Hackensack Dreaming: Big & Small

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

Nancy Cohen’s Hackensack Dreaming has transformed our gallery space into an immersive experience evoking the complex wetlands of the Hackensack River.  One of my favorite parts of this installation is how it is big and small at the same time.  I feel enveloped in the space, and at the same time there are seemingly infinite details to discover the longer I look – in a similar way to being in nature itself.

There are upwards of 120 individual pieces in Cohen’s installation, all handmade glass and paper.  I asked a few staff and students of the Schuylkill Center to tell me about their favorite piece, and why it speaks to them.  Don’t miss the installation, on view until December 19th, and tell us about your favorite.


Anna Lehr Mueser, Public Relations Manager
I love this piece because each time I approach it it’s become something new.  Because it hangs, it rotates slowly, showing me perspectives.  When I first saw it the profile was boney, spine-like, rising from the ethereal blue surrounding it.  The next time I looked, I was peering into a pale cavern within it.

Donna and Mike

Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director
Walking through Hackensack Dreaming, my eyes keep coming back to one of the organically shaped  structures, one of the many jellyfish-like pieces that are actually not jellyfish, but inspired by ice forming on the marsh in winter.  What catches my eye is its deep cobalt blue color unique among all the shapes in the installation, and one of my favorite colors all time.  The cracks and lines in the shape give it the appearance of a turtle dragging itself slowly across the meadowlands.  Who doesn’t love a turtle, especially a deep blue one?

Donna Struck, Director of Finance & Administration
My favorite piece is a beautiful shiny, corally blue piece that is magical to look at.  (It’s on the right side as you enter the gallery, on the floor.)  It is my favorite because it caught my eye and held it with its beauty and shine.  It almost looks like sunlight is reflecting off of it.  The whole exhibit speaks to me because I love the ocean so much and while I know it’s not an ocean being represented, the blues and objects remind me of such.  Or perhaps it’s my overall love of water.


Elisabeth Zafiris, Manager of Public Programs
This is an almost overwhelming exhibition. The different stimulants grab at you upon entering. I spent my time in the gallery walking slowly, taking everything in. Or so I thought. It wasn’t until I reached one of the last objects that my attention was fully on the object itself. It made me question what I was looking at. Are those spoons? Trash? It’s something that was once something else, that much is for sure. This attention to detail,  intricacy, and demand for closer looking echoes what I love about being in nature. It gives you pause, slows you down, a focuses your attention. It’s a sensory experience.


Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art
While the suspended objects and forms on the floor immerse the viewer in the space, the large paper drawing on the back wall takes the eye away into the horizon.  Looking deceptively like paint, carefully placed paper pulp on handmade paper has an incredibly rich texture, and the rich red color stands out starkly among the bluegreengray of most of the rest of the space.  Shimmering portions evoke for me light in the landscape that might reflect off of water or human infrastructure, contrasting with the organic forms.


Rebecca Dhondt, Nature Preschool Lead Teacher
When I look at the show there is so much to see and process. One thing, however, really stayed with me after I left the gallery.  I just kept picturing the tiny spots of blue that were on the black paper next to the larger lakes of paper pulp. These little spheres were obviously splashed there when the ocean was being created.   Some might even say these dots were a mistake, but imperfections are what make things real.  Nature is not perfect, and neither is the best art.

Nature Preschool

The Sassafrass Preschool Classroom made a visit to the gallery.

“These look like fairy flowers. Look, they are floating!”

“I like the mushrooms on the walls because they remind me of mushrooms outside.”

“I like those hanging things… they are like butterflies!”

“I like the hanging things too!  They are like flying palaces… for, like, a good community”

“It’s so beautiful!” (several times)