Johnson Park Renovation

Cooper Branch Library at Johnson Park
Camden, New Jersey

Local inventor and philanthropist Eldridge R. Johnson, founder of the Victor Talking Machine Company, donated the Neo-Classical Cooper Library and the surrounding Johnson Park to the city of Camden. Built between 1914 and 1930, the park occupies an entire block near Camden's waterfront. When it opened in 1918, the site became Southern New Jersey's foremost cultural center. Today, the library houses the Walt Whitman Cultural Arts Center and is owned by Rutgers University.

Eldridge Johnson commissioned D'Ascenzo Studios of Philadelphia to design and produce the magnificent frieze at the Library and the beautiful stained glass window, the “Nipper" window, in the RCA-Victor building in Camden, New Jersey. It took two years to complete the work.

The Mosaic Frieze at Cooper Branch Library
Cooper Branch Library
This beautiful artwork, situated at the entrance to the Cooper Branch Library, was designed by the D'Ascenzo Studios of Philadelphia in 1916t. (Barnum, 1991)

The frieze, "America Receiving the Gifts of Nations," is made of over 100,000 pieces of richly colored American opalescent glass, all carefully selected with reference to their particular place in the design.

The frieze extends clear across the front of the building for a distance of seventy feet. There are thirty-six figures; twenty-nine of these advance from right and left presenting gifts to "America," who sits enthroned in the center. On America's left stands her son, Opportunity, while on her right is her daughter, Equality. Kneeling at the feet of America are two native Americans.

Alongside of Opportunity stand the Cavaliers, with the figure of Christopher Columbus in the background. A little to the fore is a long procession of well-known figures from Western Civilization. First, in this group is Greece who typifies classical architecture by holding a model temple in her hand. Rome is next in line carrying the standard and fasces, symbols of authority and governmental administration. The moral law is represented by Moses bearing in his hands the tablets of the Ten Commandments. Arabia advances with an abacus, thus symbolizes higher mathematics. Raphael with his famous painting "The Sistine Madonna," and Michelangelo remind us of painting, sculpture, and architecture of the Italian Renaissance. In the right wing of the frieze three figures from the humanities appear: Shakespeare, Longfellow, and Palestrina.

Standing besides Equality, America's daughter, is William Penn with a group of Quakers. This group typifies religious freedom which is one of the foundations of our country. George Washington stands in the background.

On the right side of America is a procession from the Orient. The first gift is a ceramic bowl from Japan. Persia offers textiles, Babylonia, from the cradle of civilization, brings basic principles of construction. India is the last figure from the East.

England is represented by the figure of Tyndale bearing in his hands a copy of his translation of the Bible. From German comes the Gutenberg Printing Press.

Moliere, the French master of comedy, along with our own Walt Whitman, who is a representative of democratic thought, and Dante brings epic poetry to the left wing of the frieze.

The mosaic frieze which undoubtedly ranks as one of the notable art productions of recent years is the work of the D'Ascenzo Studios of Philadelphia whose guiding spirit is Nicola D'Ascenzo. Over two years were consumed in the making of these large group of life-size figures.

Text adapted from:
"The Mosaic Frieze at Cooper Branch Library," Scrapbook of Camden City and Suburbs (mid-twentieth century). Camden County Historical Society [unpublished collections]. Call Number CQ1ASCR, p. 120.

The Mosaic Frieze at Cooper Branch Library
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Picture of America with columns
"America" Receiving Gifts
Presents from Asia Presents from Europe poets
Gifts from Asia
Gifts from Europe

Daniel Coelho Deppen, age 12 (Lisbon, Portugal)

Johnson Park plan
The Johnson Park Rehabilitation Project is financed by the Camden Redevelopment Agency, the Economic Recovery Board for Camden (ERB), and the State of New Jersey Green Acres Program. The Cooper's Ferry Development Association and Rutgers University are overseeing the project.

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