Ceramic Evolution from Toilet and Tea Cup

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From the 19th to the early 20th century, Trenton was one of two major pottery centers in the U.S. (the other being in East Liverpool, Ohio). Its products were shipped all over the country and at its zenith, in the 1920s, Trenton had more than 50 potteries. Everything from teacups to tiles and toilets was made here. Indeed it was in Trenton where the flush mechanism for the toilet was refined.

And while the first bathtub to be installed in the White House was made in Trenton, the capital city also pioneered the development of art porcelain through the introduction in 1882 of “Belleek” china, using techniques developed in Ireland. Among the well-known Trenton potteries were Lenox, Fulper & Stangl, and Boehm. President Nixon gave Boehm “Mute Swan” figures to the Republic of China when he normalized relations. These products and their history are documented in permanent displays on the second-floor galleries at Ellarslie.

Through April 30, however, Breath of Fire, an exhibit of works by 12 contemporary ceramic artists in the Greater Trenton Region—including mythic faces, expressive torsos, flasks Continue reading

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Interwoven Stories

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Participating in a community-wide art project hasn’t been this much fun since the creation of “Happy World,” the mural in the Princeton Public Library made by artist Ik-Joong Kang and comprised of square tiles embellished with artifacts contributed by area residents.

For “Interwoven Stories,” under the direction of Diana Weymar, the Arts Council of Princeton Spring 2016 Artist-in-Residence, participants have been invited to embroider a cultural map or a personal page that Weymar will compile into a larger body of work. “I wanted to create a project using an ‘ancient technology’ in a contemporary setting,” she said.

Participants have picked up their “pages”—an 8 ½-by-11-inch sheet of cotton muslin Continue reading

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Musical Lines Make Waves

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It was the third week in January, and artist Marsha Levin-Rojer was excited to be returning to her studio, where she hadn’t been since the unexpected passing of her husband, Charles Rojer, in November. Yet Charles is still with her, she freely admits. She is surrounded by sculpture the otolaryngologist made when he took classes at the Abington Art Center. A ceramic woman’s head, black as onyx, sits on a spiral wooden pedestal. “He gave it to me for my birthday when we were dating. The only reason he married me,” she Continue reading

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Trenton Makes America’s First Sportscar

Mercer auto

George Ott of Hamilton, New Jersey, in his 1920 Raceabout at Ellarslie, the Trenton City Museum in Cadwalader Park.

If historic preservationist Clifford Zink could travel back in time, he’d have to make at least three stops in New Jersey’s capital city. He’d want to land in 1845, at the site of what is now Waterfront Park, where Peter Cooper started a rolling iron mill. “They were rolling the first I-beams in America,” says Zink. “I’d want to walk around that factory and see the steam-powered operations.”

Next, he’d want to get off the time machine in 1849, to see Brooklyn Bridge designer John A. Roebling & Sons build the largest wire rope factory in the world. Today, Roebling Market occupies that space; Zink offers an historic tour of Roebling Iron Works each year during the annual Art All Night event in Trenton.

His time travels wouldn’t be complete without a stop in 1912 at the Mercer factory on Whitehead Road. “They made about 500 cars a year—that’s about two a day—by hand,” Continue reading

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The Unseen Painter in the Room

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Scott Noel is an art school painter. That is to say, he paints life at art school. His scenes are set at the institutions for whom he’s taught: University of the Arts, Arcadia University, Community College of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where he has been on the faculty since 1996.

In “Breaking the Pose”—a canvas that is 7 feet tall and almost equally wide—you can almost smell the oil paint that isn’t even visible in the scene surrounding a voluptuous Continue reading

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Being Realistic About Abstract Art

Lee Gatch, Thespian Night

“Of all the arts, abstract painting is the most difficult,” said Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), often referred to as the father of abstract painting. “It demands that you know how to draw well, that you have a heightened sensitivity for composition and colors, and that you be a true poet. This last is essential.”

Curator Margaret O’Reilly uses Kandinsky’s quote as the jumping off point for Abstract Expressions: Selected Works from the New Jersey State Museum at The College of New Jersey Art Gallery January 27 through February 28, with an opening reception January 27, 5-7 p.m. On view are works by Mel Edwards, Lee Gatch, Yayoi Kusama, Louise Nevelson and many others.

“When people hear ‘abstraction,’ they think of Jackson Pollock,” says O’Reilly, “or art with no subject. They think ‘I can do that.’ But it’s not so simple. It was groundbreaking Continue reading

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Copper Belly of the Buddha

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The Brooklyn studio of Ursula von Rydingsvard is redolent of cedar. For more than 30 years she has been incising monumental cedar forms using a hand-wielded chainsaw. Wearing black pants and turtleneck, von Rydingsvard, 73, runs up and down a flight of steel stairs all day, as well as climbing ladders to look inside her sculpture, before taking a taxi home to her husband, neuroscientist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Greengard.

All around are the 4-by-4-inch cedar beams the sculptor works with. Her abstract shapes are like vessels and suggest primitive dwellings, Continue reading

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Expression in Stone

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Visitors to Grounds For Sculpture observe how Magdalena Abakanowicz’s “Space of Stone”–a work that itself conveys a greater power–is enhanced by the long shadows of the sun sitting low in the sky.

Part of a series that includes major installations in Italy, Korea, Lithuania and Poland, the work seeks to “change sculpture from object to look at to space to experience,” writes the world-renowned sculptor. “I am confronting the imagination of man with the imagination of nature… What is the meaning of man’s creativity in comparison with nature’s wisdom? This coming together of two different powers creates the space to contemplate.

“Sculpture does not decorate but is part of the metaphoric language which conveys more than we can express in words,” she continues. “We must enter it, penetrate, become part. We learn about our scale and the scale of the surroundings.”

One way to get to “Space of Stone” is by walking through a red maple allée. Sunlight seeps Continue reading

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Finding Old Friends and New

IMG_6936The guards are back! Oh, yes, the living breathing ones, sure, but also Fred Wilson’s “Guarded View,” four headless mannequins made of wood, paint, steel and fabric, dressed as museum security guards, reflecting on the nameless identifies of those empowered to protect our cultural assets. On the day of the press preview for the new Whitney Museum of American Art in New York’s Meatpacking District, a security guard leaning near the label for this work moved quietly out of the way when she saw, from my squinting eyes, Continue reading

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A Retrospective of Happy Accidents in Clay

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There are many ways to fall in love with Patricia Lange, beginning at the front lawn of her Hopewell home. Large, stainless steel modern sculpture and black Louise Nevelson-like formations keep company with circular enamel pieces that evoke the moon, and masks in mediums from aluminum to clay.

A grouping of clay masks leads you up a brick path to the front door, Continue reading

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