Looking Back...Outreach Key to Art Museum's Success (from the 32nd edition)

by Doris Brandes

Since 1952, the Hunterdon Museum of Art has enjoyed growth and prestige in the landmark stone grist mill on the South Branch of the Raritan River. Located centrally in the artistically developing, historic town of Clinton, New Jersey, it offers an extraordinarily beautiful environment in which to view art. The mill itself, four stories of treasured beams and stone walls, is listed on the National and State Historic Registrations, and in itself is well worth a visit. The site is but the introduction to a facility which houses exhibitions of modern and contemporary art, ranging from the cutting edge to the traditional, and featuring established as well as emerging artists. The museum mounts about a dozen exhibitions each year and presents a series of other programs.

In 1779 through 1789 wheat was ground in the mill on this site for Washington’s soldiers when they were encamped nearby. It was rebuilt in 1836 and shortly afterwards it had become a sausage factory and a blacksmith’s shop. There was a great fire in the town of Clinton in 1891, at which time the roof of this central building ignited. Eventually, a group of public spirited citizens recognized its historic value and purchased it to be used as an art center. The building was placed on the State and National Historic Registers in 1981, but it didn’t stop the great flood of the South Branch of the Raritan River in 1984 from causing enormous structural damage. The following year an extensive rehabilitation and renovation project was begun. At last, major flood control systems were installed, waterproofing of the foundation and installation of museum-standard environment, security controls, and barrier-free accessibility updated this important site. In 1997 the Trustees of the Art Center voted to change the name to the Hunterdon Museum of Art.

Listening, 1998, acrylic on resin
Tim Nussbaum, Listening, 1998,
acrylic on resin, edition of 9.
From Degrees of Figuration Exhibition.
Photo courtesy of Hunterdon Museum of Art.

Summer camp students with masks
Summer camp students with masks
they made. Photo courtesy of
Hunterdon Museum of Art.

The museum’s print collection, named after printmaker/donor Anne Steele Marsh, was the catalyst which helped create the standards for the designation as museum. The print collection consists of more than three hundred prints made since the 1930s. Noted artists and other donors have contributed to this collection and it has been lauded by jurors and collectors alike. Eligible institutions and corporations are able to rent prints from this impressive collection for display in their establishments.

The Hunterdon Museum of Art has always sought to promote further interest in art for the community by offering classes in a variety of media to students of all ages. A summer art camp is offered for children as young as three-and-a-half, specially designed to awaken creativity. The offerings are extremely imaginative. The museum likes to refer to these workshops as, “An Art Odyssey,” in which the finest artists in their fields are selected for faculty. Teens have an opportunity to learn while helping the younger children. Adult studio courses are frequently scheduled at times convenient for those with children registered in the camp. Adult courses are held throughout the year.

The stone mill
The stone mill. Photo courtesy of the Hunterdon Museum of Art.

The dramatic setting of the mill invites regional use as the scene for private events. It is indeed rented to responsible clients for weddings and receptions of all kinds – private and business. The walls are always aglow with art and the waterfall outside provides the nourishing sound of nature alive. Children’s parties are a special feature which offer parents choices from a variety of projects which entertain and educate the youngsters while they celebrate and have fun.

An exhibition this past December and January emphasized the strong identification of the museum with its home  state. Thirty five artists who were 1999 and 2000 recipients of fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts exhibited the best  of New Jersey art in categories of painting, works on paper, sculpture, photography, media, crafts and new/emerging genres.  Each year there is a Members Exhibition in the spring, and this year’s National Juried Print Exhibition is the museum’s forty-fifth. It will be on view through July 22, 2001. Exhibitions run from three to five weeks and are juried by prominent curators in their fields. An invitation is graciously extended to all for membership in the museum.

Director Marjorie Frankel Nathanson is looking ahead to the summer season and the rest of 2001 “with the hope that it will be a year of continued success and growth.”

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