Featured Interview with Nike Bach on Preserving Leonia’s Art Heritage – May 2019
In this feature, Leonia Arts is pleased to highlight an Arts Organization, Preserving Leonia’s Art Heritage (PLAH). As it completes its 10th year, PLAH is in need of new volunteers to champion the restoration, preservation, and exhibition of historical works of art in our schools, and to add to the collection.
Leonia Arts interviewed a founding member of the organization, Nike Bach, to get a better understanding of the work PLAH does, how it all started, and how to keep it going.
How did you get involved with restoring the school district’s quality art collection?
I had three impetuses for getting involved with PLAH:
1) I helped hang, for many years, former ACS art teacher, Nola Sher’s, Spring Art show. As she had many student works of art to display I became aware of the school’s physical space – including those items hanging on its walls.
2) I knew Carol Karels, former borough historian and Board of Education publicist. Carol had spearheaded the district’s art restoration efforts by finding an art restorer who was willing, without charge, to repair three of the district’s largest pieces of art. They were damaged due to errant balls because they had hung in the ACS multi-purpose room, used both as an auditorium and as a gym. I knew the largest piece, Charles Chapman’s “South America” was re-installed in the LMS Choral room. The other two, Howard McCormick murals, were placed in an electrical room, at ACS, for safe keeping until a suitable location could be found.
3) My natural inclination for not wasting what we (the district) had. It seemed a shame to have two vibrant and well regarded historical murals relegated to a storage area and forgotten about. Ultimately, that’s what got me involved – to get the McCormicks out of storage.
How did PLAH come to be?
In 2006, former Schools Superintendent, Bernie Josefsberg, asked Leonia Arts to help the district more fully understand and appreciate the 45 pieces of art the district owned and had identified in its 2003 art appraisal. A small committee was formed. I joined afterwards, ultimately heading what we came to name Preserving Leonia’s Art Heritage in 2008.
Was it hard to find people to help with the art restoration?
Former Leonia Arts President, Kathy Pecht, was on the initial committee and has remained involved. Kathy was helpful in reaching out to many talented volunteers, including:
– Jim Leynse, a professional photographer who took photos of the collection. These photos have been compiled into an electronic inventory and have been uploaded and displayed on the district web site: www.leoniaschools.org.
– Tina Castiblanco, a fine artist who researched the artists and their work toward the creation of plaques now installed next to their art. Tina also restored some art without charge.
– Pauline Pellegrino, a graphic artist who created a PLAH poster we sold and created flyers to publicize our events.
– Isabel Salinas an art restorer who purchased, with grant funds, polycarbonate to protect the two McCormick murals (from flying gym balls) and re-installed them in their original location on either side of the ACS stage.
– Julie Arslanoglu, who briefly lived in Leonia and who works as an Associate Research Scientist in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Dept of Scientific Research. Julie surveyed 26 paintings, drawings, and prints in the collection. She identified six in serious condition and others in need of hanging hardware and restoration to remove surface grime. Julie helped us understand the quality of our art collection and how unusual it was for a school district to have such a collection.
Do you think there is enough awareness in Leonia of these fine art works in our schools?
There is, as of 2009, the LMS Rotunda/Atrium area that serves as a beautiful place to display this art. In 2012, space was established to display art at ACS in the main Entrance Hallway. All art has explanatory plaques next to it providing information about the artist and the work. The district art collection is accessible on the school web site, BUT, SO MUCH more could be done. Students and staff walk by. The community doesn’t get into the schools.
What could be done to increase appreciation for the collection?
The art could be incorporated into the school curriculum whether it be instruction into artistic techniques, conservation methods, artist’s livelihoods, historical or literary connections, to name a few.
Many more events to expose the school and community to the art could be organized. Many of the art pieces are based on historical or literary stories, artists led interesting lives, and the field of conservation or conducting a conservation demonstration all would make for interesting programs.
In broader terms, the borough’s history as an “art colony” and its continued artistic identity could be promoted and emphasized on the borough web site and in information materials. Leonia Arts helps that effort. In addition, tours of former artists homes might be of interest as well as seeing current artists at work in their Leonia homes.
If you had a magic wand which piece that is still in need of work would you restore and why?
Most people who have donated toward our conservation efforts have felt something toward the piece in which they donated. I personally have an attraction to Chapman’s “Riverton Mill.” It has a sizeable hole in it which is likely to make its restoration costly. It has not been displayed in years. The piece I’m sure many will want to restore is Chapman’s “Map of Leonia’s English Neighborhood”. It is a map of Leonia in 1865. The paper on which it was painted is extremely fragile. Repair will be costly, but if we all work together there is no limit to what can get done.
What would you like to see happen to PLAH in the future?
I would hope that new volunteers will join the committee. Committee members could be parents in the schools. Others might have an interest in art, art history, or in Leonia’s art heritage and exposing the community to it. Others might be interested in fundraising. I think it will be important to have at least one member of the committee be an artist. There are still pieces that need restoration. There are new art needs to fill and events to plan. In addition, there are opportunities for student independent study that, in addition to benefiting students, will also further the committee’s efforts to preserve, protect, bring awareness of, and exhibit the school’s art collection.
To get involved with Preserving Leonia’s Art Heritage, or if you have questions, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org (see flyer below)
To view Leonia Public Schools art collection, please visit leoniaschools.org
Donations toward art restoration efforts are welcomed – please contact Diane Paino at the Board of Ed, 201-302-5223 / Paino@leoniaschools.org and reference Preserving Leonia’s Art Heritage