Boston Museum of Fine Arts Announces Curatorship for Judaica
In the summer of 2010, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) received an unexpected bequest to endow a Curatorship for Judaica and increase its small but significant collection of Jewish art objects. The gift came from Jetskalina H. Phillips, a retired Kansas schoolteacher, who had no known relationship with the museum. Born in Holland, she worked as a medical technician and educator. She lived in Boston for a few years and converted to Judaism after studying with Roland B. Gittelson, the rabbi of Boston’s Temple Israel.
The funds from her estate were intended to support acquisitions and curatorial work. Upon announcement of the gift, the MFA had only eight objects of Judaica in its vast collections. Marietta Cambareri was named the first Curator of the MFA’s Judaica collection. She acknowledged, “we need just about everything.”
According to the museum’s press release:
The Museum acquired in 2009 a major piece of Judaica, a magnificent Hanukkah lamp of hammered, cast, and engraved silver accented with gold that was probably created in the 1750s in Augsburg, Germany. Other notable examples of Judaica in the MFA’s collection include a shofar in the Musical Instruments collection, a Torah Binder in Textiles and Fashion Arts, and a Kiddush Cup in American Decorative Arts.
Cambareri’s training was in Italian Renaissance art and her dissertation concerned a cathedral, but she plunged headfirst into Jewish history, art history and more to develop the museum’s collection. “I’m surfing everything I can think of,” she told the Boston Globe. “It’s a very steep learning curve.”
Judaica objects had been scattered among diverse holdings in the MFA, including ancient coins, musical instruments, and European art. Cambareri worked to unify these objects into a meaningful collection, as exemplified by her responses in this interview with Iconia blogger Menachem Wecker:
It will be fascinating to show the ways that art and life intersect in particular ways in Jewish life. These objects can provide a very vivid and engaging way for all to learn about Jewish life and faith, the feasts and practices that mark the Jewish calendar and stages of life and the importance of beautiful and beautifully made objects in Jewish life.
They are concerned with birth, marriage, family, faith, death: things that touch everyone. The way objects help mark and express important aspects of life is fascinating for all. Beautiful, engaging objects help tell the story in concrete, tactile and visual ways. They can be informative, but also extremely moving and inspiring.
This curatorship was a step forward for the museum, as Judaica curatorships are rare at even the largest of American art museums.
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Jewish Women's Archive. "Boston Museum of Fine Arts Announces Curatorship for Judaica." (Viewed on July 9, 2020) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/jul/16/2010/judaica-curatorship-at-boston-mfa>.