"Romance & Ritual" Romance & Ritual: Through the Curator's Eyes

" The Skirball Museum "

Curator Grace Cohen Grossman

Interviewed and compiled by Debora Gillman & Pasqual Bettio
Edited by Judy Rozner

Grace Cohen Grossman has captured the magic, and beauty of tradition in the exhibition she had curated at the Skirball Museum titled: "Romance & Ritual: Celebrating the Jewish Wedding."  Although Grace said: "You really don't need much for a Jewish wedding," there is much to see here. There are over 200
exhibits of wedding gowns and costumes from ancient times to the present day, gathered from different Jewish communities around the world; Ketubbahs, artistically illuminated wedding contracts; Chupas, religious canopies under which the bride and groom were married; Kiddush cups, the symbolic cup from
which the bride and groom drink during the wedding ceremony; and, of course, wedding rings.

Grace Cohen Grossman has nursed this exhibition for fifteen months, from concept to proposal, and from approval to fruition. This exhibition not only celebrates the tradition of Jewish marriage, but it also celebrates the Skirball's Fifth Anniversary.

A unique aspect of the exhibition are the custom-made female and male mannequins that are dressed in bride's and groom's outfits. They are special from head to toe, from the paper hair that adorns their heads to the period gowns and dress, including the matching shoes.  Grace chose the "pasty" color
of the mannequin, "a color reflecting no one in particular" as she puts it. These neutral figures enhance the beauty of the beaded, laced and elaborate gowns.

Among the wedding gowns a Persian gown reflects European influence in the style of the dress and the long veil.  A Moroccan dress was donated by a resident of the Mid-Wilshire area, and the '60's Beverly Hills Hippies are also present, with a Renaissance gown for the bride and an Edwardian suit, ála Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, for the groom.

A collection of Ketubbahs, the marriage contract, a custom that dates back to ancient times, has exhibits of illuminated Ketubbahs from the past 400 years. The custom of illuminating and decorating the Ketubbahs started prior to the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. The oldest sample in the exhibition is of a 1649 Venetian Ketubbah, evidencing the wedding of one Menahaem, son of the late Solomon Ha'levi and Malkah, daughter of Jacob Sasso on May 12, 1649.

The walls of the exhibition are adorned with engagement, anniversary and wedding cards as well as family heirlooms. It is fitting that one of the photographs is of Grace's own wedding. 

Grace, a cultural history curator, has an M.A. in Art History from Columbia University. She says, "everything has a story," and her work and enjoyment is to bring this story to the public through the exhibition. Her job brings her much happiness and satisfaction and she is "happy where she is." In addition her work as a curator requires a great deal of research and writing, and contact with many interesting people.

Grace began her climb to her present position early in life. She started on the ground floor of the development of Jewish museums. She was definitely in the right place at the right time. Her original ambition was to study archeological history, but marriage and the birth of her two sons interrupted
her Ph.D. studies. After her sons had grown up, she continued with her education.

Marvin Rand, who created the first catalogue for one of Grace's exhibitions "Walk Through the Past", says: "I think Grace is an excellent Hebraic curator and scholar. I have been privileged to work with her." 

On the wall near by is a collection of wimples, revealing a folk custom of 17th Century Germany. Wimples were the swaddles the baby was wrapped in after circumcision. This swaddle was later washed and embroidered by the females inthe family depicting scenes of good fortune the family wished for the new
born. Later, this embroidered cloth was kept in the synagogue and used to wrap the Torah at the boys Bar Mitzvah.

In the very last room of the exhibition a native Spanish engagement was recreated by artist/photographer Ed Massey. Here he replicated his unique proposal to Dawn Harris in its garden setting. The bride's sumptuous wedding gown, which Ed Massey sculpted for her, is made of plaster, being so heavy and delicate, it is actually set on wheels.

For visiting children, the Skirball has allocated a dress-up area where the children can try on past wedding costumes.

The show concludes with portraits of wedding couples, "Happily Ever After."  They reflect the tradition of "romance and ritual" and bring the exhibit full circle.

The Bride The Bride & Groom
Marvin Rand, who created the first catalog for one of Grace's exhibits
The Bride and The Marriage Certificates
Marvin Rand & Grace Cohen Grossman at the Exhibit
Artist Norman Robinson Smith; Sandy Moss, Founder/Director, Park Labrea Art Center; and Debora Gillman, Executive Director, Park Labrea Arts Council at the Exhibit
Decroations from a Native Spanish Engagement
Artist Norman Robinson Smith Sketches at the Exhibit
Wedding Dress sculpted by Ed Massey
Young museum visitors can try on traditional wedding clothes at the exhibit.
Young museum visitors can try on traditional wedding clothes at the exhibit.
Young museum visitors can try on traditional wedding clothes at the exhibit.
Wedding Costumes
Wedding Costumes
Wedding Costumes
Photographs by J. Pasqual Bettio, F.R.P.S.

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