Annette Fromm is a folklorist and museum professional in Miami Beach, Florida. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, she earned a Ph.D. in Folklore from Indiana University and was the curator and oral history project director for the Greater Cleveland Ethnographic Museum in the late 1970s. She discusses her involvement in the museum and describes various grant-funded exhibits and initiatives that it undertook, including working with Icabod Flewellen's African American Museum.


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Fromm, Annette (interviewee)


Newbold, Allison (interviewer)


Allison Newbold [00:00:02] All right. Good morning. My name is Allison Newbold, and today is March 7, 2018, and we are here via Google Voice talking to Annette Fromm. Would you like to go ahead and introduce yourself for the record?

Annett Fromm [00:00:18] Yes. My name is Annette Fromm in Miami, Florida. Miami Beach, Florida.

Allison Newbold [00:00:24] All right, Annette, so you told me a little bit about yourself, your overall history, who you are?

Annett Fromm [00:00:31] I'm a folklorist and a museum professional with over 30 years of experience in the field of working in different museums in different capacities and different community research as a folklorist. What else do you want me to say? I have a Ph.D. in Folklore from Indiana University. I did my undergraduate in African Studies and Textile Art at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio.

Allison Newbold [00:01:06] So since you're not from Cleveland originally, I was just wondering how you got involved with the Greater Cleveland Ethnographic Museum and if you could tell us about what your roles were like.

Annett Fromm [00:01:18] Well, I'm not from Cleveland originally, but when I started college at Ohio State, I started at Ohio State, my parents moved from Columbus to Cleveland. And they lived there, I think, for 10 years. So I was in and out of Cleveland during my undergraduate years at Kent, and I was in Peace Corps after I graduated. And then when I went for my Masters, coincidentally, when I finished my Masters in the spring of 1977 and my goal was to work in museums, my parents moved from Cleveland back to Columbus, and I got the job with the [Greater Cleveland] Ethnographic Museum. So, I had familiarity with Cleveland Heights and knew people there.

Allison Newbold [00:02:10] Wow, that is amazing. What was your role initially when you started at the museum?

Annett Fromm [00:02:16] There were five of us. Carole Kantor to was the director. I was more or less the curator and the project director for the oral history project, The Immigrant Experience. Walter [Mahovlich] was an oral history interviewer. And, you know, we did whatever we did. And Patricia, and I don't remember her last name, and Walter were in the same position. And then there was a secretary.

Allison Newbold [00:02:52] How did the museum start? Do you know who originated the idea?

Annett Fromm [00:02:57] I was reviewing your emails and you said that your thesis would tie the revival of interest and ethnic history in relations to the US Bicentennial. And the museum started before we started working there as a project at the Western Reserve Historical Society – I'm sure Dr. [John] Grabowski told you – as an outreach of the Bicentennial programs in Cleveland to bring emphasis to the ethnic richness and ethnic communities of Cleveland. And I understand that somehow a community board was assembled including representatives of many of the ethnic communities, and through them objects, photos, documents were loaned to the historical museum that were utilized in an exhibit that they had about Cleveland's ethnic history. At the end of the Bicentennial year, or in the years between 1970 and 1977, this core [of] people from different ethnic communities worked together. I don't know who spearheaded it. Carole and Paul Kantor certainly were part of the big push to create an independent museum that would focus exclusively on the ethnic communities of Cleveland.

Allison Newbold [00:04:43] Was there anything in your own personal life that affected your contribution to the museum, or did you have any prior experience working in a museum of this sort?

Annett Fromm [00:04:53] Very luckily, before I worked at the Ethnographic Museum, I worked for four months as a collections assistant, which means a gruntm at the Children's Museum in Indianapolis. And there the Children's Museum, which is one of the largest American if not global children's museums (which is also contrary to many children's museums today), is intensely collections based. They had just completed a seven-year construction project where the building was remarkably increased. And in those seven years, they continued accepting donations. And so the collections assistants that summer were given free rein of the vault to catalog whatever they wanted to catalog, as much as they could catalog. So I had in my graduate work taken museum studies courses and done internships or projects at the Mathers Museum at Indiana University, and then I put it to practice at the Children's Museum, where we hands-on cataloged bazillions of things. My background is in textiles so I was very interested in the costume collection and I helped to reorganize the costume collection storage. And we really had hands-on experience of creating records. So I was really the only person with museum background who came to work at the Ethnographic Museum. And my interest was that as a folklorist, I started as an Africanist because that was my... I started my studies as an Africanist because that was my undergraduate work. But as I started working at Indiana University, I realized my interest was in immigrant ethnic expressions of traditional culture, primarily through celebrations, festivals, and rituals. And so I was interested in ethnic diversity. And it fit the bill to work at teh Ethnographic Museum.

Allison Newbold [00:07:18] I wanted to talk to you a little bit about the immigrant experience in the oral history part. I noticed you did a lot of those interviews. What was the process like for that project coming together?

Annett Fromm [00:07:31] Somehow we split up the city into all of the immigrant/migrant groups that there were. So there's, you know, a slew of eastern European, British Isles, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Asian, and African American because we considered that community while not immigrant from overseas, they were migrants and they had migration stories that were parallel in story and in timeframe to the immigrant stories, and we split them up according to our interests. So Walter Mahovlich focused on eastern Europeans. That's his area of knowledge and his experience, he's a musician who plays eastern European music. And I can't be more specific than that because I'll be wrong. I was interested in the eastern Mediterranean, in Italians, Greeks, Middle Eastern, also Asians. And Patricia did the British Isles and African Americans. So we just arbitrarily split it up by ethnic group. I don't honestly remember how we found our subjects. I believe we went to [community}... Well, first of all, we had our board of directors who individually represented many of the communities who directed us to people. And we went to... I know we made a great use of the ethnic press. I don't know if we did that for the oral histories or not. We also had exhibits in the Arcade space. And I think Carole Kantor created the raw form of the interview questionnaire. And then we all contributed to it. And that's what we did. Have you seen the interview questionnaire? Is it in the–

Allison Newbold [00:09:39] Yes. Yes, it was in the Western Reserve Library.

Annett Fromm [00:09:44] The one from the Ethnographic Museum.

Allison Newbold [00:09:46] Correct.

Annett Fromm [00:09:48] OK.

Allison Newbold [00:09:49] I saw that there were various different categories for different questions–

Annett Fromm [00:09:54] Right.

Allison Newbold [00:09:54] –and there were–

Annett Fromm [00:09:54] We tried to go sequentially through the immigrant experience and personal experiences and then that outline form the basis of the exhibit, The Immigrant Experience, which was the end goal of that project, not just the archives, but also to create an exhibit.

Allison Newbold [00:10:21] Do you remember any of the interviews? Were there some that were tougher than others to get information from and to hear their story?

Annett Fromm [00:10:30] You know, we did oral... You're a public history student I'm figuring.

Allison Newbold [00:10:34] Mm-hmm.

Annett Fromm [00:10:35] We need oral history interviews the way you're supposed to do them is that we usually visited, at least I, usually visited the interviewees several times. And if I determined that a person was not a talker, I would gracefully excuse them from the project. So most people were really good talkers. I do remember a Japanese couple that... He was born in Japan, she was born on the West Coast. He was incensed by being interned. She was kind of status quo. It protected us... Very, very educated, very nice people. I remember an Italian man who learned to be a barber and he cut somebody's ear. It's a long time ago, I don't... Oh. Mrs. Resnick, who is a Jewish immigrant from Russia or Kiev and she traveled through Europe with gold sewn in her clothes. The family immigrated to Israel and they couldn't make it there with children. Then they came to the States. I don't remember if Cleveland was their first stop, but her granddaughter was one of the Challenger astronauts who died in the Challenger. She and I, you know, some of the people you developed relationships with. You know, so she was an older widow. And I would go and play cards with her and go to bingo games with her. Also, another lady that I interviewed was Catherine Wineberg, and I swear I saw her the other day, but I know that she is long deceased. But Catherine was from a very educated Greek family that lived in in Egypt with the tobacco business. There were a lot of Greeks living in Egypt. But she also... My family is Greek but we're Greek Jews. Mrs. Weinberg was a Greek Orthodox lady, but she married a Jewish man so she felt a relationship between us and we became very, very good friends. Dear lady, with a lot of... And she actually immigrated to New York, not to Cleveland, but her story was still the quintessential story. People told things like – again, these are the stereotypes – coming to America and being offloaded and given bananas and they didn't know what to do them and did not eat. And they were inedible because you ate the peel. they didn't know to peel them, you know, stuff like that.

Allison Newbold [00:13:04] Do you think that the oral history project and... which led to Passages to American Urban Life. That's right. Correct?

Annett Fromm [00:13:12] Yes.

Allison Newbold [00:13:13] Do you think that... How did the community respond to these two projects?

Annett Fromm [00:13:18] They responded to the oral history interviews very openly. You know, doors were opened to us. I do not remember ever hearing no, we couldn't do an interview and the communities were very open. To tell you the truth, frankly, I don't remember what visitorship was to the museum. I mean, to the exhibit itself. People loaned us stuff, but we went back to the people that we had interviewed to get loans of objects to create the exhibit because we had the relationship with them, they very openly loaned us items or donated them.

Allison Newbold [00:13:59] I was just going to ask you about that grassroots community effort with the museum itself and how I was going through the newspapers and seeing advertisements for people to drop off any donation. What was the effort like [inaudible]... Anything that stuck out to you?

Annett Fromm [00:14:19] Well, this is the way a folklorist works, is that we reach out every way possibly that we can. And Cleveland, as you know, had – and I don't know if it still does – an amazing number and network of ethnic newspapers and radios and there was – what was her name? – Eleanor Press.

Allison Newbold [00:14:38] Mm-hmm.

Annett Fromm [00:14:40] Somebody in – I was going to say the Herald, that's Miami – in the Cleveland newspaper who had like a column. And I sent her anything and she put it in and we'd get responses. We did an exhibit at the Arcade space on Hungarian Cleveland. One of our board members was a man named Rick Orley. He had been a priest at St. Elizabeth's [St. Emeric's] over by the West Side Market, and he was half Slovak, I think, and half Hungarian. And he wanted us to do a Hungarian exhibit, and we put an ad in the Hungarian newspaper. I get this phone call saying, hello, do you speak Hungarian? And I said, no–.

Allison Newbold [00:15:22] [Laughs]

Annett Fromm [00:15:22] –I speak English. And it was a man who was a an industrial weaver in Hungary. And when he came to Cleveland – he worked for the public utilities – but in his basement he set up a big loom. And I did weaving as part of my undergraduate degree so I knew what this was. And actually Carole Kantor also did weaving, but she wasn't involved in this. And I went to his house and spent a lot of time with him. And he gave us a piece of every, you know, he made like curtains and bedspreads and stuff, pillow cushions using acrylic yarns because wools were more expensive. I bought a piece from him that I still have, and, you know, [he] very willingly donated to the museum. People were very involved. Do you know about Peoples and Cultures?

Allison Newbold [00:16:20] No, please tell me.

Annett Fromm [00:16:22] I just I thought of that a moment ago. Peoples and Cultures was a nonprofit in the Flats that had two enterprises. One was the store where they sold handicrafts from the ethnic communities. So the same time as we were building up relationships, they were building up relationships. And then they did tours into the ethnic communities because there was a great interest in ethnicity. And they also offered classes, so somebody would come and teach Dutch embroidery, pysanky, Ukrainian egg making, stuff like that. So, again, the communities knew about these two organizations. They often didn't separate them, but they knew there was interest and they responded in kind. But again, as a folklorist, we used leaders in the communities to get our entree. I mean, we did a lot of cold calling too. But the leaders in the community would say, call this person. Go to that person.

Allison Newbold [00:17:37] Do you remember how the networking was like with how you built these relationships with people in the community? Did it come from the board of directors?

Annett Fromm [00:17:47] Sometimes from the board of directors. Sometimes we'd go to a priest. Sometimes we've... I don't know how. I mean, it was just very organic. I'm sorry to be brief like that.

Allison Newbold [00:18:01] So do you remember how the locations ended up being in the old Arcade in downtown Cleveland?

Annett Fromm [00:18:10] You know, I honestly don't. And I believe, first we were on one... If you go into the Arcade from Euclid... Yeah, not the library side, from Euclid, we were first on the left side and then we moved to the right side. And I believe that that location was decided upon before the staff came on. You know, we were CETA funded. It was like WPA. And I forget what CETA, C-E-T-A, stood for. I believe the Arcade location was acquired or, you know, rented before the staff came in. And there was talk in the three years that I was there of trying to find a location, but it never happened. And the Arcade was a good location because it was in the center. You know, I mean, Cleveland is really divided east, west, and a little bit south. But it was a good cen[tral location] and it was easy to get to because of rapid transit. But it was a good location because if it had been east, you know, any of the Heights, if it had been west, in whatever's west, Parma and stuff, people from the other side wouldn't have gone. And we got a lot of pass-by people dropping in.

Allison Newbold [00:19:40] All right. Is there any models or any influences from what the museum was doing at this time?

Annett Fromm [00:19:47] I honestly, because I wasn't there at the inception, I really don't know if there were models. Are you familiar with the Balch Institute, B-A-L-C-H?

Allison Newbold [00:19:58] I have heard of it.

Annett Fromm [00:19:59] So the Balch Institute was in Philadelphia and they were doing similar activities. They had a much, well, they had publications which we never did. And they did community fieldwork in the ethnic communities. They had a much more expansive program of exhibitions. So we were parallel. I think Minnesota Historical Society was doing stuff in the ethnic communities. You know, I communicated with, because as I told you, I was the curator, more or less, so I was working with collections and with the exhibits. So I networked and communicated – wait, let me look up something – with these folks. And we all knew each other. And so I did a lot of speaking programs. Hold on, let me just pull out my vita. Models, we actually the Ethnographic Museum was one of the main models for doing this at that time, but let me try to find... OK. So a lot was going on at the American Folklore Society. We would meet and talk at the American Folklore Society. There was a lot of response from, like Notre Dame College had me speak about ethnic festivals. Council of Economic Opportunities of Greater Cleveland had me speak on cultural eating patterns. I remember that, you know, I think it's in Solon, is one of the big food manufacturers that does frozen food [Stouffer's], and they had me come and talk about ethnic food because they were thinking of starting [an] ethnic food line. My mother used to go and buy stuff at their outlet store. So there was there was a... In 1980, there was a conference on folklore and urban spaces. There was a lot of interest in folklore about this, about ethnicity. So it was mostly at the American Folklore Society, now that I look at it.

Allison Newbold [00:22:29] I was reading over at the Western Reserve. I noticed there was a discussion about the museum, whether it was considered a folklore museum or in a ethnographic museum. What is really the difference between the two?

Annett Fromm [00:22:44] Well, let me take you to the website of the International Committee of Museums of Ethnography and read you their [inaudible]: The International Committee of Museums of Ethnographies, the International Committee of the International Council of Museums, [is] devoted to ethnographic museums and collections from local, national and/or global cultures and societies. So an ethnographic museum is more or less a museum of cultures and societies. The International Committee of Museums of Ethnography is blah, blah, blah. Here we go. Ethnographic collections are found in all types of museums: ethnography, art, folk history, natural history. In the broadest terms, ethnography usually refers to studies of people, of other people, not of the people around you. Yet the ethnographic process is how you study how an anthropologists works, no matter where they are. While I was at the Ethnographic Museum or shortly after – I tell this to my students – I was at a conference where people were discussing domestic anthropology and I thought they were talking about anthropology in the house and in the kitchen. That's domestic. And what they meant was in the U.S., as opposed to going to work in Africa or Asia or the Caribbean or with rural people in South America. Folk museums are a European, primarily a Scandinavian, thing that started in the mid-19th century. Part of the move or the response to growing nationalism where growing national entities, what we call countries, wanted to prove their validity by showing their rural heritage, their folk heritage. But it's also... In today's world, those have all come to be ethnographic museums in my mind. And Mr. Grabowski has prejudices against folklore. Many historians feel that folklore is not as rigorous on social science, that we just go out and talk to people. Well, I spent hours in Cleveland Public Library researching, and I forget his name, there was a professor – either at Case [Western Reserve University] I believe, whatever it was in the 1920s, before they all merged – of anthropology and his students did research in the ethnic communities. So I did extensive research in those holdings to know historically what was happening in the ethnic communities. I wasn't just going in and interviewing people. And many historians see folklore studies as fluff, unfortunately. So we have kind of a disciplinary struggle.

Allison Newbold [00:26:17] So I know you were only at the museum for three years, but do you recall how the events came about? Like who came up with what ideas for certain events in the community?

Annett Fromm [00:26:33] Events that the museum held came up from suggestions from board members. As I said, Father Rick Orley came up with the idea – which I hated but we did it – that March was Gardenia Month for Hungarians, very important, so let's have a gardenia sale. And he bought tons of potted gardenias, which we had to water every day. And gardenias really have an awful smell. And almost nobody came and bought them. And a lot of them died. So that was a board idea. Ideas came up with the staff. You know, we said, Oh this is coming up, let's do this. The ideas for the projects, there were three or four major grant-funded projects. I believe came up either from Dr. Kantor as director or the staff together, so we inherited The Immigrant Experience project When we came in. That was not yet up and running, but that was the project we were hired to do. Then, and I have no idea who came up with, well, I've been thinking about this because I don't know what's the genesis of this was. Because I had a museum experience, I was given out to local collections to catalog. So I cataloged the doll collection at the public library. There was a Hungarian private collection that I cataloged. There were two or three other collections that I was given to. And then there was Icabod Flewellen. Do you know his name? Icabod Flewellen. I was going to send you and I'll send it to you today or tomorrow. Icabod Flewellen had a dream... is the person behind whatever is now in Cleveland as an African American museum. He was a gentleman of the old cloth, kind of like my mother's oldest brother, who would tip your hat when he met you. He had a ramshackle house in Hough in which he would be called a hoarder. He had a collection of newspapers and magazines and documents and photographs and phonograph records, anything from the African American community. And his dream was to get the AT&T building in Hough and make an African American museum. And somehow we convinced him to take interns to catalog his collection. Because he wouldn't let anybody touch the stuff. And we got a grant – I probably wrote the proposal – from the Ohio Arts Council, which had quite generous funding for projects in ethnic communities across the state, to pay interpreters to work in his collection. And there were one or two interns that worked for like three, four months each cataloging the records. The next project was the Easter project. And again, I don't remember where the genesis of that was, but I worked primarily in five ethnic communities. I think Walter might have taped music. And I documented starting with Easter, starting with Lent, in the Hungarian Catholic, Slovenian Catholic, Greek Orthodox, at Holy Trinity, in the Tremont, Ukrainian Orthodox, and there was a Lebanese, you know in Tremont there's a Syrian Lebanese Antiochian church. And we documented not the regular church services but the kind of auxiliary side folk services throughout Easter on slides, because at that time it was slides, in the communities. And that was a slide tape presentation that we showed all over the communities and all over the place. Oh, A Step in Time. Dr. Kantor and her husband were avid folk dancers. My parents knew them through the Cleveland folk dance circles and they wanted to document Cleveland folk dance, but not... Have you seen that film?

Allison Newbold [00:31:30] I have seen it. Yes.

Annett Fromm [00:31:32] OK, it's pretty hokey, but it was fun. And she resigned right after... She resigned while it was in process and I inherited it. And Laurie Corwin, who is an anthropologist at Cleveland State – I don't know where Laurie is now – was our anthropologist. So it documents specific types of dance forms in the Slovenian, Greek, and Irish communities. You asked memories. I went to have it dubbed from Beta onto VHS, I guess, at one of the TV stations and a lot of the workers, you know, the crew, were watching the film. And it was so funny because these mostly East European guys were talking about the differences of polka in the different communities. And they knew that's a Slovenian polka. Now look at them, they're doing it Polish style. [They knew] what the Mexican style was. I mean, these guys from the community knew what they were looking at. And then the last project was a record of eastern European music and that was Walter's project. And I left before it was finished. But the project came either from Dr. Kantor or Joint Project, you know, Walter's interest was music, and I think he looked at that. We did have a project – I don't remember if it got funded, we went to either NEA or NEH for it – to do – and this is my project – on ethnic needlework and to create an exhibit and document primarily eastern European needlework. And the exhibit was supposed to be housed or opened in malls. And then I made outreach to linen companies like Cannon, you know, the sheets and towels, for them to create a line of ethnic sheets. You know where the edges would be these embroideries. But it fell apart and I don't remember if it didn't get funded, if Dr. Kantor had left and we didn't... That was another project that actually was Dr. Kantor and me. But I started it because of my interest in textiles. And as to the exhibits [cross talk] in the in the space in the Arcade, I don't remember how those came about. As I said, I remember the Hungarian one. There was one about children. We tried to make quarterly exhibits and I forget where the ideas came from. I was primarily the person that created those, I think.

Allison Newbold [00:34:43] Do you think a lot of interest like personal interest from the board members and their experience really played a role in how the museum developed and the process–

Annett Fromm [00:34:52] Oh, absolutely.

Allison Newbold [00:34:52] –were being worked on?

Annett Fromm [00:34:54] Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

Allison Newbold [00:34:58] And I'm sorry if you answered this question already, but you mentioned that you guys were hired in to do, you know, your staff was hired in together. Who hired you guys?

Annett Fromm [00:35:10] Carole Kantor. You know, I imagine I saw some ad somewhere – you know, this was before Internet, so who knows where I saw it – and sent in my application. I don't think I went up to Cleveland. Patricia and Walter were in Cleveland. So there must have been a telephone interview or something, and I was hired.

Allison Newbold [00:35:36] Gotcha. So why did you end up leaving the museum?

Annett Fromm [00:35:40] As I said, Mrs. Kantor resigned and it was a very contentious thing because the day after she resigned – I don't know if you've heard this, and this is my recollection – she sent letters to all of our funders on letterhead saying that she had resigned because of irreconcilable differences from the board and that they should rescind all their money because the museum could not carry out their projects without her being there. Well, I learned in my career and I knew at that time that the [national] endowments or the state arts council or humanities council gave us money based on the merit of the project. And you can change personnel. You know, if somebody leaves, you get another equally qualified person to carry it out. So I was appointed acting director and I remained curator and acting director. And the truth is that several things happened, some of which I was the culprit of and I suffered from. The board was not very good at raising money. And what I saw was ethnic communities tend to be very conservative. Leaders in ethnic communities are often very conservative. I don't mean this politically. I mean, they don't want to take a chance. And a number of the board members had financial status and not a one of them would pop with giving ten, twenty thousand dollars. And without that lead, other funders, you know the possible foundations, didn't see that the board was behind the museum and they wouldn't get behind the museum. I brought in with a grant – the Arts Council at that time had a five hundred dollar technical assistance grant – and I brought in, I think the man was the director of the National Symphony, to do a board development project. And the board members loved it and everything. And I stupidly put together a questionnaire. And I said, look, you guys, I said, look, this is like after a year of being acting director and I put this in writing and I said, I've looked at myself and I see that, you know, this is what I've accomplished in the last year. This is not my forte. This is not what I want to be doing. [siren in background] I want to be the curator of the museum. You need somebody else to be the director. Now, you as board members need to look at what you've done. Many board members didn't come to openings at the museum. They didn't come to see the exhibits. They didn't come to the programs. They were members at the lowest level. And that's not what a board member is. And I got crucified for doing that. [laughs] I might still have the letter here. I got greatly critiqued for doing that, for questioning the board about their motives and stuff and I resigned. And it was time... I didn't want to be acting director anymore. It was either, you know, piss or get off the pot or make me director or hire a director. And they couldn't move. As I said, they were very conservative and I looked for other museum jobs, and not getting anything quickly I went back to grad school.

Allison Newbold [00:39:21] All right. So I know you were there for three years. I'm not sure if you would know the answer to this, but do you know why the museum closed quietly in '81?

Annett Fromm [00:39:32] I really don't. I believe it was lack of funding but I don't know. After I left, I'd kept in touch with the secretary for a little while. I don't know what happened with Walter and Patricia. You know, in terms of employ... I don't remember what their employment status was at that time, but I really don't know how or why it closed. I've heard that collections went here, there and there. I don't know. I wasn't part of that.

Allison Newbold [00:40:05] Do you think that this is something – I know you don't live in Cleveland anymore – but do you think this was something that would come up again in the museum world, having an ethnographic museum?

Annett Fromm [00:40:18] I don't know. I live in Miami Beach, Florida, Miami, Florida, and we have a different mix of ethnicity here, one that's very chauvinistic. They think that... Even the scholars think that Miami leads the fore in ethnic diversity, and it's like, what are you talking about? Because I'm sure the diversity in Cleveland has changed, has expanded since I lived there with Latin Americans, different Asians and Africans. But there's a fight going on right now that there is a desire to found an African American museum, and the Cuban museum specifically talking about the Bay of Pigs. And I want to shake these people and say, do you know how much money it costs to run a museum? And salaries have... We earned twelve thousand five hundred dollars a year. And I lived on that and saved money in 1977. You can't get a job. I mean, people don't get hired for that amount of money now. Would this work in Cleveland? I don't know. When I went to graduate school for my Ph.D., I had two topics for my dissertation. One had to do with ethnic identity in northern Greece and that's what I chose because I had funding. My other – and this is really harsh – my other topic was to look at historical museums in the US, which at that time predominantly told the story of dead white men and they would do periodic tributes to ethnic communities in their region by having a temporary exhibit, excuse me, having a weekend festival. But they didn't permanently collect documents, photos, artifacts. They didn't permanently put the story of ethnic communities into their permanent exhibit or into their temporary exhibits. I think it's still largely the case although women now have a voice. Often African Americans have a larger voice. But for American historical museums to really look at the full scale of what's in their community, they don't do it. I never wrote that. I don't know if it will come back again. One of your questions was – because I have your list of questions in front of me – was what was it about the 1970s and this I have written about. In the 1970s there was the Black Power movement. And there was the rise of Native Americans looking for recognition. And I believe the European ethnics said and Asians said, hey, what about us? We want some recognition. And there was a need for a study in the Ohio Arts Council, in the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts, to see what was funded like the projects of the Ethnographic Museum. There were hundreds of them. And what resulted of them? Are any of those still part of permanent institutions or are they fugitive institutions, you know, that were short-lived like the Ethnographic Museum? And that's not to be critical of them being short-lived because they didn't make an impact. Peoples and Cultures got funding from state arts council, if not the federal, and did really good work in Cleveland. So in the '70s, it was like a different "Me Too," without a hashtag thing going on. And it's hard to keep those things going and maintained. Would there be another ethnographic or multi-ethnic museum in Cleveland? What's happened is that there are single ethnic museums, and I don't keep up with Cleveland. I keep up with the Jewish [Maltz] Museum, which grew out of the Temple [Tifereth Israel]. Oh, I cataloged the collection of [Abba Hillel] Silver's Temple while I was in Cleveland, but I don't know if any of the other ethnic communities have sustained successfully and sustainably created museums in Cleveland. There was a great movement at Kent State University. There was a professor there who in the '70s published a book. I don't know if you've seen it at Western Reserve [Historical Society] on ethnic collections and libraries. I'm looking for it right now. And it might be in a box, I don't...

Allison Newbold [00:45:36] So do you think that these museums were, I know you just mentioned the Black Power movement and the Native Americans, do you think that these museums were a response to those movements going on?

Annett Fromm [00:45:46] Absolutely. Yeah.

Allison Newbold [00:45:50] Were there any ethnic or racial groups that were not well-represented in the museum?

Annett Fromm [00:45:54] I did documentation just for the fun of it in what there was of a two, three block Chinatown. But I don't believe we did any interviews with Chinese immigrants. I think we pretty much really covered a wide range of communities. Yeah, I think.

Allison Newbold [00:46:23] Do you think that there were groups covered more than others just based on the population here in Cleveland or just personal interest from the board of the museum?

Annett Fromm [00:46:37] It might have been that more groups were covered because of personal interest and the fortitude of the interviewers. So I know Walter and I, me with Greeks, Jews, might have had more in those communities. But we really tried to keep it equal. And then, Walter, with Croats, Serbs, Hungarians, Slovaks. Patricia was not very effective. And you and I had correspondence about release forms. And I'll put this on the record. Carole Kantor and I were installing the exhibit at Cleveland State one day and Patricia came rushing in – I characterized her as Annie Hall, she actually wore hats and drove a VW, I don't know if you've seen the whole movie.

Allison Newbold [00:47:50] Yeah.

Annett Fromm [00:47:50] She came rushing in and said, Where's Mr. so-and-so's documents? Where's Mr. so-and-so's pictures? And I was the official bitch and I looked at her and I said, Patricia, we don't have release forms from these people. Well, I can get them now. And I said – Cantor was silent, did not even look up – and I said, well, we've already got the exhibit designed. There's no space for them. And I as the coordinator of the oral history project, I forget what it says on my resume, was after her continually for paperwork and she almost never brought in release forms. So we could neither use the tapes as oral information, oral presentation, nor could we use stuff. And that was my comment about release forms. So in the exhibit itself, African Americans were not well-represented.

Allison Newbold [00:49:01] Is there anything they could have done to make help straighten out Patricia to get those release forms, or was it just–.

Annett Fromm [00:49:08] Nope. From the get go when she did the interviews, she said, I can't go back and ask them for them. I can't do that. I can't... She just didn't get how to do the job. She didn't understand the legal ramifications. No, you couldn't. For me, it was really hard. You know, like I was 27 years old. I'd been in Peace Corps. I'd done this. I'd done that. She was in her early 20s. And it was like, how does this woman live that way? And it was like, hey, she lasted this long. She's going to continue living that way. You know, that's the way she is. But, you know, it was not my responsibility to go and get those.

Allison Newbold [00:50:00] All right. I think I asked you all of my questions, but did you have any other comments or anything you wanted to talk about regarding the Ethnographic Museum?

Annett Fromm [00:50:09] It was an amazing initiative that was groundbreaking. It was great. It was totally grassroots. There was some pushback from the local museums that didn't accept our work, that didn't think we were professional, which was irritating and which was sad. We had amazing collaboration and cooperation from the ethnic communities who let me, Walter and Patricia, into their homes and into their lives. It was when... Cleveland has [laughs] historically had bad press, you know, what a crummy city it is. It was an amazing way to get underground and really see what amazingly rich Cleveland, City of Cleveland was. Have you seen The Deer Hunter?

Allison Newbold [00:51:12] No, I have not.

Annett Fromm [00:51:13] OK, so The Deer Hunter is a Vietnam-era film. And the men in it, the main characters, come from Cleveland and the wedding was filmed at St. Theodosius Church in Tremont. I don't know if you've been there. You need to do a walk of all the churches in Tremont. They are amazing. And when The Deer Hunter opened, it had a premiere in Cleveland and they reenacted the wedding. So I was the hat check girl at the Rusin club, at the club where it was. But, you know, there was a great, great pride in the immigrant communities of their lives, of what they achieved, what their children and grandchildren achieved. And it really said a lot about being American. For me, it was a real. It made me, as a museologist, you didn't ask me this, but I set up all the museum systems there. I wrote collections management policy. I created all the forms. I cataloged all the collections. I created the cataloging system. I created the storage. So for me, it built me as a museologist and it built me as a community field worker and taught me a lot about the history of that area, of that region. It was remarkable. And it was an experience that I profited from and enjoyed almost all of... I have a personal life but the Ethnographic Museum was just a real, real remarkable effort by a group. You know, I badmouth them by saying they didn't raise the money. But many of the board members, I gave you Jennie Bochar's name, Mike Vasilakes's name. He was the one who really assassinated my character. But he did so much for the place. There was a man named... His brother's named Walter Gbur. But a man, [Jack] Gbur. There was a Swedish man. These people were gave their heart and soul to it. They just couldn't get the money, but they really meant well.

Allison Newbold [00:53:50] All right, I think that wraps this up.

Annett Fromm [00:53:54] OK. I'd love to see this when it's finished.

Allison Newbold [00:53:55] I just want to thank you so much for your time. You were wonderful.

Annett Fromm [00:54:00] You're welcome. And I would love to see your thesis.

Allison Newbold [00:54:06] I will send it over as soon as I have a completed version of it.

Annett Fromm [00:54:11] OK. OK. And I'll translate that book for you.

Allison Newbold [00:54:18] Sounds good. And we'll stay in touch via email. We'll keep you updated.

Annett Fromm [00:54:22] OK, great. Great.

Allison Newbold [00:54:23] Thank you so much for your time. I hope you feel better and I hope you have a good day.

Annett Fromm [00:54:27] Thank you, and have a good time in Tallahassee.

Allison Newbold [00:54:30] Thank you. Bye-Bye.

Annett Fromm [00:54:32] Bye.


Project Team



Document Type

Oral History


55 minutes

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