A new exhibit opening Saturday, September 17, at the Trenton City Museum, marks the fourth collaboration between the museum and McCarter Theater, a collaboration that traces its beginnings to McCarter’s world premiere of "Crowns," based on the book Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats."

This new exhibit, Preserving Our Past: An Inspiring Exhibit Honoring Those Who Chronicle Our Heritage," opens in conjunction with McCarter’s production of August Wilson’s "Gem of the Ocean," which begins premieres on Tuesday, October 11, and opens on Friday, October 14. The production, which comes to McCarter fresh from Broadway, features Phylicia Rashad and John Amos. "Gem of the Ocean" is based in 1904 Pittsburgh, when slavery is still a living memory, and tells the celebratory and poetic story of a young man’s spiritual emancipation. It is the ninth installment in August Wilson’s cycle of plays about African American experience in the 20th century.

In a press statement, Trenton City Museum director Brian O. Hill says: "’Preserving Our Past’ showcases both the collections of artists who, through their work, preserve the past in their ceramics, memorabilia, or artwork, as well as honoring those who take it upon themselves to chronicle our heritage."

The exhibit features the dual portraits of 13 individuals "who embody the concept of being a chronicler of the African-American experience in the 20th century" – people like Albert Hinds, Cecilia B. Hodges, Jim Floyd (former Princeton Township mayor), the Reverend Dr. Willie J. Smith, and Edith Savage Jennings. The portraits were created by photographer Peter C. Cook and artist Howard Siskowitz, whose ongoing Double Take project features "pairs" of portraits produced in one sitting, with Cook behind the camera and Siskowitz drawing.

Accompanying the portraits are essays by Gregory Smith, which "serve as ‘verbal snapshots,’" says Dan Bauer, director of public relations at McCarter Theater, "offering a glimpse into how these men and women have constructed their lives so as to keep their heritage alive and allow us all to learn from their example."

According to Bauer, the Trenton City Museum-McCarter Theater partnership is one of a kind. "There are no other cultural institutions in the country that year after year pool their resources and work side by side to create an exhibit that echoes a stage production. This exhibition is a celebration of the past, but one that lives and breathes, helping us to embrace the future without the fear of losing what we cherish most."

Preserving Our Past: An Inspiring Exhibit Honoring Those Who Chronicle Our Heritage," opening reception, Saturday, September 17, 6 to 9 p.m., Trenton City Museum at the Ellarslie Mansion, Cadwalader Park. On view through February 26. Gallery hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sundays, 1 to 4 p.m. 609-989-3632.

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