The mission of the Iowa Jewish Historical Society is to collect, catalogue, house, and preserve the history of the Jewish people of the state of Iowa and to deepen community understanding of Jewish history and culture through educational programming and exhibitions.
The idea of an Iowa Jewish Historical Society was first discussed in 1989 at the 75th Anniversary dinner of the Jewish Federation of Greater Des Moines. The Caspe Jewish Heritage Gallery was opened at Drake University in October 1996. Drake donated exhibition space on the 3rd floor of the Harmon Fine Arts Building and Lewis and Neecy Caspe of Des Moines made a very generous donation to turn the space into an exhibit gallery.
In May 1998, the IJHS teamed with the State Historical Society of Iowa to develop and present a traveling exhibit created by the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest and the Minnesota Historical Society “Unpacking on the Prairie: Jewish Women in the Upper Midwest Since 1855”. Accompanying this exhibit was a companion exhibit developed by IJHS entitled “Unpacking: The Iowa Story” which was guest curated by founding IJHS member Dr. David Gradwohl, Professor Emeritus Iowa State University. Originally slated to run from May through July, “Iowa Story” continued on exhibit through December 31 1998. The exhibit was viewed by more than 30,000 visitors to the State Historical Museum.
In 1998 the IJHS recieved a $42,555 Historic Site Preservation Grant from the State Historical Society of Iowa. This grant enabled the IJHS to build new exhibit cases, and improve the lighting, security and fire alarm system at The Caspe Heritage Gallery. This grant was matched by the Iowa Foundation for Education, Environment, and the Arts and the Belin Family in memory of David and Connie Belin.
The Caspe Heritage Gallery and The Bucksbaum Fine Arts Wing were donated by Mary Bucksbaum Scanlan in memory of her father Martin Bucksbaum. It is located at 33158 Ute Avenue in Waukee, and is part of The Caspe Terrace. The gallery is handicap accessible. The Bucksbaum auditorium seats over 130 and provides a lovely space for films, speakers and live presentations.
Since opening at the Caspe Terrace in 2003, the IJHS has also sponsored a traveling exhibit, "Far from Hitler: The Scattergood Hostel for European Refugees" in 2004 at the Caspe Terrace. The exhibit then traveled to two other destinations in the state.
We are delighted to announce that Sarah Carlson has joined the IJHS team as the Collections Assistant for our HRDP-funded inventory and cataloguing project. Sarah comes to us with a Master of Arts in Museum Studies from John Hopkins University. Her most recent position was as Assistant Conservator of the Iowa Battle Flag Project for the State Historical Society of Iowa. In that position, Sarah conducted yearly inventories of the collection, assessed the condition of objects, updated storage conditions, developed and completed conservation plans and treatments for historic flags, and assisted with educational outreach.
Iowa Jewish Historical Society Awarded $22,128 Grant for Inventorying and Cataloguing Society Collections
The Iowa Jewish Historical Society is delighted to announce that it has received a grant of $22,128 from the REAP/Historical Resources Development Program (HRDP) administered by the State Historical Society of Iowa. The grant requires a 50% cash and/or in-kind match.
The grant funds will be used to do a complete inventory of the estimated 7,500 – 10,000 items in the Society’s collection. Each artifact will be physically examined, catalogued, and numbered; evaluated for conservation needs (are there tears to be repaired, pages or pieces missing, scotch tape to be removed, etc.), photographed and/or digitized; placed in acid-free file folders or boxes for long-term protection; and the information about each artifact entered into a computerized collections database. In addition, the storage area will be reorganized to make it as easy as possible to find items and to make sure that all the artifacts are stored safely. The last phase of the project will be to make the information about the artifacts available to the public on the Iowa Jewish Historical Society’s website. The information will also be used to update current exhibits, design new exhibits, and develop traveling trunks and outreach materials for schools.
The grant funds will be used to hire a part-time collections assistant (12 hours/week), expand the collections manager’s position from 8 to 12 hours/week, and purchase preservation materials—acid-free file folders, boxes, etc. This project builds on the pilot project begun in the fall of 2010 with a grant from the Beverly Blank Perry Foundation to digitize the entire Blank Family Collection and to put the information on the website. The equipment purchased for the Blank Family project and the lessons learned from the process will be key parts of the HRDP grant.
This is a very important project for the Society as the IJHS collection is the key to understanding the history and contributions Jewish Iowans have made to the history of our state, our nation, and the world. During the past three years, the IJHS has received numerous requests for historical information pertaining to the history of various synagogues, the Jewish community, local businesses, community leaders, and genealogy. Completing the inventory, updating the database, and making this material available on the website will enable the Society to respond to local, national, and international research requests much faster and in more depth.