State of the Arts: December 2019
Martha Graham Dance Company performs Appalachian Spring and a new dance inspired by Copland’s score at Peak Performances. Dreaming of Utopia: Roosevelt, NJ at Morven Museum & Garden explores how a farm and factory cooperative became a haven for artists. Thousands at the Morristown Festival of Books hear from best-selling authors. And photographer Phil Buehler explores the death of mall culture.
Narrator: PEAK Performances celebrates the 75th anniversary
of the iconic American classic, "Appalachian Spring."
Woman: They created a work that distills so much
of the American conversation, who we are as a country.
Narrator: The Morristown Festival of Books.
Woman: Today was beyond expectations.
We had the biggest crowds we have ever had.
Narrator: Phil Buehler documents the end of an era
with photographs of an abandoned mall in Wayne Hills.
Man: Malls killed main streets,
now Amazon is killing the mall.
Narrator: And Morven Museum explores the history of
Roosevelt, New Jersey,
from a planned community for garment workers,
to a haven for artists, writers, and musicians.
"State of the Arts,"
on location with New Jersey's most creative people.
Announcer: The New Jersey State Council on the Arts,
encouraging excellence and public engagement
in the arts since 1966,
is proud to co-produce "State of the Arts"
with Stockton University:
New Jersey's distinctive university.
Additional support is provided
by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation,
and these friends of "State of the Arts."
Woman: The funny thing about Roosevelt is that
if you blink, you miss it.
Narrator: Located deep in Monmouth County,
there's more to the small town of Roosevelt, New Jersey,
than you would think.
To begin with, there's those strange flat-top houses,
but more about that later.
First called Jersey Homesteads,
it was a planned community built during the Great Depression,
where people could both live and work.
Woman: It was founded as a cooperative
for Jewish garment workers
where they would work in their factory
that they owned, farm land that they owned,
and then operate a cooperative store.
And the idea was that they would pull Jewish garment workers
out of crowded city tenements, and they could work and breathe
in the fresh air of Monmouth County, New Jersey.
Then when FDR died, the town renamed itself
Roosevelt in his honor.
Narrator: That was in 1945.
But in 1939, the planned cooperative had failed,
and the government had sold off the houses.
And about those houses,
their aesthetic was deeply influenced
by the minimalist Bauhaus style,
favored by the architect Alfred Kastner,
and his assistant, the now revered Louis Khan.
Woman: This was one of his first projects,
and in fact, it's one of his least known projects.
Some of the people put on peaked roofs and added on,
but there are still some houses
that you can see that have really been retained.
Narrator: One of the first houses sold off
after the co-op failed,
was to the artists Ben and Bernarda Bryson Shahn.
They came to Jersey Homesteads to paint a mural
in what became the school,
and they liked what they found --
both the arty international style of the houses,
and the progressive community.
More artists followed.
The Morven Museum's exhibition, "Dreaming of Utopia,"
tells the story of how Roosevelt came to be,
and showcases work by the generations of artists
who've called it home.
I myself grew up in Monmouth County,
and knew almost nothing about Roosevelt,
so I was completely intrigued to learn more about it.
Our guest curator, Ilene Dube, was our connection to Roosevelt.
She did a lot of initial contacts
to Rooseveltians, connecting us with living artists,
descendants of artists of Roosevelt.
Dube: Can you tell me what's going on in this photo?
Man: Well, this was the dedication of what I believe
was the very first
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
in the United States,
which was this sculpted head by Jonathan Shahn.
Sara: Who was apparently 23 years old at the time.
Paul: Johnny is here in the photograph.
-And Johnny is there. -His father was Ben Shahn,
who was a very well-known artist.
Here, we have Eleanor Roosevelt.
Dube: Who made this photograph?
Paul: This would have been a Sol photograph, wouldn't it?
Sara: This is a Sol photo.
Sol being Sol Libsohn, my father.
Narrator: Sarah's dad Sol Libsohn
was a documentary photographer.
He was a founder of the Photo League
and part of the famous "Family of Man" exhibition.
Paul's dad Gregorio Prestopino known as Presto,
was a well known social realist painter.
For Sara, Paul and their friends,
Roosevelt was an idyllic,
maybe even a utopian place to grow up.
Sara: I'm not completely sure that this is actually Roosevelt,
but be that as it may, this is --
Paul: It's a bunch of Roosevelt kids.
Sara: It's all of us. It's Abby Shahn,
I believe this is Carla Appel, who's Ben Appel's daughter.
This is me, Sara Libsohn, and that's Susie Shahn.
So the only one missing is Johnny.
But since this is all girls, Susie and Abby
and I used to play in the woods right next to the Shahn house
and we had this whole imaginary family thing going on
and we would just yell
and we would just run around in the woods here.
It was great. It was wonderful.
Paul: People would, you know --
kids would go to their friend's houses
and just walk in.
You didn't knock on doors.
You mostly called your parents
and your friends parents by their names, not --
-First names. -"Mom," "Dad," "Mr." and "Mrs."
Sara: I remember trying to describe this very thing
to friends in college, and it sounded unusual to them.
I couldn't figure out -- "What? That's the way you grew up."
Narrator: Even today, children in Roosevelt go to school
in a building where works by some pretty famous local artists
cover the walls.
Classes gather under the fresco mural
painted in the 1930s by Ben and Bernarda Bryson Shahn.
It tells the story of how their town came to be,
from the immigrants who were the first settlers,
to the progressive ideals of its founders.
At Morven, a reproduction of the mural is on display,
as well as the school's original aluminum doors
created by Otto Wester.
Dube: The doors, like the mural, depict the history of the town
with field workers and factory workers.
Narrator: After the exhibit,
the doors will be returned to the school
where they're part of a permanent collection of art.
Visitors can take a tour of the town
that makes a stop at the school and at the cemetery.
Here, artists from the first generation are buried,
many with descendants now part of Roosevelt's second
and even third generation of artists.
Dube: I made a short film,
"Generations of Artists in Roosevelt, New Jersey,"
because I was just fascinated by the fact
that subsequent generations of artists
were continuing to this day.
Man: I think I was a year and a half old or something like that,
1939 they came here -- end of '39 I believe.
Dube: It started with Ben and Bernarda Shahn
and their son, Jonathan Shahn,
Gregorio Prestopino's son,
Paul Prestopino is a musician who's played
with Peter, Paul and Mary.
Edwin and Louise Rosskam, their daughter,
Ani Rosskam remains in the town with her husband,
Bill Leech, and they're both artists.
Woman: It was a portrayal of a Roosevelt party,
not necessarily what was going on in my house,
but there were very wild parties at that time.
It was the '60s and '70s,
and, you know, it was a very exciting,
Narrator: In the 1980s,
the Roosevelt Arts Project was formed.
The exhibition includes flyers created over the years
by Jonathan Shahn.
It's still going strong today,
connecting artists, musicians and writers.
Dube: The artists are very visible
because of the Roosevelt arts Project
and everything it does to keep that history alive
and to keep the arts moving forward --
continuing the artistic legacy that is Roosevelt.
Paul: And that's the whole tune.
Narrator: Later in the show, the end of the mall era
remembered in photos and music,
but first an homage to "Appalachian Spring."
In 1944, the choreographer and dancer Martha Graham
premiered the now-iconic "Appalachian Spring"
at the Library of Congress.
She had asked the American composer,
Aaron Copland to write the score.
He won the Pulitzer prize
and their collaboration made history.
Woman: Jed Wheeler at PEAK Performances
and I were attracted to the idea of celebrating
the 75th anniversary of "Appalachian Spring"
by commissioning something completely new,
but that would be a companion piece
that would relate in some way to the 20th century classic.
Narrator: After a performance of "Appalachian Spring,"
with the original set pieces by Noguchi,
the Martha Graham Dance Company
performed the new dance created by composer
Augusta Read Thomas
and choreographer Troy Schumacher.
It was commissioned by PEAK Performances
at Montclair State University.
The music for both works was performed live
by the renowned International Contemporary Ensemble.
Eilber: "Appalachian Spring" is iconic
because the artists were determined
to represent American optimism,
hope for the future.
This was 1942, '43,
it was during the difficult days of World War II.
Because both of these artists -- Aaron Copeland and Martha Graham
were modernists that new American artistic revolution
to simplify things and say things
in a very stripped-down, non-decorative way.
They created a work that distills so much
of the American conversation,
who we are as a country, into these eight characters
and this beautiful, simple American score.
Narrator: Janet Eilber, now the artistic director
of the Martha Graham Dance Company,
work directly with the famed choreographer
as one of her principal dancers in the 1970s.
Eilber: Martha Graham revolutionized dance
in the 1930s and if anybody asks you,
what exactly did Martha Graham do?
You can say, she took natural gesture,
the things that we do unconsciously
when we're sad, or when we're happy, euphoric, stressed,
and she took those gestures
and those ways that we embody how we feel
and turned them into a dance language.
Narrator: PEAK Performances and Jed Wheeler
gave choreographer Troy Schumacher,
and composer Augusta Read Thomas,
the task of creating an homage to "Appalachian Spring."
The result is a work called "The Auditions."
Man: Going into this, we had -- you know, I had really no idea
what they were expecting this ballet to look like.
It was kind of both scary and really freeing,
and I could just go in there and I felt very comfortable
using my impulses.
Narrator: Troy Schumacher is a soloist
with the New York City Ballet.
He's also the founder and director
of Ballet Collective in New York,
and has become one of his generation's
most acclaimed choreographers.
Thomas: Several years ago Jedediah Wheeler emailed me
and said he was really interested
in possibly working together
and was there anything that would interest me to do?
and I wrote back instantly saying, "Thank you,
thank you, thank you -- dance.
I would love to write for dance."
And he wrote back right away and said, "Got it."
Narrator: Augusta Read Thomas is a Grammy-winning composer
based in Chicago.
Her music has been commissioned
and performed by orchestras and soloists around the world.
A couple of years ago, in fact,
she was the most widely performed living composer
Schumacher: The composer and I, Augusta,
we spent a lot of time watching new and old videos
of "Appalachian Spring,"
and we just kind of, like, digested that all.
One moment that really kind of stood out to me
is somewhat heartbreaking in "Appalachian Spring" is,
there's this moment where the husband walks
to the downstage left corner of the stage
and he's just standing at this fence,
kind of, like, looking out, like, as to,
like, "What's next? Where do I go next?"
It's that, you know, insatiable human experience.
And that's both inspiring and depressing.
About, like, why are we always trying to be pioneers?
Why are we always trying to find what's next?
Thomas: So the concept that Troy and I developed for our piece,
which is called "The Auditions,"
is a piece that exists in a way in two planes.
There's some other sphere, whether it's a spiritual place
or religious place, an interior space.
It could be really read differently
by different members of the audience.
But there's some other space.
And the people on Earth,
so to speak, are auditioning to get up to that other space.
And that's why it's called "The Auditions."
So on the one hand, it's a very serious piece.
We're talking about questing.
On the other hand, it's quite humorous
because down on Earth you have all these dancers
that are competing with each other and dancing hard
and virtuosically to win the slot
to go up to this other space.
Eilber: All the collaborators for this production
are extraordinary -- of course, it's Aaron Copeland
and Martha Graham and Troy Schumacher
and Augusta Read Thomas,
but also accompanying us,
the International Contemporary Ensemble,
ICE, is an extraordinary collaboration.
So you'll hear the classic "Appalachian Spring" score,
and this world premiere score by Gusty
performed by some of the top musicians in the world
along with the top dancers in the world,
the Martha Graham Dance Company.
Narrator: Later in the show, the end of the mall era.
But first a place to meet your favorite authors in Morristown.
Hellstrom: Today was beyond expectations.
We had the biggest crowds we have ever had
and they are engaged, they are passionate,
and the authors are thrilled with our audience.
Murray: You can meet the author and see him or her in person
and get a sense of their overall personality.
For me then the words they write have more special meaning.
Narrator: The most striking thing about
the Morristown Festival of Books
is the sheer variety of authors and subjects included.
There's something for any reader of any age.
Hellstrom: We have Pulitzer Prize winners
orNew York Times chart toppers.
Bensley: And to have some of the best authors on Earth come here
is a great, great asset.
Hellstrom: Festival opens on a Friday night
with a keynote speaker.
We had John Kerry last year.
We had Preet Bharara -- and he sold out.
We have had Sebastian Junger, that's our ticketed event.
And with that we usually are giving out their book.
And then on Saturday
we have five different venues on the main street of town,
and you can walk from venue to venue to venue,
and it's all free.
Narrator: Meg Cabot talked about her recent novel
as well as her popular ongoing series for young adults,
"The Princess Diaries."
Cabot: My latest book is called "No Judgments."
It's a book for adult readers,
and it's about a hurricane
that hits a small tropical island in Florida
and the people who don't evacuate.
So this is a kid's event and I'm going to be talking
about a kid series that I'm doing called,
"From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess,"
and it's about princesses in middle school.
Are any of you familiar with Princess Leia from "Star Wars?"
Good job. Okay.
I loved Princess Leia from the movie "Star Wars."
That was the original "Star Wars."
Some of you might not be aware of it.
Narrator: The architecture critic Paul Goldberger
filled the house with his talk about American baseball parks.
Goldberger: ...the nature of baseball
than if you make that kind of change you,
yes, you are helping the offense,
but you're helping the other team's offense
as well as your own, so...
Narrator: Whitney Scharer and Marie Benedict
both write historical fiction about extraordinary women.
Woman: That thing that I had researched,
I could sort of draw a straight line
to the thing that I have happening in the novel.
I mean, obviously, that's just my perspective, certainly,
but I felt very comfortable and confident
in what I had fictionalized that it was true
to who those characters were.
Narrator: Rick Atkinson
captivated a standing-room-only audience with
a fascinating discussion
about his Pulitzer Prize winning book
about the Revolutionary War.
Atkinson: This was the first but hardly
the last American invasion of a foreign land
on the pretext of bettering life
for the invaded.
Irish. Irish. -Irish?
Atkinson: Honey Roscoe.
Narrator: And National Book Award Winner Ibram X. Kendi
came to the festival with his recent bestseller,
"How To Be an Antiracist."
Kendi: They're racist policies and their anti-racist policies.
There's no such thing as a race-neutral policy
and there was no such thing as a not-racist person
except the person who is in denial about their own racism.
Woman: You have an incredible town of readers here,
and book clubs -- oh, my gosh!
Woman: So many book clubs, such fantastic questions
from the audience- -Really insightful.
Woman: I felt like everybody was really engaged.
Hellstrom: We hit a cord that unleashed something
and then this desire for a community in conversation.
So that's our mission really.
Narrator: For our last story, a photographer reflects
on the rise and fall of mall culture.
-♪ Sat in an abandoned luncheonette ♪
Man: This current show is about a dead mall.
40 years, 45 years I've been photographing abandoned places.
Trying to figure out what they mean,
what happened when it was alive.
New York city doesn't have any ruins anymore,
they all got developed;
and New Jersey always has them.
-♪ Madman drummers bummers and Indians in the summer ♪
♪ With a teenage diplomat
♪ In the dumps with the mumps
Buehler: For this show I focused on Wayne Hills Mall,
which is in, you know, northwest New Jersey.
It was a small mall, a T-shaped mall.
It started closing in 2007 when different stores
started going bankrupt.
In 2014 it closed permanently.
And then they started demolition earlier this year.
Malls killed main streets; now Amazon is killing the mall.
I grew up in New Milford in Bergen County,
within five miles of four different malls.
And as a kid in high school,
you couldn't wait till you get a driver's license.
This mall happened to be built in 1973
which is when I started my senior in high school.
I just got my driver's license.
And where were you going to go? You're going to go to the mall.
And that's where you'd hope to meet girls
and you'd go to Sam Goody and you'd go to Waldenbooks
and look at books and magazines,
and it's kind of where you hung out.
It's funny that era, 'cause they really skyrocketed
in the '70s and '80s, just took off,
and they become part of pop culture.
So you had, like, "Fast Times At Ridgemont High."
-♪ They don't know where they're want to go ♪
♪ But their walking in time
♪ They got the beat, they got the beat ♪
♪ They got the beat
Buehler: "Day of the Dead" was a zombie movie in a mall.
Woman: What are they doing? What did they come here?
Man: Kind of instinct, memory, what they used to do.
This was an important place in their lives.
Buehler: Then "Stranger Things" last season
took place in a mall.
Boy: ...spending romantic time with my girlfriend.
Buehler: They reproduced the mall perfectly.
That era of, I don't know, it seems innocent now.
And here's one of the ghost signs on top
where it's like you can barely Payless ShoeSource.
Photo Center 2000, I love this.
This closed early because they were still selling film.
Man: Well, I think the Sam Goody one is one that appeals
to a lot of people.
And there wasn't a Sam Goody in the mall where I grew up,
but there was a store just like it,
in all the mall throughout the country.
They might not be exactly the same store
but there's a store that has black light posters
and there's a store that has greeting cards
and a store that has luggage,
and they're all kind of the same.
So looking at these photos,
it's really easy to identify them
with the particular mall that was around in our youths.
Buehler: Every mall's got, like,
some stellar architectural feature.
When you walk through the mall, it's not that, you know --
you walk into this big open space
and then this is the ceiling.
So to take this photograph,
I laid on my back on the ice in the water,
just shot a super-high-resolution photo
with, like, a few hundred images,
just -- [ Imitating shutter clicking ]
And then the computer will stitch it all together --
it's a super fine resolution.
There's actual windows around surrounded by fake green plants,
plastic plants that are still alive in the mall
because it's all plastic.
And a lot of the ceiling tiles are falling
but they're ceiling tiles mimicking a sky.
Well, I wanted to anchor this --
give people a place to anchor the experience of a mall,
because we all have different experiences,
and I thought music, 1973, would be the perfect thing,
because music brings back so many memories.
It's kind of like a lot of emotional content.
And just hearing the song.
I basically put together the top hundred albums of 1973 on vinyl.
So they're here in the gallery.
And then you're welcome to take one out
and put it on this record player,
this old vintage record player.
that was my wife's record player --
this Orange Peel record player from 1972.
-♪ Trapped in an abandoned luncheonette ♪
Buehler: Dig deep into archives and newspaper archives.
What happened there?
I'll talk to people that used to be there.
I just feel like I'm one step ahead of the wrecking ball.
There's something in one of these places.
It outlived its usefulness in some way.
And then it's going to be gone.
And then when it's gone, nobody will remember anything.
And that's the way I approach my work, wherever I go,
I try to find something...
you know, some value, something honorable,
something important that was there happening,
that's going to be erased.
I almost use the photographs to seduce people into a story
that's more important than the image itself.
-♪ Busy in the back
♪ His hands covered with gravy
Narrator: That's it for "State of the Arts" this time.
Visit us online to share a story you've seen
or leave us a comment about the show.
Thanks for watching.
Announcer: The New Jersey State Council On The Arts,
encouraging excellence and public engagement
in the arts since 1966,
is proud to co-produce "State of the Arts"
with Stockton University,
New Jersey's distinctive university.
Additional support is provided
by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation
and these friends of "State of the Arts."