By John Gummere
The Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie has bounced back from COVID with its Ellarslie Open 37/38. As with so many other cultural venues, Ellarslie was forced to cancel last year’s exhibit, which would have been it’s 37th annual. Since launching in 1983, the Ellarslie Open has grown into the Delaware Valley’s premier annual juried exhibition. This year’s show presents 137 works by artists from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and Maryland, chosen by Juror William R. Valerio, Ph.D., Director of Philadelphia’s Woodmere Museum. The Open presents an exciting mix of painting, sculpture, digital, and fiber arts. Dr. Valerio had the challenge of selecting from among the record-breaking 619 works entered this year.
The show includes many wonderful pieces. Just a few highlights:
C.a. Shofed is one of a number of Trenton artists who have been gaining international recognition. His “A Jacob View,” a photograph from inside New York’s Javits Center, shows his love of bright colors and geometric patterns to be found in architectural subjects. Many of his other pieces are based on sites in Trenton. He appreciates the “happy accidents” and reflections he finds in the built environment, and says, “I try to go with the flow. It’s about the color I can reflect back.” He finds inspiration in sources as diverse as the English romantic painter William Turner and Americans Maurice Prendergast and Horace Pippin, as well as early Technicolor films; all are remarkable for their vibrant color.
At the other end of the photographic spectrum, Jeff Weiser’s black-and-white “John in the Iron Triangle” shows several men by a garage in Queens, New York. The central figure wears his age on his face and engages the viewer as he looks out at us. “The people in these picturesenjoy having their picture taken and took the time to talk and tell me a bit about their lives. They know me as ‘the guy with the camera.’” With all its grittiness, the whole piece displays a wonderful richness in its fine detail and range of light to dark.
Representational paintings in the show include “Little Girl on the Grassland” by Jin Tang and “Wellfleet Late Afternoon” by Helene Codouris. Both show beautiful use of color and natural light, and Jin Tang’s piece uses complex brushwork that can only be fully appreciated in person. Helene Condouris creates her paintings primarily en plein air as landscape sketches with a focus on atmosphere and the movement of light and color through brushstrokes. She works to create a feeling of quiet excitement, with late afternoon sun, hazy sunsets and luminous skies. Among the artists she claims as her influences, Edward Hopper comes through most in her painting at Ellarslie
Anne Bascove’s “Seamstress II” is an abstract, mixed-media work using gouache, found objects (buttons and fabric remnants), and photography. The photographic elements show corrugated metal, which she has manipulated and combined interestingly with a “rhyming” element of striped fabric. Ms. Bascove comes from a background in representational painting and has gone in the opposite direction,” finding a “certain pleasure, playfulness, and freedom” in working abstractly.
“Seamstress II” is from a series she has done that celebrates the ever- presence of sewing that was part of her life growing up.
For all that I saw on my computer with advance publicity, there is nothing like standing in whole rooms full of artistic excellence and interacting with viewers and artists. I had the pleasure of meeting Anthony Pittman, a 15-year-old student at Lawrence High who was “pretty stoked” at seeing “Becoming,” a photograph of himself by Richard DeFalco; as with Jeff Weiser’s photos set in Queens, the subject of DeFalco’s piece is delighted to be the basis of a work of art.
Many viewers, like Phyllis Favata of Lawrenceville, are greatly moved by “Our John of Sorrows,” an oversize, beautifully detailed charcoal portrait of John Lewis by Gyuri Hollosy. We see a tear on Lewis’ cheek that recalls the heroic suffering this great American icon endured to bring greater freedom to many, and we are reminded that the struggle is far from over. The theme of social awareness also runs in “Three Boys, Three Stories” by Mary McKay.
Her mixed media piece is based on a historic photo by Lewis Hine, the sociologist best known for his photos of child laborers in the early twentieth century. Ms. McKay is originally from Hershey, Pennsylvania, and is inspired in part by the memory of her Ukrainian grandfather, a Pennsylvania coal miner; she has used photoshop and other methods to comment on black lung disease that has been fatal to so many miners.
Christine Fortin, from Paris by way of Maryland, takes social commentary in a different direction with “Futures,” a large and intricate acrylic painting about digital technology and how it affects all aspects of life, from the stock market (represented by the Wall Street bull, ready to attack) to children’s lives and the future of the planet itself.
“Ward,” by Robert Beck of New Hope, is a wide, horizontal oil executed with a fresh, lively painting technique. It shows a COVID ward, with over a dozen busy medical personnel and nearly as many patient beds. Nancy Johnson of Princeton, whose extensive background includes work as a registered nurse, comments that Beck’s painting seems like a flashback to the 60s, when intensive care units offered no privacy.
When asked, Chair and Curator Joyce Inderbitzin, a ceramic artist herself, pointed out one of her favorites, New Yorker Laurence Elle Groux’s “Rennaissance,” a small and graceful stoneware sculpture. At first glance it would appear to be representational with its many organic curves and spaces, but a closer look shows that it is mostly quite abstract. The piece displays interesting rhythms from all sides.
Maria Herwig, a new Trenton resident from Argentina, calls the Ellarslie Open
“a great introduction to my new city” that welcomes hundreds of wonderful people.
If you have not yet discovered the museum, now is an ideal time to check it out. It’s a focal point of Cadwalader Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, best known for his design of New York’s Central Park. Ellarslie Mansion pre-dated the park, and was built in 1848 as a summer residence for Henry McCall of Philadelphia. John Notman, a prominent Philadelphia architect, designed McCall’s villa in the Italianate style. Over many decades since the late 1800s, Ellarslie has served various purposes. Being of a certain age, I remember it fondly as the “monkey house” when Cadwalader Park had a small zoo. (Who else remembers the Balloon Man?) Over several years in the 1970s, Ellarslie was brilliantly transformed into the Trenton City Museum, and it compares favorably with other small museums. It holds permanent collections focused on the arts and history of Trenton, notably the city’s leading role in the ceramics industry, and hosts high-quality rotating exhibits throughout the year. Hours are Friday- Saturday, noon to 4 pm, and Sunday, 1 to 4 pm. The museum offers timed entry for visitors. There is no admission charge, but donations are much appreciated. Parking is ample. The Ellarslie Open runs thru October 3. Well worth the trip!
For more information: ellarslie.org; 609.989.1191; [email protected]
Capital Philharmonic at Mill Hill Park
The Capital Philharmonic of New Jersey (CPNJ) brings live music to Mill Hill Park at 7:30 pm on Saturday July 3, under the baton of Maestro Daniel Spalding. The concert will include pieces by John Williams, John Philip Sousa and others. June Ballinger of Trenton’s Passage Theatre will join us as narrator for “The Battle of Trenton” by James Hewitt.
Daniel Spalding’s artistic vision continues to unfold in front of growing and delighted audiences, and CPNJ has earned its prominent spot as a regional professional orchestra of the highest quality, with internationally acclaimed guest artists and innovative programs. Maestro Spalding’s more than 30 years of experience include his work as Music Director of the Philadelphia Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra, a world class ensemble that has performed in 29 states and internationally, and has recorded numerous acclaimed CDs. He has worked with many European orchestras from London to Moscow. The Philharmonic took root in 2013 to fill the space left by the Trenton Symphony Orchestra, and has kept classical music thriving in Trenton with over 70 regular performers. Their concerts often present pieces by well known composers, while also introducing some that are lesser known but no less wonderful. The Philharmonic will formally open its ninth season at the War Memorial on Saturday, October 23. Go to capitalphilharmonic.org for tickets and information
Make it a perfect July 4th weekend: Come early to see General George Washington arrive on his horse!