An Artistic Treasure

Enjoy a bounty of extraordinary art and interesting events at a venue close to home

By Susan Baldani

The Morris Museum, a designated Smithsonian Affiliate, is a hidden gem located in Morristown. Filled with artistic wonders and fun and educational events for people of all ages, it lives up to its new mission: “Interpreting the past, discovering the future, through Art, Sound, and Motion.”

“So, it’s more conceptual, and we’re very open to different practices and different disciplines,” says Ron Labaco, director of exhibitions and collections/chief curator.

Collections and Exhibits

In addition to its incredible permanent collections, such as the American Indian gallery, the Earth Science gallery, and the renowned Guinness Collection of  mechanical musical instruments and automata, there are many special exhibitions throughout the year. (See list below.)

One of these remarkable exhibits, Threads of Consciousness, is by artist Jon Eric Riis. It’s his largest exhibit yet in the U.S. and is also his first solo museum exhibition in the Northeast.

“The Japanese have a technique that they borrowed from China called fingernail weaving,” says Jon. “It’s quite fine weaving and I have very fine metallic threads and silk threads so you get clarity of details. And I like the idea of using precious materials.”

His inspiration to do this started with a Russian art exhibition he attended in Atlanta, where he now lives. It included a lot of textiles that were embellished with pearls and, he says, absolutely beautiful.

The Museum offers other areas of interest, says Ron, such as its installations of mechanical instruments and model trains that are operated by push buttons. In light of COVID, they have installed foot pedals for visitors to use, or they can pick up a stylus to push the buttons. The museum also offers demonstrations of the mechanical instruments at 2:00pm.  Note: The Museum will be open only on weekends from January-March 2021.  

The Bickford Theatre

Two years ago, Brett Messenger, the curatorial director of Live Arts, was tasked with reinventing the performing arts programming at the Museum.

“Creating something new in a place with a lot of history is an exciting challenge,” he says. “But the thing that was most exciting was the opportunity to do performing arts programming in a museum and how that can enhance what’s happening on the stage and what’s happening in the galleries.”   

The Bickford Theatre, he says, is unique in that it’s fully rigged for major performances. “Most museums have an auditorium space that’s good for a speaker or maybe a small ensemble or screening, but this theater can handle anything from plays to dance performances.”

Due to COVID-19, indoor performances were put on hold, but that didn’t stop Brett. He developed the Lot of Strings Festival, which attracted Grammy-award winning ensembles to play in the Museum’s parking lot.

“It turned out to be a great thing not only for the audiences that were really craving live music, but for the artists as well. In a strange way, our parking lot became a hub of classical music.” He plans to bring these lot concerts back this spring.

Brett also launched a Live Arts series. “This was born from a desire to really connect the galleries to the stage and even bring the performing arts out of the theater and into the galleries.”

Private and Public Events

The Museum is also a wonderful place to get married, hold a corporate meeting, have a fundraiser, or do a photoshoot. “It’s a very unique venue,” says Nina Hoffer, private event manager. “Throughout the evening, guests can wander around the Museum, visit select galleries and see all the art exhibits. So it’s great for amazing photo opportunities.”

There are three main spaces to hold events (see list below.)

Supporting the Morris Museum

Like most nonprofits, the Morris Museum had to get creative when devising fundraising events this year. Mira Prives, director of development, is excited to announce the Museum’s first ever virtual gala.

This gala will take place on Thursday, February 25, at 7:00 pm, and last for approximately 45 minutes. The theme, to honor its new mission, will be art, sound, and motion.

“This is the first full year that we have been focusing on that new mission, so we decided to theme our gala around it,” she says. To attend the Gala, interested guests can go to its website and click on the ‘Events’ tab.

“It’s going to be a great celebration for both people who know and don’t know there’s a museum here,” says Mira, “We’re going to have different artists and performers participating, plus some other surprises, and it’s going to be a fun way to learn about the Museum.”

Another great way to support the Museum and the best way to take advantage of all the Museum has to offer is to become a member.

Membership starts at $50.00 a year for an individual or $45.00 for a senior which gives special access and perks. There are also family and high-level memberships, where you get more exclusive access.

“Museums can sometimes be thought of as non-essential services, but there are things that the Museum has provided such as serenity, inspiration, comfort, and relief,” says Mira. “I think all these things are really important.”

To find about more, go to https://morrismuseum.org/, or call 973-971-3700.      

Event spaces:

The Entrance Pavilion  – the grand main foyer at the entrance to the Museum. This is the biggest space of the three, and can be used in a variety of ways.  Once they know your guest count and type of event, they will work with you to create a customizable layout and floorplan.

Museum Court – a two-story promenade, and the second largest space. Built around the Georgian-style mansion, it has modern glass on one side, and the exterior brick wall of the house on the other. It’s a great place for cocktail hour, says Nina.

Twin Oaks Mansion  – encompassing a traditional look with chandeliers and a fireplace. There is also a beautiful staircase from which brides can make a grand entrance.

Exhibits:

NJ Arts Annual: – Dissonance – Art | Craft | Design | Performance | New Media – through March 14

Adrian Landon: The Mechanical Horse – through March 15

Threads of Consciousness:  The Tapestries of Jon Eric Riis – through May 2

Natural Essence – Motion Perceived – from April 1 through August 15

Those Beautiful Rags (Ragtime music) – through October 10

Safarani Sisters: Beneath the Breath – April 1 through October 31

Written for Chatham & Short Hills Lifestyle magazine in New Jersey.

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