Collecting slices of Baltimore life

June 11, 1994|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

You may own a piece of Baltimore history that the Baltimore City Life Museums would like to have. It could be something as fancy as a silver tea set, but it doesn't have to be. It might be an old radio or a souvenir mug from the White Coffee Pot. It might be something your great-grandmother brought with her from the old country. It might be a memory.

Today the exhibit "Collecting Baltimore" opens at the Peale Museum, one of the City Life Museums' seven sites. The exhibit reflects what makes this city Baltimore, and how it has changed over the centuries. It includes everything from a painted door screen to a souvenir package from John Waters' film "Hairspray"; from a piece of 19th-century Bennett pottery to a 1947 television set; from a pair of shoes once worn by tap dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson to a German drinking horn. And you can add your piece of Baltimore.

Today and tomorrow, and after that, the second Saturday of every month, will be "Collecting Days," when people are asked to bring in itemsof cultural, historical or personal significance to donate to City Life.

Going public with an appeal for donated items, says City Life assistant director John Durel, is simply "making public what we do already" -- namely, collect. Mr. Durel is the organizer of "Collecting Baltimore," an exhibit that looks forward to a long-awaited major addition to City Life Museums.

Ground was broken yesterday for the Morton K. Blaustein City Life Exhibition Center, a 30,000-square-foot, four-story building scheduled to open in the fall of 1995. It will become the newest jewel in Museum Row at Lombard and Front streets, joining five other City Life sites including the Carroll Mansion, the 1840 House and the Center for Urban Archaeology.

The Blaustein Exhibition Center will contain three floors of exhibits on the city's history, and "Collecting Baltimore" reflects what will be on two of the floors. One part of the exhibit is called "What Makes Baltimore Bawlamer?" From a painting of Mount Vernon Place to a "Hon" sign to a-rabbers and crabs to white marble steps and tire planters, it reflects what makes the city unique.

The second part, "I Am the City," is devoted to three stages of Baltimore's history and culture. The first stage, "City by the Water," deals with the 18th and early 19th centuries, and includes items ranging from a fine silver tea service to a seaman's chest.

The second stage, "City of Neighborhoods," deals with the period 1850 to 1950 and concentrates on ethnic diversity with such items as a chair made by German craftsmen, a trophy from a Jewish Fund dancing contest and a ribbon from an Italian fruit seller's organization.

The third section, "City and Suburbs," deals with the period 1950 tothe present and includes such items as a patio chair, a toy car, a 45 rpm record player, a model showing the development of Charles Center and a long-haired hippie doll.

Artifacts particularly sought by City Life include "things brought from the old country that reflect the origins of your family," says Mr. Durel. "Things that reflect African-American life. Something that reflects eating places, like the Little Taverns or the White Coffee Pots. Something your family bought when they moved to the suburbs, or something they took with them from the old neighborhood. Something bought at the downtown department stores on Howard Street."

The museum won't automatically take everything. "It will depend partly on how appropriate it is to the collection and to Baltimore history, what condition it's in, whether or not we have something like it. And we won't take loans. It has to be an outright gift," Mr. Durel says. Nothing living or perishable, such as plants or food, will be accepted.

Something else you're asked to give is your memories of Baltimore, as part of City Life's oral history project.

So when you go to see "Collecting Baltimore," remember to take your own piece of Baltimore with you.

ART REVIEW

What: "Collecting Baltimore"

Where: Peale Museum, 225 Holliday St.

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays, through summer 1995

Admission: Until July 1, $1.75 adults, $1.25 seniors, students and military, 75 cents ages 6 to 18; beginning July 1, $2 adults, $1.50 seniors, students and military, $1 ages 6 to 18

Call: (410) 396-3523

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