What & Why: Collecting at the Maryland Historical Society

Eubie Blake
L2016.1.2 Wurlitzer folding reed organ that belonged to James Hubert "Eubie" Blake (1887-1983). Not dated. Made by Wurlitzer, Chicago. Museum Department. Gift of Elliott Hoffman./em>

Touring the Maryland Historical Society's galleries, you discover a broad range of objects from paintings to textiles, but have you ever wondered how these came to be in the museum's collection? The "what" of an object often becomes obvious after looking at it or reading about its history, but why the object was given often remains unstated. On June 29, 2016, we will launch our newest exhibit "What & Why: Collecting at the Maryland Historical Society," which spans four centuries of donations to the Maryland Historical Society, including two of Eubie Blake's practice pianos, period clothing, portraits, silver, a wool tapestry of George Washington and a video installation of images from the Preserve the Baltimore Uprising project. The exhibition will run through June 30, 2017.


The stories behind many donations are touching and important to the object's history. Chief Curator Alexandra Deutsch says she is privileged to work directly with donors and learn the "why" from them. "This exhibition explores not only what MdHS has been collecting for the past five years, but the stories behind why donors share their possessions with us," she says. Read on for more.


Woman of Two Worlds: Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte and Her Quest for an Imperial Legacy
Presented by the Von Hess Foundation

Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte was one of the femme fatales of the War of 1812 generation, setting the gossipmongers atwitter with her revealing empire dresses at society events. Her marriage to Napoleon Bonaparte’s younger brother Jerome became an international drama. Even at ninety-four, Elizabeth was still making news as one of America’s richest women. As the official keeper of Elizabeth’s memory, The Maryland Historical Society is pleased to present “Woman of Two Worlds: Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte and the Quest for an Imperial Legacy.” 

Portrait of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, George D'Almaine after Gilbert Stuart, 1856, Maryland Historical Society, Gift of Mrs. Charles Joseph Bonaparte, xx.5.78
Portrait of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, George D'Almaine after Gilbert Stuart, 1856, Maryland Historical Society, Gift of Mrs. Charles Joseph Bonaparte, xx.5.78

The exhibition illustrates the ‘two worlds’ of France and America that Elizabeth inhabited and showcases her pearl and garnet tiara, silver, porcelain, paintings, textiles, jewelry, manuscripts, furniture and one of her "scandalous" dresses in the French-style. 

Click here to see more.

Maryland’s National Treasures has reopened with new artifacts and a new title.

Inventing a Nation: Maryland in the Revolutionary Era

Inventing a Nation: Maryland in the Revolutionary Era, is a collaborative exhibition between the Maryland Historical Society and the Maryland State Archives presenting documents and artifacts from the American Revolutionary War. Iconic life-sized portraits by Charles Willson Peale complement the swords, uniforms and other personal items of America’s Revolutionary heroes. Artifacts belonging to George Washington, the Marquis de Lafayette, Tench Tilghman, and William Paca are on display.

In Full Glory Reflected: Maryland during the War of 1812

The Maryland Historical Society is home to the oldest known surviving manuscript of Francis Scott Key’s “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Along with this national icon, the Star-Spangled Banner Gallery showcases paintings and artifacts, which tell the story of the brave Defenders of Baltimore who fought to protect our city and country from the British during the War of 1812. The Gallery also features a changing selection of items from the H. Furlong Baldwin Library’s Star-Spangled Banner sheet music collection.

Currently on view is The Star-Spangled Banner. A Patriotic Song. Published by Carr Music Store in Baltimore in 1814, it is one of the few remaining copies of the 1st edition of the poem set to music we know as our national anthem.

Click here to see more War of 1812 material in the Maryland Historical Society's collections


Divided Voices: Maryland in the Civil War

The Maryland Historical Society’s (MdHS) Museum opened Maryland’s largest and most comprehensive Civil War exhibit in April 2011. The impact of the war on the people of Maryland is be told in personal terms in “Divided Voices: Maryland in the Civil War.”  The largest Civil War exhibit in the museum’s 167-year history occupies over 5,000 square feet and tell the story of a tragedy in three acts: the romantic war, the real war and the long reunion.  

Featuring a “Time Tunnel” with 3-D videos which leads visitors back to 1861.  


Paul Henderson: Baltimore's Civil Rights Era in Photographs, ca. 1940-1960Installation view: Paul Henderson Photograph Exhibition

Baltimore's Civil Rights movement began in the early to mid-1930s. The lynching of George Armwood on Maryland's Eastern Shore in 1933 sparked revamping of the Baltimore Branch NAACP and intense activism on the part of black and white residents of Baltimore. 

Paul Henderson (1899—1988), born in Springfield, Tennessee, moved to Baltimore in 1929. In 1930, Henderson married grade school teacher Elizabeth Johnson and the couple took an apartment on McCulloh Street, within walking distance of Pennsylvania Avenue, the black community of Baltimore's shopping and entertaining district. Along with education, church, sports, NAACP, politicians, and the Afro-American newspaper, Pennsylvania Avenue is one of the many subjects featured in his photographs. 

Exhibited are important events, groups, and people such as the protest at segregated Ford's Theatre in Baltimore, NAACP member campaign meeting, Baltimore Elite Giants Negro Leagues baseball team, Morgan State College, Dr. Lillie May Carroll Jackson (head of the NAACP, 1935-1970) with her family, Thurgood Marshall with Dr. Carl Murphy (editor-publisher of the Afro-American) and many more. For more on the Paul Henderson Photograph Collection, please see the collection page

A blog with more of Henderson's work and videos with audio from the McKeldin-Jackson Oral History Project can be found at http://hendersonphotos.wordpress.com

See also: Paul Henderson Manuscript & Ephemera Collection - MS 3089
Related program: Seen & Heard: Maryland' Civil Rights Era in Photographs and Oral Histories (February 23, 2012)

Click here to see a complete list and descriptions of all our current exhibits

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