This article was originally published in the November 2018 Trenton Downtowner.
The exhibition “Pushing 40” continues at the Trenton City Museum (TCM) through Saturday, November 10 with a related public program set for Sunday, November 4. The exhibition commemorates the Trenton Museum Society’s (TMS) 40th anniversary.
That culture noted in the headline involves the history of Trenton and the creation of art by regional artists.
“Pushing 40” combines both and acknowledges how the artists contribute to the life of an institution while artists acknowledge the importance of the museum in their development.
The exhibition was born of the collective memory of individuals who devoted time and care to the process of supporting artists and creating exhibitions: TMS trustee Carolyn Stetson, former TCM director Brian Hill, and former Trenton Artists Workshop Association (TAWA) president and exhibitions director of TAWA at Ellarslie Tricia Fagan.
Ellarslie is the name of the Italianate villa-styled mansion built in 1845 by Scottish-born American architect John Notman. It is a variation on a Scottish name connected to the birthplace of freedom fighter William Wallace and has been translated as “the field of the elder trees.”
As a recent TCM exhibition on the building located in the Fredrick Law Olmsted-designed Cadwalader Park noted, the house was originally designed as a summer home for Philadelphia businessman and Trenton paper mill owner Henry McCall.
After a succession of other property owners, the City of Trenton became the owner and used the building for a variety of community and entertainment purposes, including a “monkey house.”
The building was refurbished and made into a museum during the tenure of Mayor Arthur Holland.
With 56 artists of various approaches and connections to the museum, the result is a visual testament to the strength of the region’s artist and artistry.
It is also a reunion of sorts for many in the area — individuals like me who were involved in the early days of the Trenton City Museum and the establishment of the Trenton Artists Workshop Association, which played a vital role in the museum’s life.
TAWA was launched by Mercer County Community College’s James Kerney Campus dean Mary Howard and artist and student Lotta Paterson. Its success was enhanced by the involvement of the MCCC faculty and the efforts of one of its most prominent instructors, nationally known artist Mel Leipzig, who has devoted hours to the cause of exhibiting artists in the region.
Another successful effort that put Ellarslie on the art map was the establishment of the annual Ellarslie Open, a juried exhibition now heading into its 36th year.
TAWA, MCCC, and the Ellarslie efforts are recurring themes on artists’ statements and demonstrate the importance of community partnerships to help individuals develop in the arts.
As painter and musician Dave Orban, represented by his painting “The Work Party,” notes, “I, with several others was involved with the founding of (TAWA) in the late ’70s. In those early days, we organized and met wherever we could, in church basements, libraries, college classrooms, and bars. At some point, Ben Whitmire, then director of Ellarslie — which had just opened its doors in 1978 — took pity on us and offered us the storeroom as a meeting place. In exchange, he got some assistance with exhibition installation, and together we launched the TAWA at Ellarslie series of summer exhibitions. TAWA founding member Mary Yess also conspired with (Whitmire) to launch the Ellarslie open juried exhibition series in 1983. … Ellarslie has been a great resource for both artist and the greater community, and I am pleased that, in spite of many challenges along the way, it continues to this day to be a vibrant centerpiece of culture in the capital city.
“Sleep and Sleep and Sleep’s” Trace Drury notes, “TAWA was the first artistic organization to really take me seriously as an artist. Before I even took myself seriously. TAWA gave me the opportunity to show my work on a professional level at Ellarslie. I can never really fully express my gratitude to TAWA for giving me the courage to pursue all my artistic endeavors.”
And established award-winning photographer Aubrey Kauffman, who served as TAWA president during the organization’s exchange with artists in the Soviet Union and organized the “Trenton Takes: 24 Hours in the City” photography exhibition at Ellarslie, says TCM was the “first gallery show for me and many other artists. This collaboration helped to make Trenton part of the cultural landscape.” Kauffman, a contributor to U.S. 1, a sister publication to the Downtowner, is represented by the large photograph “Break of Dawn.”
The community can learn more about the exhibition, the Trenton Museum Society, and TAWA during a public panel discussion and artist gallery walk on Sunday, November 4, at 1:30 p.m.
The program starts with the discussion “TAWA @ Ellarslie: The Early Years.” Participants include Mary Yess, Aubrey Kauffman, and Mel Leipzig. Co-curator Tricia Fagan moderates.
The gallery talk follows with participating artists Jeff Epstein, Elizabeth McCue, David Organ, Terry Rosiak, and Nancy Zamboni. Admission is free.
Pushing 40, Ellarslie, Cadwalader Park, is on view through Saturday, November 10. Wednesday through Saturday, noon to 4 p.m., Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. Free. 609-989-3632 or www.ellarslie.org.