The Newark Museum’s collection of African-American art is one of the most distinguished in the country, with works by a diverse range of artists dating from the early 19th through the 21st century. An exciting new acquisition by Norman Lewis (1900-1979) brings another important African-American artist—and a major painting by an Abstract Expressionist — into the Museum’s collections. The Newark Museum recently acquired Untitled, 1953 from Michael Rosenfeld Gallery in New York. Untitled, 1953 measures approximately 4 x 7 feet; the medium is oil and gold metallic paint on linen. This painting is remarkable both for its scale and for its bold abstract composition, featuring Lewis’s calligraphic brushwork in a series of sweeping vertical forms. Untitled, 1953 was previously in the collection of the Norman Lewis Estate and is now on view for the first time ever in the exhibition Procession: The Art of Norman Lewis at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
Norman Lewis is central to both the development of modern abstract art and to African-American art. Born and raised in Harlem, his life and work form a bridge between the art of the Harlem Renaissance, the Abstract Expressionists and activist art of the 1960s. Lewis also has a strong history of being shown at the Newark Museum, having participated in the exhibitions American Negro Art in 1944 and Black Artists: Two Generations in 1971, all works lent by the artist. Untitled, 1953 is not the first work by Lewis to enter Newark’s permanent collection. In 2004 the Museum received a gift of a painting and several works on paper by Lewis as part of the Bequest of Irene Wheeler — all in need of conservation which has kept them hidden in storage. Conservation treatment is currently planned for the painting Carnival, 1957 and an untitled drawing by Lewis (both part of the Wheeler bequest), and both will be included in an upcoming special exhibition in 2016.
– Tricia Laughlin Bloom, Curator of American Art
The founding director of the Newark Museum, John Cotton Dana, was born on this date, August 19, in 1856 in Woodstock, Vermont. Educated at Dartmouth College, he moved out west in 1880 and became a miner, a surveyor, a rancher, a lawyer, a journalist, a Unitarian minister (at least for one month), and eventually, at the age of 33, the librarian at the Denver Public Library. About his youth, he once wrote: “As I look back on the ten years that followed graduation…, [I see myself as] a mere child. Only a child could be as irrationally ambitious, as credulous, and as uncomprehending of daily life as I was then… Perhaps nearly all boys have a juvenile period like mine as they approach manhood…”
As a librarian, Dana found his vocation at a thinker, a cultural critic, and an educator, and he devoted the rest of his life to this profession. In his opinion, a good library “supplies the public with recreational reading…; [it provides] books on every profession, art, or handicraft…; [it] helps in social and political education – in training citizens…; [it promotes] culture… [which he defined as] the diffusion of good reading among people in giving tone and character to their intellectual life; [it] is the ever-ready helper of the school-teacher; [and it] aids the work of reading circles and other home-culture organizations…”
Later, following a series of exhibitions in the fine arts, the decorative arts, and the natural sciences at the Newark Public Library, where he was the director from 1902 to 1929, Dana founded the Newark Museum in 1909 as a complement to this educational mission. “A good museum attracts, entertains, arouses curiosity, leads to questionings, – and thus promotes learning.” “The Newark Museum of the future,” he declared, “will make and use collections useful to our manufacturers, housewives, students, importers, and dealers…” Furthermore, “Tomorrow, objects of art will be bought to give pleasure, to make manners seem more important, to promote skill, to exalt handwork, and to increase the zest of life by adding to it new interests…”
Under his tenure, the Newark Museum acquired the George T. Rockwell Collection of Japanese Art Objects (1909); the Edward N. Crane Memorial Collection of Tibetan Art Objects, a group of objects assembled by Dr. Albert L. Shelton (1911); Dr. William S. Disbrow’s natural science specimens (1922); and several paintings and sculptures by living American artists purchased by Mrs. Felix Fuld for the opening of the new museum building (1926). Among the remarkable exhibitions that Dana organized were: Modern German Applied Arts (1912), the first industrial arts exhibition in the United States, an exhibition that traveled to five other cities; two exhibition featuring the work of Childe Hassam (1911) and Max Weber (1913), the first solo exhibitions devoted to contemporary American artists; New Jersey Clay Products (1915), New Jersey Textiles (1916), and Nothing Takes the Place of Leather (1926), three exhibitions highlighting the work of local industries; China: The Land and the People (1923) and Primitive African Art (1928), two exhibitions that expanded the geographic scope of the Museum; and Inexpensive Articles of Good Design (1928 and 1929), about which Dana famously declared, “Beauty has no relation to price, rarity, or age.”
We are proud of the solid foundation that John Cotton Dana firmly established all of those years ago, and we continue to strive to be “a leader in connecting objects and ideas to the needs and wishes of its constituencies” in order “to educate, inspire, and transform individuals of all ages.”
– William A. Peniston, Ph.D.. Librarian
As the summer continues, the children in the Camp Newark Museum have been busy exploring more galleries throughout the Museum.
Over the last two weeks, the campers created another performance for their parents that relate to the different themes they’ve been experiencing. After watching the last show, I was particularly excited to see what all of the campers have been working on. This week’s show incorporated the next two themes of camp: Oh Snap and Reclaim, Recycle, Reuse I’m a maker. The campers’ routine was inspired by two exhibits they recently visited: Hassan Hajjaj: My Rock Stars and Picturing America. The show focused on a painting in the Museum’s collection by Joseph Stella, Voice of the City of New York Interpreted. The performance embraced different aspects of multimedia that are involved in these galleries, such as videography and photography.
As the audience patiently waited for the show to begin, the campers were eager to take the stage again. All of the campers had various props, such as cameras, pom poms and a replica of an NJ Transit bus, which they created from recycled material. The performance, The Bus Boogies, told a narrated story about friendship, preschoolers and a bus. The campers energetically began the show by participating in different dances like the Hokey Pokey and the Waltz while the audience cheered along.
The performance ended with a broadcast video produced by the teen campers and a slideshow of the activities during the third and fourth week of camp. The campers put on an incredible, humorous show that the audience thoroughly enjoyed. In another two weeks the campers will create their final performance for the summer combining the last two themes of camp: What’s Trending and From Pearls to Platinum to Plastic Jewelry.
–Kortney Brand, PR and Marketing Intern
For the Newark Museum, summer time is filled with energetic children ready to tackle Camp Newark Museum.
Throughout the weeks campers experience themes relating to the galleries in the Museum and then create a performance for their parents. This week’s show incorporated the first two themes of camp: All Fired Up and Modern Movement. Specifically, the performance was inspired by the Asian, African and Native American galleries. Instead of using traditional dances from these cultures, the routine included modern moves.
All of the campers were dressed in various costumes, such as feather headbands and face paint, that they decorated themselves. As the lights dimmed, the upbeat performance began with an informative, introduction video followed by the children dancing to a range of music while the audience enthusiastically clapped along.
At the end of the performance, both the 9 to 10 year olds and teen campers showed a video they produced along with a slideshow relating to the first two weeks of camp. The campers put on an outstanding, entertaining show that they vigorously worked on. In two more weeks the campers will create another performance that combines the next two themes of camp: Reclaim, Recycle, Reuse I’m a maker and Oh Snap.
– Kortney Brand, PR and Marketing Intern
Between 1949 and 1983, the Newark Museum published, usually four times a year, short articles on the fine arts, the decorative arts and the natural sciences. Known originally as The Museum. New Series, it was later renamed The Newark Museum Quarterly in the 1970s. Each issue was devoted to a specific aspect of the various collections within the Museum, thus allowing the curator (or the guest writer) to explore in detail the diverse topics that are represented in those collections. In some cases, these pamphlets remain the most thorough review of those topics or collecti
In the fine arts, for example, Curator Edith Bishop wrote about “Three Early New England Portraits” and “Newark Portraits,” both in 1949, focusing on paintings by Joseph Badger, John Singleton Copley, Ralph Earl, Rembrandt Peale and Oliver Tarbell Eddy. In 1965, Curator William Gerdts recruited Samuel A. Roberson to help him write an entire issue devoted to The Greek Slave by Hiram Powers, which they entitled “… so undressed, yet so refined …”
Quarterlies in the decorative arts ranged from “Bridal Gowns” and “Costumes from 1790 to 1837” to European and American ceramics, silver and glass. Curator Ulysses Dietz wrote one of the last quarterlies, entitled “Century of Revivals,” which examined “Nineteenth-Century American Furniture in the Newark Museum.”
Birds and insects; shells and fossils; minerals, crystals and gems; all received their due by the natural science curators who were in charge of those collections. Emphasizing the relationship between the Museum’s science collections to the State’s physical environment, they also explored “Life on Harbor Buoys,” “Embattled Marshlands” and “The Pequannock Watershed.”
The Newark Museum’s collections are global in scope, including “Japanese Prints” (both traditional and contemporary), “Japanese Sculpture and Painting,” “Japanese Netsuke and Ojima,” as well as “Textiles and Costumes of India” and “Temple Sculpture from India.” In both the 1950s and the 1960s, the African art collection was reviewed by a curator and a renowned expert in the field. Curator Edward Hunter Ross highlighted “American Indian Material” in 1958 and the “Arts of the Pacific” in 1963. “Latin American Antiquities” was the subject of one quarterly, and “Southwest Easel Painting” was the subject of another.
In 1951, the Newark Museum acquired the Eugene Schaefer Collection of Classical Antiquities, and the curator at the time, Elsbeth Dusenbury, wrote about its amazing ancient glass collection, as well as its “Greek Vases, Jewelry, Terracotta and Other Objects.” Her successor, Susan Auth, studied the Museum’s “Coptic Art” in 1978.
Among the more unusual quarterlies were: “Make Believe and Whimsy: European and American Dolls,” “What’s a Hat?” and “Carpenter and Blacksmith: The Pioneer Builders of America,” all written by Margaret E. White, the decorative arts curator at that time. The librarian Barbara Lipton wrote on “Newark Long Ago,” examining 19th-century photographs in the Museum’s collection, as well as “Whaling Days in New Jersey.” For the 70th anniversary of the Newark Museum, one quarterly examined the life and work of John Cotton Dana and another celebrated his lasting influence on the institution that he helped to create.
These Newark Museum Quarterlies (originally entitled The Museum. New Series) are now available on-line as PDFs. They are all cataloged as well in Newark Public Library’s on-line catalog, which hosts the Museum’s Library’s collection. Researchers may search by author, title or subject. Please check out the complete run by series titles under both Museum. New Series. and Newark Museum Quarterly at http://tinyurl.com/l7aflkg or http://tinyurl.com/m6kqhzy.
– William A. Peniston, Ph.D.. Librarian
A tale of two necklaces.
For a couple of decades now, I’ve been collecting jewelry for the Museum, inspired by my 1997 project, The Glitter & The Gold: Fashioning America’s Jewelry, which was about Newark’s great jewelry industry.
We have the greatest collection of Newark-made jewelry in any museum in the world, which is wonderful, as far as it goes. Since that show, however, I’ve been thinking about ways to expand the Museum’s jewelry collection to put the Newark-made things in a larger context.
Two gifts this year have enriched our collection of jewelry greatly, and both came in from people who know the Museum and care about its mission. This is the kind of gift that comes from the heart, and as such has a special meaning for me as a curator.
The pearl and diamond choker was made in the early 1900s, probably in New York City, for a young socialite, the only daughter of a powerful politician. It is an iconic form of the period, meant to be worn tight against the neck, the soft warm color of the natural pearls contrasting with the bright sparkle of the platinum-set diamonds. Although we own a Newark-made choker of gold and enamel with semi-precious stones, this is the first necklace of this type to enter our jewelry collection, and it represents the sort of high-end jewelry worn by a very small part of American society. The donor of this piece (who shall remain anonymous for now) is a descendant of the original owner, and gave it to the Museum because he knew we needed something like this to round out our collection.
The other necklace is brand new, made by an artist I know well named Biba Schutz, who works in New York City. It is made of oxidized silver set with “jewels” of hot-formed black glass, a process that the artist learned during a fellowship at the Corning Glass Works in upstate New York. I was talking to another artist friend about this necklace, and how much I liked it, over lunch one day. Two days later he called and offered to pay for it, because he knows the artist and loves what we’ve been doing with modern jewelry here in Newark. I was terribly touched by this, because I knew that his gesture came from the heart.
We give because we care. Or, at least, that’s when we give most generously.
– Ulysses Dietz. Chief Curator and Curator of Decorative Arts
The American Art collection at the Newark Museum, numbering more than 12,000 paintings, sculptures, works on paper and multimedia art, is one of the finest in the country. Surveying four centuries, the Museum’s American holdings include important Colonial and Federal portraits, a superb collection of Hudson River landscape paintings, a pioneer assemblage of American folk art, and works by American Impressionists and American Modernists. Its core strength in American modernism is the direct result of the Museum’s commitment to collect the works of living artists. As John Cotton Dana put it, “Art has always flourished where it was asked to flourish, and never elsewhere. If we wish for a renaissance of art in America, we must be students and patrons of endeavors which seem humble but are in truth of the utmost importance.”
When Caroline Bamberger Fuld, the sister of the department store magnate Louis Bamberger and the wife of his partner Felix Fuld, offered $10,000 to buy paintings for the opening of the new museum building on Washington Park in 1926, Dana asked Arthur F. Egner, a collector of modern American art and chairman of the Board of Trustees, and Holger Cahill, an art critic in New York and an art adviser to Dana and his Newark institutions, to “form a good nucleus for a collection which would in due course grow to a fair and well-rounded exposition of the paining art, as presented in the last few years, by American paintings.” Together they purchase 20 paintings by 16 artists, including Guy Pene Du Bois’ “The Corridor,” Robert Henri’s “Mary Gallagher,” Jerome Myers’ “Italian Procession,” John Sloan’s “Picture Shop Window,” and Niles Spencer’s “The Cove,” all of which are on view in the critically acclaimed galleries “Picturing America,” in the north wing of the Newark Museum.
Of this remarkable collection of paintings that formed the core of the Museum’s American art collection, Arthur F. Egner wrote: “Here is a group of paintings acquired during the past year (1926). We consider them to be honest, capable works, characteristic of certain leading tendencies in contemporary American painting. We believe that the public will enjoy them and study them with interest and that their makers are worthy of whatever recognition or encouragement they may receive at our hands.”
– William A. Peniston, Ph.D.. Librarian