‘The American Spirit’

Art Museum gala celebrates tradition

By: Christian Kirkpatrick
   The Princeton University Art Museum feted a true guest of honor at its annual gala on Saturday — George Washington.
   Our first president attended in spirit and image as he smiled down from "George Washington at The Battle of Princeton," which was painted for the trustees of Princeton in the early 1780s and installed in the museum just last year.
   General Washington was a convivial man, and if he could have stepped out of his portrait, he probably would have enjoyed "The American Spirit: A Grand Celebration."
   He would have approved of the decorations, which, as Princeton resident and event co-chair Alice St. Claire pointed out, were all early American, down to the Williamsburg-style floral arrangements and the Colonial porcelain lent by committee chair Bobbie Michael.
   He would have felt right at home dining and dancing at Prospect House, where the fare included Baron Von Steuben’s vegetable pie with garlic cream and Mount Vernon syllabub. And he would have recognized the music provided by members of the fife and drum corps from Trenton’s Old Barracks, which he visited during the Christmas season of 1776.
   But most important, he would have recognized his portrait, which is one of only a handful for which he sat. For that reason alone it is a treasure, said event co-chair and Princeton resident Bea Madden. "When you stand in front of it," she said, "I hope you’ll remember that he did, too."
   This season the museum is celebrating the American spirit and art of the Americas. Accordingly, it will feature a vibrant and eclectic group of exhibitions, according to Susan Taylor, the museum’s director.
   Two exhibitions are already on view. They feature some lovely studies by a well-known member of the Hudson River School and a rare ceramic Mexican censer from A.D. 1500 "Treasures from Olana: Landscapes by Frederic Edwin Church" will be up through June 10, and "Sorcerers of the Fifth Heaven: Nahua Art and Ritual of Ancient Southern Mexico" — the cover story in this week’s TIMEOFF — runs through April 28. A series of lectures and events are planned around both shows. More information about them is available at www.princetonartmuseum.org.
   Opening Saturday and running through May 13 is "History, Identity, or None of the Above: Regarding African American Art," a collection of African-American artworks in various media and from different times and places. The exhibit will explore the issues of history and identity that these works share and suggest ways in which their meanings are also unique.
   From March 24 through Aug. 12, the museum will showcase "Pop Art at Princeton: Permanent and Promised," and from May 19 through Aug. 12 it will feature "’57 Collects: A 50th Anniversary Celebration."
   Cranbury resident Barry Caskey said that he may have planted the seed for this last exhibition when he mentioned to Ms. Taylor that he owns a work on paper by Frank Stella and that he had seen a much larger piece by the artist in the home of a fellow classmate. This exhibit, which will run during Princeton reunion, will show what they and other members of the class have acquired during the last 50 years.
   "The American Spirit: A Grand Celebration" drew 360 guests. Proceeds from the event will underwrite the art museum’s various educational programs.
   Inez Scribner, president of the friends of Princeton Art Museum, described one of her favorites. It brings children from the Trenton schools to the museum, where they study works with a museum docent. When they return to school, they create works of their own based on the art they saw. Then they mount a show of their pieces and invite the docents to see it.
   Cass Macdonald said she likes to do her own outreach for the institution. "I’m passionate about the museum and encourage people who aren’t part of the university community to come as often as they can," said the Princeton Junction resident. "It’s a little jewel."
   Underwriters of "The American Spirit: A Grand Celebration" included Judson Henderson International Realty, Bloomberg, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson, Munich Re America, PNC Wealth Management, Reed Smith LLP, Tyco International and Wilmington Trust FSB.