‘Autumn, the year’s last, loveliest smile.” That is how 19th-century American poet William Cullen Bryant characterized the season that will overtake us very soon. But I disagree. The arrival of fall does not have to be the “last smile” of the year. In fact, autumn is an ideal time to visit some places where it is possible for smiles to be eternal (think Mona Lisa): museums. As changing leaves set the trees ablaze, the world of art is buzzing with renewed energy and museums are overflowing with brand-new exhibitions and events.

What follows is a sneak peek at a few of the exhibitions set to premier this fall at museums in Princeton and neighboring areas. The museums featured here are diverse; some specialize in art from around the world, others dedicate themselves to local history, to how Americans lived a century ago. Some of these new exhibitions will transport visitors to the ruins of forgotten cities while others will inspire thoughts on topics like beauty. What these museums do have in common is an enticing roster of exhibitions that will open very soon (or have just opened).

Consider this guide a treasure-map of sorts, pointing out a few of the artistic gems that are about to be — or have just been — revealed. But treasure-maps usually come with a pirate and here it is: museum hours and possible admission fees vary. A link to each museum’s website is included with each thumbnail introduction to the museums highlighted here. Consult the links for information to help plan a visit or provide more information about upcoming events.

Princeton University Art Museum

Princeton Campus, 609-258-7388. www.princetonartmuseum.org

In addition to an impressive permanent collection of over 72,000 art works ancient and modern from around the globe, the Princeton University Art Museum consistently presents guests with inventive, unique exhibitions. The charms of the English countryside in the 19th century, tales from storytellers of 15th century Japan, kaleidoscopic visions realized in uncanny collages — these are just a few highlights from last year’s exhibition calendar.

For students September signals the beginning of a new semester. At the museum September also signifies a beginning of a different kind, one for everybody. On Thursday, September 13, at 5 p.m. the museum will host the “Nassau Street Sampler.” All are welcome to enjoy free samples provided by local restaurants. A reception will follow at 7 p.m. The September “Sampler” is just the beginning. This October, two new, much-anticipated exhibitions will open at the Museum.

“Dancing into Dreams: Maya Vase Painting of the Ik’ Kingdom,” October 6-February 17.

“Dancing into Dreams” will provide a glimpse of a Mayan kingdom around 700-800 C.E., as it enjoyed the full flush of prosperity. This exhibition aims to capture the spirit of that cultural center at a time when royal power and a demand for the luxury to accommodate it created an exciting cultural environment where artists competed for the favor of kings and strived for artistic excellence. Though that Mayan realm has long been in ruins, visitors will be able to get a sense of its former glory through the drinking cups and painted ceramics that have been preserved.

There is more to “Dancing into Dreams” than its display of artifacts from a vibrant culture that disappeared thousands of years ago, though. The exhibition makes public a discovery of a different kind. Many of the ceramics feature hieroglyphs. These signs have eluded explanation for generations. Thanks to recent discoveries, experts have deciphered — and will share with the public — the meaning of a once mysterious language.

“City of Gold: Tomb and Temple in Ancient Cyprus,” October 20-January 20.

On Saturday, October 20, at 4:30 p.m. the University Art Museum will host a reception to mark the opening of a dazzling new exhibition, “City of Gold.” It will also serve as the Museum’s fall celebration. The fact that these events coincide is not a matter of chance. “City of Gold” will celebrate the culmination of decades (and even centuries) of archeological excavations that have been conducted on the island of Cyprus near the city of Polis, under which two ancient cities have been discovered.

Princeton University archeologists have labored since 1983 to unearth those ancient cities. They were not alone; the site has been attracting archeologists since the 19th century. What makes this archeological site so fascinating? The ancient cities, inhabited since at least 1900 B.C. were the host of countless encounters between radically different cultures until the medieval period. They preserve signs of those interactions still.

The exhibition will feature 110 objects linked to area, known as the “city of gold” — from sculptures to incense burners and coins — many of which will be put on public display for the first time. “City of Gold” is not just rich in ancient artifacts. It will also tell a tale about the history of discoverers themselves, about the history of archeology itself.

Princeton University Library

Firestone Library, 609-258-5964. www.princeton.edu/~rbsc/exhibitions/

If you have visited Firestone Library, Princeton University’s main library, you might have noticed the extensive renovations in the works. Although access to the library is restricted, some of the most valuable parts of the university’s collection are available for everybody to see, thanks to the library’s exhibitions.

“First X, Then Y, Now Z: Landmark Thematic Maps,” now through February 10, Main Gallery, Firestone Library.

Upon entering the main exhibition gallery of Firestone Library, visitors are greeted by a prominent map. A sign-in sheet is located nearby. The map, filled with small color-coded flags, gives guests a visual overview of who has already viewed the show. Within a few days of their visit, newcomers will occupy a place on the map too. The visitor map is an inventive welcome to a surprising exhibition. What guests will find here is far cry from a collection of maps on lined paper with labeled oceans and candy-colored continents. The walls of the Main Gallery are filled with curiosities such as the first geological map of the United States (created by a man who never left his native France!).

“First X” offers a sense of how people have been trying to ‘map’ knowledge — whether of tornadoes, religion or causes of disease for hundreds of years. What about places that don’t exist? This show has maps of those places too.

“Your True Friend and Enemy: Princeton and the Civil War,” September 17-June 30, the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, 65 Olden Street.

The Battle of Antietam was both the first significant battle of the Civil War and, with casualties nearing 50,000, was also the bloodiest single-day battle in American history. September 17 will be the 150th anniversary of that historic military engagement. This exhibition will commemorate that event with an exploration of the Civil War from the vantage point of a town where national tensions were replicated on a local scale, Princeton. The town was torn by debate and the division extended to the university as well, which was deemed the most “southern” of northern colleges.

“Your True Friend” will bring the contentions of the Civil War era to life through a series of documents and objects that make the voices of students and professors, and residents (including women and African Americans) audible again.

Bainbridge House

Historical Society of Princeton, 158 Nassay Street. 609-258-5964. www.princetonhistory.org

If you have ever noticed long lines of people on Nassau Street near Vandeventer on weekend mornings, it’s probably because they are waiting to into PJ’s Pancake House. There are no lines to get into Bainbridge House next door. But it’s worth a visit. One of the oldest buildings in Princeton, it stands on its original foundations (set in 1766 by the grandson of one of Princeton’s first settlers).

If you are interested in learning more about Princeton’s past, a visit to the Bainbridge House is an entertaining way to do it. Be on the lookout for the Princeton Pride gallery, a collection of photographs documenting the Princeton of a century ago. The ever-popular annual House Tour is scheduled for Saturday, November 3.

“Einstein at Home,” continuing through January.

Though “Einstein at Home” is not making its first appearance this fall, its popularity makes it worthy of a mention. The exhibition features a collection of Albert Einstein’s furniture and personal belongings from his 22 years in Princeton.

Be on the lookout for the famed physicist’s chair. Historical Society curator Eve Mandel has deemed that the chair must have been a favorite. Einstein is shown seated there in photographs across three decades and the chair has signs of constant use — it had to be reupholstered multiple times. Perhaps that chair might bring viewers a bit closer to the great thoughts that must have been born there.

Morven Museum and Garden

55 Stockton Street, Princeton. 609-924-8144. http://historicmorven.org

Princeton’s Morven Museum, located just off Route 206 on Stockton Street, is as much a piece of history as the objects it preserves. The museum can be found inside the Morven House, a national historic landmark. Morven, which once served as the New Jersey Governor’s mansion, dates back to the 18th century. Although Morven’s historic garden, planted in the colonial style, ceases to bloom as summer wanes, the museum’s holdings are seasonless. The museum focuses on the culture and history of New Jersey and includes 18th and 19th century portraiture, furniture, and other objects.

“Portrait of Place: Paintings, Drawings, and Prints of New Jersey (1761-1898),” September 28-January 18.

With its display of more than 100 art works from the last 150 years, “Portrait of Place” will take visitors on a pictorial tour of New Jersey from Cape May to the Palisades, from the Revolutionary War to the present. The collection is diverse, and represents the state through landscapes, political portraits, and cityscapes that appear in a variety of guises, from letterheads to paintings. The exhibition creates a visual history while giving viewers a chance to gaze at the state through the eyes of its 18th and 19th century residents. An opening reception will be Thursday, September 27, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Grounds For Sculpture

18 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton. 609-586-0616. www.groundsforsculpture.org

With 270 sculptures spread across 42 acres, this Hamilton institution is an ideal destination for those who want a crash-course on contemporary sculpture, a stroll through an artistic landscape, or a place for quiet meditation. As an outdoor museum, the appearance of the Grounds — and the viewer’s experience of its sculptures — changes with the seasons.

The museum’s unique connection to seasonality is reflected in a calendar that always includes seasonal events in addition to concerts, wine tastings, and art salons. Gloria Vanderbilt will host a salon on November 7. In addition to the open-air museum’s permanent collection, the Grounds includes four indoor galleries — four new exhibitions will open on October 20. The museum will also host the New Jersey Storytelling Festival Sunday, September 23.

“Thre3” and “Mythos,” October 20-July 28.

In addition to two indoor gallery exhibitions opening on October 20, there will be two outdoor exhibitions making their debut as well in a new seven-acre meadow. “Thre3” features work by artists Bernar Venet, Patrick Strzelec, and Robert Taplin. The other exhibition, “Mythos,” combines works from the collection with those on loan from artists such as Dana Stewart and Julian Schnabel.

James A. Michener Museum of Art

138 South Pine Street, Doylestown, PA. 215-340-9800. www.michenerartmuseum.org

The Michener Museum of Doylestown has a unique focus. Dedicated to the cultural and artistic history of Bucks County, the Michener is an art museum that testifies to the creative activity of the region. Some of the museum’s more than 2,200 pieces of art are contemporary while others date back to the mid-19th century. Though the Michener specializes in works from the Pennsylvania area, its interests range beyond state borders (the Michener recently brought Italy to Bucks County this summer with its exhibition of Italian Renaissance art).

The museum also offers a mix of events including programs for children and a jazz concert series on September 23, October 6, and November 17. If you plan to visit on the weekend, you won’t have to worry about parking. Visitors can reach the Michener by riding the “Cultural Loop,” a free bus that stops at the museums and cultural attractions of Doylestown.

“Creative Hand, Discerning Heart: Story, Symbol, Self,” now through December 30.

“Creative Hand” constitutes the first installment of a two-part exhibition dedicated to a role that is notoriously difficult to define, “the artist.” This exhibition features works in an array of styles and mediums produced by some of the most accomplished contemporary artists in the Philadelphia area. These diverse works are unified by a shared theme, an exploration of the artist’s identity as a storyteller, an observer and even a dreamer. The second part of the exhibition will open in mid-May of next year.

“Making Magic: Beauty in Word and Image,” November 3-March 31.

Beauty. As the cliche goes, is in the eye of the beholder. “Making Magic” will invite guests to contemplate (and even question) that very idea. The exhibition will consider beauty as imagined by contemporary artists. Featuring work by photographers and poets, the exhibition will juxtapose versions of beauty in word and image, a new take on an ancient concept.

Zimmerli Art Museum

Rutgers University, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick. 732-932-7237. www.zimmerlimuseum.rutgers.edu

Though founded less than 50 years ago, the Zimmerli Art Museum — located on Rutgers’ New Brunswick campus — has grown quickly and now contains more than 60,000 pieces of art in its permanent collection.

In addition to its exhibitions and permanent holdings, the Zimmerli has several regularly scheduled programs. The first Wednesday of every month marks an “Arts After Hours” event, which begins with a guided tour and concludes with a performance, workshop or interactive project.

The museum’s “Passport to the Arts” program is held on the first Saturday of each month. Participants may register for “Passport,” which is a family-oriented program that allows parents and children to create art-related crafts with the guidance of an expert in the field. It is also useful to keep in mind that the first Sunday of every month admission to the Zimmerli is free.

“Art=Text=Art,” now through January 6.

Using the work of 48 artists from the 1960s to the present, “Art=Text=Art” chronicles how visual artists have questioned, explored, and exploded the relationship between words and images in their work. With more than 100 drawings and prints, the exhibition asks visitors to consider the essence of language in a medium that remains mute, art. If you plan a visit after October 13, you can also view “Le Mur,” a complementary exhibition, which will display materials from Le Mur, a satirical journal pieced together by artists in Paris at the close of the 19th century.

“Mary Cassatt Prints: In the Company of Women,” September 29-March 3.

This intimate exhibition will unite 23 works by the Pennsylvania-born artist Mary Cassatt (1844-1926). One of the premier female Impressionist painters of her time, Cassatt was a contemporary of Claude Monet and a friend of Edgar Degas (famous for his drawings and sculptures of dancers). “In the Company of Women” will include 12 works that are unique, for Cassatt created them not with the technique that made her famous — by putting oil paint to canvas — but by a kind of engraving, by making incisions on a metal surface.

Postscript

Museums. The “memory of mankind.” Well, that’s what a former director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art called them. And museums are indeed filled with physical traces, “memories” of one sort or another. Yet, can we be said to remember things that we never knew? One of the best features of a museum is its ability to capture memories, not personal ones but those that can be formed with traces of events and people and places we never did — and never can — know.

Viewing these “traces” makes it possible for us to hold onto a shared past more firmly, whether that past goes back a 1,000 years or only a decade. At least that’s how I like to remember it.

Arts Council of Princeton

102 Witherspoon Street, 609-924-8777, www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.

Day of the Dead Celebration. Opening reception for sculptures, paintings, and more. Free. Friday, November 2.

Artworks

19 Everett Alley, Trenton. 609-394-9436, www.artworkstrenton.org.

Art Exhibit. Reception and art talk in conjunction with “Visions and Vignettes,” an exhibition by career development program fellow from the Center for Emerging Visual Artists. On view to October 13. Friday, September 21.

Art All Day Exhibit and Reception. Showcases creativity in Trenton throughout day. Saturday, November 10.

Chapin School

4101 Princeton Pike, Princeton, 609-924-7206, www.chapinschool.org.

Art Exhibit. Reception for “Yardsong: A Botanical Adventure,” an exhibit featuring digital photography by Madelaine Shellaby. On view to September 28. Thursday, September 13.

College of New Jersey

Mayo Concert Hall, Ewing, 609-771-2633, www.tcnj.edu.

Art Exhibit. “Bruce Rigby: Recent Work,” an exhibit of more than 30 works in the art gallery. On view to October 11. Friday, September 14.

D&R Greenway Land Trust

Johnson Education Center, 1 Preservation Place, Princeton, 609-924-4646, www.drgreenway.org.

Art Exhibit. Reception for “Sustainable Harvest: Creating Community through the Land,” celebrating New Jersey’s farms and crops. On view to November 9. Free. Friday, September 14.

Gallery at Mercer County College

Communications Center, West Windsor, 609-586-4800, ext. 3589, www.mccc.edu.

Art Exhibit. Opening reception for “Robert Hane and the Big Idea.” On view to October 4. Saturday, September 15.

Grounds For Sculpture

126 Sculptors Way, Hamilton, 609-586-0616, www.groundsforsculpture.org.

Fall Exhibition. “Heaven, Hell, and the Life of Punch” features three installations by Robert Taplin in the museum. Contemporary sculpture exhibition of student achievement opens in the domestic arts building. “Mapping Memories” by artist in residence Mark Parsons on the mezzanine of the domestic arts building. $12. Saturday, October 20.

Art Exhibit. “Color of Art: Creations from the Lower Merion County Vocational Training Center” featuring sculptures, paintings, and ceramics by people with developmental challenges. On view to December 16. $12. Saturday, November 3.

Morven Museum

55 Stockton Street, Princeton, 609-924-8144, www.morven.org.

Art Exhibit. Opening reception for “Portrait of Place,” an exhibit of paintings, drawings, and prints of New Jersey, 1761-1898. This is the first public appearance of the collection of New Jersey graphic history assembled by Princeton collector and bibliographer Joseph Felcone. On view to January 13. Thursday, September 27.

New Hope Sidetracks Art Gallery

2 and 2A Stockton Avenue, New Hope, 215-862-4586, www.nhsidetracks.com.

Art Exhibit. Opening reception for “Naked in New Hope ’12,” a group show celebrating the human body featuring works by 92 artists. On view to November 3. Three different venues include 2 and 2a Stockton Avenue and 400 West Bridge Street at New Hope Lodge. Headliners include Larry Wood, Gary Paul Stutler, and William B. Hogan. Another reception at the lodge on Sunday, September 16, from 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday, September 15.

Phillips Mill

2619 River Road, New Hope, 215-862-0582, www.phillipsmill.org.

Annual Juried Exhibition. Annual fall juried exhibition featuring artists of the Delaware Valley. Oils, watercolors, prints, mixed media, drawings, and sculpture. Through October 27. $4. Saturday, September 22.

Princeton Day School

The Great Road, Princeton, 609-924-6700, www.pds.org.

Art Exhibit. Exhibit by PDS seniors. On view to June 8. Friday, September 14.

Princeton Public

Library

65 Witherspoon Street, 609-924-8822, www.princetonlibrary.org.

Art Exhibit. Solo shows by photographer Mary Cross and painter Ifat Shatzy. Saturday, September 15.

Princeton University

Milberg Gallery, Firestone Library, Princeton, 609-258-2697, www.princeton.edu.

Art Exhibit. “The Election for Woodrow Wilson’s America,” an exhibit detailing Wilson’s time as scholar, university president, governor of New Jersey, and his first term as President of the United States. On view through December 28. Now on view.

Princeton University Art Museum

Princeton campus, 609-258-3788, artmuseum.princeton.edu.

Art Exhibit. “Dancing into Dreams: Maya Vases of the Ik’ Kingdom.” On view to February 17. Saturday, October 6.

Art Exhibit. “City of Gold: Archaeology of Polis Chrysochous, Cyprus.” On view to January 6. Saturday, October 20.

Rider University

Luedeke Center, Lawrenceville, 609-921-2663, www.rider.edu/arts.

Art Exhibit. “John Suler: Photographic Psychology: Forces That Shape the Psyche,” an exhibition of works by Suler, a writer, photographer, and professor of psychology at Rider. On view to October 14. Thursday, September 13.

Art Exhibit. “Joan B. Needham: Sculpture,” an exhibit featuring rock sculptural wall pieces and a site-specific installation designed for the gallery space. On view to December 2. Free. Thursday, October 25.

South Brunswick Arts Commission

Municipal Building, 540 Ridge Road, Monmouth Junction, 732-821-6196.

Art Exhibit. “Places of Our Lives,” a juried exhibit open to artists working in all mediums except photography. On view to January 13. Tuesday, October 9.

Stuart Country Day School

1200 Stuart Road, Princeton, 609-921-2330, ext. 262, www.stuartschool.org.

Art Exhibit. Opening reception for “Sacred Spaces: Paintings and Mixed Media,” an exhibit of works by Jessie Krause and Eileen Shahbender. On view to November 16. Saturday, September 15.

Art Exhibit. Art chat in conjunction with “Sacred Spaces: Paintings and Mixed Media,” an exhibit of works by Jessie Krause and Eileen Shahbender. On view to November 16. Tuesday, September 18.

West Windsor Arts Council

952 Alexander Road, West Windsor, 609-716-1931, www.westwindsorarts.org.

Art Exhibit. Opening reception for “Outloud: A Collective of Washington, D.C., Abstract Artists.” On view to November 21. “My Kid Can Do That — Or So You Think: The Aesthetics of Abstractions,” a gallery talk by Julia Myers, a professor of art and West Windsor resident. Sunday, October 14.

West Windsor Library

333 North Post Road, 609-799-0462.

Art Exhibit. Reception for “Mostly Watercolor, Some Acrylic,” a solo art show by Elizabeth Peck. On view to October 31. Sunday, October 7.

Za Restaurant

147 West Delaware Avenue, Pennington, 609-737-4400, www.zarestaurants.com.

Art Exhibit. “Conversations in Color,” a collection of impressionist oil paintings by Lauren Acton. On view to December 15. Wednesday, September 19.

Zimmerli Art Museum

George and Hamilton streets, New Brunswick, 732-932-7237, www.zimmerlimuseum.rutgers.edu.

Art Exhibit. “Prints by Mary Cassatt: In the Company of Women,” an exhibit of 23 works include a rare set of 12 drypoints from 1890. On view to March 3. Saturday, September 29.

Art After Hours. Reception for “Lynd Ward Draws Stories: Inspired by Mexico’s History, Mark Twain, and Adventures in the Woods.” There are 37 original illustrations in the exhibit. $6. Wednesday, December 5.

Other Art Venues

Alfa Art Gallery,108 Church Street, New Brunswick, 732-296-7270, www.alfaart.org.

Lawrenceville Main Street, 2683 Main Street, Lawrenceville, 609-512-1359, www.lmsartistsnetwork.com.

Lewis Center for the Arts, 185 Nassau Street, 609-258-1500, www.princeton.edu/arts.

Michener Art Museum, 138 South Pine Street, Doylestown, 215-340-9800, www.michenerartmuseum.org.

Plainsboro Public Library, 9 Van Doren Street, 609-275-2897, www.lmxac.org/plainsboro.

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