What’s Hidden Inside NJ Museums’ Permanent Collections

Explore the fascinating finds in NJ museums' permanent collections and try out their interactive areas.

The grandiose Tibetan Buddhist altar at the Newark Museum of Art.
The Newark Museum of Art's Asian collection houses a Tibetan Buddhist altar. Photo courtesy of Mike Peters/Newark Museum of Art

New Jersey’s museums offer a treasure trove of hidden gems.

Visiting one of the state’s larger, more well-known institutions? Be sure to explore the fascinating finds in their permanent collections, from the Newark Museum of Art’s extraordinary Tibetan Buddhist altar to the Morris Museum’s massive collection of mechanical musical instruments and automata.

Several museums also feature great interactive areas for kids and adults alike. Invent, explore the universe, meet some animals and, above all, learn something new while having fun.

Newark Museum of Art

This venerable institution rebranded itself in 2019 to remind New Jersey of its world-class art collection. Good call. The museum’s global galleries house African art (including a meticulously carved wooden headdress from Nigeria), Native American art (Lakota beadwork; Inuit boots and parkas) and Egyptian and Mediterranean antiquities. The third floor is dedicated to the museum’s extraordinary Asian collection, including a Tibetan Buddhist altar consecrated by the Dalai Lama in 1990. New Jersey artists are well-represented in the American collections, which include portraiture by the likes of Gilbert Stuart, folk art, gorgeous landscapes (such as Jasper Cropsey’s 1864 panorama of Greenwood Lake), and 20th-century works by the likes of Edward Hopper and Georgia O’Keefe. Notable newer acquisitions include “The Warmth of Other Sons,” a vibrant, large-scale quilt by West Orange artist Bisa Butler, depicting early 20th-century black migration. (Note: The adjoining Ballantine House is closed for renovations until spring 2023.) —Ken Schlager
49 Washington Street, Newark; 973-596-6550

Montclair Art Museum

This museum has been operating since 1914, and is one of the country’s first museums to primarily collect American art and study Native American art. Gifts from prominent Montclair residents jumpstarted the museum’s collection. Today, the George Inness Gallery is among the museum’s staples. Visitors can see the 19th-century landscape artist’s paintings, watercolors, an etching, brushes and paint palette. A Montclair resident from 1885-1894, Innes frequently painted his late-life surroundings. —Gary Phillips
3 South Mountain Avenue, Montclair; 973-746-5555

Morris Museum

Children at Spark!Lab at the Morris Museum.

Children get hands-on fun and learning at the Morris Museum’s newly opened Spark!Lab. Photo courtesy of William Hauser Photography/Morris Museum

Education has long been a mission of this Smithsonian affiliate, and here, it’s fun and interactive—from the dinosaur-fossil collection in the Earth Science Gallery (where you can touch a real dinosaur egg), to the expansive Murtogh D. Guinness Collection of mechanical musical instruments and automata (where you can play music). A terrific addition this fall was the Spark!Lab, an interactive children’s room geared toward inventing and project-based discovery. Volunteers work and play right alongside the kids, encouraging them and fostering a love of learning. Another can’t-miss stop at the museum? The mega model-train gallery, an impressive, 288-square-foot landscape that features interactive buttons for patrons to make portions of the exhibition move and light up. —Julie Gordon
6 Normandy Heights Road, Morristown; 973-971-3700

New Jersey State Museum

Located in the historic area of the state’s capital, treasures here include fine arts (12,000-plus paintings, prints and sculptures), natural-history objects (more than 2 million prehistoric and historic specimens), as well as local gems like Trenton-made pottery and Civil War memorabilia from New Jersey regiments. A 140-seat planetarium offers an 8K viewing experience and monthly sky-talk videos on the website. Museum classes include art history, archaeology and more. —Deborah P. Carter
205 W. State Street, Trenton; 609-292-6464 

Liberty Science Center

On the banks of the Hudson is this colossal, 300,00-square-foot learning center filled with interactive exhibits. It wouldn’t be a trip to Liberty Science Center without a stop at the 80-foot, pitch-black Touch Tunnel, which visitors crawl through, or the Our Hudson Home exhibition, which features real fish, turtles and other residents of the nearby Hudson River. Do not miss the 89-foot, full-dome view of the sky at the Jennifer Chalsty Planetarium, the country’s largest. —Olivia Beach
222 Jersey City Boulevard, Jersey City; 201-200-1000

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