Sunday, April 18, 2010
The Temporary Museum of Vaseline in Perth Amboy
Temporary Museum of Vaseline in Perth Amboy (2009-Ongoing)
The possibility of such a museum emerged as a happy by-product of ongoing research for the Chadwicks. We had been studying the Amboys with the hopes of locating lost portraits of Chadwick family members produced in the New Jersey town by one of the first American artists, John Watson 1685-1763—also the first keeper of an American museum.
Though the portraits are still lost, we have during an archaeological cave exploration in the Amboys discovered a series of Chadwick family artifacts preserved in a substance very similar to Vaseline—a product that was not produced commercially in Perth Amboy (or anywhere else) until the late nineteenth century.
Was it possible that a naturally occurring Vaseline spring preceded industrial production of the lubricant? More research funding was needed.
To achieve this end we have sought the involvement of several cultural institutions crucial to the history of the Amboys, especially Chesebrough (the manufactures of Vaseline) and the Guggenheim family, which established its first commercial plant—for copper smelting—in the Amboys in the 1890s.
As our research progressed, we became stuck on a number of enigmatic coincidences: the linked origins in the Amboys of American painting, American museums, the Guggenheim empire, and the gooey medium popularized by several prominent Guggenheim artists. These strands of American culture were simply too interwoven to be untangled or smoothed over.
And so Blachly and I propose the Temporary Museum of Vaseline in Perth Amboy as a way to explore their interrelations, while also bringing attention to the region’s unique history in preparation for a more permanent institution such as Guggenheim, The Amboys—an edifice probably still some years in the future.