‘Designer Days’ and ‘Changing Jersey City’ at the Museum

On a rainy Saturday afternoon in Jersey City one might wonder what to do. Extend brunch well into dinnertime? Stay home and catch up on missed episodes of your favorite shows on Hulu? Venture out into the rain to get going on the Christmas shopping you’ve neglected to start?

Sure. Yes. Those are all good options, but this past Saturday there was a better option, and one that, I’m afraid, not as many of us took advantage of as we should have — “Designer Days: Handmade for the Holidays” at the Jersey City Museum.

The atrium section of the museum was transformed into a veritable shopping mall of gift ideas — all local, green and artsy — from members of the Jersey City Craft Mafia and _gaia. There was a wide assortment of jewelry, clothing, hats, ornaments and original artwork on sale, all expressing the diversity and vivacity of our little city.

And if that wasn’t enough, I had the chance to attend a lecture by Leon Yost and Cynthia Harris in which they showed slides and commentary from their new book Changing Jersey City, A History in Photographs. The slideshow took the audience on a tour through long-forgotten rooms in the old Jersey City Medical Center, on a ride on the old elevated train, to the locations of the oldest public schools in JC and face to face with many of the people that made our city what it is today. (Unfortunately, I missed our mayor’s musical performance of holiday tunes — but you can’t win ‘em all.)

The overwhelming impression I had as I walked back home through the rain to my apartment is that there is so much here in Jersey City that many of us don’t know a thing about. There’s the history which some great writers and historians are doing their best to make us aware of, from Bob Leach to Yost and Harris to James T. Fisher, an author I’ll be profiling here in a couple of weeks.

But in addition to the history, there’s an entire present that too many of Jersey City’s residents know too little about. There are events like “Designer Days” going on all over the city, there are artists and craftspeople, musicians and writers, theater groups and scholars doing work here that is worthy of so much more attention than they receive, due, in no small part, to our proximity to our overbearing big brother.

But the good news is we can remedy this. Check the calendar here at JCI for the latest on events, read the daily News Roundups and Best Bets, read the other local media, and get involved in what is going on in our city.

In her presentation, Harris showed pictures of well dressed young people sitting around a checkers board at one of the city’s many athletic clubs of yesteryear. She noted that in lieu of anything better to do, this is how our historical counterparts passed the time. And she showed a picture, and explained the use of, a dance card.

But we don’t need checkerboards and dance cards; there’s so much going on, all we need is to be a part of it all.

a writer and educator living in Jersey City with his wife Stephanie, a painter. He teaches composition at New Jersey City University and works as a Writing Center Specialist at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken. He is the managing editor of Patrol.