In anticipation of this year’s Winter Antiques Show loan exhibition, Ahead of the Curve: The Newark Museum 1909–2015, students from East Side House Settlement—the Winter Antiques Show’s beneficiary since the show started in 1954—toured the museum.
Students at the Newark Museum’s Ballantine House. Photo by Jay Savulich.
The Winter Antiques show is known for its sophisticated lending exhibitions, festive opening-night party, large and varied roster of dealers, and rigorous vetting process, but sixty-one years ago it began modestly as a small booth in another show. A board member from the East Side House Settlement, a supplementary education resource center in Yorkville on the Upper East Side, had inherited several trunks of Parisian couture and, along with some of her fellow board members, took a booth at the 1954 National Antiques Show at Madison Square Garden, where they raised $1,700 for East Side House. Just one year later the board secured the Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Avenue for a January weekend, and the Winter Antiques Show as we know it was born.
One of New York City’s oldest social service organizations, East Side House Settlement (ESHS), is as worthy a cause now as it was when it was founded to serve Yorkville in 1891. 124 years later and nearly five miles to the north it serves the Mott Haven community of the South Bronx, often cited as the poorest congressional district in the United States. Some eight thousand people benefit from ESHS services each year, which include everything from childhood education and literacy to specialized technology training and programming for senior citizens. According to Charity Navigator, a nonprofit organization that offers evaluations of various charities’ effectiveness and financial performance, ESHS has earned a four-star rating, which labels it as exceptional, “exceeds industry standards and outperforms most charities in its cause.”
One could apply this “exceptional” rating to many of the students that ESHS serves. There’s Linda Laftimi, a sophomore at the School for Tourism and Hospitality, who has perfect attendance and makes A’s, or her classmate Kareem Davis who reads the entrance requirements for the University at Albany (SUNY) to stay motivated in school. Kareem and Linda were among the ESHS students invited to visit the Newark Museum in October to preview the kinds of objects they might see in Ahead of the Curve at the Winter Antiques Show, where they’ll tour and act as greeters.
A co-chair of the show Lucinda C. Ballard helped organize the expedition to New Jersey, which started with a tour of the stately 1885 Jeannette and John Holme Ballantine House, part of the museum since 1937. Home to the wealthy Ballantine brewing family, the house is presented as the ideal home in America over a century ago. “I was surprised by their choices,” Ballard says, “but they loved it! We spent an hour and a half looking closely at the objects and reliving the lifestyle of the Ballantine family. The students asked many smart questions and were very energized by the experience.”
“One thing I noticed,” Kareem says, “was that none of the paintings showed emotion, and I learned that in the 1880s males wore black in portraits to symbolize wealth. Living in the Bronx, mansions are rare, so everything about the Ballantine House caught my attention. I was astonished by how much the Ballantines loved traveling around the world, collecting antiques, and placing them in their house as decoration.”
Linda agrees, remembering that the elegance of the house caught her off guard. “I had never seen a house that beautiful,” she says. “On the trip to the museum, we saw many paintings, but the most interesting piece to me was the colored glass on the wall with the big sun and flowers [in the entryway of the Ballantine House]. It showed beautiful colors when the sun was out and illuminated the house.” But when asked if there was one thing she’d like to have in her own house or learn how to make, she thought of Mrs. Ballantine’s collection of jewelry, saying, “It was all really delicate. She had different jewelry for all her outfits.” Linda credits the range of art and objects on view throughout the Newark Museum with impressing her classmates. “Newark has a lot of diversity in their collection which makes it more interesting….It inspired me to want to learn more about art.”
Kareem also wants to learn more. After visiting the Newark Museum he would really like to visit the Met, saying, “The art I’m most intrigued by is sculpture. I’m interested in what materials artists use to create them and how.”
Students at the Ballantine House. Photo by Jay Savulich.
Ballard adds that besides their Winter Antiques Show connection, there’s another strong bond between the Newark Museum and the East Side House Settlement. “Both are driven by missions committed to educating their constituencies,” she says. And just as the Newark Museum provides a place for art to flourish, so the East Side House provides a place for people to do so.