Press Release: What & Why: Collecting at the Maryland Historical Society

What & Why: Collecting At the Maryland Historical Society

New Exhibit Opens June 29

Contact: Laura Rodini 410-685-3750 Ext. 322 

Sign from the Hippo, club formerly on Charles and Eager Streets, Baltimore, 1980s, MdHS, Gift of Mr. Charles Bower, 2015.19
BALTIMORE, June 13, 2016--The Maryland Historical Society proudly launches its newest exhibit, What & Why: Collecting at the Maryland Historical Society, opening June 29, 2016. This exhibit contains more than 50 items spanning 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, the sign from Club Hippo and a video installation of images from the Preserve the Baltimore Uprising project. The exhibition will run through June 30, 2017.

"This exhibition is a not only a wonderful opportunity to showcase the newest additions to the institution but also one in which we can show the breadth of what material comes into this nationally important collection," says President and CEO Mark B. Letzer.

About the Exhibition

Touring the Maryland Historical Society's galleries, visitors discover a broad range of objects from paintings to textiles, and, oftentimes the stories behind the items donated are are touching and important to the object's history. "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," says Chief Curator Alexandra Deutsch. "The range of what we collect is very broad - from 18th century portraits to objects from the Baltimore Uprising of 2015 - because we strive to represent the fullest possible picture of Maryland's history from first settlement to the present. Donors are motivated by many reasons when they give an object or objects to the museum and each donor has a special story to tell."

About Eubie Blake's Practice Pianos


Eubie Blake


Mustel celesta piano. Practice and travel piano that belonged to James Hubert "Eubie" Blake. Ca. 1923

Eubie Blake's practice piano, Blake's traveling pump organ -- perhaps the first instrument he ever played -- his banjo and never-before seen ephemera, were in the care of Blake's longtime entertainment lawyer, Elliott Hoffman, and his wife, Nancy. They developed a deep friendship with the master musician and composer and in May, 2016, donated the items to the Maryland Historical Society.

"Eubie Blake is a legend from the jazz era. These pianos allow us to interpret a pivotal time in the history of music and to celebrate a Baltimore icon," says Letzer.

Blake was one of the most popular performers of the ragtime era and one of the first African American composers of a Broadway musical. The Eubie Blake Manuscript and Ephemera Collection at the Maryland Historical Society consists of 72 boxes and 2 oversize folders of materials from the estate of Eubie Blake. These materials include a large amount of Eubie's personal correspondence, legal correspondence, financial records, programs from performances, public press, lyrics and scripts for Eubie's musicals including In Bamville and Shuffle Along, miscellaneous music related and travel ephemera and more. This collection, as well as a photograph collection, has recently been reinventoried and more detailed finding aids have been created. Check out the Eubie Blake Manuscript and Ephemera Collection, and the Photograph Collection here.

About the Sign from the Hippo, club formerly on Charles and Eager Streets, Baltimore (pictured above)

Charles L. "Chuck" Bower, the donor, was the second owner of the Hippo after purchasing the establishment in 1978. When he recently needed to vacate the building, he offered this sign to the Maryland Historical Society.

From 1972 until its closing in the fall of 2015, the Hippo, formerly the Chanticleer Club, was the linchpin of Baltimore's gay community. Chuck Bower, owner of the club since 1978, wanted it to be a place where everyone was accepted and, in the late 1980s, stepped up to help Baltimore deal with the HIV/AIDS crisis. The role of the Hippo became more than just a meeting place, but grew to be one of the main symbols of the city's gay community.

About the Acquisition Process

All acquisitions to the museum collection go through a vigorous vetting process by the Museum Committee, the members of which review the proposed acquisitions as they relate to the museum's Collections Management Policy. The primary assessment that occurs before an object is even brought to the committee is how this object or objects relate(s) to Maryland history. Each object's condition is thoroughly evaluated as well as its relevance to the collections already at the museum. Questions to consider include: Does this gift fill a gap in the collection? Does this object enhance existing holdings? Will this object be readily exhibited and fit into our interpretive mission? After the Museum Committee recommends the object(s) for accession, their acquisition is subject to the approval of the Board of Trustees. Although this process may stretch over several months, it is a crucial step in ensuring that the museum's collection continues to meet MdHS's mission. "With collections storage space at a premium, judicious collecting is imperative!" says Deutsch.

About The Maryland Historical Society
Founded in 1844, The Maryland Historical Society Museum and Library occupies an entire city block in the Mount Vernon district of Baltimore. The society's mission is to "collect, preserve, and interpret the objects and materials that reflect Maryland's diverse cultural heritage." The Society is home to the original manuscript of the Star-Spangled Banner and publishes a quarterly titled "Maryland Historical Magazine." Visit

For more details, contact Marketing Director Laura Rodini at or by phone: 410-685-3750 ext. 322.