In President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union Address, he spoke about two major initiatives that the Newark Museum is already providing for the community.
The President spoke about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education and how 3-D printing has the potential to revolutionize the future of our nation. In 2012, we launched Makerspace at the Newark Museum, which utilizes all facets of STEM. We even took it a step further and added the A for Art creating STEAM and putting creativity at the center of innovative thinking.
Youth and adults are inspired by their own interests and explorations to create by having access to state-of-the art technologies. Makerspace invites users to “build to think” by utilizing rapid fabrication equipment and materials. Equipment and supplies range from 3-D software to 3-D printing robots; microscopes to micro-controllers; Dremel tools to DC motors; and soldering to soft-circuits. Art, craft, science, engineering and technology form the platform for discovery, creativity and collaboration.
These skills are developed in the Makerspace, as well as within the Museum’s galleries and collections. Participants are exposed to the vast object and intellectual resources the Museum has to offer, which makes Makerspace at the Newark Museum a unique learning experience.
Makerspace at the Newark Museum is made possible through Cognizant’s Making the Future Program.
The President’s State of the Union Address also focused on the need to strengthen early childhood education in the United States and he is proposing a system that will provide universal pre-K education. We are committed to serving early childhood. In 2012, with the support of TD Charitable Foundation, the Museum launched an initiative to expand its services in this area. In collaboration with the Newark Public Schools, the Newark Preschool Council, and La Casa de Don Pedro, the Museum developed new curriculum-based programming for 3-8 year olds and their teachers. Since 2010, the number of early learners has increased from less than 5,000 children to slightly over 17,000 in 2012.
In June 2012, a special ‘preschool families night’ was held at the Museum in collaboration with the Newark Public Schools’ Department of Early Childhood and the Newark Early Childhood Advisory Council. More than 600 families with preschoolers came to the Museum for hands-on activities, tours, summer learning ideas, free children’s books, and more – all with fun in mind! The second special evening for preschool families is already being planned for June 2013. More and more early learners and their families are now visiting the Museum on weekends for free drop-in activities in art and science.
This initiative focused on early childhood education has enabled the Museum’s Deputy Director for Education, Ted Lind, to be included in a national committee, hosted by the Smithsonian, that is planning a symposium focused on ‘early learners and museums’. The director emeritus of the Smithsonian’s Early Enrichment Center (a museum-centered preschool), Dr. Sharon Shaffer, is authoring a book about early childhood and museums. Dr. Shaffer is featuring the Newark Museum’s successful work with young learners as a case study. Early childhood education is clearly a major area of interest for us!
TD Charitable Foundation continues to support the Museum’s early childhood initiative.
Last summer, Dr. Dorothy O. Smith of East Orange came to one of the Museum’s celebrated “Jazz in the Garden” noontimes. But she didn’t come empty-handed.
Dr. Smith, now 94, came to Newark in 1934 to attend South Side High (now Malcolm X. Shabazz). She would become one of the first African-American woman podiatrist in New Jersey. Sometime after she moved north, Dr. Smith’s grandmother, O. M. Carter, of Madison, Florida, sent her a handmade quilt in a pattern I discovered was called “Hearts and Gizzards.” When I asked, Dr. Smith smiled and said that she wasn’t really allowed to use the quilt – which is one reason it’s in such pristine condition. “Hearts and Gizzards” is not a terribly common pattern, and Mrs. Carter gave it her own spin, by rotating some of the blocks and breaking the rigid symmetry of the design.
Dr. Smith’s grandmother’s quilt joins the Newark Museum’s nationally known holdings of American quilts, although it may not be on display for some time. All textiles are very fragile, and they have to be kept out of light for most of the time. But Dr. Smith was happy to know that her quilt would be in good company, and be taken care of for generations to come.
-Ulysses Grant Dietz, Chief Curator/Curator of Decorative Arts
Flying direct from a conference at the Renwick Gallery in Washington, DC, I met the Museum’s Founders Society members in London (at the Four Seasons Park Lane, which was a lot cozier than my hurricane-smitten house in New Jersey). The premise of this six-day adventure was to let people see aspects of this very familiar city that they would not normally see.
London is the center of Britain’s modern and contemporary art scene, and our London coordinator, John Huntingford, expertly guided our group to sales galleries, shows at the RoyalAcademy, and even a cocktail reception at Sotheby’s to give us all insight into the workings of the London art world. A personal favorite of mine was the Whitechapel gallery in the city’s East End – London’s answer to the Lower East Side in Manhattan. The gallery was founded in the very early 1900s to bring modern art to the working-class district. During our visit, a great retrospective of American artist Mel Bochner was on view.
But, in my role as curator of decorative arts, I had my own agenda for the group, and John Huntingford was more than amenable. I persuaded my colleague at the massive Victoria & AlbertMuseum in South Kensington to give us a personal tour of the spectacular new jewelry galleries. Clare Philips was incredibly sweet to us and proudly showed off what are without question the finest exhibition galleries of jewelry in any museum in the world. The V&A’s collection is legendary, and the new installation is both opulent and user-friendly. Very hard to choke down the curatorial envy.
Parallel to that, the group visited two commercial galleries more linked to my department than to modern art. The celebrated Wartski’s on Grafton Street, prime dealer in jewelry and objects by Russian imperial jeweler Carl Fabergé, welcomed us in and let us handle treasures. We also visited art and antiques dealer Adrian Sassoon in his splendid house, where his gallery of contemporary craft is managed by another friend, Clare Beck. Adrian and Clare offered us coffee and tea on a chilly London afternoon, and gave the group special insight into contemporary work in ceramics, silver, gold and glass.
I was particularly happy that our last day involved two very different houses tied to art collecting
and creation. Leighton House, in London’s Chelsea district, was the home of Victorian England’s celebrity artist, Lord Leighton. With its eye-popping Arab Hall, Leighton House offers a sly peek into the more bohemian side of English art history – all that wonderful repressed emotion seething on the surface of the canvas!
This was followed up by a drive to the country to see a different kind of Lordly place: Lionel Rothschild’s massive French fantasy, Waddesdon Manor, completed in the 1880s for one of Britain’s legendary collectors. Rothschild was a connoisseur and collector of a type distinct to his era – snapping up Gainsborough portraits (really fabulous Gainsborough portraits) and French royal furniture and porcelains in the same way that American millionaires would a generation later. I’d last seen Waddeson in 1970, when I was fifteen, and my father indulged my whim to spend two weeks touring English stately homes. Surely that was the year I became a curator, although the idea didn’t ripen until I was in college.
When I returned to New Jersey, my house still had holes in the roof, but the heat was on and the internet reinstated. It wasn’t too hard to give up the Four Seasons and settle back into my domestic routine.
- Ulysses Dietz, Chief Curator/Curator of Decorative Arts
I’m back in Cooperstown, New York, and as the leaves start to turn and the air becomes crisp my mind wanders to the hot days of summer that I spent with Ulysses Grant Dietz, Chief Curator and Curator of Decorative Arts, as an intern at the Newark Museum. I am a second-year student at the Cooperstown Graduate Program who will graduate in the spring with a Masters in History Museum Studies. The Newark Museum appealed to me as a location for an internship because of its combination of a world-class collection and its commitment to serving and reflecting the community. My internship was comprised of four main areas: work with the textile collection, the jewelry collection, exhibition research, and field research. Each week included some work in all four areas, which resulted in a holistic view of what it means to be a curator in today’s museum world.
My first task was re-housing the embroidery collection. I located, photographed, measured, described, and re-housed each object in the embroidery collection. I took the gathered information and updated the digital record for each of the objects in the museum’s database. In addition, I helped accession three quilts into the museum’s collection. I was especially excited to be a part of a new way of connecting the donated museum objects to the community. This connection was accomplished by photographing the donor with the object. We attached a copy of the image in the object file as a reminder of the face and story that is related to each piece in our vast collection. Though this process has just started for the museum, I am excited to see how it will open up new exhibit opportunities in the future.
I also conducted research for an exciting new exhibition entitled, “Mansions and Millionaires.” This exhibit is going to explore the dynamics between style, taste, and wealth. It proposes that style is not innate within a person, community, or culture but rather is formed by a complicated play between the forces of competition and mimicry. I read and took detailed notes on two books for this exhibition: “Stanford White: Decorator in Opulence and Dealer in Antiquities” and “Artistic Houses: Being a Series of Interior Views of a Number of the Most Beautiful and Celebrated Homes in the United States.” I cannot wait to come back to Newark to see this exhibition come to fruition.
My work re-housing the jewelry collection was by far the most extensive aspect of my internship. I worked with Sara Parmigiani, part-time registrar, to collect, photograph, tag, organize, and re-house all of the jewelry. The new drawers, that we were putting the objects into are metal and without a lining to protect the objects, so we measured and made a custom liner for each drawer out of a type of acid-free foam called Volera. I made countless templates out of matte board and cut out hundreds of liners over the course of the summer. Because of my close proximity to the jewelry collection I had time to consider how the collection reflects John Cotton Dana’s notion of embracing the new and of having objects that reflect the community at large rather than the collection of the elite. The jewelry in the collection ranges from rings and charms that are still in their boxes from the yesteryears of Newark’s jewelry production days to cutting edge polymer jewelry made by studio artists from around the world. Embracing Dana’s notions have given a great freedom and freshness to the collection that is rare to find in other institutions.
The fourth and final aspect of my internship was research into the current museum world of exhibitions. One day a week I went into New York City to museums that Ulysses suggested. Over the summer I visited seventeen museums in NYC and critically talked about what I found at them with Ulysses. This experience was extremely valuable for my development as a museum professional and gave me a strong foundation of exhibition practices in a variety of institutions and subject matter.
My internship at the Newark Museum under Chief Curator Ulysses Dietz has been an invaluable experience. I feel that I now have a practical understanding of what goes into maintaining and building a collection and how objects and ideas become exhibitions. I formed valuable friendships, skills, and insights for which I will forever be indebted. As the hot air of summer slowly turns to cool, another school year starts, but I will never forget my time in Newark.
- Jenna Robinson, Decorative Arts intern
The hexagon offers possibilities for greater flexibility in planning and, even, in construction for certain problems. But in spite of far greater advantages for building at least, the tetrahedron was taking me further and further for considerations of function and structure and toward speculation in pure form – Tony Smith, 1966
The Newark Museum’s collection of American art holds a number of artworks by Tony Smith, and reflects on the artist’s multidisciplinary career and practice as a painter, architect and sculptor. In all of Smith’s work, geometric and cubic elements are echoed and resonate throughout these disciplines. One of the earliest pieces in the collection was created during Smith’s enrollment at the The Art Students League of New York in the 1930s, while studying with Vaclav Vytlacil and George Grosz. This early work (Untitled, 1932) was probably sketched from a live model; however, since his early career as a painter, Smith rejected traditional modes of representation and was primarily attracted to abstraction and the transformation of geometric shapes.
While Smith is not largely credited for his career as a painter (but is rather famous for his sculptures), he did produce a number of paintings in the 1930s, mid-1950s and early 1960s. Many times, through trial and error, Smith experimented with abstraction as well as with simple geometric forms in logical, constructive compositions. Thus, Smith’s paintings vary in style and approach but are also derivative. An early painting from the 50s, Untitled, 1958, for example, demonstrates Smith’s inclination to abstraction and his experimentation with and integration of positive and negative space, organic and abstract forms. Thick layers of paint and opposition between solid and void, recall Clyfford Still’s juxtaposition of colors and irregular, pointy shapes.
Even though Tony Smith shared similar views and elements with members of the Abstract Expressionist pantheon, his engagement with architecture and other experimentations with forms varied frequently and distinguished him from his contemporaries and peers Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still. Tony Smith was born in South Orange, New Jersey on September 23, 1912, the same year as Jackson Pollock, whom he knew very well and was very close with. Belonging to the generation of the Abstract Expressionists, all born between 1900–1915, he had a particular vision and was not restricted to one style, medium or technique. It was only during the 60s that Smith’s style and artistic language was defined and characterized by his constructive compositions, containing cubic forms, which were also incorporated into Smith’s black, modular sculptures of the 1960s and 1970s. Untitled,ca. 1960, exemplifies Smith’s geometrical style of this later period, consisting of mostly free flowing cubic forms. This geometrically structured painting demonstrates Smith’s mature and most comprehensive style, and compared to his earlier work created almost a decade earlier, the abstraction and the transformation of shapes evolved quite a bit.
One of Smith’s artworks in the collection is a rare and fascinating early painting, dated ca. 1949–1953. Celebrated for its unusual style, scale, context and history, this painting (Untitled (Mural for Stone House), 1949-53) was actually proposed and intended to function as a mural in a house Tony Smith had designed himself in Bernardsville, New Jersey (see photo.) Smith studied architecture in 1937 at the New Bauhaus in Chicago and in 1938–1939 worked for Frank Lloyd Wright. As an architect, Smith designed many private homes, among them the house of the painter Theodoros Stamos’s in 1951. Smith was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright’s sensitivity to the natural site and the organic patterns and structure are clearly derived from Wright’s shapes and style. His commission for the 1939 home in New Jersey included this mural, which Smith planned for the house’s foyer. Sadly, the house was demolished and no longer exists, but the mural brings an exciting aspect of Tony Smith’s career as a painter. Placed on the wall that faced the front door, Smith worked on this mural intermittently over an extended period. This mural was never fully completed due to Smith’s frequent change of mind, which finally pushed the homeowners to vote against its display, and instead, turned into the wall, which was then covered with wallpaper. Even though there is a moral dilemma about reclaiming an artwork the artist did not complete and rejected, this object not only represents an interesting moment in Smith’s career as a painter, but also is a testimony to an unusual style and technique, not typical of his other work. This painting contains gestural motifs and a celebration of colors, which elicits a certain rhythm, almost calligraphic, as well as surreal inspired elements and biomorphic shapes. Additionally, there is a use of warm and cold color palette, emphasizing positive and negative spaces. Different from his later constructive paintings, this mural has multidirectional movements. This oeuvre demonstrates Smith’s affinity for abstraction and at the same time, this composition reveals structural, geometric forms, presenting us with Smith’s versatility and shifts between abstraction and geometrical lines. This fascinating, experimental work of art is different from the constructive compositions executed in the 60s, while the latter bear a relationship to his cubic sculptures and evoke architectural elements. (This wonderful mural is temporarily on view in the Museum’s Picturing America galleries, for the celebration of Smith’s centennial.)
Smith’s constructivist approach and aesthetics, both in painting and sculpture from the 1960s and 1970s, has replaced the Abstract Expressionist style seen in the mural. The brushstrokes and the gestural elements have been converted into solid, cubistic shapes, recalling Minimalist sculpture. For J.C, 1969, is a delightful sculptured displayed in the NewarkMuseum garden, and is part of a series conceived in 1969 in which Smith dedicated sculptures to close friends, whose titles bear their initials. J.C. refers to the French cubist Jean Charlot, who was an instructor at the Arts Students League of New York and an advocate muralist. This sculpture was done not too long after Smith’s first public debut as a sculptor in 1966 at the age 54, in a show at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, titled “Black, White and Grey.”
There is no doubt that Smith the architect influenced Smith the sculptor. Additionally, Smith’s awareness and admiration of the Bauhaus style and other European artists, especially Kasimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian, rooted in him his Constructivist aesthetic. Thus, this sculpture could also be associated with twentieth century constructivists whose forms and measurements were prominent characteristics in their work. Smith’s modular system and rearrangement of forms resulted in absent counterparts, so that only one side of For J.C. contains a geometric component. For J.C. is a dynamic sculpture, as it is not immediately clear how many faces it has or what shapes the other side will reveal. This notion of presence and absence does recall Smith’s earlier experimentations with positive and negative spaces.
Smith used common industrial material when working on his sculptures. To make them, Smith would call the Industrial Welding Co. in Newark, New Jersey and ask for the following: “Build me a six-foot cube of quarter-inch hot-rolled steel, with diagonal internal cross bracing.” Ordering the construction of black steel, five times the size of his maquette, these sheets were marked and sheared to shape. Hexagonal elements, tetrahedron and octahedron forms demonstrate Smith’s architectural background and also echo the geometric shapes that appear in his paintings.
Painter, sculptor and architect, Tony Smith’s artworks are uniquely presented in the NewarkMuseum’s collection and demonstrate the links between these practices. The sculptures, based on Smith’s solid cubes and rectangles, molecular and crystalline structures, were executed in various dimensions, mediums and materials. His sculptures reveal geometric components that his
paintings may not, creating a dynamic dialogue between two distinct constructed situations, and thus complementing each other conceptually and configuratively.
─Shlomit Dror, Research Associate, American Art
This gorgeous hunk of mahogany has been in our “Picturing America” colonial portrait gallery since 2001. But only in 2011 did it become mine the Museum’s. Another museum in distress was putting it on the auction block, and with the support of my Director and our trustees, we purchased it in a private sale.
So why did I have to have this particular table? Isn’t there enough of this kind of thing across the river(s) in the Metropolitan’s American Wing? Yes and no.
In 1925, the formidable widow, Sarah Schuyler Van Rensselaer, of Kearny, New Jersey, left us a group of Colonial objects, including this table. In 1931 it was taken away from the Museum by court order because we were not displaying it enough, according to the estate’s executors. It was given to another institution, from whom we borrowed it back for our permanent American art galleries.
In researching this piece again, when it became available for purchase, I realized that the Sarah Van Rensselaer was not the actual heiress of this table; she was the widow of Stephen Van Cortlandt Van Rensselaer of Newark, who died in 1885. He was born in the early nineteenth century in Newark, and the table, made for an ancestor in the 1770s in New York City, had in fact been in Newark since the early 1800s. It is the only known New York Chippendale card table with such a long New Jersey provenance. To most people, this means nothing; but to a curator it is everything.
It makes my heart leap every time I see it.
-By Ulysses Grant Dietz, Chief Curator
SEEKING JOHANNES IN CAPE TOWN
I concluded my travels with a quick trip to Cape Town, completing my race through the city’s contemporary art galleries and museums with a visit to the artist Sue Williamson’s studio. You can currently see Williamson’s Better Lives in our Present Tense galleries. The series tells the oft-harrowing stories of immigrants into South Africa through the language of studio portraiture. Though documenting a critical political issue in the country, Better Lives is not found within the collection of the South African National Gallery, making its presence within the Newark Museum all the more powerful.
In her studio, Williamson displayed some of her ongoing projects, including Other Voices, Other Cities, which examines what it means, in this globalized world, to live in a particular place. She travels to cities in and outside of Africa (New York, Havana, Harare, Johannesburg, London, Bern and Berlin) and gathers a group of young artists and others to workshop the question: Why do the residents of a city choose to live there, and if there were one message that would express the essence of that city, what would it be? The participants brainstorm answers together and vote on the most popular statement. The group then poses for a photograph with the statement, made up in large cardboard letters, in a public space viewed as emblematic of the city. Williamson had her Johannesburg iteration of the project on the wall of her studio. Recognizing the neighborhood in the photograph as the one I had walked through just days before to get to Diane Victor’s studio, reading its message, “Who is Johannes?” I finally felt equipped to contemplate the question.
– Perrin Lathrop, Research Assistant, Arts of Africa