Straight from Preservation: Edgar Bronfman Artifacts

April 11, 2023
by Tanya Elder

At least once a month, I head to the Werner J. and Gisella Levi Cahnman Preservation Laboratory located at the Center for Jewish History, where I meet conservationist, Lyudmyla Babadzhanova, and Luda shows me the latest preservation techniques the laboratory has done for our archival or Museum Collection at the American Jewish Historical Society. This past week, Luda presented two newly made preservation boxes for items from the currently “in process” Edgar Bronfman Artifacts and Museum Collection

Edgar Bronfman was the heir of the Seagrams Distillery fortune as well as a philanthropist and dedicated fighter for the rights of Jewish people the world over. Bronfman was married to Ann Loeb, the daughter of John Langeloth and Francis Lehman Loeb. Bronfman also led his father’s foundation, the Samuel Bronfman Foundation. Edgar Bronfman received many awards, diplomas, and artifacts over his lifetime, which were donated to the American Jewish Historical Society in 2022. The sixty-three objects consist of diplomas, proclamations, and citations in presentation folders and artifacts such as mezuzahs, torah bells, and bronze plaques. Organizing collections and conserving individual objects are time-consuming processes. These five objects have been carefully and beautifully housed in custom enclosures: an Argentine bombilla drinking straw and Yerba maté gourd cup, two paperweights, and a medal.  

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The Museum Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society is large and our space for museum objects is limited. To fit objects into the space and for the sake of preserving the items, custom boxes and enclosures are made to house several items together. We work with the Preservation Lab to consider how they will clean, restore, or house objects together to maximize both preservation and space. In the case of the Yerba cup and bombilla drinking straw, along with two paperweights (both crystal glass), it was decided to store these objects together in one box. Luda then worked with the materials to provide a safe environment to protect both the silver and gold in the Yerba cup and the glass of the paperweights. This includes a sculpted Styrofoam base to fit the objects, with specialized paper lining them, and acid-free cloth ribbon with thin Styrofoam tops tied down to hold the objects in place during transport and storage. The last object Luda gave me is this custom enclosure for the Williams College Distinguished Achievement medal Mr. Bronfman received.

Stay tuned for more objects Straight from Preservation as we explore the Museum Collection in the coming years.