Domestic Arts Building

Hamilton, New Jersey | C.1920

Photo Credit: Olivia Gillingham

In the heyday of Americana, fairs ruled the roost as entertainment venues enjoyed by both small town folk and city dwellers. From country gatherings to major World’s Fairs, these venues brought arts, food, spectacle, and new inventions for fair-goers to marvel. In New Jersey, the Domestic Arts Building was one of the first New Jersey State Fairground buildings and housed exhibits of handicrafts and arts related to the home.

Fairs in New Jersey date back to 1745 when King George II granted a royal charter for Trenton Township to host events to buy and sell livestock. The tradition continued, and by the late 19th century, New Jersey businessmen sought to establish an annual fair with a permanent location and racetrack. The Inter-State Fair Association would be established, and during its first year in 1888, entertainment included a shooting match with Annie Oakley, and horsemanship & lassoing by Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show.

Nearly a century later, sculptor and philanthropist Seward Johnson entered the scene. The New Jersey State Fair had ended in 1980 and Mr. Johnson – grandson of the co-founder of Johnson & Johnson – dreamed of creating a public sculpture garden & museum. With his sights set on the New Jersey State Fairgrounds, he transformed the 35-acre property into the Grounds for Sculpture, a park that makes contemporary sculpture accessible to all. The Domestic Arts Building is located in the heart of the Grounds.

The property opened in 1992 with nearly 300 works by renowned local and international artists. Today, the historic buildings on site, and the sculptures that pepper their property can be explored among the walkable landscapes. And after housing art exhibits for decades, the Domestic Art Building itself has become part of one of the most impressive exhibits honoring contemporary art.

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