The city boasts several major art exhibits throughout the summer, from the museums to the streets.
The Trenton City Museum
To travel around the world by car, even today, would be an arduous and adventurous undertaking. To do it in 1909, and to have the expedition led by a woman, was an extraordinary achievement. But it was accomplished by a woman from Trenton, Harriet White Fisher, and her remarkable journey is chronicled in an exhibit now on display at the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie Mansion.
The exhibit, entitled, “Trenton Entourage Motors ‘Round the World in 1909,” is made up of 119 photographs, numerous camp objects, letters, maps, cameras, souvenirs, and the American and Automobile Club of America flags flown on the car.
The central New Jersey connection also includes Ewing-based exhibition curator Rebecca Urban, who is also one of the granddaughters of the trip’s driver, photographer, and record keeper, Harold Fisher Brooks. Harriet White Fisher, according to her own conflicting accounts, was born either in Pennsylvania or Ohio in 1860 or 1867. She came to Trenton in 1899 when she married Clark Fisher, owner and operator of Fisher & Norris Eagle Anvil Works. The business was formerly located on the present site of a New Jersey Department of Labor parking lot.
Clark Fisher died suddenly in 1902. While his wife writes that he died from injuries related to a train accident, Urban says that he actually died of a urinary tract infection. No matter what the cause of her husband’s death, Harriet Fisher took command of the company and expertly guided it to wealth, an effort aided by a federal government contract for work on the Panama Canal.
In 1909 the very wealthy Fisher decided to embark on a trip that began in Trenton in mid-July, spanned 20,000 miles and 13 months, and ended back at 125 E. Hanover St. in Trenton on Aug. 16, 1910.
In her 1911 memoir, A Woman’s World-Tour in a Motor, she explained her motivation: “I have only the plain unvarnished tale to tell of my trip around the world in a motor-car; the trip of a woman who had grown a little weary of the details of a useful but somewhat heavy business, and sought recreation under India’s burning sun, in Ceylon, China, Japan, in many places where no motor-car had ever taken man or woman before.”
The trip — which also involved transportation across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans — attracted hundreds of excited spectators in cities around the world and numerous newspaper articles.
Urban says of Fisher: “I think she was marvelous, courageous, and adventurous, but she would have never made the trip without the three others. Outside of paying for it, I don’t think she was the primary person to make it happen.”
That person, Urban argues, was her grandfather, Elizabeth native Harold Fisher Brooks. The high school graduate’s expertise with engines and cars had gotten the attention of a fledgling northern New Jersey auto industry entrepreneur who in turn recommended him to Fisher after she had made inquires for someone to help repair an engine. The businessman was Alfred Sloan of the future General Motors, says Urban.
Fisher, obviously imagining her grand tour and showing her organizational smarts, hired Brooks as a private secretary and chauffeur, though Urban says her grandfather was horrified when anyone called him the latter. The label secretary was actually a euphemism for trip coordinator and allowed Fisher to keep her star role. He was paid $50 a month, which Urban says, was often sent to his parents.
Since the name Fisher was shared by both the employer and the employee, Harriet Fisher claimed that Brooks was her nephew. The ploy, Urban says, took away the social stigma of a widow traveling with a young man and, when not traveling by car, allowed Brooks to be treated as a first-class citizen. The maid, Maria Borge, and butler, Albert Bacheller, always traveled second class.
“It was the experience of a lifetime,” Urban said in reference to her grandfather’s adventure with the Trenton businesswoman.
What remains of the journey and journeyers in Ewing are the stories, the ghostly images, the artifacts, and the exhibition curator.
Urban grew up close to her grandfather in Trenton. Her parents taught in the Trenton School Systems, and she followed in their footsteps, got an MA in reading from Rutgers University, and retired in 2009 after 26 years at Reynolds Middle School in Hamilton. While she did not know her grandfather well, some of the objects in the current exhibition were around her house and silently told his story.
“I grew up with the China bowl. It was in our front room and used for mail.” And there were boxes of over 240 photos, the cameras that he used, and the “magic lantern” used to show glass slides.
Trenton Entourage Motors ‘Round the World in 1909, Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie, Cadwalader Park, Trenton, Tuesdays through Saturdays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sundays 1 to 4 p.m., through Sept. 22. Free.
New Jersey State Museum
The New Jersey State Museum currently hosts an exhibit by MOVIS, a group of central New Jersey-based artists whose works have been shown in many venues around the world.
John Goodyear, a Lambertville resident and retired Rutgers professor of art, has work in the collections of the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, the British Museum, London, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona, as well as the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Museum of American Art, and the Smithsonian Institution. Goodyear’s work now on display in Trenton encourages the museum visitor to not only view it, but also to interact with it. As art critic Ilene Dube reported in U.S. 1 newspaper: “Goodyear allows the viewer to play a role in the creative act — his work implies that there is always more than one way to see things.”
While serving in the U.S. Army in Japan in the 1950s, Goodyear studied Zen Buddhism, and after returning, he heard John Cage perform. In fact it was Cage who led him to Duchamp. Later, while making regular trips to the Louvre in Paris, Goodyear developed an interest in appropriation of historical works of art.
Other artists in the State Museum exhibit include Margaret Kennard Johnson, Susan Hockaday, Berendina Buist, Marsha Levin-Rojer, Eve Ingalls, Frank Magalhaes, and Rita Asch.
New Jersey State Museum, 205 W. State St., Trenton. Open Tuesday through Sundays, 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., through Sunday, Sept. 22. 609-292-6464 or go to newjerseystatemuseum.org.