Monumental task

Look where this priceless piece of Newark history turned up.


A long-abandoned monument by sculptor Gutzon Borglum, known as the “First Landing Party of the Founders of Newark,” landed in a new home on the grounds of NJPAC – and what a party it was.


The unveiling took place on December 19 following a packed reception in the Parsonnet Room, hosted by Newark Celebration 350 (NC350) and the Arts Center, and attended by donors, community leaders, city officials and fans of New Jersey’s largest city. A drumline from the Weequahic High School marching band led the procession outdoors to the grassy area formerly known as the Symphony Lawn and now rechristened the Landing Lawn.


It was a remarkable journey that brought the bas-relief sculpture back within view of the Passaic River, where the story began in 1666 with the arrival of city founder Robert Treat and his band of Puritans. The commemorative marker was the idea of Newark’s 250th anniversary organizers in 1916 and they commissioned Borglum, the country’s superstar sculptor, to do the job – before he began work on a project called Mount Rushmore.


NC350, the planners behind the city’s 2016 jubilee, took up the mantle of their predecessors by funding the repair and dedication of the monument as a Legacy Project to survive beyond the year-long celebration. When the proposed restoration project was championed by NC350 and its Chair, Junius Williams, supporters stepped up, such as Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr., Newark City Council President Mildred Crump, Victoria Foundation Executive Officer Irene Cooper-Basch, and a host of major Newark corporations. About $50,000 was raised.


What remains somewhat of a mystery was how Borglum’s artwork disappeared from its original base near McCarter Highway sometime during the construction of the Newark Light Rail in the early aughts, only to resurface, scarred and cracked, in a parking lot off Central Avenue more than a decade later. Its protective tarp was in shreds, the wooden pallet where it rested was waterlogged and crippled by the statue’s 17,000 pounds of Tennessee pink marble.


A piece of public art outfitted with piping for a fountain, it was rediscovered after some sleuthing by historic landmark preservationists, notably Liz Del Tufo, and Star-Ledger columnist Barry Carter. Monument makers Burns Bros. Inc. had it hauled to its Jersey City workshop, where artisan Andre Iwanczyk began reconstruction in August. In the meantime, a 15,000-pound base would be installed in front of NJPAC’s evergreen arbor near the light rail station.


“Robert Treat isn’t facing the Passaic River anymore,” said NJPAC President and CEO John Schreiber, adding that this is one of four statues created by Borglum for the city. “But he faces Military Park and a new, reinvigorated downtown. We were honored and proud to provide an attractive, peaceful setting for this important work.”


The façade depicts Treat and a fellow Puritan overlooking a stream. On the back are inscribed the names of the 64 men from the Connecticut towns of Milford and Branford known as Newark’s founders. A narrative chiseled into the stone describes an encounter with the Hackensack Indians and a real estate transaction with Perro, a Native American leader who was paid the “equivalent of $750 in goods.”  


In addition to the dedication, members of NC350 recapped other Legacy Projects, which included the planting of 350 trees throughout the city and the establishment of an $85,000 Newark Student College Success Fund. NC350 funded more than 200 programs during the city’s semiseptcentennial year.


“Newark is better and greater for people who may not live here, but love here,” Crump said.


Dec. 20, 2016