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Exhibitions of old Newark images and the Puerto Rican flag as folk art now on display

2003-09-25

The New Jersey Historical Society is now showing two new exhibitions, City on Display: A Newark Photographer and His Clients, 1890s-1940s and ¡Que bonita bandera! The Puerto Rican Flag as Folk Art.

Admission is free and open to the public.

City on Display: A Newark Photographer and His Clients, 1890s-1940s

Waves of newcomers, breathless construction, and teeming streets: this was the American city in the early 20th-century. This was what historians called the Age of Metropolitanism.

This was Newark, NJ.

Commercial photographer William F. Cone uniquely captured this period of growth in Newark through an unparalleled visual record of images taken during a career that lasted nearly 75 years. From an extensive collection of more than 9,000 glass plate negatives, The New Jersey Historical Society has selected over 100 images of Cone’s work to display in its new exhibition, City on Display: A Newark Photographer and His Clients, 1890s-1940s, which will be on view through Fall 2004.

Born in 1875, Cone came of age as he chronicled the growing city for his clients. He worked alone, tramping across rail yards, into restaurants, and through private homes to take photographs that would please his clients — businesses like department stores, insurance firms, and railroad companies. By the time he died in 1966 at the age of 91, William Cone had documented accidents, recorded newsworthy events, captured the look of businesses and the activities of organizations, and much, much more. The thousands of photos he amassed — which were ultimately donated to the Historical Society — offer a remarkable view of a changing metropolis.

“We are thrilled to present this unparalleled set of images to the public for the very first time,” said Sally Yerkovich, President & CEO of The New Jersey Historical Society. “We look at Cone’s photographs as documents of Newark almost 100 years ago. They weren’t intended to record the city’s history, but when we look at them closely, we can find intriguing clues to Newark’s past.”

Cone, who set up his first photography business in 1895, resisted the confinement of standard portrait work typical of professional photographers at the time and started his career as a commercial photographer. An elusive man, Cone continued to use glass plates and his old Kodak Eastman view camera long after their replacement by plastic-based film and lighter, hand-held cameras.

Cone’s style is defined mainly through the use of his trusty glass view camera, as well as his use of formal and static poses, ample foregrounds and negative space. Cone’s clients determined what he photographed, but Cone’s trademark style made every picture his own. His subjects ranged from the mundane to the extraordinary, yet the level of detail due to the fine resolution of his images turns a seasonal storefront into a lesson in Newark’s history. Among his most famous clients were L. Bamberger and Company, Hahne’s Department Store, Prudential Insurance Company and the City of Newark.

In the 1,300-square-foot exhibition, curated by The New Jersey Historical Society and guest curator Josh Brown of CUNY, large photomurals will offer the opportunity for visitors to examine each minute detail of his images, while smaller images will present intimate insight into some events of our recent past.

In addition, the exhibition will allow visitors to compare historic glass plates to today’s 35 mm film; manipulate a photo’s frame to change the story; view silent films; track Cone’s path on a map; create a “portrait” of a product; and more. Visitors will also have the opportunity to potentially recognize not-yet-identified images and add their own perspective to the show.

This exhibition has been supported in part with funding from a Special Projects grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of Cultural Affairs in the Department of State; the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, a state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities; The MCJ Foundation; and Charles Emil Thenen Foundation.

¡Que bonita bandera! The Puerto Rican Flag as Folk Art

The New Jersey Historical Society is proud to present the traveling multi-media exhibition, ¡Que bonita bandera! The Puerto Rican Flag as Folk Art .

On view through Spring 2004 and opening in conjunction with Hispanic Heritage Month, this exhibition highlights the ways in which the flag is used as a symbol of cultural expression in Puerto Rican traditional art. It will feature bobbin lace (mundillo), the traditional horned masks of the vejigante (a fantastic, colorful character introduced into carnival celebrations hundreds of years ago), contemporary color and historic black and white photographs, samples of murals, and urban memorial wall art.

“The display of la bandera puertorriqueña is ubiquitous all year long, waving from car antennas, painted on wall murals, or draped from windows and fire escapes and car hoods,” said exhibition curator Elena Martínez of the New York-based City Lore. “Far from being considered flag desecrations, these displays are expressions of cultural pride, and statements of cultural identity which carry a political message.”

Taking its title from a traditional children’s song sung to the rhythm of plena, this exhibition explores how the Puerto Rican flag represents the culture and essence of puertorriqueñidad(Puerto Rican-ness), while also being a strong source of pride and identity for those of Puerto Rican descent who were not born on the island.

“We are pleased to be able to bring ¡Que bonita bandera! to New Jersey, and especially to Newark, where there is a large and active Puerto Rican community,” said Sally Yerkovich, President & CEO of The New Jersey Historical Society. “This exhibition will be an invaluable learning tool as we continue to interpret and present New Jersey’s diverse history to our audiences.”

Photographs from the exhibition are from the collection of noted photographers Martha Cooper and Carlos Ortíz and Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños at CUNY. Folk art objects will include mundillo by master artist Rosa Elena Egipciaco; a vejigante mask by Jorge Silva; mural art by internationally-known aerosol artists Chico García and Tats Cru, and art work by George Zavala and Francisco López.

Funding for this exhibition has been provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts, The Scherman Foundation, and the Lily Auchincloss Foundation.

Programming related to ¡Que bonita bandera! and City on Display will continue throughout the fall. Please call (973) 596-8500 for more information or visit our website at www.jerseyhistory.org to view our calendar of events.

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