The Hudson County Chapter of the Native Plant Society of New Jersey ishosting a holiday party to promote an art exhibit about the Sixth Street Enbankment in Jersey City. The exhibit opened with a reception on Saturday, November 5, and is on display until Friday, December 16, with closing receptions scheduled for that day too.
The party will take place at New Jersey City University’s (NJCU) Harold B. Lemmerman Gallery at Hepburn Hall in Room 323. The party on Friday, December 2 will run from 6 to 9 p.m. at the gallery located at 2039 Kennedy Boulevard.
There will be a poetry reading featuring newly-dubbed Jersey City Poet Laureate Ann Wallace, who collaborated with the Hudson County Chapter of the NPSNJ to host Saturday Morning Poetry. In addition to readings from Wallace, there will be an open mic call for poets who write about nature and the environment beginning around 7:30 p.m.
‘Embankment on My Mind’
The party is taking place at the gallery because it is currently hosting an exhibit entitled “Enbankment on My Mind.” The exhibition is taking place not only at Lemmerman Gallery, but at the Visual Arts Gallery at NJCU as well, located at 100 Culver Avenue. Hours for both galleries are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and by appointment.
The art exhibit is in conjunction with the Embankment Preservation Coalition. Kim Correro, a Co-leader of the Hudson County Chapter of the NPSNJ with Dawn Giambalvo and Lorraine Freeney, said that the party aims to support the work that the Embankment Coalition is doing, and to support art. She said that part of the Hudson County Chapter of the NPSNJ is bringing the humanities into the environmental work that they do, such as with the “Saturday Morning Poetry” series with Wallace which she said opened the door to this collaboration with the Embankment Preservation Coalition, NJCU, and local artists and poets.
Maureen Crowley, Coordinator of the non-profit Embankment Preservation Coalition, said the idea came from their work preserving the Sixth Street Embankment. The embankment is part of the former elevated Harsimus Branch, an old Pensylvania Rail Road freight line that went to the Port of New York. Crowley said the organization have been fighting to preserve the embankment for decades.
“We’ve been working for something like 24 years now to preserve the Harsimus Branch rail corridor through Jersey City,” Crowley said. “We’re doing that for open space, possible future light rail, alternative transportation that saves carbon going into the atmosphere, and for the plants that have been growing on the embankment for the last 40 years since train traffic slowed and then ended. We’re really happy that the Native Plant Society is supporting our work. It’s really wonderful to expand our outreach this way.”
Katy Lyness is an artist and a co-organizer of the exhibit alongside Crowley. She said she has stood behind the Embankment Preservation Coalition and what they do for years.
“I’ve been a support of the Embankment Preservation Coalition, mostly financially over the years, and then I also have a connection to botanical illustrators,” Lyness said. “It occurred to me one day when I was walking by the embankment that I could use my connections to the botanical art world in service of promoting awareness of the embankment issues. And also to document the flora and the fauna of the embankment.”
Botanical artists and local artists come together
Lyness’s initial idea was to have the exhibit be a florilegium, featuring portraits of paintings of each native plant to a local ecosystem painted by local artists. She approached Crowley with the idea, who loved it and suggested they procure a grant from the county.
“I pitched the idea to a group that I’m part of, the Tri-State Botanical Artists, and they were really excited about it because a lot of botanical artists are also environmentally conscious, because they look at plants and they’re interested in that. They were really excited to be a part of the project, so I was able to get 16 artists that completed the project.”
However, that required local artists, and since Lyness’ botanical artist friends, from the group the Tri-State Botanical Artists, were from out-of-county. So it shifted from a florilegium to an art exhibit that also included local multi-media artists from Hudson County.
“It morphed into what we got, and that’s why part of the exhibition is botanical artists, and part of the exhibition is of the multimedia artists that are from Hudson County,” Lyness said. “So I still want to do a florilegium, but maybe in a couple years.”
Midori Yoshimoto, the Director of NJCU Galleries, said she was on board after they approached her with the exhibit idea. Yoshimoto said that Crowley and her husband Peter Delman presented the exhibition proposal to her for NJCU to host. She agreed and curated the exhibit with Delman, while Crowley and Lyness organized the exhibit.
“They did a lot of the initial selection of artists and I suggested additional artists to add,” Yoshimoto said. “So the total number of artists is 43. The visual artists are contributing their original work, which was inspired by the embankment and what it evokes. I was really taken by the theme and the environmental issues that it raises, so I was really happy and excited to host it. Then the grants came through, so here we are.”
Yoshimoto said that this was also a learning experience for her, as she is now acquainted with the local NPSNJ and other environmental-based organizations like Jersey City Birds. Meanwhile, a nature photograph of Correro’s was part of the exhibit, making it a true crossover for all involved.
“I became interested in connecting the local organizations through this exhibit,” Yoshimoto said. “As a result, Kim participated as an artist in the exhibit, contributing a photograph of a migrating monarch butterfly that she photographed near the embankment. Then Kim organized this event and invited Ann Wallace, an esteemed professor and poet to the event. So this is all connected.”
Embankment to be preserved through redevelopment plan
Crowley said that the exhibit couldn’t have been more important giving the timing. Before the interview, on the evening of Monday, November 28, the Jersey City City Council approved the Sixth Street Embankment redevelopment plan which calls for one six-story building on Block 7, but overall preserves the embankment and envisions it as an elevated park, with space left for a light rail or other transportation stop. However, ongoing litigation and other federal approvals prevent full implementation at the moment.
“The Sixth Street Embankment Redevelopment Plan, unlike most redevelopment plans, focuses on the plant life there and not on the buildings that will go up,” Crowley said. “I went back over the botanical art… and it was very interesting because there are six or seven native plants in the exhibit. Then the rest are either animals who depend on these plants, or some that are called invasive plants. I think we’ve helped start a conversation in Hudson County about the virtues of plants, whether they’re native or invasive. So I think that’s a great thing that’s happening with this group of people.
Correro said the goal of the NPSNJ’s holiday party is to not only promote the organization, but also the exhibit about the Sixth Street Embankment as well as the Embankment Preservation Coalition.
“This is an opportunity for our membership to come together,” Correro said. “Midori presented the idea of brining the Native Plant Society into the space, and the timing just lined up perfectly for a holiday event to get people to see the botanical art and to hear some poetry. Part of what the Native Plant Society has done over the last six months is really developed that poetry series that we have on Instagram. It advocates for native plants and observing nature and the environment and taking care of our small green spaces that we have left in such an industrial area.”
Wallace said that naturally the event incorporated poetry, considering the overlap between the arts and nature and especially following the success of the weekly series with the Hudson County Chapter of NPSNJ. Correro had the idea of incorporating poetry and an open mic night into the party, and Wallace was on board to do a reading.
“It’s not the whole event, it’s still a holiday party,” Wallace said. “We want people to have time to look at the art, talk about the art, start having those conversations about the Native Plant Society, the embankment exhibition, and then think about the poetry as well. When all those pieces are put together, I think it’s a really rich and exciting thing.”
Poetry readings and open mic night
Wallace said the 30-minute poetry readings will include her reading her own work, Theta Pavis, a Jersey City poet who took part in the NPSNJ’s series, and anyone else who signs up for the open mic. As long as it is about nature, all are welcome to sign up.
“We’re opening it up for other people who choose to who write about nature or the environment,” Wallace said. “The beauty about the poetry reading is that, and I think this is true of the embankment exhibit as well, is that not everybody who participates is always working solely on nature or native plants or the environment… In poetry, people have many themes that they write about or explore, but nature shows up in the most unusual and exciting ways in peoples’ work… It sparks some really interesting conversations about how we see the world around us and how we find metaphors in the world that we are in. The full environment that we are in the midst of inspires us and shapes our way of thinking again and again. So I don’t know who will show up for the poetry reading, that’s the beauty of an open mic night. It’s unpredictable, but that’s exciting to me to see how will nature work its way into the poetry that people will share.”
Correro underscored that the public event is free and everyone is encouraged to attend. She wants residents from across the county and beyond to see firsthand what the embankment has to offer and the art exhibit it has inspired, as well as the activists who worked for decades to preserve it. In addition, Correro wants people to get familiar with the NPSNJ. They have many projects across the county, not only in Jersey City but also in towns like Secaucus, that anyone can get involved with.
The Hudson County Chapter of the NPSNJ and the Embankment Preservation Coalition also discussed collaborating in the future. The local NPSNJ already is involved with community gardens and children as P.S. 17 and P.S. 5, and the Embankment Preservation Coalition has held botanical art walks where children sketch the plants at the embankment. Together they want to hold more of these events they consider pivotal to spreading their message, having highlighted the importance of city children being in touch with local nature as opposed to going elsewhere to experience it.
Learn more at upcoming events
Since the opening receptions at both galleries, “Embankment on My Mind” held a panel discussion on Tuesday, November 22. The event, held at Hepburn Hall at NJCU, was entitled “The Embankment on My Mind: Bridging Science and Art,” and is followed by the NPSNJ holiday part on Friday, December 2. There will be JC Fridays extended hours for the galleries that day, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Then on Friday, December 16, the closing reception will be held at both galleries from 4 to 6 p.m.
For more information on the Sixth Street Embankment and the Embankment Coalition, go to embankment.org.
For more information on the “Embankment on My Mind” art exhibit, go to embankment.org/embankment-on-my-mind.html.
For more information on NJCU Galleries, go to njcu.edu/community/center-arts/galleries.
For more information on the Hudson County Chapter of the NPSNJ, go to npsnj.org/chapters/hudson-county.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.