Two things went through my mind when I heard about the “Bruce Springsteen: A Photographic Journey” exhibition at Morven Museum & Garden in Princeton: (1) Don’t miss it, and (2) it’s at Morven?!?
Don’t get me wrong. I love Morven. It’s a historic house in a beautiful setting, with impeccably-kept gardens and a small, but wonderful, gift shop. And Morven’s special exhibitions are always interesting.
In the past few years, for example, Morven has provided visitors with a deeper look at The Pine Barrens, Jersey Shore painters, maritime artifacts and art, New Jersey schoolgirl needlework, 19th century chair making and, most recently, Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
But, it seemed to me that maybe Morven was coloring just a little outside of the lines by offering this show of Springsteen photographs. So, I started my recent conversation with Barbara Webb, the Museum’s Special Projects Manager, by posing that observation.
No, that’s not exactly true.
I began by telling Webb that I was a serious Springsteen fan and that I had just finished (more like consumed) his autobiography, “Born to Run.” THEN I asked about bringing the exhibition, curated by the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles, to Princeton.
“I adore him, too,” Webb told me. “I was over the moon when it all came together.”
But, of course, Webb didn’t lobby for the exhibition just for her own pleasure.
“At Morven, one of the things we strive to do is present exhibitions that our visitors might not expect,” she said. “And, the primary mission of the museum is to interpret New Jersey culture.”
When Morven opened as a museum and public garden in 2004, a compelling statement was crafted to explain who, what and why. It reads: “To preserve the National Historic Landmark known as Morven by operating it as a museum and public garden that educates diverse audiences and showcases its rich history and the cultural heritage of New Jersey.”
“And who is more a part of the cultural fabric of New Jersey than Bruce Springsteen?” Webb asked.
Tom Murphy, Visitor Services Education Assistant, agrees. “People are really enjoying the exhibit,” he said. “Bruce Springsteen is a cultural icon in New Jersey, and our visitors seem to like seeing these photographs of him in a setting like Morven.”
What is also true, Webb said and I agreed, is that Bruce Springsteen has become a certified global phenomenon. “It is so much bigger than just a New Jersey story.”
“I think of him as our generation’s Frank Sinatra,” she said. (Writer’s note: Sinatra was known as the “Chairman of the Board;” Springsteen is called “The Boss.” Just sayin’.)
Webb admitted that there was some initial trepidation when the idea was brought up. “There may have been a few raised eyebrows at first,” she said. “But, in our current culture, it is necessary for a museum to think more creatively about ways to attract new audiences and more young people. We all understand that our goal is to get visitors in the door.”
And, as the saying goes, it’s hard to argue with success.
“Attendance is up,” Webb said, “and the exhibition has been well-received.”
“Bruce Springsteen: A Photographic Journey” includes more than 40 photographs that visually document Springsteen’s career and life since the early 1970s, as well as six individual video interviews that play in the gallery corresponding to each photographer’s work.
There is also a component that is interactive – in the old-school, pencil-to-paper way. “Visitors are invited to share and post [on a bulletin board with a push pin] a favorite Bruce Springsteen memory,” Webb said.
“We have filled books and books with these,” she added. “People talk about a special date, a particular song and about seeing Bruce, sometimes with their parents or grandparents.
“And there are people who knew Bruce or had chance meetings with him, and they told a personal story. It’s great to read about all the ways that people connect with him,” she said.
Morven is also hosting three public programs to complement the exhibition. The first is a panel discussion with the photographers and Bob Santelli of The GRAMMY Museum, on Sunday, March 5 at McCosh 50 Lecture Hall, Princeton University. The panel will be moderated by Bob Santelli and will feature photographers Danny Clinch, Ed Gallucci, Eric Meola, Barry Schneier and Frank Stefanko, who will talk in depth and answer questions about their experiences photographing Springsteen throughout his career. (Springsteen’s sister, Pamela, one of the photographers whose work is in the exhibition, had to cancel her appearance on Sunday due to a conflict.)
The second, “The Theologies of Bruce Springsteen,” will be an intimate conversation with Assan Yadin-Israel, Professor of Jewish Studies, Rutgers University, and Dr. William Storrar, Director of the Center of Theological Inquiry, who will discuss Yadin-Israel’s book “The Grace of God and the Grace of Man: The Theologies of Bruce Springsteen.” This event will be Thursday, March 23 at the Center for Theological Inquiry (across from the Morven).
The final related program will be “Springsteen on the Radio: 1973-21st Century,” on April 6, at The Present Day Club in Princeton. David Dye, longtime radio personality and creator and host of WXPN’s syndicated World Cafe, will talk with Tom Cunningham, host of “Bruce Brunch” on The Hawk 105.7, and photographer Frank Stefanko about Springsteen’s early career and the role that regional radio played in launching the Jersey rocker to a worldwide audience.
The March 23rd program on theology grew out of a partnership with the Princeton Public Library. And Webb, who took the lead on organizing the programs, had a simple explanation for why she put together the April 6 program about the impact of regional radio on Bruce’s career.
“I wanted to do something with David Dye,” she said.
“Bruce Springsteen: A Photographic Journey,” curated by the GRAMMY Museum® at L.A. LIVE, will run through May 21, 2017. Morven Museum & Garden is located at 55, Stockton Street, Princeton, NJ, 08540, 609-924-8144.