagogue, circa 1975. Photo courtesy Angel Orensanz Foundation.

But on that February day in 1986, Angel Orensanz had bigger plans for the space. Now home to the Angel Orensanz Foundation, the building has event and exhibition space, a free museum, which houses the permanent collection of Angel Orensanz’s work, as well as a large archive which is open to the public. The space now serves as an artistic and cultural resource open to artists, writers, thinkers and leaders from across the globe, and to the community.

Angel Orensanz Center. Photo courtesy Angel Orensanz Foundation.
--Posted by Kathryn Barnard