If you follow my id “newcolonist” on twitter.com, you’ll know I headed out to the Newark Museum today. I can honestly say I haven’t come upon such an unexpected delight since visiting the Toledo Museum in 2007.
It’s also the second mansion built by beer I’ve been to, the first being the Pabst Mansion in Milwaukee.
Walking through the Ballantine House, it wasn’t Pabst that was most recalled, rather the Pittsburgh Mansion, “Clayton,” redesigned for the Frick family in the 1890s. I think it was the layout, the general vivid distinction between male and female rooms and the general lingering presence of the figures who once roamed the halls.
The spring of 1891, nearly six years after the Ballantines moved in, is the time to which the period rooms are restored. This is the same year Frick rebuilt Clayton. By 1891, the family and the Fricks’ social stature both had outgrown the home as it was, and architect Frederick J. Osterling was hired to transform Clayton into the 23-room chateau-style mansion seen today.
Like the Frick house, and unlike the Pabst house, many of the objects therein were owned by the family.
I had recently read the book Conquering Gotham in which it was mentioned that Pennsylvania Railroad President Alexander Cassatt had a townhouse on Rittenhouse Square which contained much antique furniture and modern paintings. I took special note that the Ballantine house was filled with what would then have been contemporary American Barbizon paintings.
The current situation of the Ballantine house is somewhat unique among American Museums. Instead of a collection of period rooms, an entire house is connected to a museum. It’s a wonderful experience, and one that as far as I know is only repeated by a townhouse connected to the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, which is used as a decorative arts showcase, not to house period rooms.
The collection at the Newark Museum extends far beyond the Ballantine house. So many people come to New York and visit the Met and MOMA, yet there’s so much to see at Newark and at the Brooklyn Museum, I’d venture that at least for persons with interests similar to my own, Moma, the Guggenheim and the Cloisters aren’t worth a gander until you’ve been to Brooklyn and Newark.