Free art park in Clifton NJ appeals to families


CLIFTON – Many residents who visit the town’s municipal complex are aware of part of its history: that its charming buildings were converted from the barns and outbuildings of an American animal quarantine station that once occupied the site .

But few know the history of the sculptures that make the 26 acres surrounding City Hall look like an open-air art installation.

They’ve been there since at least 1999, the brainchild of art lover dentist Jerry Raphael, who worked with the city’s beautification committee to create the park and later with the creators of the center. city ​​art.

The park plays an important role, said Mike Bertelli, who took over from Raphael 15 years ago as park curator.

“It’s a good thing to offer in such a diverse city,” said Bertelli.

Raphael initially brought in around 14 works and oversaw their acquisition and placement until the park merged with the Clifton Arts Center in 2006. (The center occupies two of the historic quarantine barns connected by a modern atrium.)

The story continues under the gallery

The eclectic collection now boasts 32 sculptures, in materials ranging from stone to steel and aluminum.

Some were requested by the city or by Bertelli, who carves himself, and others came after a sculptor requested a place.

“Artists love to see their works on display,” Bertelli said, “and there aren’t many public places to exhibit it.”

The works he selects are approved by a committee, which determines whether the work is suitable.

Bertelli himself has several figures in the park, including “Eagle Alights”, located in front of Town Hall on a rock base.

Perhaps the best-known sculptor pictured in the park is the late Reuben Kadish, who was both a classmate and friend of Jackson Pollock. Kadish has several works in the park, including “Spartacus”, which is less abstract than some of his other works.

The Clifton Sculpture Park is one of the few of its kind in New Jersey. This fits with Kadish’s credo for exhibiting his works.

“It is my wish and direction that my works of art be preserved, exhibited and distributed to reach the widest possible audience and not be sold or exploited in any way for the private gain of an individual. “Kadish wrote in his will.

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These works on loan from the Reuben Kadish Foundation, like many other works, can be taken back at any time.

When the park was created, the work had to be reversed every two years. “It doesn’t happen,” said Bertelli, in part because it can be difficult to place them. “We do not have money.”

Bertelli has attracted artists like Richard Pitts, whose works can be found in many public collections and outdoor installations. Bertelli went to get two of Pitts’ coins and got them, one called “Minos” and another called “Conestoga”.

Most recently, Bertelli helped Hawthorne artist Elaine Lorenz place “Windswept Separator” in the nearest section of Colfax Avenue.

The arts center of the municipal complex is named after the former mayor Gloria Kolodziej. For residents like Joe Kolodziej, a former city councilor, the park and arts center, while pleasant, do not match the ideals his mother and Raphael envisioned.

Photo of "Conestoga" Created by Richard Pitts displayed at the Clifton Municipal Complex on Wednesday, December 22, 2021.

They had wanted to keep a sculptor in residence to produce art and work directly with the townspeople. But they had enough trouble persuading the city to insure the works of art against vandalism.

“It has to be pretty far down the priority list,” Kolodziej said.

Still, the sculpture garden is a rarity as a municipal art park – a living outdoor gallery where “people can take a healthy stroll through the 26 acres of property that combine nature and art,” the centre’s website says.

The park is free and open from dawn to dusk.

Matt Fagan is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @fagan_nj


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