Museum Collection at AJHS: Fine art to folk art and even kitsch!

May 12, 2023
by Tanya Elder

Did you know that the American Jewish Historical Society maintains a Museum Collection? Collection policy has evolved since our founding in 1892 with the Society collecting ephemera, artworks (particularly posters and prints), plaques, paintings, sports memorabilia, trinkets, medals, and cultural items such as artful ketubahs, a complete set of Hebraic printing blocks and even a spinning wheel! Additionally, AJHS has archival collections that document collectors, Jewish arts foundations, and artists alike.

The art found in our Museum Collection covers a spectrum from fine art to folk art and even kitsch! Below are a selection of items that are represented in our collection.

Nimrod by Leonard Baskin 1975

First up: a print in our collection by artist Leonard Baskin (1922-2000) entitled “Nimrod,” a 1975 work depicting the Torah figure who is said to have built the Tower of Babel. Baskin was an American born son and brother of rabbis. An award winning artist he specialized in sculpture as well as graphic art, his work focused on themes of Jewish theology and history, Greek mythology, and mortality. Baskin also created and ran the Gehenna Press from 1942-1972, a fine art press that generated over 200 books. Baskin died in 2000.  

Here we have a collection of copper plate reliefs depicting famous male authors of Jewish and non-Jewish descent including Mark Twain, Leo Tolstoy, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Abraham Reisen (spelled Raisin in the relief), Henry Thoreau, Maxim Gorky, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Walt Whitman. Several years ago, the AJHS conducted a project with volunteers to document materials in the Museum Collection. These items, including these copper reliefs, were described as following: ‘Nine individual copper plates of busts of well-known men [writers/scientists] with labels below each. Artist named on each plate either as “TE” or “T. Eyges.” Three rows of varying size windows cut to fit each plate mounted on a cardboard sheet taken from a 1956 calendar.’  We do not have details regarding the artist, but copper relief art is made by molding and hammering copper into a pattern, which can be small like these portraits or large and monumental.

Israel Numismatic Society of Massachusetts Crocheted Logo

Last, but not least, have you ever thought to crochet your organization’s logo or seal? That’s just what the Israel Numismatic Society of Massachusetts did with their logo! It is unknown who created this, but our former partner in Boston, the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center holds the collection of this organization which “is … dedicated to the study of and collection of Israel’s coinage, past and present, and all aspects of Judaic numismatics.”