Sunday, April 23, 2017

A New Chapter for the Arts?

In the early 1980s, it was not uncommon for New York Times art critic Vivien Raynor to travel to Plainfield for an exhibit at Tweed Gallery, an ambitious enterprise of artists Kim Blackburn and Maria Mijares.

In this 1983 review, Raynor also delves into a controversial (and ultimately failed) plan to move the gallery from its Front Street location to the main train station building on North Avenue. Its final location before disbanding was a second-story space on Watchung Avenue.

My daughter, her roommate and my future son-in-law were all involved in Tweed Gallery. It was exciting when a new show opened, but behind the scenes there was the ongoing challenge to raise money, schedule gallery sitters, garner publicity and broaden support from the community.

My entry into local reporting began with art reviews in Plainfield Today, a weekly newspaper created by Jan and Henry Johnson. It had offices on North Avenue in two storefronts, one of which later became an art gallery. I think it was the same location as the pop-up gallery at 144 North Avenue that just opened Friday and will continue through May 19.
Image may contain: 2 people, people standing and indoor
Another new gallery is Obras Art Gallery at 107 Park Avenue, a venture of developer Mario Camino.

These are all good signs for Plainfield's cultural life.

Through all the changes, Swain Galleries has been a constant, now at Watchung Avenue and East Seventh Street but also with beginnings downtown. Its history dates back to 1868 and spans four generations. Newcomers especially should get to know it.

Creativity has always been a prime family value in our household, and Plainfield abounds with creators of art, music, literature, design and more. Those who lovingly restore its architectural treasures pay homage to the original creators. It's heartening to see new support for artistic creation emerging now.

Both Union County's Office of Cultural & Heritage Affairs and Plainfield's own Cultural And Heritage Commission are resources for those involved in creative work. Partner up!



  1. John Philip Sousa played his first concert at the Stillman Music Hall in Plainfield, on September 26, 1892, after he left the U.S. Marine Band.

    There is only speculation as to why Sousa chose Plainfield, a post-concert release on September 27, 1892, the "Plainfield Daily Press" reported that Francis Wilson, a comedian and friend of Sousa, met the bandmaster a week before the premier concert and advised him, "You will find the intelligence of a Plainfield audience far above the average - in fact as good as you will find anywhere. They're no country hayseeds out there, but they are as good as the best critics in this country."

    Sousa went on to perform concerts throughout America and the World for decades, and in most of his concert programs, he mentioned where he got his start: PLAINFIELD!

    Stillman Music Hall is long gone. There is a vacant lot downtown where it once stood. There should be an historic plaque put there to tell the story of John Philip Sousa's first concert.

    Plainfield has a long storied history, good and bad, and the stories need to be told and remembered. They are human stories that shaped our collective past and could shape our collective future.

  2. Excellent post Bernice! Agree with Nancy, we need to remember the past, to build a better future.

  3. So good to hear about a revival of the arts in Plainfield. I think artists have a vision that escape the average person and we can all benefit from their ideas and creativity. Here's to a better Plainfield!!!

  4. For some segements of the Plainfield community. Remembering the past is a painful experience.

  5. While remembering the past can be painful, it must be turned to a positive. We need to learn from the past, not repeat our errors, and build on our lessons to make an better future.

  6. Anyone who has not visited Swain's gallery should do so. It is a mini-museum. In addition to "on the wall" art there is always a delightful collection of unique, inexpensive items that make perfect gifts for people who have everything. The complimentary gift wrapping is sometimes more valuable than the price of the gift. Attending the opening of an exhibit is a great way tow spend an evening and meet interesting people. Bill Kruse