By Maddie Orton
Imagine molding clay next to a third century sculpture. Or developing colorful designs side by side with expertly-beaded moccasins for inspiration. In the new MakerSpace at Newark Museum, kids and kids at heart will pick up clay, Legos, blocks and create. But don’t be deceived — this isn’t just playtime.
“The Newark Museum was founded in 1909 not just as a place where you would look at art, but with a very strong philosophy that you should understand the materials of art, the inspiration of the artist, the way an artwork was produced,” explained museum Director and CEO Steven Kern. “And this was particularly important in the city of Newark because Newark was an industrial powerhouse. It was a city of makers.”
Flash forward nearly a century, and the DIY movement has inspired a new generation of makers.
“There’s a growing interest among many younger and older populations that are eager to see, ‘What can I do with my hands?'” said Deputy Director of Engagement and Innovation Sonnet Takahisa.
And what better place to find out what we’re capable of creating than a museum full of masterpieces?
“This connection to the collections that we have here allows us to use the amazing breadth of our collections — the 12th largest in North America — to do something that is totally still unique,” said Kern.
Pieces from the museum’s collection are accompanied by explanations of how they’re created and materials visitors need to give them a shot. Takahisa walks me through one experience they offer in which visitors create a clay face on a smooth fiberglass bust canvas.
“In this, we’re just trying to encourage you to think about the ways in which you use geometry to proportion off the face,” she explained. “So, if you drew an imaginary line about halfway from the top of the head to the chin, that’s where your eyes go… And you can use the mirror here as a way to figure out the shape of your eye.”
One of the take-home messages is that all art originates from somewhere. So you can check out the museum’s 1847 sculpture of The Greek Slave, and then watch a 3D printer recreate it.
“You can go back and forth from the galleries to the MakerSpace as you see something in the galleries that you connect with that you want to try, or come in here first and you see this great mock-up of ‘The Voice of the City of New York’ interpreted, then go in the gallery and see the real thing,” said Kern.
Newark Museum’s similarly-named Maker City exhibit provides a helpful contrast to the tech-savvy MakerSpace. It showcases what previous generations in Newark have made, as visitors contemplate creating what’s still to come.