Curator’s Choice : Prayer Cloths

The decoration on these two spectacular prayer cloths is made with a combination of hand-painted and print-block dye methods, popularly called qalamkari (from the Arabic meaning “pen-drawn”). Although they closely resemble each other, they were made over a thousand miles apart—one in Qajar ruled Iran the other in Mughal ruled India. There are both obvious and subtle differences between them. The most obvious is that the central gateway is empty in the Indian example but filled with flowers in the Qajar example. More subtle differences range from the style of the hand-drawing to the different color palates. Together they demonstrate impressive continuities across vast distances with charming distinctions that cement them in a specific time and place.

One reason they are so similar is because of their intended function. The gateway at their centers is also an architectural feature called a mihrab in Arabic. A mihrab is a prayer niche placed within mosques to indicate qibla, the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca, the center towards which Muslims turn to pray. The top crenellations adorn a formal entry gate to the gardens of paradise, reinforced by the floral patterns (cypress trees and carnations) around the edges and in the center field. Prayer cloths like these may be used as prayer rugs (upon which the devout pray) or wall hangings (to mark qibla in a home) or even to decorate a physical niche in a mosque.

The Newark Museum is fortunate to hold in its’ collections two Indian and three Iranian examples of this beautiful textile art, one from each region will be featured in the special exhibition Wondrous Worlds: Art & Islam through Time & Place opening February 12, 2016.

– Katherine Anne Paul, Curator, Arts of Asia, Newark Museum

Prayer Cloth with Mihrab, Gate and Floral Motifs 
India, Mughal Period (1526—1857)
Hand-painted and block printed cotton
Newark Museum Gift of Dr. Louis C. West, 1967  67.415
Prayer Cloth with Mihrab, Gate and Floral Motifs 
Iran, Qajar Period (1789—1925)
Hand-painted and block printed cotton
Newark Museum Gift of Dr. Louis C. West, 1967  67.417

February 9, 2016 at 3:07 pm Leave a comment

Always Something New Out of Africa

Zak Ove image

There’s a lot happening behind the scenes as we plan for our 2017 reinstallation of the arts of Global Africa collection in the Museum’s flagship gallery on the first floor. But in the meantime, there are new works to see in the current galleries on the second floor, including recent acquisitions.

The most dramatic addition is a new gallery dedicated to video art, featuring A Land So Far (2010) by artist Zak Ové, which was acquired by the Museum last year. Based on contemporary celebrations of Carnival in Trinidad, Ové combines footage in mirrored frames to create a kaleidoscopic landscape of intertwining masqueraders. The video begins with daytime parades of masked characters dancing through the streets of the city of Port of Spain, accompanied by the sounds of drumming. It then shifts to the nighttime performances in the hills of Paramin where battling “blue devils” – performers with bodies covered in indigo blue dye – spout streams from lit cans of aerosol, ending with an explosion of flames in the sky.

More new acquisitions are on view in Present Tense, our gallery devoted to the Museum’s collection of contemporary arts of global Africa. The tight rectangular geometry of Serge Nitegeka’s abstract painting Fragile Cargo XV, Studio Study V (2015) captures the shapes and sharp lines of shipping crates, seemingly commonplace objects used in human trafficking, economics, and movement. They are a metaphor for physical and psychological displacement, which he himself experienced when his family fled from their home in Burundi to Rwanda due to a civil war and then migrated again because of genocide.  Personal history is also mined in a group of photographs by Amalia Ramanankirahina from her 2013 series Portraits de Famille (Family Portraits). These haunting images digitally manipulate family photographs from colonial-era Madagascar, shrouding their faces in a symbolic gesture to traditional Malagasy cultural practices. These works are joined by earlier acquisitions of paintings, including Wosene Worke Kosrof’s Berkeley III (2003) and Sokey Edorh’s Les Gendarmes d’Afrique (1996-2006).

Featured elsewhere in the gallery are recent gifts to the collection. A factory print textile collected in Monrovia, Liberia circa 1969 celebrates the impact of “swinging sixties” fashion on the continent. This work is part of a larger donation of 25 factory print textiles, an important addition to our internationally known collection of African textiles. It complements one of the first textiles collected by the museum, an exceptional example of weaving by a Dyula artist from Côte d’Ivoire acquired by Newark Museum founder John Cotton Dana in 1928, now on view as well. At the entrance to the galleries, you’ll also see another gift to the collection: a group of puppets representing the diversity of characters in Sogo bò, a puppet tradition performed in south-central Mali. Sogo bò – translated as “the animals come forth” – is inspired by the everyday world and examines the human condition, often in a humorous way, through performances organized and performed by young men in youth associations.

These changes in the galleries represent the work of the entire department, which includes Curatorial Fellow Kimberli Gant and Research Associate Roger Arnold.

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


January 14, 2016 at 2:20 pm Leave a comment

Recent Acquisition: Untitled, 1953 by Norman Lewis

Norman Lewis Untitled 1953

Norman Lewis, Untitled, 1953. Oil and gold metallic paint on linen, 49 ½ x 71 in. Collection of the Newark Museum. ©Estate of Norman W. Lewis, Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY

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

November 20, 2015 at 9:33 am Leave a comment

Happy Birthday, Mr. Dana!

Portrait of John Cotton Dana by Ercole Cartotto, pencil drawing on paper, 28 ¼ “ x 21 7/8 “, Collection of the Newark Museum, Purchase 1935 Thomas L. Raymond Bequest Fund, 35.205.

Portrait of John Cotton Dana by Ercole Cartotto, pencil drawing on paper, 28 ¼ “ x 21 7/8 “, Collection of the Newark Museum, Purchase 1935 Thomas L. Raymond Bequest Fund, 35.205.

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…”

The George T. Rockwell Collection of Japanese Art Objects, the founding collection for the Newark Museum, 1908. Collection of the Newark Museum Archives.

The George T. Rockwell Collection of Japanese Art Objects, the founding collection for the Newark Museum, 1908. Collection of the Newark Museum Archives.

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

Mr. Dana posing for a portrait bust by the sculptress Gerta Rica, 1928. Collection of the Newark Museum Archives.

Mr. Dana posing for a portrait bust by the sculptress Gerta Rica, 1928. Collection of the Newark Museum Archives.

August 17, 2015 at 10:16 am Leave a comment

Camp Newark Captures Photography and Recycling

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 t047o 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

August 7, 2015 at 2:07 pm Leave a comment

Camp Newark Museum Embraces Modern Movement

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 p067arents. 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


July 24, 2015 at 3:25 pm Leave a comment

Exploring the Arts: The Museum. New Series Quarterlies

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, TNMQvol1no1 1thus 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 TNMQvol12no4 1physical 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?” TNMQvol28no2 1and “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 or

– William A. Peniston, Ph.D.. Librarian

May 21, 2015 at 9:07 am Leave a comment

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