GLEN RIDGE, NJ — The Glen Ridge Public Library remains closed to the public because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the staff is still finding ways to show off the closed building. A virtual art tour on June 4 highlighted several pieces of the library’s collection in a Zoom presentation. Reference librarian Helen Beckert gave historical background about the pieces hanging in the library, a few of which were of the library’s original benefactor, Henry Stanton Chapman, and his family.
“They underwrote the library building and furniture,” Beckert said about Chapman and his family while showing Chapman’s portrait, painted by Irving Ramsey. “He traveled to many other libraries and wanted the best for Glen Ridge. He especially admired the Newark Public Library.”
According to Beckert, Chapman made his money in celluloid and lived in Glen Ridge until his death in 1926. His estate was on Ridgewood Avenue, where Glen Ridge High School is now located.
A portrait of Chapman’s wife, Emily Minna Chapman, also by Ramsey, was the subject of another part of Beckert’s talk. The portraits were given to the library by a nephew of the Chapmans in 1981; the portraits had previously been hanging at the nephew’s home in Traverse City, Mich. Beckert met the nephew at the time.
“He was very courtly and nice,” she said. “He would come to Glen Ridge after the apples were harvested and stay through the spring.”
The third portrait Beckert talked about shows the library benefactor’s son, Charles Brewster Chapman. Less is known about his life.
“Nothing of his early life has been found,” Beckert said. “He was the one that actually got me interested in the art, because no one knew how he died.”
After doing some research, Beckert said that Charles Chapman, who had moved to Asheville, N.C., and worked in banking, was returning home by train after a tour of the coast. The train stopped in Winnipeg, Canada, and he stayed at a hotel.
“He was found in his bathtub in scalding water,” Beckert said. “He was a portly man, and it’s supposed he couldn’t move around to turn off the water.”
The last piece Beckert discussed was “The Sycamore,” a painting by Frederick Ballard Williams. The artist grew up in Bloomfield and Montclair and, after studying at The Cooper Union school and in Europe, lived in Glen Ridge until his death in 1956.
“He’s best known for his landscapes, and he painted the angels in the Glen Ridge Congregational Church,” Beckert said. “This was loaned to the library from the artist’s grandson, and then it was sold to a doctor in Bloomfield.”
Eventually the painting was sold to someone who lived in Glen Ridge, and it was gifted back to the library.
“This is just a selection of the works that the library has,” Beckert said. “There may be another tour. But I thought it was important to cover these. We’re really fortunate, it’s a unique part of the library for sure.”