Written by Joe Scotchie Friday, 19 March 2010 00:00
Twenty years ago, Constance Schwartz was working as a consultant for the Nassau County Museum of Art, which then was being administered by the county’s Office of Cultural Development.
In 1992, she became director of the museum, itself now a private institution. During that time, Ms. Schwartz presided over the remarkable growth of the museum, giving Long Island a cultural oasis to rival similar establishments in New York City.
Ms. Schwartz is stepping down as director, where she will now hold the title of Director Emeritus. Recently, she spoke with The Roslyn News, recalling how she envisioned and then followed through with the growth of the museum.
“We wanted to establish the idea that this was a unique place, a major resource with 145 acres,” she said of the former Frick Estate, which in 1965, was purchased by the county as a home for a museum of art.
Such a landscape separates the museum from other such institutions. One of Ms. Schwartz’s first acts was to create a sculpture park on museum grounds. Today, museum grounds are home to an attractive sculpture garden. More than 50 sculptures are sited on the property to interact with the natural environment. They include works by Lichtenstein, Otterness, Calder, Botero, Tom Otterness, Rodin, Chaim Gross, Smith, Nagare, Barnett Newman, Richard Serra, Manolo Valdes and others. Part of the museum’s restoration has also included a museum house, a garden, and eight miles of hiking trails.
Utilizing the grounds had made the museum more than a place that shows great art. It has been used for numerous children’s events and family festivals. The grounds also serve to complement certain exhibits. A most memorable example was the popular Mort Kunstler Civil War exhibit. That took place several years ago when Civil War reenactments were at their peak. And so, museum goers were treated to a similar reenactment on the museum grounds, one that included not just a mock battle, but also re-enactors going through their daily routines, such as cooking and keeping warm in the exact same manner as they would have on a battlefield in the 1860s.
Another memorable event took place after the 9-11 terrorist attack. Prior to that tragic day, the museum had scheduled a family festival. Ms. Schwartz recalled that people called the museum, asking that the festival be cancelled. After deliberating on the sensitive request, the museum board decided to go ahead with the festival. And so, it turned into a celebration of Americana with a huge mural for schoolchildren to draw and paint and write patriotic slogans and pictures.
All this represents another key element of the museum. Not just exhibits and outdoor events, the museum has become a major educational center on Long Island. In all, the museum attracts upwards of 30,000 children every year.
“We want to make the museum a place for parents and teachers to take young people to learn [about art].” Towards that end, Ms. Schwartz established the Tee Ridder Museum, eventually making it a more children-oriented place, now called The Art Space for Children.
Art for the Public
In the past decades, the museum has been host to more than 70 original exhibits, including the hugely successful one, exhibiting the works of the beloved American artist, Norman Rockwell.
Ms. Schwartz said the key to having so many first-rate shows was having museum personnel finance and organize the exhibits, while at the same time developing a roster of collectors and museum dealers from all around the country.
“We wanted to bring works by mainstream artists to Long Island, something that had never been done before,” Ms. Schwartz said. “That’s what people want to see.”
In addition to the Rockwell exhibit, that has included such successful exhibits as The Revolutionary War, January 2000; The Hamptons Since Pollock, April 2000; Napoleon And His Age, January 2001; Window on the West, February 2002; The World of Theodore Roosevelt, November 2002; The WPA Era, August 2004; Picasso, February 2005; The American Spirit: Paintings by Mort Künstler, August 2006; Picasso and the School of Paris, November 2006; and Napoleon and Eugenie, June 2009.
Even though Ms. Schwartz is no longer the museum’s director, she is still involved with its future plans, such as more building expansion. “Everything continues to grow upon a solid foundation,” she said.