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Museum Musings

An Abundance of Alabama

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Over a year later, we are still so excited that Margaret Anne Goldsmith, a descendent of the first four Jewish families to settle in Huntsville, Alabama, chose to donate a large collection of family heirlooms to the Museum’s artifact collection in 2012. In our collection, this family’s Southern experience improves our holdings by providing a meaningful counterpoint to the more well-known stories of the Jewish communities of the big cities, especially those on the East Coast.

All German Jewish immigrants, the Herstein, Bernstein, and Schiffman families settled in Huntsville in the 1850s and Oscar Goldsmith arrived soon after; subsequent generations united these four families in marriage. Members of the family have figured in every phase of the history of that city, both economically – from the agrarian years of the nineteenth century through Huntsville’s growth into “Rocket City” after World War II – and socially – from the time of institutionalized slavery before the Civil War to segregation to the civil rights era.

Ms. Goldsmith has been very generous with her legacy, sharing her family’s story through many outlets and donating or lending heirlooms and papers to several museums and libraries. She recently donated land to the city for a nature preserve and an elementary school, and established an artist’s group that works closely with the nature preserve.

We are proud to present a new installation of artifacts from this collection on the first floor of the Museum, which is free to the public. In addition to those artifacts we are also displaying more artifacts upstairs in the core exhibition, and more will be installed in the coming months. When you visit, see if you can pick them out!

But the objects that are now on display are the tip of a wonderful Alabama iceberg and the collection we received consists of many letters, photographs, books, business ephemera, and personal artifacts ranging from clothing and candlesticks to shaving mugs and poker sets. It is currently being inventoried and photographed before it is formally accessioned, a process that will be ongoing through the coming months. This phase will involve continued research, condition assessment, and careful measurement of each object as it is processed into our collections management database and coded so that it will be easily accessible to scholars and curators. Additionally, each object will be safely rehoused so that it can be preserved for future generations – an incredibly important part of our mission.

The Goldsmith family is to be commended for their careful stewardship of these artifacts over the years, and we can’t thank them enough for making the decision to donate them to the NMAJH!

Contributed by Claire Pingel, Chief Registrar and Associate Curator
May 1, 2013

Margaret Anne Goldsmith poses with a grandfather clock and a portrait of herself by Maurice Grosser that she recently gave to the Museum in memory of the Bernstein, Herstein, Schiffman and Goldsmith families (2011.151)