Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 37
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
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Fate of Trenton Museum at Ellarslie Is Uncertain Due to Cuts, Layoffs

Anne Levin

With Trenton Mayor Tony Mack proposing to hire interns to run the Ellarslie Museum in the city’s Cadwalader Park and longtime director Brian Hill scheduled to leave on Friday, September 16 as part of a citywide layoff, the future of the facility is in question. Mr. Mack has also proposed staffing the historic Trent House with interns, letting go director Mary-Margaret Pernot, who has run that museum since 2001.

“We feel very strongly that we need a good quality director at Ellarslie, and we are going to continue to push for that,” Robert Cunningham, president of the museum’s board, said this past Monday. “I don’t think they understand that. The director of a museum has to know how to deal with other museums, for one thing. We have had to cancel our upcoming ‘Four Vases’ exhibit, which would have been huge for us. It involves dealings with the Newark and Brooklyn museums, and only a professional would know how to handle everything that’s involved.”

The show, which will now be mounted by the Newark Museum, would bring together again for the first time in 100 years four monumental vases that were produced by Trenton Potteries Company for the 1904 St. Louis World Exposition. Three of the vases were to be loaned by the Brooklyn Museum, Newark Museum and New Jersey State Museum. The fourth, the four-foot-seven-inch Woodland Vase, had been lost for more than 100 years and was recently purchased by Ellarslie.

“They have been called the four most important pieces of porcelain in the United States,” Mr. Cunningham said. “This show would have brought us national attention.”

The City of Trenton owns Ellarslie but the collections housed inside are owned by the independent Trenton Museum Society. Housed in a former mansion in Cadwalader Park, which was designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Ellarslie was deeded to the city in 1929 by the Stokes family under the condition that it be used as a library, museum, or gallery. The museum was scheduled to begin a major fundraising effort in coming months.

“We can’t do that now, because who is going to give money to a museum without a professional director? Brian really loves the museum and he has done a great job,” Mr. Cunningham said. “A couple of interns would probably make as much as he did at this point. It’s really a shame.”

In addition special exhibits like “Four Vases,” Ellarslie also mounts a regular show by students from Trenton Public Schools, and the juried show known as the Ellarslie Open. The 2012 show would have marked the thirtieth anniversary of the exhibit, which has grown so large that Artworks, Trenton’s visual arts center, hosts part of the display.

“It’s frustrating. I don’t know if we can solve this, but we are certainly going to try,” Mr. Cunningham said.

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