Joseph Kreidel, the mill’s last owner.
A Mill Becomes an Art Museum
Joseph Kreidel had run the mill for much of the 20th century, and was well into his 80s when he decided to get out of the business. There was talk briefly of converting the mill into a pencil factory. James Marsh learned the mill was on sale and met with others “discussing the possibilities of the mill as an arts and crafts center where studios could be rented and exhibitions and sales rooms maintained. . . I believe, if properly managed, (this enterprise) could be a success.”
In 1952, it was put up for sale by the owner and miller, Joseph Kreidel. The idea for the museum, as well as much of the building’s $10,000 purchase price, came from James R. Marsh of Pittstown, who wrote a prospectus for the museum. In March 1953, the mill was dismantled and work began to convert the building into a museum.
Throughout its early years, the Art Center (as it was then known) strove to maintain the building’s architectural integrity while making it a suitable space for the enjoyment of the visual and performing arts. On March 5, 1953, almost immediately after taking possession of the building, the first stage of renovations began: chutes and machinery were cleared from the first and second floors, cement floors were laid on the first floor and plans were made for more substantial repairs.
Architect William M. Hunt of Lambertville worked closely with the trustees to save as much of the mill’s historic character as possible. He drew up plans for the renovated spaces in 1953 including areas for a stage, kitchen, stairway, and public amenities. Under the presidency of Otto Siegmund, who assumed leadership of the trustees after James R. Marsh’s death in 1966, important changes were instituted at the Art Center. A grant from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts made it possible for the center to hire its first executive director, Ann Douglass, in 1970. A new board committee for special exhibitions was organized and included ceramic artist Toshiko Takaezu, illustrator Gertrude Espencheid, and artist Katharine Trubek. The Special Exhibitions Committee organized at least two shows a year. Among the exhibitions were solo shows of the works of Lenore Tawney (1970), Tetsuro Sawada (1971), Sergio Campos Mello (1971), Hedda Sterne (1973), and John Vickery (1974).
There were also intriguing group exhibitions—among them an Invitational Sculpture exhibition that included Harry Bertoia, Jeanne Miles, Isamu Noguchi, and James Seawright. In 1972 Samuel Dorsky, an important dealer and philanthropist, donated a selection of twentieth-century prints to the Art Center. These prints by such well-known artists as Salvador Dali, Red Grooms, Philip Guston, Louise Nevelson, Ad Reinhardt, and George Sugarman greatly enhanced the center’s collection.
The 1980s saw expansion in the Art Center’s programming and sustained financial support. For the first time, a full-time director oversaw all the activities of the center. More classes were offered and educational outreach to the schools became a priority. The building underwent its most extensive renovations during this period. Beyond the extensive waterproofing and repair to the building’s foundation, plans were drawn for the redesign of the interior to allow for an elevator to make the building accessible to handicapped visitors, secure gallery spaces with improved climate control and security systems, three new studios on the fourth floor designated for adult and children’s classes, and storage space for the ever-growing permanent collection.
Additional exhibition space on the third floor was devoted for much of the year to another new program: the Young Artist’s Showcase. This program continues to give area students an opportunity to exhibit their talents. With new studios on the fourth floor, the education program flourished and children and adults came to attend a wide variety of classes. Nationally known local artists were featured in exhibitions, among them Clarence Carter, Adolf Konrad, Carol Rosen, and in 1998 Toshiko Takaezo.Toshiko Takaezu: At Home was installed throughout three floors of the museum and also included one of her beautiful bronze bells on the patio outside. It was both a tribute to her accomplishments as an artist and an appreciation of her many years of involvement in the community and at the museum.
In the twenty-first century the Hunterdon Art Museum continues to produce programs of excellence, to expand its educational mission, and to bring nationally and locally significant artists to the attention of our visitors. The museum now offers more than 300 classes and workshops annually for children and adults and provides an artist-in-residence program to area schools. A tagline, “center for art, craft & design,” was developed for the museum to express the museum’s unique focus on those areas and their intersection.