Great Balls of Fire: Comets, Asteroids, Meteors

On October 1, Great Balls of Fire will open in the main galleries of the Newark Museum. This exciting exhibit explores the cutting edge of planetary science with comets, asteroids and meteors.

It is an excellent topic for an exhibit: for thousands of years we have been amazed by “shooting stars” and the graceful tails of comets as they swept across the nighttime sky. In ancient times we noticed lights moving slowly through the stars, called them planets and named them after the gods.

Ever since Galileo first spotted Jupiter and its moons in his small telescope we have wondered where planets come from and how our Solar System formed. After many years we have surveyed the major planets and moons with telescopes and spacecraft. Now we are probing even deeper, examining the smaller objects orbiting the Sun in order to understand the Solar System and its origins.

The small objects include asteroids, which are chunks of rock and iron. These are the “leftovers” from the formation of planets. Most are in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, but they can be found throughout the Solar System. They range in size from about 30 feet to 400 miles.

Comets are thought of as “dirty snowballs”. Comets range in size from 300 feet to 19 miles. These icy bodies spend most of their time in deep space but when they come close to the Sun, the ices turn to gas and release tremendous amounts of dust. This forms the graceful long tails for which comets are famous.

Deciphering a Comet

This summer the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft made an impressive rendezvous with a comet. Like its namesake, the famous Rosetta Stone, the probe will decipher the nature of comets in a unique way. Instead of flying past it for a brief glimpse, Rosetta is the first to orbit a comet and study it long-term.Rosetta_and_Philae_at_comet
Even more exciting is the small lander onboard spacecraft. It is named Philae after the location of an obelisk used to interpret the Rosetta Stone. For the very first time, it will set down on the comet’s surface to study it up close, determine its chemical composition and drill beneath its surface. The landing is currently scheduled for November 11.

Over the next several months Rosetta and Philae will ride the comet along its orbit as it approaches the Sun. This will be a spectacular trip astronomers have long yearned for.

Probing the Asteroid Belt

Meanwhile NASA’s Dawn mission is on an amazing journey through the asteroid belt in hopes of capturing the earliest moments of the Solar System’s formation. Dawn reached its first target, the asteroid Vesta, in July 2011. It orbited Vesta for a year making an in-depth study that revealed the asteroid to be much more complex than originally thought. Two enormous craters were discovered at its south pole. These impacts were so powerful that its surface folded at the equator, leaving behind massive troughs that circle the asteroid.vesta_still_01

Careful study of Vesta reveals that is has a core, mantle and crust. Some speculate that Vesta is not just a mere asteroid but a remnant from the formation of the planets – exactly what astronomers hoped to find.

The mission gets even more amazing in the spring of 2015. Dawn will reach Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt and the only dwarf planet we know of in the inner Solar System. This will be our very first up-close look at a dwarf planet – a tantalizing taste of what is to come when the New Horizons spacecraft reaches Pluto next summer.

Wish Upon a Star

You don’t have to fly out to a comet or an asteroid to explore the Solar System. If you go outside on a clear dark night, you may see a piece of one of these objects. A “shooting star” is not really a star at all but a hunk of an asteroid or a speck of dust from a comet.

You can see a meteor in the sky just about any night if you are patient. It is said that nearly 100 tons of meteoritic material enters the Earth’s atmosphere every day. Much of this is fragments of asteroids. Most of these burn up and never reach the Earth’s surface. A few are large enough to reach the ground as meteorites. And in some cases we can have spectacular events such as the detonation of a 65-foot wide asteroid over the city of Chelyabinsk, Russia in February 2013. One of the largest impacts in recorded history also took place in Russia back in 1908. An object exploded in the air near the Tunguska River flattening 800 square miles of forest. This explosion was powerful enough to destroy a large city.

When comets get close to the Sun they release gas and dust. This is left behind and if the Earth passes through this debris we get a higher number of meteors as the bits of dust burn up in our atmosphere. This is a meteor shower. Alas you will not find any meteorites lying around after a meteor shower – these tiny bits all burn up.

Leonid_MeteorWe do have a couple of meteor showers coming up this fall. The Orionids come to a peak on October 22 (best between midnight and 5:30 a.m. on the morning of the 22nd). The Geminid meteor shower is one of the best of the year. Bright moonlight will spoil part of the shower but we should have a good view from about 9 p.m. on Dec 13 until moonrise around 1 a.m. on the morning of December 14.

Target Earth

Whether asteroid, comet or meteor, these diminutive members of the Solar System are fascinating objects in their own right and may be the key to greater understanding of our planetary system and its inner workings.

More than just satisfying our curiosity, greater awareness of these objects and how they threaten Earth will help us protect our planet and the life on its surface. Your chances of perishing in a cosmic impact are higher than winning the lottery: about 1 in 700,000. We need only to look at a dinosaur fossil to realize the peril of ignoring these fascinating objects.

In addition to Great Balls of Fire, the Dreyfuss Planetarium is featuring a new show about comets, asteroids and meteors called Firefall. There will also be a family festival, Astrofest, to celebrate the exhibition on Saturday, October 18.

- Kevin Conod, Manager, Dreyfuss Planetarium

September 30, 2014 at 10:25 am Leave a comment

Site-specific work at the Newark Museum: Dahlia Elsayed’s We Would Begin Our Own

“Were it to become the fashion to patronize American artists, designers and craftsmen and to give them a free hand instead of insisting on conformity to the ancient ways as interpreted by the ignorant rich, we would have a larger art demand in America; the supply would raise prices and wages; art study would be encouraged; more men of genius skill and training would come here from abroad; and we would begin our own Renaissance.” – John Cotton Dana, The Gloom of the Museum, 1917._DSC7163

The 2014 New Jersey Arts Annual, Ready or Not, was set out to activate unconventional areas in the Museum, in addition to the display of artworks in the rotating exhibition gallery spaces. Incorporating different artworks in sections that do not typically display or present art, several of artists in this year’s Arts Annual were invited to create site-specific works for this show.  They observed various parts within the Museum’s structure as an “empty canvas,” and created works that responded specifically to the Museum’s architecture and environment. Treating the Museum’s physical space as a medium was the point of departure when I started planning this particular aspect of the exhibition, and the blogs that will follow this one will present more artists whose work, be it performance, sculpture, installation art, painting or time-based media, is everywhere but in the galleries. Corridors, stairwells, ceilings and other “none-gallery” spaces, which are often left empty and shun from artistic presence, became part of the curatorial premise for this exhibition so as to extend the dialogue between art and space. The artworks’ placement and location involved intriguing curatorial discussions between the artists and myself, regarding the work’s visibility and its relation to and transformation of the location it is consuming.

_DSC6337Outdoors, in Horizon Plaza, Dahlia Elsayed created a temporary installation, We Would Begin Our Own. Selecting this particular spot to display her work was a way to activate this site through Elsayed’s poetry.  By erecting 29 yellow, bright flags attached to the fence surrounding the plaza, Elsayed repurposed the use of the fence in this public, outdoor space. Each flag is inscribed with a word or a phrase the artist appropriated from the Newark Museum’s founder John Cotton Dana’s notable essay The Gloom of the Museum (1917). Located right by the Museum’s entrance and visually prominent, these flags greet both visitors and pedestrians on Washington Street or Central Avenue. Elsayed, who often incorporates words and text in her artwork, reconfigured Dana’s essay and through this form of concrete poetry, shared her admiration to the site and the city. She explains: “InFlags -- HorzPlaza this poem, I reshape his [Dana] words to create something between a Newark artists’ manifesto, a love letter to a city, and a statement of solidarity with the institution that he profoundly shaped.” The brightness of the flags as well as their shape is reminiscent of a construction zone, alerting the viewer’s attention to their content and the site when read either as complete phrases or word by word.

In my next blog, I will discuss another site-specific work by Ariel Efron and Lucas
Vickers. Stay tuned.

- Shlomit Dror, Consulting Curator, American Art

July 16, 2014 at 10:13 am Leave a comment

Newark Black Film Festival Celebrates is 40th Anniversary

The Newark Black Film Festival (NBFF), the longest-running black film festival in the United States, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year with a blockbuster lineup of films and documentaries, including winners of the biennial Paul Robeson Awards.  This year’s screenings include the 2013 Academy Award winners 12 Years a Slave and 20 Feet From Stardom, and a fun-filled schedule of youth filmsCommittee pix in trustees room

Since its introduction, the NBFF has provided a forum for writers, directors, producers, performers and film patrons who enjoy African American and African Diaspora cinema. The goal of the festival is to present programs that reflect the full diversity of the black experience both past and present, encompassing a wide range of forums and formulas from documentary to the avant-garde. In the past 39 years, NBFF has screened approximately 800 films to an audience of almost 180,000 adults and youth.  Past films of note have included Ashes and Embers, Body and Soul, Do the Right Thing and Daughters of the Dust.

The NBFF started in 1974 with a touring black film festival that was put together by filmmaker Oliver Franklin who worked at the Annenberg Center for Communication, Art & Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. The late Gus Henningburg, who was then the Executive Director of the Greater Newark Urban Coalition, learned about the festival and proposed it to the Newark Museum.

In 1976 when the touring festival was no longer available, the Museum made the decision to produce the Newark Black Film Festival and established a Selection Committee, whose volunteer members represented important institutions in the community.

In 1981, a Children’s Festival was added, which is now called Youth Cinema. In 1985, the Museum initiated the Paul Robeson Awards to honor excellence in independent filmmaking in five categories.

‘‘When we introduced the festival, few black filmmakers were successful in bringing their projects to the screen and those that made it, didn’t stay long,’’ said NBFF Chair Gloria Hopkins Buck, a charter member of the festival. ‘’The founders were sensitive to the need for creative expression and we did our best to make it happen. Challenges still exist but the quality of work and their artistic accomplishments on a global scale are changing the landscape.’’

‘’NBFF is a festival unique for its longevity,’’ said Rutgers professor and historian Dr. Clement Price, also a charter member,  ‘’and the endearment in which it is held by patrons of more than a generation.  It is also civic ritual that has witnessed the emergence of black film as a genre important to understanding multiple narratives about the human spirit.’’

NBFF Committee 2004 Warrington Hudlin, President, Black Filmmaker Foundation said, ‘’The NBFF came into existence to fill the void left by movie theaters that were fleeing Newark and other inner cities throughout the United States.  The real beneficiaries soon became the newly minted generation of young African American filmmakers who were graduating from film schools with films under their arms and looking for a place to screen them.  And even today, if a filmmaker wants to put his or her film to a litmus test for authenticity, I say ‘screen it in Newark’.’’

Financial support for the festival from Bank of America for the past 14 years has allowed it to expand to venues beyond the museum, including NJ State Museum/Trenton, Rutgers/Camden and Monmouth Arts Council/Asbury Park.

‘’As the longest-running event of its kind in the U.S., the Newark Black Film Festival never fails to bring an impressive lineup of movies to the Newark area and beyond,’’ said Bob Doherty, Bank of America New Jersey president.  ‘’Celebrating differences in culture, ethnicity and experience serves to create stronger, more vibrant communities.’’

The 2014 NBFF season began on June 25 with the documentary Freedom Riders.  On July 2, the Museum screened 20 Feet From Stardom. 12 Years a Slave will be shown July 9 at CityPlex 12 Theatre.  The film Big Words, will be shown on July 16 and Moms Mabley: I Got Somethin’ to Tell You will be screened July 23.

Winners of the 2014 Paul Robeson Awards will be honored at an award ceremony on July 30 at the Museum followed by the screenings at CityPlex 12 Theatre.  Youth Cinema feature films will be screened both at the Museum and the Newark Public Library in July and August.

The complete festival schedule may be found at

-Jerry Enis, Consultant

July 1, 2014 at 3:08 pm Leave a comment

A Night at the Museum Features Fun Activities for Summer Learning

On Friday, June 13,  885 participants spent a night of learning at the Newark Museum.

girl blue bowlA Night at the Museum is a three-hour family program for parents and their pre-school age children to participate in different curriculum-based activities. This year-end program reinforces the experiences that took place during the school year through trips to the Museum and classroom visits by museum educators, and demonstrates how children can experience the Museum out-of-school with their families.  An emphasis is placed on introducing the range of family programs available for Newark families such as weekend drop-ins, Saturday workshops, festivals and family days, planetarium shows and summer camp.

A Night at the Museum features family tours, hands-on art and science workshops and planetarium shows. This year Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends participated in a meewheelt and greet.  The fire department, police department and EMS responders were also in attendance to teach safety. Each student left the event with a backpack filled with materials that will keep their minds engaged over the summer months.

picture of roomParticipating families learned how much fun visiting the Museum can be and how inspiring it can be for learners that are just beginning to make sense of their world.     

“This was my first time participating at the A Night at the MuseuPre school night (3)m. As a presenter, I was very impressed with the diversity of the lessons and activities, the overall organization of the program, and the impressive number of children and families that attended.  Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this worthwhile program,”  said Julia Wieners RN.

-Shirley Thomas, Senior Manager for School and Teacher Programs

June 24, 2014 at 2:54 pm Leave a comment

Monuments Man Francis W. Bilodeau (1915-2004)

The Monuments Men, directed by George Clooney and starting Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, and others, tells the story of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program, an Allied group charged with the task of saving art objects and other cultural items looted by the Nazis during World War II. The group consisted of soldiers who had experiences in museums and other cultural institutions as curators, registrars, and educators. One of the Newark Museum’s own staff members was a member of this important elite group.Marburg 7

Francis W. Bilodeau was a young graduate of Bowdoin College in his native Maine when he joined the staff of the Newark Museum in 1938. Initially assigned to the Lending Department (later the Education Loan Collection), he was soon transferred to the Registrars’ Department where he was in charge of the care and preservation of American paintings and sculptures. In 1940-41 he took of year off to study art history at Yale University, and in 1942 he was drafted into the U.S. Army.

During the war, Bilodeau served as Staff Sergeant with the Combat Engineer Battalion of the 8th Division, in which role he saw active duty in Normandy. Immediately after the war, he was assigned to the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program and posted to the Marburg Collecting Point, which was one of three centers in the American zone of occupied Germany. His group was responsible for conserving artwork damaged during the war and returning it to its rightful owners. As director of the Marburg Collecting Point and later the Wiesbaden Marburg 5Collecting Point, he was instrumental in arranging a series of exhibitions displaying these masterpieces to a population that had been deprived of art for most of the war. These exhibitions were some of the first to be presented in post-war Germany, and some of them even traveled to the United States. One of his most unusual accomplishments was his oversight of the reburial of the bodies of Frederick the Great; his father Frederick Wilhelm, the “soldier king;” and Field Marshall Paul von Hindenburg, the World War I hero, and his wife.

After his service in the military government, Bilodeau returned to the States to finish his graduate studies at Yale University and to start a doctoral program at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. In 1951 he returned to the Newark Museum as the curator of the Marburg 4American art collection, but in 1952 he left to become the Education Supervisor at the New-York Historical Society. In his long career in the museum field, he also served as an administrator at the John Herron Art Museum in Indianapolis (now the Indianspolis Museum of Art); the Sheldon Swope Art Gallery in Terre Haute, Indiana; the R. W. Norton Art Gallery in Shreveport, Louisiana; and other cultural organizations.

Marburg 1In 1998 the Federal Republic of Germany honored Mr. Bilodeau for his “remarkable and successful efforts to save valuable works of art” by “protecting German property and works of art and preventing the perpetration of new wrongs.” “Your distinguished, indeed, exemplary service in this post remains unforgotten,” wrote the German Foreign Minister.

- William A. Peniston, PhD., Librarian/Archivist

January 31, 2014 at 3:07 pm Leave a comment

Willie Cole’s Sole Sitter Arrives at the Newark Museum

Willie Cole (born 1955, New Jersey; lives and works in New Jersey)  The Sole Sitter, 2013 Bronze Edition 1 of 3 Newark Museum Purchase 2013

Willie Cole (born 1955, New Jersey; lives and works in New Jersey)
The Sole Sitter, 2013
Edition 1 of 3
Newark Museum Purchase 2013

The Newark Museum’s latest acquisition is a large-scale bronze sculpture of a meditative figure with head resting in hands. Look carefully and you see that the figure is composed entirely from the forms of women’s shoes. The knees and thighs are composed from a pair of clogs, the feet are Mary Janes, and several high heels, some folded over, form the head. Ordinary objects of everyday dress are revealed in new ways.The Sole Sitter - detail

For decades, artist Willie Cole has creatively transformed used shoes and other found objects — including blow dryers, bicycle parts and ironing boards — into imaginative works of art. Sole Sitter is an enlarged version of a sculpture by Cole assembled from actual shoes. The title is a play on words: “sole” evokes both the everyday (worn shoe bottoms) as well as the exceptional, while its homophone “soul” connotes spiritual essence.

The work’s form and dark patina also reflect the influence of African sculpture, which the artist was introduced to as a child growing up in Newark and visiting the Newark Museum. When I first saw this sculpture — in a photograph the artist took shortly after the work was cast in a foundry in Georgia — I immediately saw resemblances to works of art from central Africa. While Cole doesn’t base his sculptures on a specific African tradition or aesthetic, he surrounds himself with images of African art which filter into his subconsious and re-emerge in his work. “I’m exploring the ‘African’ aesthetic in general,” Cole says, “and re-presenting it in a neo-pop art idiom.”The Sole Sitter

Sole Sitter is on view in the South Wing rotunda, just up the stairs from the museum’s entrance. You can see examples of African art, a source of inspiration for Willie Cole , in the African galleries on the second floor . Another work by the artist is currently on view in the exhibition Papyraceous, in the American art galleries, on the second floor of the Museum’s North Wing.

- Christa Clarke, Ph.D., Senior Curator, Arts of Global Africa

November 20, 2013 at 10:31 am Leave a comment

She Blinded Me With Science!

Museum Musings by Amanda


emPowered is fun and engaging for visitors of all ages!

The role of a teacher is vital to any child’s learning. They help kids focus their critical reading skills with questions like: Who? What? Where? Why? How? The Dynamic Earth and emPowered exhibits answer all of these questions with ease and comfort while enhancing the learning experience with fun technology.  From the Natural Selection finch racing game to the wild tornado simulator, visitors can engage with technology that is designed to help them focus on the educational aspects of the exhibit while having fun. There is a sound satellite that kids can rotate to find the sound of the animals, and there are sustainable energy wheels and throttles that engage visitors of all ages. By engaging the visitor with cool technology, this exhibit becomes a great hands-on learning tool for teachers, parents and kids. After visiting this exhibit and using with the interactives, kids will probably be more interested in finishing their science homework! All of a sudden, Darwin’s theory doesn’t seem so hypothetical and antiquated; by giving a taste of the real life implications and allowing kids to have a go at it, their interest is heightened and the subjects that once were lackluster come to life through the creative space and engaging stations.


A part of the Dynamic Earth exhibit. Notice the interactive sound satellite finder in the back!

Walking through the exhibits, I found myself remembering the science textbooks of my earlier school years. The covers of these textbooks were always eye-catching with colorful illustrations like rainforest frogs, bolts of lightening or the solar system. While these books were always entertaining the class with vivid illustrations and photographs between the lengthy paragraphs of dry information, these science textbooks were also always thick and heavy. The exhibits Dynamic Earth and emPowered, with engaging play stations and artistry much like the textbooks are a great place to go visit as your child’s science class learns about animal habitats, the food chain, energy and sustainability, and earth’s minerals and materials. Exploring the e is an engaging and seamless adventure through the different chapters of the science textbook. I came out understanding more about different topics and had fun using the cool technology that makes the exhibit modern and integrated, and fun and hands-on!

August 9, 2013 at 11:20 am Leave a comment

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