Staten Island Museum (officially the Staten Island Institute of Arts & Sciences) is Staten Island’s oldest cultural institution, and the only remaining general interest museum in New York City. Founded in 1881 by fourteen of New York City’s first “environmental activists”, the Staten Island Museum houses artifacts and specimens from ancient to contemporary periods. This “mini-Smithsonian” is rich with arts, natural sciences and local history.
The museum’s holdings are formally organized into three main collections: Natural Sciences, Fine Art and History Archives & Library. The natural science collections encompass over 500,000 botanical, biological, anthropological and mineral specimens including bird nests and eggs, mounted animals, fossils, shells, and a significant collection of insects, including important type of specimens.
Based upon a 19th-century model, the art collection includes works spanning prehistory to the modern period, with representations of diverse World cultures from both the Western and Non-Western traditions. The historical collections include a library, maps and atlases, early films, audio recordings, photographs, historical objects, ephemera and archival documents reaching back to the 17th century.
The Museum’s art collection ranges from ancient Egyptian sculpture, to Renaissance paintings, to 19th century Hudson River School landscapes of Staten Island and New York Harbor, to 21st century abstract art, photography and new media. It is the only museum actively collecting works by contemporary Staten Island artists.
Its collections include American landscape paintings, Old Master prints, historic costume pieces and costume accessories, African sculpture and masks, Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities, Japanese prints, Pre-Columbian ceramics, ancient and modern Native American artifacts, English and American silver, and both Western and Non-Western objects of vertu, for example collections of Chinese snuff bottles, carved smoking pipes, and pocket watches, the bequests of local benefactor-collectors. It has a group of Samuel H. Kress Italian Renaissance paintings, and several complementary small 19th century Renaissance-revival bronzes.
There are important 19th-20th century paintings featuring Staten Island and New York Harbor, fine 19th and 20th century portraits, and works by prominent local contemporary artists. Examples of traditional representational art in the Staten Island Museum’s permanent collection include prints by Rembrandt, Goya, Piranesi and Audubon, paintings by Cropsey, Moran, Alma-Tadema, Giovanni di Paolo and Pordenone, sculpture by Hiram Powers and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. There are Japanese prints by Hiroshige, Hokusai, Utamaro and Kunisada.
The Modern Art collection includes works by John Sloane, Guy Pene du Bois, George Bellows, Chagall, Leger, Maillol, Andy Warhol, Philip Pearlstein, Isabel Bishop, Peter Max, Donald Judd and the folk artist Clementine Hunter. Over 150 women artists are represented in the Staten Island Museum’s holdings.
The Museum houses a 130-year comprehensive record of the changing biodiversity of the New York metro area, fully documented with specimens, including specimens of birds and mammals, a collection of fish, amphibians and reptiles preserved in alcohol, 500,000 mounted insects, and 25,000 plants preserved in the herbarium.