Before my recent visit to the Monmouth Museum, I did a little research and spoke with Julia Fiorino, the public relations coordinator. What I learned is that both the Museum and its history are quite unique.
A private, non-profit organization, the Museum is housed in a contemporary, yet classic, building on the grounds of Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, NJ. Founded in 1963 as a “Museum of Ideas” – rather than establishing a permanent collection – the Monmouth Museum presents a regularly-changing series of art, history, and science exhibitions in its gallery spaces and children’s wings.
The Museum is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year with special exhibitions and events throughout 2013 to reflect their “Circle of Gold” theme. The year will culminate with the highlight event – a “Circle of Gold” Gala Dinner Dance on Saturday, October 19, 2013 at the Navesink Country Club, featuring dinner, dancing, entertainment, and live and silent auctions. The Museum will pay tribute to the Junior League of Monmouth County as the special Circle of Gold Gala Honoree.
An integral part of the founding and development of the Museum, the Junior League’s generous support enabled the Museum to go from an idea to a reality. Members of the League recognized the need for a cultural center in the area. “They held the first art exhibition at a local school,” Fiorino told me, “and it was very well-received.”
“They went on to hold additional exhibitions in the storefronts in local towns,” Fiorino continued, “and spearheaded the fundraising efforts to construct a home for the Museum. In fact, some of the early Board members were also members of the Junior League.”
The Museum’s permanent home, constructed entirely with private funds, was completed in the fall of 1974. Sensing a need for children’s gallery space, the Junior Museum was created in the building’s Upper Gallery in the late 1970s. Before long, that space proved too small to accommodate the displays and visitors. The Becker Children’s Wing was added in1988, funded by contributions by the Becker family in tribute to Museum Trustee Sherburn M. Becker III, and by many other donations.
Renovations to the large, high-ceiling main gallery space are just about completed, and the next exhibition in the gallery will be “Covered in Gold,” presented by The Society of Gilders, and thematically tied to the Museum’s golden anniversary year. The exhibition will feature more than 45 decorative objects and works of fine art embellished with gold and metal leaf. A series of lectures and a gilding workshop where visitors can experiment with gilding techniques will be held during the exhibition. The exhibition opens September 15, 2013–with a reception from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. that is free and open to the public–and closes November 10, 2013.
Paintings by Dawn DiCicco of Red Bank are currently on view as part of the Museum’s NJ Emerging Artists Series. Now in its seventh year, the program features New Jersey artists who have not previously had a one-person show in the state. Six times each year, starting in the spring and going through the fall, the work of a different artist is featured for approximately a month in the gallery. An opening reception and a Gallery Talk, held in conjunction with each show, provide an opportunity for artists to mingle and share ideas with Museum visitors.
“The Gallery Talks are one of my favorite features,” Fiorino said, “the artists really open up and offer a very personal look at their creative process and what goes into their art.”
For DiCicco’s “Lyrical Painting Series,” she used music as her inspiration and driving force. Her abstract artworks are filled with bold images and bursting with color, lines and shapes. And their titles – like “Wah Wah” and “Yellow Zip” – demonstrate a sense of whimsy and irony. This show will be on view through September 15.
Next up will be Bill Ross’ “Aesthetic Curiosities,” which opens with a reception on September 20, and runs through October 20, 2013. Describing his work, Mr. Ross explains that as a child he was fascinated by “Alice in Wonderland” and Dr. Seuss books. He added that the black and white illustrations of Gustave Doré had a profound impact on him and his ideas about the art of drawing.
Despite its stated mission, the Museum does have one permanent collection, a marvelous assortment of more than 300 “sewing birds.” Before the invention of the sewing machine, a person would use this tool to clamp fabric or thread to a surface, leaving both hands free to stitch, make lace, etc. “They started out as abstract bird shapes,” Fiorino said, “but later the designs became very ornate. They were very popular as wedding gifts.”
This extensive collection was gathered by former Asbury Park resident Eugenie Bijur on her travels with her husband, and willed to the Monmouth Museum. A selection of sewing birds, which changes two or three times a year, resides in two glass-front cases that border a stretch of hallway that connects the Dorothy V. Morehouse WonderWing and main building gallery spaces with the Becker Children’s Wing.
So, this is all fine and good for the art lovers and adults out there, but are there parts of the Monmouth Museum that appeal to the younger set? Yes, there is definitely that, too. Just inside the Museum’s main entrance is the WonderWing, a visually-stimulating permanent installation for children up to 6 years old. With its Under the Sea theme, the bright, colorful room invites play and exploration in the Pirate Ship, Lighthouse, Puzzle Wall, Tiki Theater, and more. Special Friday programs in the WonderWing include Story Time, Craft Time and a TwinkleTots Planetarium Show.
Stroll from the main building into the Becker Children’s Wing, taking time to admire the individually crafted tiles that decorate the connecting space, and you’ll be transported into a place of imagination and learning geared for the not-quite-teenage set, from 7 to 12 years old. The current exhibition – on view through 2016 – is called “Ancients to Astronauts: How We Communicate.” Using hands-on elements, visitors can explore the idea of communication with such diverse topics as the night sky, weather, outer space, Ancient Egypt, and more. Special weekly MMKIDS programs in the Becker Children’s Wing include a Discover and Exploration Series, Art Hour, Math Monsters, Friday Night movies and Family-Friendly Planetarium Shows.
In the Green Arts Studio, children of all ages (and that means you taller, older kids, too) can use any combination of the donated materials – everything from fabric to shrink wrap to natural elements – to make something completely original. While we were there, the room was literally buzzing with activity and the happy sound of several youngsters and adults working on their creations.
While the Museum has consistently encouraged school groups to visit and parents and grandparents to bring children to the Museum, Julia Fiorino said that there has been greater attention to the children’s programs and activities this summer. “Our Education Coordinator works very hard to develop new ways to introduce young people to art, science, and history concepts in an open-ended way,” she said. “And the response has been tremendous.”
With such a broad focus, I asked Fiorino if it is difficult to describe the Museum or explain what makes it different from other similar New Jersey institutions.
“It’s really a community Museum,” Fiorino said. “We have a strong group of volunteers – from those who greet visitors at the entrance to the people who provide refreshments for our lectures to the retired gentlemen who come in and do light maintenance and construction for us. So, even though we are not ‘in town’ – but on a college campus –
we are part of the community.”
“You’ll always find something that you can engage with at the Museum – visitors of all ages and interests can explore a wide range of topics on art, history and science,” she continued. “If you are passionate about one of those subjects, you will leave the Museum feeling satisfied that you’ve been inspired or learned something new. It’s a very interesting place.”
The Monmouth Museum is located at 765 Newman Springs Road in Lincroft, NJ. For more information about the Museum, please call 732-747-2266, visit them on the web at www.monmouthmuseum.org and find us on Facebook and Twitter.