Princeton’s Morven Museum welcomes spring with sale of fine art and crafts

Ever since Morven Museum & Garden opened in 2005, Morven in May has been a beloved annual event, beginning with a garden party and culminating in an heirloom plant sale – all in the magnificent gardens behind the 18th-century building. Several years ago, a fine crafts component was added and has expanded the celebration.

“We’re very excited about this year’s show,” says Morven Director of Development Barbara Webb, the force behind the craft show. Twenty-five fine craft artists from around the country, in media that includes glass, ceramics, decorative and wearable fiber, mixed media, jewelry, furniture and basketry, will be displayed in gallery-style booths in the Grand Tent on the museum’s Great Lawn. The signature event helps fund the museum’s exhibitions, historic gardens, and educational programs.

Among the artists are John Landis, a fine furniture maker from Yardley, Pa. — this will be his second year exhibiting at Morven in May; Kari Lonning, a basket maker from Ridgefield Conn.; Lisa and Scott Cylinder, husband and wife jewelry makers from Oley, Pa; and Deborah Falls, a decorative fiber artist from Hartland, Vt. “Sheila Fernekes of Flemington does amazing beaded jewelry,” says Webb.”We’re also planning five booth talks, three on Saturday and two on Sunday.”

Ellie Wyeth, a fine artist based in Skillman, is a regular at Morven in May, as well as other fine craft shows, and has exhibited in the region since the 1980s. The world she evokes in paintings, notecards, floor cloths and placemats is a storybook world, with such images as a black lab in a wolf costume dancing with a sheep under a full moon. Chickens and foxes, owls and raccoons, come indoors in her paintings. Dogs dance with cats, chickens dance with foxes.

This world is based on the environment in which she lives. Surrounded by Rosie, a dachshund, and Zoe, a Jack Russell Terrier, she watches the birds from her window, thinking up absurdities such as a guinea hen lying on her couch. A woodpecker, cardinal, jay, titmouse and squirrel all find their way indoors.

Even life off the canvas is a storybook. Once married to Logan Fox, owner of Micawber Books, Princeton’s independent bookstore that closed in 2007, Wyeth is the mother of three sons: Sam, 33, an outdoor outfitter in Portland, Ore.; Luke, 31, an art handler at the Guggenheim Museum, as well as a songwriter, based in Brooklyn; and Avery, 27, a film editor, also based in Brooklyn. All three handsome faces have appeared in her paintings.

Nearly a decade ago, Wyeth attended the International School of Painting and Drawing in Umbria, Italy, as a resident, and was invited by the director to work there as an assistant for two months a year. She learned Italian, and continued with that position for five years.

In Italy, Wyeth learned to paint from observation and learned to see. In Hopewell, she is working more from her imagination.

She has kept a dream journal to help with the images. So there are paintings of animals in bed, sleeping — foxes, raccoon, wolves, rabbits. “The wolf is the only one awake, and that’s me,” she says.

In another painting, “Everyone I’ve had to let go of is floating in the sky,” she says. A wolf under the table represents her childhood nightmares.

Birds, too, appear in her interiors. A crow is a protector, a guardian, and has knowledge. Sometimes the birds are only shadows.

”Twilight” comes after the animals have gone to bed; it’s late at night, the covers are askew, and a striped tail comes out from under the covers. A wolf is peering out from under the bed, and the night sky through the window beckons.

Raised in what she describes as a “skinny Victorian house with shutters” in Katonah, N.Y., Wyeth is a distant relative of painter Andrew Wyeth. Her father was a senior editor at Harper & Row and her mother taught art. “We had a lot of writers around growing up and we visited them when traveling.”

After boarding school, Wyeth spent a year in Paris, then moved to New York to study art. Her goal was to be an illustrator for The New Yorker – she did in fact illustrate a story by John McPhee for the magazine — and she worked part time while taking classes through the Art Students League, Parsons School of Design and the School of Visual Arts. Heroes included Edward Gorey, Maurice Sendak, George Booth and Charles Addams, but she very much sought her own individual style.

Logan Fox had been Wyeth’s childhood sweetheart – the parents were good friends before the children were born. The couple moved to Princeton in 1981 to open Micawber Books on Nassau Street. Wyeth has lived in her home in Skillman since 1984 in a house she inherited from an aunt.

At Morven in May, Wyeth will offer prints from her paintings, notecards, and floorcloths in all shapes and sizes. Subjects include squid and crab, fish and chickens, dogs and cats, chard, kohlrabi, collards, bok choy, radicchio, birds and flowers. There is whimsy and the unexpected.

“Be careful what you wish for,” says Wyeth, who has been so busy fulfilling the demands of her customers, producing work to replace all that she’s sold, and keeping up with commissions.

Morven in May: A Celebration of Art, Craft and Gardentakes place Saturday, May 3, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., and Sunday, May 4, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Morven will offer for sale a distinct collection of heirloom plants for the garden.. Admission to the art tent: $10, $8 for Friends of Morven. The plant sale is free and open to the public. Morven Museum & Garden, 55 Stockton Street, Princeton, NJ.

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The Artful Blogger is written by Ilene Dube and offers a look inside the art world of the greater Princeton area. Ilene Dube is an award-winning arts writer and editor, as well as an artist, curator and activist for the arts.

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