From Trenton to Africa, then Maine

Ever since there were threats last fall that the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie would be shuttering due to a lack of funds, I’ve been eager to get over there and find out what’s going on.

“We are alive and well and doing everything we can,” says Ellarslie Director Brian O. Hill. “The Museum Society is doing a fantastic job

raising money to continue programming, and we are grateful to the city for the support it gives.”

Six hundred people attended the recent opening for The Works of Tom Chesar and Clifford Ward, according to Mr. Hill. “We’re packing the house.” An exhibit from the permanent collection, Artists & Decorators of the Trenton Pottery Industry, is also on view, and the city has budgeted money to illuminate the outside of the museum.

Mr. Ward is known for his work at the Johnson Atelier where he apprenticed and continued as an instructor in metal sculpting. In February 2006, one of his works was chosen as a gift for Maya Angelou at the National Constitution Center.

He works to channel the message of his African ancestors, and embraces the cultures of other indigenous groups such as Australian Aborigines, Native Americans and the Maori of New Zealand.

At the Museum entrance, one is greeted by a large quilt he wove from newspaper. There are many African masks, some with hair made from wooden dowels that have been painted to look like mud cloth and other African textiles.

This work is “truly from my soul and I feel more and more like a conduit for my ancestors’ messages,” writes Mr. Ward in a statement.

He uses his own face to cast the masks, embellishing it with plaster bandages, abaca translucent paper, abstract painting and melted crayons. “King” and “Queen” are two enormous figures with incredibly complex weaving and folding of the cloth that seems waxed to look antiqued.

“Renniesque,” a figure with the head of a griot, is standing on his hands, dancing feet in the air, inspired by hip-hop dance ambassador Rennie Harris.

In contrast to these tribal works, Mr. Chesar finds the color, texture and beauty of abandoned old buildings, and he takes us from Lambertville to “Dusk Over Penobscot Bay” in Maine, where we can feel the mosquitoes biting at “Anthony’s Famous Lobster Rolls.” Mr. Chesar paints every single stone in a gravel path, every pore of every brick, every single twinkle of light in a night sky, every ripple of water alongside bright red, yellow and orange boat houses.

Mr. Chesar lets the painting lead him, rather than follow a preconceived idea, and he attempts to achieve a glowing inner light through many thin layers of gouache, casein and acrylic, he says in a statement.

The Works of Tom Chesar and Clifford Ward are on view at the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie, Cadwalader Park, Trenton, through Feb. 27. Hours: Tues.-Sat. 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Sun. 1-4 p.m. 609-989-3632; http://www.ellarslie.org

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