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JOEL Joel's Blog

A Visit to The Newark Museum

07/24/2019

Detail of model house by Charles Edenshaw Da.a xiigang - C. 1839-1920 Haida BC late 19th century
Detail of model house by Charles Edenshaw Da.a xiigang - C. 1839-1920 Haida BC late 19th century

It’s hard to be a great mid-sized museum in the shadow of a great big museum.

This was my conclusion after paying my first visit to the Newark Museum, a museum that would probably be universally considered awesome if it weren’t in the same metro area as the Metropolitan Museum. But the tourists that aren’t going to the Newark Museum leave more for the rest of us -- including the ability to have a leisurely, unhurried tour of the museum’s collections. I came away very impressed.

The Newark Museum was founded in 1909 and today has pieces by some heavy hitters (Andy Warhol, John Singer Sargeant, Childe Hassm, Edward Hopper, Joseph Stella and more). Despite this, the museum has an unassuming quality - the admission is $15, a lot lower than most center-of-town museum fees, and the staff acts happy you’re there - and the really excellent curation.

When you don't have the resources of numbers, when you can't mount an exhaustive exhibit of more crap than any sane person would want to see in a day about a specific subject, you have to have great curation. The Newark Museum does! I was really impressed. What was on display was about a dozen different exhibits, all with a sense of purpose and context..

Here are a couple of highlights:

Three-panel joined chest C. 1650-1680
Three-panel joined chest C. 1650-1680

I was really struck by this 17th century chest. While not as highly embellished the cover of Peter Follansbee's new book, its a fine example that is both elegant and eminently makeable.

Tlingit Chest- Alaska late 18th - early 19th century
Tlingit Chest- Alaska late 18th - early 19th century

Tlingit Storage Chest - 2015 by Preston Singletary
Tlingit Storage Chest - 2015 by Preston Singletary

While we are on the subject of chests these two Native American chests are interesting in their common roots but diverse eras. I don't know if this was intentional but the former chest is displayed as part of their excellent collection of Native American art. The latter chest by Preston Singletary is part of the museums collection of modern furniture and decorative art and is made of cast and carved glass. This is also a reminder that traditional designs don't have to ossify. The Museum's Native American collection is big and wonderfully displayed. I was absolutely blown away by the carved model that is the main picture at the top of this blog. If you measure museum enjoyment by how long you spend in any given room I think the Native American collections win this round.

Chokwe chair c.1900
Chokwe chair c.1900

A current featured exhibit is of African art and design both modern and traditional. This small chair, probably from the Congo, is loaded with carved imagery alluding to the benevolence of a chief who was it's probable owner. It's small because it's design roots are in the low stools that were used at the time. I thought the carving was imaginative and the whole chair well proportioned and designed.

 Same Tea Set - different styles
Same Tea Set - different styles

These tea sets form one of my favorite displays. The museum has an extensive collection of ceramics, jewelry, and furniture and this is a great thing to do with them. Which do you find the most appealing? and is it the overall style or just the style in this context and usage?
A modern tea service
A modern tea service

Part of the extensive collection of glassware
Part of the extensive collection of glassware

Two more images from their extensive decorative art collection.


Chairs by Joaquin Torres-Garcia Ca 1924
Chairs by Joaquin Torres-Garcia Ca 1924

I was happy to see that they had some modern furniture replicas that you could sit on. I was unhappy to find that the recliner in the foreground was painfully uncomfortable. I did like the chair in the background. Both are fine examples of what you can do with sheet goods - although I would never paint them black.

Main hallway of the Balantine House
Main hallway of the Balantine House

Wallpaper - closeup
Wallpaper - closeup

Adjoining and integrated with the museum if the "Ballantine House." Owned and built by Ballantine beer barons in 1885 the museum received it fully furnished and in fine shape. What struck me is that for all the families wealth, the fittings and decoration is top notch, but compared to a modern house is is far darker, and the personal bedrooms didn't seem that homey to me. I did love the wood detailing and the wainscotting is just great. The wallpaper detail is one of many examples of pushing decorative art to a Victorian extreme. I get that modern interior design likes to be mostly unobtrusive, but so much ends up so bland which is a shame. The craftsmanship that went into the house is a joy to see.

19th Century American paintings
19th Century American paintings

I enjoyed walking through the galleries of 19th and early 20th century paintings. Although as you might have noticed in your museum visits those early American painters really could not paint kids - they all look like children of the corn. But I enjoyed the look see anyway.

Part of the extensive showings of current artwork
Part of the extensive showings of current artwork

The museum has a large collection of modern art. While it didn't make me a fan some of the stuff was fun.

Asian lacquer work
Asian lacquer work

The large collection of Asian art and craft is definitely worth the trip. The collection is large enough to devote an entire room to explaining the different types and techniques of Asian Lacquer work. And there is a steel dragon that is just awesome.

After spending a couple of hours at the museum, I was quite hungry. The museum doesn't have a cafe, and the helpful staff suggested the very nearby Central Dinner. I got a strikingly inexpensive really good grilled chicken on a bun - deluxe with a special modification (the addition of roasted red pepper that came with another dish). It was just perfect diner food, with fresh iced tea (order the unsweetened) that hit the spot.

Sally drives the fire truck
Sally drives the fire truck

In the back is a small and charming fire museum. It might be mostly for kids but who isn't a kid at heart!

Join the conversation
07/24/2019 Philip F Schempf
Joel -

I'm not sure if you're familiar with them or not, but the Tlingit chests are bentwood boxes. The sides are made of a single plank, typically Sitka spruce, with a kerf cut to form three of the corners and then steamed and bent to form the box. The fourth corner is lapped and traditionally held with wooden pins.

Phil
I am familiar with the boxes - I have always liked them, Although in this case Singletary's is of glass!
07/24/2019 Eric Weissman
Joel,

By chance your latest blog came in as we were experiencing an astonishing exhibit of Preston Singleterry work at the Tacoma (Washington) Museum of Glass. It tells versions of a First Nations’ foundation story, How Raven Brought Light to the World. It is unusually moving.

There’s a good article on the show in last Sunday’s Seattle Times Pacific Magazine. The show is an example of the terrific advances museums have made in recent years.

Eric
07/25/2019 Randy Allender
when you showed the picture of the Ballantine house it was beautiful.
the woodwork around the fireplace was wonderful. from the pictures I
have seen it is a must see. thanks for sharing.
07/25/2019 Bruce
You mention small bedrooms..... I was part of a remodel for 1920's style mansion. The site design was such that the home seemed very large by design. However, present mansions--not the McMansions we scorn, but the ones mimicking said remodel home--would dwarf it. One wing had the master suite which prior to a previous remodel was several bedrooms/drawing rooms/servant quarters. The kids' room was tight and, front & back, exterior walled. A two dimensional dream home.
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