Monday, March 23, 2009

Stately Treasures

Stage performance of Shakespeare's, "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

The Best Things in Life Are FREE!

One of the best kept secrets in the state of New Jersey is the vast history and accessibility of our state's capitol. The Capitol Complex, located on West State Street, Trenton gives visitors a wonderful sampling of culture, arts, history and literature all within walking distance.
Highly recommended is a visit to the New Jersey State Museum. It is actually four museums in one and according to its executive director, Eric Pryor, allows the visitor to do and see so much, all in one day. He mentioned that the museum is part of the Capitol Complex which offers tours to the Statehouse, Library and Barracks all within walking distance. When we visited, there was a Swedish exhibit on display in the 3rd floor gallery. In the auditorium, which is a free standing building located in front of the museum, we were treated to Shakespeare Live's, rendition of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" by a troop of talented young players. Weekend offerings include free live performances by local musicians and actors. Parking is also free as the state employee parking becomes fully available to tourists over the weekend. The museum is looking forward to opening their newly constructed planetarium this spring. There are many archaeological displays throughout the building itself from a tyrannosaurus Rex skull to delicate, decorative pottery. Likewise, the museum also offers grade appropriate archeology workshops and programs during the week.

The Museum Gift Shop
One of the best finds along the tour was the museum's Friend's Gift Shop. Nestled away on the second floor, were found some interesting treasures. Unlike most museum gift shops, the items displayed here were chosen with care. What did we find? Hand made, woven baskets from a local weaver! After our disappointment with the Chinese made Nantucket Light Ship baskets of Cape Cod, this was a redemptive moment indeed. Handcrafted, beautifully constructed, stamped and very reasonably priced, these baskets by Mary were a true find.
When I spoke with the artist, she was well versed in the work of other basket makers, (the mark of a true artist), and said that she likes the plain but practical aspect of her work. May is also well versed on the history of basketry within the state of New Jersey. Her information on the New Jersey Pound Fish basket makes for great reading regarding a by gone practice of commercial fishing which flourished up until the early 1900's. Her beautiful baskets photographed here, are displayed for sale at the museum's gift shop. Baskets such as these have so many uses but are also a statement of artistic expression. Finding May's handmade baskets was indeed one of the highlights of our visit to New Jersey State Museum. It is living art-history which is still being created by a New Jersey artisan.

Photo: Handwoven baskets by craft artist Mary May

Other lovely items we found were printed umbrellas that worked quite well for us as we were leaving in the pouring rain! To your right is a display of beautifully made scarves, shawls, hats and jackets. Once again, this is not your ordinary museum gift shop but more of an artist's boutique. No tacky tourist stuff here. The prices were quite reasonable, especially for one of a kind, handmade items. Showing your New Jersey Arts Council Card gives you a 10% discount at this and other museum shops in the state. Remember that weekends offer a special treat of free live performances on Saturdays at the museum's auditorium with free parking in the garage. The next program is part of the Family Arts Festival featuring performances by Seth Reichgott: "The Appalachian Tale" and Tap Team Two & Co.: "Hoofing in America" plus art making workshops throughout the day. Date: Saturday May 9th, 2009, Time 11:00 am - 5 pm. Admission and parking are FREE. Visit all the events the museum has to offer online at:

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