August 25, 2016
The Museum is still an active building site filled with scaffolding; carpenters and builders, painters and electricians are everywhere. The exhibition designer, Jisuk Han, is checking specifications, making minor adjustments and making sure that everyone is keeping to the deadlines.
It is a hive of energy.
The archives has turned into a make-shift studio as the photographer sets out her lighting and backdrop, ready to photograph all the artefacts to be used on exhibition. We are looking to photograph familiar artefacts in a different way.
I think it could be the first time that the photographer has had to photograph items from a concentration camp – a blanket made of human hair, a halved head scarf and a pouch made from scrap materials. I explain the significance of the latter two humble, seemingly ordinary artefacts. The scarf, exchanged for a slice of bread, was worn to cover the donors shaved head as a way of maintaining dignity in an otherwise inhumane environment; the pouch was used to secretly hold a letter and a photo.
Behind the scenes, meetings with the conservator have taken place to discuss conservation and preservation of the artefacts. The long-term longevity of documents and fragile textiles really concerns me – fading is a reality and I have seen visible evidence of fading due to too much exposure to light over extended periods of display.
This morning, while examining a cross-stitch blanket donated in 1993 I made a discovery (the kind of discovery that makes curators excited!) We had always known this object as a blanket, but on closer inspection of the back, I noticed a button hole and fabric strip to hold a belt. Else Schwartz must have worn her ‘blanket’ of comfort as a cape.
During the lonely hours of waiting for her husband and sons to return from the camps, Else made this item; each stitch represents a prayer for their return. They never did return.
Author: Roslyn Sugarman, Curator.