This article was originally published in the June 2017 Trenton Downtowner.
On one of the first sultry days of spring, all kinds of neighborhood sounds were sifting through the screen door to Artifacts Gallery at Elm and South Broad streets in Trenton. You could hear little snippets of cell phone conversations as people passed by. Others were heartily greeting each other back and forth across the street, and music lovers were flexing the muscles of their car stereos, sharing salsa, hip hop, and pop as they cruised by.
Immune to the symphony of sound outside, Marge Miccio, longtime owner of Artifacts and custom framing artisan, remained focused on the end of a long-term project: re-matting and re-framing nearly 70 etchings by Trenton native George Armit Bradshaw (1880-1968).
The internationally renowned Bradshaw had once attended the Trenton School of Industrial Arts in the historic Kelsey Building at what is now Thomas Edison State University on West State Street. He later served for many years as an instructor at the institution.
The Bradshaw works, from the Raymond L. Steen collection, and housed in Prudence Hall in the Kelsey Building, had been in dire need of new mattes and frames, as well as the archival UV filtering glass that would better protect them for posterity. Thanks to Miccio’s skills, the artworks — which are mostly scenes of mid-century Trenton — have been given the protection and presentation they so well deserve.
“The biggest thing was to make sure the glass had UV filters,” says Sally Lane, TESU’s director of special projects for the office of the president. “We also scanned everything. (Over the last year) I would take them to Marge to be unframed, and then brought back the etchings to be scanned by the archivists here, so it was a long and continuous process.”
Lane notes that because of the room’s busy schedule it is possible but not easy to view the Bradshaw works in Prudence Hall. She says TESU hopes to re-hang them in smaller groupings, in different rooms, though that project is a ways off.
“It’s not an ideal way to see them (in Prudence Hall), and we’d like to alter that,” she says. “The main thing, though, was to get (the Bradshaw works) to be uniform and have a greater level of protection.”
Artifacts’ proximity to TESU was one of big factors in choosing Miccio to handle the project.
“Marge has also done work for this institution in the past, as well as for Princeton University, lots of cultural organizations and non-profits in the area,” Lane says. “Artifacts is great anyway, and Marge is a friend to artists and archivists for projects where you just need that special eye.”
“That special eye” and artistic sensibilities in general seem to have been with Miccio since her childhood in Ewing. She says she always knew she was going to be an artist, even as far back as age 3.
She continues to make art and, in fact, Miccio has a new pastel work in the Ellarslie Open 34 Juried Exhibit, on view at the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie through Sunday, June 25.
“I still find time to make art,” she says. “You have to find time for what’s important to you. The Ellarslie Open is not an easy show to get into, as they get a huge number of entries. This year there were more entries than ever, a record breaker.”
“Every little kid does drawings. The difference for a person like me is I never stopped,” Miccio says. “Most people give it up, get discouraged, and move on, but I never did. I didn’t really have formal art lessons, but occasionally I’d go to summer art camp, or have a class after school, and there was always art in public schools back then.”
Miccio’s father was an industrial engineer who ran the factory of LaFrance Precision Casting Company, formerly located near the Philadelphia Airport, “a long commute from Ewing before Interstate 95 existed,” Miccio says. He had also played the trumpet as a young man.
“That’s the musical side of the family,” she says. “His sister was an artist, too.”
Her mom worked for the New Jersey State Department of Education and was always supportive of Miccio’s artistic affinities. “Both of my parents were, they never tried to talk me out of it,” she says.
Miccio attended Ewing High School, graduating in 1974 (a year ahead of her classmates), and recalls that the school had very good teachers, but not much of a budget for art programs. “That was one of my pet peeves — sports got everything,” Miccio says. “The teachers made up for it though, and I’ve stayed in touch with my art teacher, Jane Byer. She was a life saver when I was in high school. She went on to Japan and taught art there, and then Mongolia, then Cameroon and elsewhere to teach art. She’s still very active in teaching art, and she has to be at least 85 or 90.”
Miccio studied art at Mercer County Community College, where the venerable Mel Leipzig was one of her instructors. She says he was and continues to be an influence in her artistic life. “I went to MCCC right after high school and got some inexpensive credits,” she says. “It was a wonderful thing to have access to MCCC, and it saved my parents a lot of money. It was also a fantastic art program in my day, quite the resource. When Mel retired, I felt sorry for the students who wouldn’t get to study with him.”
Continuing her education at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Miccio also enjoyed a summer abroad in Italy, studying a mixture of art and language at the Italian University for Foreigners in Perugia. “The students were from all over the world, and we were all immersed in the culture and language of Italy. It was a wonderful school, and I never missed a class, taking painting, sculpture, art history, and whatnot, a nice mixture,” Miccio says.
After graduation Miccio took classes at the Johnson Atelier Institute of Sculpture when it was located in Princeton. “They used to be located on Alexander Road, and you could walk in and sign up for classes,” she says. “It’s still a great facility, and I still do (framing work) for the International Sculpture Center and the Digital Atelier. I’m fortunate to have them both for clients.”
Miccio has participated in numerous group, solo, juried, and open shows in the central New Jersey area. Her work is in the collection of the Mercer County Cultural and Heritage Commission as well as in private collections.
She prefers to create mostly in oil painting and pastels, and names contemporary figurative painter Neil Welliver as an influence, along with modern realist Philip Pearlstein, contemporary realist Janet Fish, and of course, Mel Leipzig.
The opportunity to open Artifacts came in the 1980s, when Miccio and her husband Robert (Bob) Wagner first rented the storefront, and then, in 1989, bought the building at 1025 Broad Street for $116,000. They are, in fact, only the second owners of the building, having purchased it from a descendant of the Zickwolff family.
“We bought it from a woman whose grandfather built it, which I think is interesting — to be only the second people who own such an old building,” Miccio says. “At one time the Zickwolff family owned the whole block, and developed this whole section of Broad Street. My storefront was their bar. They had a saloon up until Prohibition, and the family lived upstairs.”
The saloon closed for good after Prohibition, and throughout the years the space has been a ladies’ hair salon, a stained glass studio, and a political campaign headquarters. In 1986 it became Artifacts Gallery.
Perusing Artifacts’ website, we learn that many of the architectural details of the original building remain intact. The area below the storefront windows is covered in mosaic tile with tile air vents. Above the plate glass is a “Luxfer” textured glass course. The original walk-in refrigerator still sits in the basement, and the original “two-seater” outhouse is boarded over but still there.
Both of Miccio’s parents had retired when she opened Artifacts and worked there in various roles. Since her father had been an engineer, he helped put together the frame manufacturing and also assisted in building frames, while her mom did the bookkeeping.
Husband Wagner got in on the ground floor of Artifacts as well. He had taught at the Sypek Center, part of the Mercer County Vocational/Technical Schools system, but retired from teaching and jumped into the business.
‘We’re heavily Trenton, with all our Trenton things and history… We’ll hang in there until we can hang in no more.
Over the years Artifacts has become known as the place to go for archival framing and, especially, antique frames and moulding, for those who are looking for authenticity as well as period design. It’s also just a fun place to find collectibles and historic memorabilia, especially anything related to Trenton.
Maps, postcards, engravings, photos, books, souvenirs, and other “Trentoniana” can be found if you have the time and patience to look through the smallish space filled to the brim with treasures. Artifacts also specializes in materials made in Trenton, such as pottery and tiles.
“It’s a little of everything,” Miccio says. “Framing is what pays the bills, but the memorabilia is just for fun, and it makes us more interesting than just a frames-only store.”
“We find stuff at auctions, estate sales, and online,” she explains. “Also Trentonians bring things in. People know we’re here, so when great-grandma passes away, relatives might bring her things here, especially if they’re Trenton-related. The Internet helps; finding things is much easier than it used to be.”
Artifacts seems to be an especially abundant source for Roebling-related memorabilia. One of the most unusual items that came through the store was an antique bas relief of John A. Roebling in a frame, which Miccio sold on eBay to a “serious collector” in San Francisco.
“It was a match to the bas relief that’s on John A. Roebling’s grave, which, I believe, was commissioned by his daughter-in-law,” Miccio says.
Now that the re-framing of the Bradshaw works is completed, Miccio feels a real sense of accomplishment. It was a long trek, but one of the rewards was being able to really look carefully at Bradshaw’s works.
“I knew about his work, but I’d never seen some of these, and some are quite rare,” Miccio says. “I wasn’t aware of the scope of the collection. There was an attempt to make a checklist of Bradshaw’s works, but it was abandoned. Bradshaw himself didn’t keep a list.”
One partial list that does exist is substantial and catalogs Bradshaw’s scenes from Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Cornell University, as well as seascapes and some travel. Bradshaw spent time in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and drew from his visits there.
Mostly, though, the scenes are from Trenton. “Bradshaw said in interviews that he would get up very early in the morning, get in his car, drive around until he found something to draw, and just sketch in his car,” Lane says. “All the Trenton police knew him. They’d see him and just wave.”
“There are hundreds, maybe thousands of Bradshaw drawings and sketches of Trenton,” Miccio says. She recalls that, at one time, those interested in Bradshaw’s work could go to his house and buy his prints “for next to nothing,” Miccio says.
The Bradshaw works that are the most requested at Artifacts are his scene of a swirling snow storm in the city, titled “Winter Night, State and Broad Streets,” as well as his treasured “Symphony Night.” The latter was drawn from the vantage of Bradshaw’s fifth floor studio in the Kelsey Building, which now houses various TESU administrative offices.
It’s an affectionate study of the Trenton War Memorial and theater on Memorial Drive, with the light from its inside lobby casting a warm glow on the stairs. You can make out the streetlights across the Delaware River in Pennsylvania, and if you look closely, can see a sliver of the Old Barracks as well.
Custom framing ventures such as the Bradshaw project for TESU keep the lights on at Artifacts, Miccio notes. In addition, this time of year, the end of the academic year, is always busy.
“I have a lot of annual projects coming in right now, from Princeton University for example, and I also do work for New Jersey Future, a smart-growth lobbying group, so spring is a busy time for me,” she says.
Other framing clients over the past 30 years have included the Mercer County Cultural and Heritage Commission, Kuser Farm Mansion House Museum in Hamilton, State of New Jersey’s Archives, as well as many private collectors and a few fellow artists in the area.
At age 60, Miccio has begun to think seriously about the future for Artifacts. Who might do the custom framing once she retires, and will she groom a younger apprentice in the craft?
Displaying her mordant sense of humor, she says, “If someone is thinking about getting involved, I would advise them not to. Custom framing is starting to be a lost craft, and younger people are not really interested. These days, people go to Ikea, buy a pretty picture in a plastic frame, put it up on the wall, and then throw it away when they get tired of it. We live in a disposable culture.
“I read an article that polled Americans, asking, ‘Have you ever had something custom framed or been in a custom frame shop?’” she adds. “Only about seven percent of the population said ‘yes.’ For most people it’s not even on the radar screen. Fortunately, places like Princeton University and the International Sculpture Center will always need framing; it won’t be totally gone.”
Miccio reflects on all the changes in the neighborhood over the last 31 years. Many neighbors have retired or moved, and the whole atmosphere around South Broad and Elm streets is different. A dress store that had been across the street for years is now a cell phone store. A Harley-Davidson dealership that was once up the block relocated to Route 130.
“All up and down the block, I could tell you what used to be here,” Miccio says. “A few remain though, including me. Pearlstein Plumbing is still hanging in there, as well as Budney Fuel; they own the buildings, so they’ve stayed. But for the most part it’s changed dramatically.”
“We have considered moving, but decided against it,” Miccio adds. “We’re heavily ‘Trenton,’ with all our Trenton things and history, so moving out didn’t make a lot of sense. We’ll hang in there until we can hang in no more. So that’s what we’ve been doing, trying to keep it positive.”
Artifacts Gallery, 1025 South Broad Street at the corner of Elm, Trenton, is open Tuesday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and by appointment. 609-588-9081 or www.artifactsgallerytrenton.com.
Marge Miccio’s pastel is on view as part of the Ellarslie Open 34 Juried Exhibit, at the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie, Cadwalader Park, Trenton, through June 25, 609-989-3632. www.ellarslie.org.