Toys - action figures, stuffed animals, games - are universal. With their vibrant colors, reflective sheen and associated childhood memories, they present the artist with a wealth of creative fodder, and can represent anything from bubblegum-tinged optimism to dark social commentary.

Margaret McCann, curator of the toy-centric Toylanders exhibition at the Noyes Museum of Art in Galloway Township, and a former Richard Stockton College art professor, visited the museum the evening of Aug. 23 to discuss the exhibit.

Works from the nine artists featured range from ominous, heavily shaded portraits of stuffed animals by Dik Liu to depictions of an uncertain Steve Austin, better known as the Six Million Dollar Man, which expresses artist John Jacobsmeyer's cynicism regarding the military.

"I just like what people were trying to do with toys, that was my favorite thing because they were actually making statements and stuff, with these little toys from our childhood," said Absecon resident and Richard Stockton College student Angie Vitale, who attended the talk.

The talk was part of the Noyes Museum's Art at Night Series, which takes place at the museum between 5 and 8 p.m., after it closes each Thursday night. The series, which offers a variety of programs, has been running since last fall.

Saskia Schmidt, director of education with the Noyes Museum, said the series was started as a way to appeal to art fans in the community who are unable to make it to the museum while it's open.

"It's basically to make our exhibitions more accessible for the public, and it's a little bit friendlier to working people who don't have time the rest of the week to come in," Schmidt said. "Maybe a weeknight is more convenient to them."

More than a dozen people, including a few of McCann's former students at Stockton, attended the talk. McCann, who was a frequent visitor to the museum before she left Stockton to teach at the New York Academy of Art, said she enjoyed giving the hourlong walk-through of the exhibit.

"I thought there would be less people, actually," McCann said. "I think the people were engaged, which was nice, they seemed interested, they were asking questions, they had opinions, so I really thought it was great."

The artist talks, which are held periodically, are among the most popular events on the Art at Night calendar. The next talk will take place Sept. 13 at 6:30 p.m. and will feature Joanie San Chirico, whose work will appear in one of the museum's fall exhibits, Noyes Signature Artists, which goes on display Sept. 7.

Other big draws in the series include canoeing and kayaking on Lily Lake, behind the museum, which will next take place Sept. 6, and a meditation night, which will next take place Oct. 4. The next program, a Free Fishing Derby on Lily Lake, will take place Aug. 30, and Schmidt said she's looking forward to the museum's second annual Chili Cook-Off, which will take place Oct. 11.

Lucy Jerue, who attended McCann's talk and herself gave a talk about Vincent van Gogh as part of the series in June, said she enjoys the series.

"One of the ones I've been to that I thought was memorable was they had a fellow impersonating Walt Whitman, and he had the white beard and the clothes, did some readings, that was pretty good," Jerue said. "I think it's a nice addition to the schedule."

The Noyes Museum also offers programs this fall separate from the Art at Night series, including its 16th annual benefit gala, Feast for the Eyes, which will take place Sept. 22 and feature a silent auction, wine tasting and music by local artists. For a full schedule, see

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