Visual ArtsSeptember 30, 2014


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You won’t find road signs directing you to the South Jersey Museum of Curiosities. Nor will you find it anywhere on a map.

That’s because the museum doesn’t have a physical location at all. It’s the name of the website that Camden County artists, and married couple, Debra Sachs and Marilyn Keating use to display and promote the pieces they’ve made together over the last three decades.

“We have actually had people call us up and ask for hours,” says Sachs, who lives with Keating in Gloucester City. “We share a studio in our house, but we’re not letting strangers in. I tell them they can see our work here and there.”

Sachs, 61, and Keating, 62, have seen their pieces displayed all over New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In government buildings. In subway and train stations.

And yes, in physical museums.

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Over the next month, you can see their work at the Stockton Art Gallery at Stockton College in Galloway, just outside of Atlantic City. It’s the focus of a new exhibit called “Going Solo & Tandem,” on display through November 9. As the title implies, it features pieces they’ve made separately and others they’ve crafted as a team.

Walk into the gallery and you’ll see a flying fish that Keating made suspended from the wall. And below it is a piece by Sachs made of wood coated with sand and metal that looks like it was pulled from an old ship at the bottom of the ocean.

Denise McGarvey, the gallery’s exhibition coordinator, says the differences in the artists’ work is part of the show’s delight.

“It’s serious and fun,” McGarvey explains. “It’s a nice combination.”

The couple met in the early 1970s when they were students at the Moore College of Art in Philadelphia. Sachs was from Massachusetts. Keating grew up in Willingboro.

It was in college where the name “South Jersey Museum of Curiosities” originated. That’s what Keating called the art she made and collected.

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“I think it came from my stubborn South Jersey love,” she recalls.

The name is apt. The work that both Sachs and Keating make often reflects their part of the state. Gloucester City — where they settled in the early 1980s — sits in the shadow of the Walt Whitman Bridge on the Delaware River, an area that has traditionally been dotted with industry.

It’s also about 45 minutes from the natural wonder of South Jersey Pinelands, where the couple spends a good chunk of the year canoeing. Sachs calls it a hidden treasure of the state.

The disparate influences show in their work. Keating is primarily a woodworker who makes striking depictions of kites, birds, bugs, and dogs. Sachs’ work includes abstract paintings and alluring three-dimensional pieces made of wood coated with various materials, like rusted metal.

“For me, I’m more design-oriented,” Sachs says. “It’s more about colors and shapes of landscapes. For Marilyn, it’s more about fish and whatever kinds of things you can find. More narrative stuff. She can make a bird on a band saw. Those are skills I don’t even have.”

McGarvey says the feel of South Jersey is obvious when you walk through the Stockton gallery.

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“They use their daily lives, their activities,” says McGarvey. “There are a lot of references to the things they see.”

Another South Jersey influence: the rusty color prevalent in their pieces.

“If you go along the roads instead of highways, you see things rusting in people’s yards,” Sachs says. “It’s not uncommon.”

When the couple works on pieces together, they meld their styles and talents. Keating often builds the structures and Sachs finishes the design and paints the surface.

“Because we’re such different artists, we really have a division of labor,” Sachs explains. “We don’t usually work in the same room together.”

They’ve been together for 32 years now. Last year, they were officially married in New York.

They’ve also collaborated on a lot of public art. In 2002, they decorated the subway station at 9th and 10th and Locust streets in Philadelphia. In 2004, they did the same to the train station in Haddonfield. In 2011, they worked on the campus center at Stockton, which led to this month’s exhibit.

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The pieces on display at the Stockton Gallery stretch over 25 years — though the exhibit isn’t chronological.

“It’s more about what of hers, mine, and ours really gelled together,” Sachs says. “It felt like where we’re from.”

“Going Solo & Tandem: Selected works by Marilyn Keating and Debra Sachs” is on display at the Stockton College Art Gallery, Jimmie Leeds Road, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, Pomona, NJ 08559, through November 9, 2014. On Thursday, October 16, Keating and Sachs will discuss their work during a gallery talk.

 

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Brent Johnson
Brent Johnson

Brent Johnson is a pop-culture-obsessed writer from East Brunswick, N.J. He's currently a reporter for The Star-Ledger of Newark. Before that, he was a longtime entertainment and music columnist for The Trenton Times. His work has also been published by Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated On Campus and Night & Day Magazine. His favorite musical artists: Elvis Costello, Billy Joel, The Smiths, Roxy Music, Dave Matthews Band, The Beatles, Blur, Squeeze, The Kinks. When he's not writing, Brent is the lead singer in alt-rock band The Clydes.