Ballantine House at The Newark Museum of Art reopens

The newly restored Ballantine House at The Newark Museum of Art, a remarkably preserved 1885 urban mansion, reopens as an immersive historical experience — transforming a symbol of the city’s industrial past into a testament to its diverse communities and a beacon of its bright future.

Reopening to the public on Friday, November 17, 2023, The Ballantine House will offer visitors new experiences through installations that celebrate Newark’s dynamic heritage and the Black and immigrant communities that built it, while also spotlighting the Museum’s impressive contemporary art and decorative arts collections. Closed since March 2020, this multi-year restoration and re-interpretation project speaks to New Jersey’s status as a world-class arts destination.

The Ballantine House presents an innovative approach, moving beyond the traditional historic house and revealing untold stories of 19th- and early 20th-century Newark. As visitors move through the mansion, they will learn about the Ballantine family who made their fortune in the beer industry, the Irish, British, and European immigrants who worked in or built the house, and the African American community that lived nearby.

Located at 43 Washington Street, adjacent to the Museum’s Main Building, the House is a rare survivor from the late-19th century. It is a three-story, 27-room brick and sandstone mansion built for Jeanette and John Holme Ballantine and their four children. The House sits across the street from Harriet Tubman Square, in what was once a fashionable residential enclave where the city’s elite built dream homes that epitomized Newark’s success and grandeur.

The Ballantine House, however, is the only urban mansion in the area that survives and is open to the public. It’s a unique example of a late-Victorian house frozen in time. Few homes from the period remain in such pristine condition, especially in an urban context, across America.

While The Ballantine House has been open to the public since 1976, this re-installation will offer a radically new and inclusive interpretation within the context of Newark and its diverse communities, past and present. The original 1885 and 1891 interior décor of the historical rooms will offer unexpected moments through installations of contemporary art from The Newark Museum of Art’s collections, which feature a strong presence of works by BIPOC artists.

New Artworks and Installations at Ballantine House

Party Time: Reimagine America (2009) by British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare CBE will return to the Ballantine House’s opulent Dining Room for which the installation was originally commissioned — the artist’s use of wax print textiles is a visual signifier of hybrid identities and post-colonial legacies.

Stay: The Black Women of 19th-Century Newark (2023), an installation by Newark artist and historian, Noelle Lorraine Williams, will center women of Newark’s 19th- century Black community, profiling several prominent leaders, activists, and artists. These notable women lived only blocks away from The Ballantine House and were as respected in Newark’s Black community as the Ballantines were in theirs.

G.O.A.T. The Art Game (2023) is a contemporary artwork created by DARNstudio for The Newark Museum of Art. This playable board game features the Museum’s renowned collection of African American art and is set up for play in a dedicated G.O.A.T. Game Room. Visitors are invited to role play and learn the “rules” of the art world, buying and selling their favorite works at auction.

Jewelry: From Pearls to Platinum to Plastic (2023) Whether made of natural materials or marvels of human invention, jewelry has adorned people’s bodies with jewelry since prehistoric times.  This installation showcases jewelry by material from across the centuries and the globe. Contemporary artists, luxury brands, Newark 19th-century manufacturers, and anonymous makers are all represented. The installation will include two recently acquired four-knuckle rings by contemporary jewelry artist, Johnny Nelson.

With themes of immigration, race, gender, ethnicity, and economic disparity central to the stories told, visitors will come away with an understanding of how many of the issues contemporary to the 19th-century Ballantine House are similar to those of today.

About Ballantine House

Ballantine House parlor room
Parlor Room. Photo by Stephen Kent Johnson, 2023.

Well into the 20th century, Newark was an industrial powerhouse and played an important role in the country’s economy. This story will be told by underscoring how many objects and architectural features of The Ballantine House were made in Newark by highly skilled craftspeople. Some of the city’s main 19th-century industries included furniture, leather, and jewelry. Tiffany & Co. for example, New York City’s most prestigious jeweler, opened its silver-plating factory in Newark and then moved to all silver production.

One of the two new introduction galleries features Made in Newark and The Listening Lounge—installations that celebrate the city’s art, industry, and music.

The Ballantine House’s reimagining will also highlight how this late-19th-century home was the domain of Mrs. Ballantine and her daughter Alice, who stayed on to raise her children there. The women of the family heavily influenced its construction, decoration, and daily function. The artworks and objects in the introduction galleries and rooms will give visitors a nuanced understanding of historic Newark.

The area surrounding the House was ethnically, racially, and economically diverse, but segregated.

The Ballantine House’s interactive galleries and historical rooms will offer visitors unprecedented and engaging experiences. Soundscapes, illuminated stained glass and fireplace, and a period-style secret phone will bring this static space to life. Visitors will have the opportunity to connect to increased representation and issues relevant to today, as well as though they have stepped back in time, immersed in late 19th-century Newark.

Under the leadership of Director and CEO Linda C. Harrison, The Newark Museum of Art has launched an era of transformation to create an engaged citizenry by reimagining the role of the art museum for the 21st century. This ethos is pervasive throughout The Ballantine House’s new emphasis on visitor-centric interactivity and accessibility.

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