It’s not often that visitors walk into a museum to hear the sound of a train whistle tooting — and at the same time see a painting on the wall depicting a pair of dogs pulling a sled filled with apples through the snow.
But such is the scene at the Monmouth Museum’s “Winter Wonders” exhibit over the next two weeks.
The museum — which mixes art, science and history — has erected a massive model train set at Christmas time for more than 20 years now. And this year is no different, with a steady stream of parents and children peering through the protective glass to scope out the set, complete with its miniature airport, diner, circus, motel, hospital and ice cream parlor. Mickey and Minnie Mouse can even be found driving a cart around the track.
This, though, marks the first year the museum has curated a holiday art exhibit to surround the set. All along the walls are photos and paintings of snowy winter scenes — but also of penguins, Christmas scenarios and geometric shapes.
“It’s not just snow on trees,” Avis Anderson, the museum’s director, says of the exhibit, which runs through December 31. “It’s so varied.”
In the corner is also a blue and white Christmas tree decorated by friends and donors of the museum. On the branches are knitted ornaments that resemble little sweaters and wool hats.
Plus, visitors can write their holiday wishes on Post-It notes and stick them on one of the walls.
Anderson says the museum decided to try something new this year and put out a call for winter-centric artwork. “It didn’t have to be holiday-inspired,” she explains.
A good chunk of the submissions came from New Jersey, but there are also pieces in the show by artists from California, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Latvia and Poland.
“Rachel,” a painting by Jean Wetta of Island Heights, N.J., depicts a close-up of young girl in and orange-red winter hat and jacket. “Layover,” a photograph by Cheryl Bomba of Pennington, N.J., shows Santa Claus standing on a train. And “First Snow” by Carole Curtis of New Rochelle, N.Y., is more abstract — a painting featuring sharp shapes of red, black, and grey.
Among the most striking pieces in the show is “Our Tracks Will Be Concealed,” an oil painting by Claudia Griesbach-Martucci, a 26-year-old artist from Highlands, N.J.
Usually, Griesbach-Martucci paints portraits. But last winter, she was walking through Madison Square Park in Manhattan when she encountered an instantly memorable image.
“I saw these two bulldogs in miniature parkas,” she remembers. “There was snow on the ground. I thought how charming that was and how it would make a great painting.”
So she snapped a photo and started playing around with it in Photoshop for inspiration when she got home. The result is the painting on the wall in Lincroft of two pugs carrying apples in a sled.
Griesbach-Martucci says she was partially inspired by Pop Surrealist painter Mark Ryden to craft this piece.
“I wanted to make something cute but also maybe a little bit ominous,” says Griesbach-Martucci, who graduated with honors from the illustration program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City and recently received her master’s. Her parents are illustrators whose work appeared in the Village Voice, and she says they were hopeful she’d follow in their footsteps.
“I was leaning more toward doing work for galleries,” explains Griesbach-Martucci, who is also an assistant for famed artist Jeff Koons. “But I still like to tell stories.”
“Every painting I do tells a little story,” she stresses. “It’s not even something I would know the whole plot to. I leave it open to interpretation.”
A more classic-looking piece on display is “Tree In Snow,” a black-and-white photograph of a lone tree in an open, snow-covered hillside by Michael Hynes, a 52-year-old native of Ireland who is now settled in Middletown.
Hynes took the photo in 2012, while he and his wife were living in Switzerland. “It’s a pretty, beautiful country,” he explains. “There are lots of opportunity for photographs.”
Hynes notes that this exhibit focuses more on painting than photography, allowing his “simple black-and-white” snapshot to stand out.
“A lot of the paintings are complicated and detailed,” he says. “There are lots of colors. This is a nice contrast to the other pieces.
“It’s sort of timeless, as well,” Hynes adds. “There are no distractions. It’s just black and white. There’s nothing else to take your eye away from it.”
Hynes and his wife are both from Ireland but left about 20 years ago for his wife’s work. They moved to London for eight years and then came to the U.S. in 1997 — first to Connecticut, then to Middletown in 2003. After a two-year stint in Switzerland, they returned to their Monmouth County home in 2013.
Hynes had worked as a painter and decorator but took up photography about 10 years ago when neck and shoulder problems led him to pack in his business.
“My wife bought me a camera,” he recalls. “She said, ‘Here. Do something to get out of the house.’ I was never really into art. But it came sort of naturally. It’s peaceful.”
Hynes notes that his work is basic and old-fashioned. “Whatever is in front of me, I’ll shoot,” he says. But he often alters the color and the light — “to get it the way I would like to see it.
“The scene itself, it just draws you,” Hynes says. “You get the feeling, ‘This will really work.’ Just take your shot and edit it to get it exactly the way you want with the computer.”
And then see it hang on a wall next to the rattling tracks of a model train set.
“Winter Wonders” and the Winter Wonderland Model Train Display are on view now through December 31 at the Monmouth Museum, 765 Newman Springs Road, Lincroft, NJ 07738 on the Brookdale Community College campus. For hours and more information, visit www.monmouthmuseum.org.