Museum Moves Collection to New Orleans

MSJE moves its 4,000+ piece artifact collection to New Orleans in preparation of its 2020 opening.

In June 2019, the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience (MSJE) officially moved our collection to New Orleans from Jackson, MS, where it was under the supervision of its previous caretakers, the Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL).

Founded in 1986, the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience was established to tell the unique history of Southern Jewish life in America. This mission led to the development of a collection containing 4,000+ artifacts and archival documents, including family photos and letters, Judaica from now-closed synagogues, and artifacts once used in Jewish-owned stores throughout the South. For some families, these objects are the only known remnants of their small-town, Southern Jewish experience, and their careful preservation is essential to maintaining and exploring this meaningful history.

Because of the collection’s size, condition, and importance, the move took several weeks to accomplish and called on the expertise of our Museum staff, the ISJL team, insurance agents, professional movers, and interns. One of the first tasks given to Anna Tucker, our newest Museum staff member, was to coordinate this move from Jackson to New Orleans. Anna has a decade of experience in the museum field and a research background in Southern Jewish history. She began her career as assistant manager of the Museum of History and Holocaust Education, and most recently served as special projects curator at the Kennesaw State University Dept. of Museums, Archives and Rare Books. Moving the collection was the best way to familiarize Anna with our collection, so with just a week under belt, she set off for Jackson to begin preparations.

Preparing for the Move. The MSJE’s collection has been steadily growing since 1986 and includes an array of artifacts. Family heirlooms, 8’ electric store signs, a 19th century wedding dress, and storekeeper Fred Galanty’s prosthetic leg are only a few of the objects found within our holdings. To coordinate the move, Anna began by meeting with ISJL staff members and familiarizing herself with each artifact to develop a detailed plan to securely relocate them to New Orleans.

Finding a New Home. A key step in the process was the selection of an appropriate location close to our Museum’s new location. While we’ll have many artifacts on display in our exhibits when we open in 2020, like most museums we will continue to hold a majority of our collection in off-site storage. And not just any storage–we require climate control, on the second floor or above, and passageways and elevators wide enough to accommodate two synagogue organs, a 12-foot ark, and a surprisingly heavy peddler’s cart.

Packing the Collection. MSJE hired professional movers with decades of experience handling antiques. Even with a team of movers, we needed additional preparation for a collection of this size. Anna traveled to Jackson for a second trip ahead of the moving company, armed with archival supplies to pre-pack some of our more delicate artifacts. This also gave Anna an opportunity to update our inventory and fill out condition reports.

Local carpenters built custom-made crates for select items, including a mid-20th century sign from the Knickerbocker Hotel, a kosher establishment once located in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Altogether, we had a team of six packing the collection in the days leading up to the move.

The Big Move. Once everything was inventoried and securely packed, the collection departed from Jackson to New Orleans. Throughout the move, it was very important to keep our artifacts in a stable environment, protecting them from heat and humidity. Even our moving trucks were climate-controlled!

Once in New Orleans, we began the final stage of the project: unloading and unpacking. We checked off the boxes one by one as movers unloaded them, and we placed each box into a pre-determined location in our off-site storage. Our wonderful Tulane University interns, Rachel and Sam, worked alongside staff to help unpack and organize each box according to its accession number. Even though we’re officially moved into our new home in New Orleans, it will be an ongoing process to care for and document our collection, especially as we acquire new pieces of the Southern Jewish experience in the months and years to come.

Now we begin the fun part of the process: selecting the artifacts that will help our visitors explore the Southern Jewish experience in our exhibits.

What type of artifacts would you like to see? Let us know!