Rain and Art in Newark

Last year I made a New York-bound train connection at Newark’s Penn station.  From the train, I caught a fleeting glimpse of downtown Newark and at the station I followed the bustle headed to the infamous sister metropolis, a mere 18-minutes away.  That was the extent of my contact with New Jersey’s biggest city.

 

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Newark, New Jersey

 

This year I planned to go to Newark on October 7, to participate in the Quarter Mile Print. I looked forward to volunteering at this large scale community printmaking project.  The public was invited to create monotypes along a plastic sheet measuring a quarter of a mile, to be printed onto paper by steamroller.  Mother Nature had another agenda.  Due to rain, the event got postponed to October 20.

 

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Newark Museum

 

Nevertheless, on October 7, I visited Newark.  On this wet Sunday, after the whirlwind of Manhattan, as I walked along the empty streets from Penn station to the Newark Museum, I wondered where everyone was hiding.

The Newark Museum, New Jersey’s biggest museum, celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2009.  According to Smithsonian Magazine, it is “The place where Shangri-La and New Jersey meet. Staunch commitment to its diverse community and treasures from Tibet to Timbuktu make the Newark Museum a little corner of paradise. »

 

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Multi-Purpose Studio, Newark Museum

 

At the museum, I met Stephen McKenzie, manager of the Arts Workshops for the past twenty years and organizer of the Quarter Mile Print.  It was a pleasure to meet him and to visit the Arts Workshops department.  There are three well-equipped and bright studios: a multi-purpose studio featuring an etching press, a jewelry studio and a weaving studio.  These spaces provide a lovely setting for creating art.  The Newark Museum also has an interesting Artists-in-Residence program.

 

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Jewelry Studio, Newark Museum

 

The education program features a wide array of classes and workshops such as Bookmaking, Quilting, Design, Photography, Metals and Jewelry, Dollmaking, Sculpture, Fiber, Digital Media and Printmaking.  The Arts Workshops department, which also has a program for children, teens and families, has a very welcoming aura.  There is even a lounge, tastefully adorned with faculty artwork, where students and teachers can mingle.

 

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Angel, Abbott Handerson Thayer 1889, 92cm x 71.5cm Oil on Canvas

 

Stephen gave me a tour of the museum, a place he knows like the back of his hand.  In and out of back doors reserved for museum staff, we visited the galleries.  It was wonderful to discover the various collections and the special exhibit, Angels & Tomboys: Girlhood in 19th Century American Art, where angelic, domestic girls hang side by side with tomboys and working girls.

 

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Ballantine House

 

I particularly enjoyed visiting the Ballantine House, a wing of the Newark Museum.  This mansion was  built in 1885 for Jeannette and John Holme Ballantine of the celebrated Newark beer-brewing family.  It is a designated National Historical Landmark.  There is something magical about visiting period rooms.  The beautifully restored dwelling, that once contained twenty-five rooms and sixteen fireplaces, is suffused with a Victorian atmosphere that transports you to another world.

 

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Stephen McKenzie

 

My visit to Newark coincided with Open Doors, an annual citywide event showcasing the arts, organized by the Newark Arts Council. The event features tours, with free shuttles, of curated, juried and pop up exhibitions, galleries, artists’ studios and available artists’ spaces.  It also spotlights special events such as the Quarter Mile Print and the Creation Nation Art and Peace Parade.  It was a perfect opportunity to discover the flourishing art scene in the city and once again Stephen, ever so jovial, was the perfect guide.  A stroll down Market Street revealed a series of galleries housed in former furniture outlets.

It was interesting to discover the Studio Residency Program at Gallery Aferro, where for a reasonable rate, selected artists have access to sectioned studio space on the second floor of the gallery.  I browsed through the studios, discovering artwork by the current artists-in-residence.

 

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Summer Lightenings, video by Victor Alimpiez

 

I enjoyed Rupert Ravens Contemporary.  Stephen introduced me to Rupert Ravens, his buddy from Rutger grad school days.  Many eclectic pieces caught my eye. I was captivated by Summer Lightenings, a video by Russian artist, Victor Alimpiez.  Hiding in the back room, this video shows school girls drumming their fingers on their desks and covering their mouths with their hands while thunderous tracks of summer lightenings are superimposed intermittently.  The effect is menacing and eery.  On a lighter note, the group show featured a big metal hopscotch board with embossed numbers, fixed to the floor.  It begged to be played with, so I did, hopping all the way to number 4!

My understanding is that as the supply of large studio spaces in New York wears thin and rents skyrocket, artists and galleries are now turning to Newark, adding effervescence to this once primarily industrial city.  As much as I wanted to participate in the Quarter Mile Print, it was an unexpected treat discovering the established and contemporary art scene in Newark.

 

Talleen Hacikayn

Thank you Stephen McKenzie for opening the doors of art for me in Newark.

Thank you Mother Nature for raining in Newark on October 7 and letting me walk through those doors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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