Four decades ago, the annual Atlantic City Boardwalk Art Show wielded a lot of influence over Edward Cornell, a 16-year-old trying to decide what to do with his life as an adult.
Cornell won best of category for his most abstract painting, which was called non-objective art. He received money, a trophy and a ribbon in 1969.
"It literally really set my focus for my creative life. It put my foot on the right step at the right time," said Cornell, 60. "I thought I was doing pretty good stuff, but when your peers say you are doing some pretty good stuff that is an incredible shot in the arm in terms of confidence. It put the stamp of validation on the work I was doing. It set me on the right path to be very powerful about how I approached art from then on."
For the first time in 13 years, the Boardwalk Art Show is returning to the city Saturday.
Cornell and fellow former winning artists, Lance Balderson and Stephen Schneiderman, will be judges for this year's contest. The competition will feature 85 artists vying for a piece of $2,000 in prize money. The honors range from $1,000 for best in show to $100 for the people's choice award, which will be voted on the day of the show.
The Boardwalk Art Show is sponsored by the Atlantic City Arts Commission and the Noyes Museum of Art of Richard Stockton College. It's part of a recent effort to bring the arts back to Atlantic City.
"We are trying to find out are we an arty town because everybody says, 'We have no art. We have no culture. All we have in Atlantic City is the gambling side of Atlantic City. Do you really think the artists are really interested in coming back to Atlantic City,'" said Atlantic City Arts Commissioner Audrey Hart-Anderson. "Well, we will find out after the show."
Back in it's heyday, the art show was important for both the city and the artists who participated in it.
Because of the boost Cornell received from his art show success, he attended the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia and the California Institute of the Arts to earn his bachelor's and master's of fine arts, respectively.
Cornell is now an adjunct professor of video art for the Visual Arts Program at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in Pomona.
The late 1950s saw the beginning of the Boardwalk Arts Show. At its height, the grand-prize winner would receive an European trip. As many as 300 artists participated, and the show attracted artists from all over the East Coast. The show used to be held on Father's Day weekend and routinely brought in thousands of visitors from Pennsylvania, New York and the surrounding states, said Herb Stern, of Longport, a former organizer of the event.
Cornell started painting at age 12. As early as age 13, Cornell participated in juried shows. The first show where Cornell won money - $100 - was sponsored by the now-defunct Boardwalk National Bank. Cornell's late father, famous local water colorist Edward Cornell Sr., and the late executive director of the Atlantic City Arts Center Florence Miller, encouraged the teenage Cornell to participate in the Atlantic City show.
For a period of time, Cindy Mason-Purdie, an administrator at the Atlantic County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs, used to help Miller with the art show.
"It was pretty significant. The event itself was started by the Boardwalk Chamber of Commerce. It was kind of a combined thing with the art center to bring more people to the Boardwalk or to bring more activities to the Boardwalk," Mason-Purdie said.
For about 50 years, Miller was the executive director of the Atlantic City Arts Center, which ran the Boardwalk Art Show.
Miller's time as executive director ended in 1999, when she was 81. A year later, the art show moved off the Boardwalk to the front of the now-defunct Claridge Hotel Casino, Hart-Anderson said. The show also changed from artists selling works they made to vendors working with art they didn't create, Hart-Anderson said.
The show was successful for a couple more years until it went into decline, Hart-Anderson said.
One of things that will help make the revived Boardwalk Art Show continue into the future is more organizations being involved this time around, Hart-Anderson said. Besides the sponsors, the show is presented by organizations that include South Jersey Cultural Alliance, Fung Collaboratives and the Atlantic City Alliance.
Balderson, 72, participated in the art show for the first time in 1963, but was one of the winners for a streak of nine years during the 1980s where he won at least $500 each time. He won the top prize, best in show, one year. Balderson, whose residence and studio is located in the Ocean View section of Dennis Township, has his paintings in the permanent collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Columbia University School of Law.
Participation in any art show is an impressive feat, Balderson said.
"In Atlantic City, you competed with professional people, who had made a living, and amateurs, so if you won a prize, you felt accomplished," Balderson said.
Balderson said his desire to do the art show was fueled by the prize money.
"The thing that stirred my interest was the fact that the prize money was considerably great. It was $1,000 for best in show. They had $400 or $500 purchase awards, or honorary awards. That was primarily because of the casinos," Balderson said. "When I entered the shows in Atlantic City, I didn't worry about selling the paintings. I was only concerned with what the judges would consider, so I tried to be innovative and creative."
When the art show existed previously, the Noyes Museum of Art was not involved, but the Noyes Museum has been working with the Atlantic City Arts Commission to bring it back, said Michael Cagno, executive director of Stockton Noyes Museum of Art.
"It's another layer of bringing the arts to the city for both the community and the tourists. Even more importantly I think, it's an opportunity for all of us organizations, many of which who are part of this committee are small organizations, to work collectively for a common goal," Cagno said. "We, right now, have more than 80 artists (entered in the show). Just by the quantity and quality of the artwork, we already achieved success."
Known as one of today's masters of the multiple-image print, Schneiderman, 76, of Mays Landing, will be one of the people judging the quality of the submitted artwork. As an artist specializing in photography, Schneiderman said he participated in the art show 10 times between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s.
"I always had pictures. As they sold, or when they sold, I would replace them. There wasn't much preparation involved. It was getting them to the Boardwalk and worrying about the weather," said Schneiderman, who hung his photographs from a board that he tied to the Boardwalk railing. "A lot of the time, the wind would have them flapping."
The return of the art show to the Atlantic City Boardwalk is a development Schneiderman is happy to see and help push forward.
"I'm interested in what's going on in the city," said Schneiderman, who has previously served as a judge at the Ocean City Art Center show. "Anytime you are striving to do the best you can because you know other people are going to see your work, you are going to do better."
Contact Vincent Jackson:
Atlantic City Boardwalk Art Show
Held 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday on the Atlantic City Boardwalk between Boardwalk Hall and Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. Rain date is Sept. 8. The revival of the Atlantic City Boardwalk Art Show reception will be held 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday at Dante Hall Theater, 14 N. Mississippi Ave. Tickets are $25 and are available at the door or by calling the Noyes Museum at 609-652-8848.