Four vases created by the Trenton Potteries Company for the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair have been reunited for the first time in more than 100 years, an occasion that will be marked by a public event on Sunday, June 22, at the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton.
The reunion provides visitors with the opportunity to view the company’s exquisite craftsmanship and is a main feature of the museum’s “New Jersey on Display,” an exhibition that celebrates the state’s 350th anniversary of the English land grant that created “New Jersey.”
The public program is part of a day-long capital city event called “NJ350: A Capital Celebration.” Activities are scheduled throughout the New Jersey State House Complex and include NJSM’s cultural history curator Nicholas Ciotola’s guided tours of the exhibit that includes New Jersey’s offerings to several world’s fairs.
The four vases — which involved French ceramic artist and Trenton Potteries employee Anton Lucien Boullemie — were separated after the St. Louis fair, the same fair that inspired the beloved 1944 film, “Meet Me in St. Louis.”
While three ended up in public collections, one, the “Woodland Vase,” was missing and presumed lost for 107 years. It was actually in a private collection for years and surfaced for an auction in California in 2011. It was immediately purchased by the Trenton City Museum, Ellarslie, in Cadwalader Park.
The other three are owned by the NJSM, the Newark Museum, and the Brooklyn Museum.
“To tell the story about New Jersey’s participation in the fairs, we picked a few stories, and the story of the four Trenton vases falls within the section of the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904,” Ciotola says. “We took the idea of the reunification of these four vases, and went from there. You want to have one ‘wow moment’ in an exhibit and I think the ‘wow moment’ is these four vases together, lined up for the first time in many years.”
On view at the exhibit is also what is known as the “Trenton Vase,” which depicts George Washington crossing the Delaware. Of the foursome, it is the most interesting visually, Ciotola says.
“In fact, because it was so significant, (the organizers) of the 1904 fair took this vase and moved it to the New Jersey building, located in a prominent spot on the fairgrounds, and featuring a recreation of Washington’s headquarters in Morristown, called ‘The Ford Mansion,’” Ciotola says. “The vase had previously appeared in the pottery display, but what better place to show a vase with George Washington crossing the Delaware than at a recreation of his headquarters?”
“Then there is a vase that belongs to the Newark Museum, called the ‘Grecian Vase,’ which mimics a scene from ancient Greece, a woman in Grecian-style dress admiring an open lake, a very feminine scene,” Ciotola says.
Rounding out the four is what is called the “Rose Vase,” from the collection of the Brooklyn Museum. It is actually returning to Trenton from Brooklyn, having been on loan to the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie until early 2012. There is an interesting footnote to this vase’s story, thanks to information gathered by Bill Cunningham, former president of the Trenton Museum Society, who discovered that the Rose Vase was not manufactured for the 1904 World’s Fair, but was most likely made after the fair took place.
“There is evidence pointing to the possibility that it was made while the fair was happening, as a replacement,” Ciotola says. “If this vase was made during the (1904) exhibit, there may actually be a fifth vase out there, and this is compelling history for a collector.”
“New Jersey on Display” will also reunite Isaac Broome’s much-heralded “Baseball Vase” — a masterpiece of decorative arts in the permanent collection of the NJSM — with its identical twin, now housed in the collection of the Detroit Historical Museum. Commissioned by the Trenton ceramics firm Ott & Brewer, the pair of Parian porcelain vases first went on display to the world at the 1876 Centennial in Philadelphia.
“Parian porcelain is similar to marble, in that it’s a matte finish and not highly glazed,” Ciotola says. “It has a white consistency like marble, but it’s much more delicate. Parian porcelain was becoming very popular at that time, and Isaac Broome was one of the best in his field.”
Although Europe had world’s fairs — notably, the 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition in London, celebrating the Industrial Age — the United States’ first large-scale world’s fair was not until 1876, in Philadelphia.
“It was not the first in the U.S., but the first big and successful world’s fair,” Ciotola says. “It was celebrating the 100th anniversary of America’s birthday, and that’s why it was celebrated in Philadelphia. Of course, New Jersey was taking part in it, although 1876 was just on the verge of New Jersey’s industrialization. But New Jersey was producing ceramics and whatnot, and naturally participated.”
Ciotola came to the NJSM in 2009 and has overseen such projects as the exhibit of Greenwood and Boehm ceramics, historic maps of the Garden State, and “Pretty Big Things: Stories of New Jersey History,” which is in the NJSM’s long-term cultural history collections gallery exhibit.
In addition, he curates a series of exhibitions related to the sesquicentennial of the Civil War (2011-2015). The series showcases New Jersey’s premier Civil War flag collection, with the museum rotating five new flags on display every June and December.
“Just a note: the Civil War flag gallery is located next door (to the NJSM’s main building) in the State Archives building and is therefore normally only open Monday through Friday, but the flag gallery will be open for the Capitol 350 celebration coming up on June 22,” Ciotola says.
He also curated “Our Story: New Jersey’s 9/11 Collection,” the ongoing exhibit featuring a collection of historical objects related to the attacks of 9/11/2001, exploring the impact of these circumstances on the people of the Garden State.
Cistola grew up in White Plains, New York, where his father was a high school history teacher. His mother, a homemaker, was from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, so the family “visited” New Jersey often, traveling between Westchester County and central Pennsylvania. He says his interest in history, naturally, came from his father, and family vacations were often history-oriented.
Ciotola has an undergraduate history degree from Penn State (1994) and a master’s degree in history from the University of New Mexico (1997), where he was a fellow in the oral history program and active in the New Mexico museum community. He has completed in-residence fellowships at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and has received exhibition awards from the American Association for State and Local History.
Prior to the NJSM, he was curator at the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1998-2009), and also worked in such places as the State Museum of Pennsylvania (1995), and the National Hispanic Cultural Center of New Mexico (1997-1998).
A Lambertville resident, Ciotola thanks numerous colleagues for help putting together “New Jersey on Display,” saying, “lots of people were involved in this exhibit and it would not have been possible without the support of our lenders of the St. Louis World’s Fair vases — Ellarslie, the Newark Museum, and the Brooklyn Museum. We also relied on research conducted by Bob Cunningham; his research into the history of these pots — which he presented at a conference of the Potteries of Trenton Society several years ago — was very valuable as we worked to bring them together in this exhibit.”
With invention, innovation, and creative history on view, Ciotola says, “There’s a lot of opportunity throughout the exhibit to find out something about New Jersey and say, ‘wow I didn’t know that.’”
New Jersey on Display, Riverside Gallery, New Jersey State Museum, 205 West State Street, Trenton. Saturday, June 21 through January 4, 2015. 609-292-6464 or www.statemuseum.nj.gov.
NJSM Cultural History Curator Nicholas Ciotola will lead guided tours of the new exhibit as part of the featured activities of “NJ350: A Capital Celebration,” being held — rain or shine — on Sunday, June 22, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Other offerings — set between the New Jersey State Museum and the Old Barracks — include outdoor theater and music performances, history tours, exhibitions, and interactive programming at the state house, state museum, state Archives, Petty’s Run, Old Barracks Museum, New Jersey Hall of Fame Mobile Museum, and a NJ 350 Film Series at the state museum auditorium. The original 1664 land grant will be on view in the New Jersey State House rotunda. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free.