Memorial Garden

adapted from Monmouth University Magazine • SUMMER 2000

    Renowned interior designer Albert Hadley once said, “The curious eye is what is really most important...a need to delve into all sorts of moods and modes of possibilities. There has to be an enthusiasm for such an investigation. You must maintain a lively curiosity, an openness to the unexpected.”

     Artist Lois Blonder’s openness and willingness to embrace the unexpected will live in the memories of her husband and children. To them she was an individual of an all-encompassing curiosity, fascinated and delighted and moved by everything around her. Before her sudden death last March from an aneurysm, Blonder reveled daily in her personal world of objets d’art. “For her, her collections were as much an artistic statement as her own artworks,” said her son, Greg Blonder, of Summit, a physicist and partner of AT&T Ventures in Basking Ridge. “She collected teapots, Japanese netsuki, kitchen implements, paintings, whatever. Every weekend, Dad and she would go ‘junking.’ She’d find things and say, ‘That’s a good artist,’ and do research on each thing. She bought as an artist, with an artist’s sensibility, not as a collector per se. Everything had a little ping here and there, and she loved these interesting, wonderful pieces that had their own stories.”

iron curtain

      She was quite an exuberant story herself. A professional artist for 55 years, Blonder received a bachelor’s degree in art from Monmouth University and went on to earn a master’s of art from Montclair State University. Her attachment to Monmouth and the region began when she was a non-traditional student. A Newark native, her move to Marlboro 20 years ago allowed her to become deeply involved in the local art scene. She was associated with the Monmouth County Art Alliance and was an active member of the Monmouth Reform Temple in Tinton Falls, which is now in its 30th year of producing the annual Monmouth Festival of the Arts. From the festival’s inception, Blonder was an exhibiting artist, demonstrator of watercolor technique, co-chair, and frequently, a show designer. She won more than 50 awards for her work, which is included in public and private collections.

     In addition, she served as a docent at the Newark Museum. “My mother wanted a piece of Newark before she moved to Marlboro,” said Greg, who was educated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. “So she found a gargoyle salvaged from the old Prudential building in Newark. Although she had started collecting for indoors—brasses and bronzes—the gargoyle suddenly started an outdoor collection—you can’t just have one gargoyle all by itself, of course. After that, she acquired objets-trouves sculptures, iron gates, a cardboard skeleton of a dinosaur that she had reproduced in steel, and a sculpture garden emerged.” His mother, he said, was so full of life; someone who lived dramatically, and left as dramatically.

     As a tribute to her flair, Greg, his father, Isaac, and his sister, Terry Golson, decided to donate the sculpture garden to Monmouth University, to be placed upon the patch of living land near the 800 Gallery and the arts building. The donation is much to the delight of the university, said Vincent DiMattio, chairman of the art department. “The Blonder family has been terrific, and they’re doing a lot for Monmouth University,” DiMattio said. “There will be a plaque to honor Lois at the magnificent front-gate entrance, one of three entrances to the garden. Also, there will be piece-markers, a birdhouse, benches, and wonderful pieces by Lois and other artists. She was one of the best students I ever had. We had a show of her work recently at the 800 Gallery in her memory. The garden is being placed on land that hadn’t been well used before, and the whole landscape, staying close to the vision Lois had originally, will be lovely and significant on campus.

      “When I was growing up, my mother was going to the university,” said Terry Golson, an accomplished author of cookbooks who lives with her husband and three sons in Carlisle, MA. “When I was shown a photograph of the Monmouth University site for the garden, I recognized the building. I used to go there with her when I was ten years old and work on artwork, ceramics. And I remember the figure-drawing classes with the naked model. My mother loved a clever, creative idea. She continued to take courses her entire life. She had a great intellectual curiosity and loved to place things in a social context. For example, each of her teapots was not only visually interesting, but said something about its time, its history.

     “She researched everything, even her jewelry. She made a lot of jewelry, too, from found objects from flea markets. For a petite woman, she wore big jewelry, and she could tell you where each bead or piece of material came from. She was beautiful, vivacious, elegant—as elegant as one could be wearing outrageous jewelry!”

    Her chutzpah comes through in the sculpture garden. There’s a great deal of humor and presence there, the cow sculptures, the gargoyle, the 1930s Art Deco iron gates that were the entrance to our spectacular garden. There are also mature flowering shrubs, bulbs, ground cover and extraordinary trees along winding paths, benches and a fountain. “My mother had vowed to replace every blade of grass at the house in Marlboro with exotic plants,” Terry said. “Virtually the whole garden went to the university this March. Greg and I worked with Rose Young, a landscape designer here in Carlisle, to coordinate the ‘transplant.’ We had the iron gates refinished as well.”

     Lois’ greatest fear, Terry added, was that nobody else would love the things she loved, so she would no doubt appreciate having the garden in a place where others would have the benefit of it and make use of it. “She didn’t think anything was too precious to be used,” said Terry. “We’re infinitely pleased that Monmouth University has accepted this gift and taken on the maintenance of it, for which we’re going to endow a fund. I wish I lived closer so I could make use of the garden myself, but just knowing it’s there is good.”

     Isaac Blonder, married to Lois for 45 years, agreed to the “reprise” of the garden, as he put it, especially because “she was a remarkable individual, and this is her life.” “If I transfer her to the school mentally,” said Ike, as he prefers to be known, after his favorite U.S. president, “to be with people like Vincent DiMattio with whom she associated, it’s a memorial like the Statue of Liberty is a memorial as a ‘person’ who welcomes others.” Mr. Blonder is former chairman of Blonder Tongue Laboratories, a manufacturer of electronics and systems equipment of the cable television industry. He founded the firm with his partner, Ben Tongue, in 1950, during television’s infancy. Based upon their inventions (Blonder holds 40 patents), amplifiers, the firm took off and developed into a formidable component of the boom in the private cable industry. In 1989, at the time of sale, Blonder Tongue was posting $10 million in sales. An electrical engineer and businessman, Blonder was also considered an American expert in international standards for cable and TV and represented the United States at international standard meetings all over the world. He received his bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Connecticut and his master’s in physics from Cornell Univerity in 1940. He developed his skills and inventions, and to this day he remains involved with high technology through Stevens Institute of Technology, Monmouth University’s Junior Science Symposium and his own active family and community life.

jim Gary dinosaur

     A grandfather of five boys, Blonder doesn’t hesitate to tell witty stories about his past experiences or praise his grandsons. He said he and Lois had a great life together and traveled the globe. “As a child, I lived under the Puritan philosophy that it was a sin not to work, and it was a sin to enjoy anything,” Ike said. “In addition to that, my mother, a remarkable lady, told me that all women are perfect and must be obeyed. I followed her dictates, and they won!” He did manage to overrule the tenet about not enjoying anything, thank heaven, and tells of going on expeditions to find the Loch Ness monster, his adventures as a radar officer in World War II, and his enthusiasm for collecting any instrument made to project film. He and Lois were obviously a great match. Their children would agree.

     “My favorite memory of my mother is that she always managed while having a family to practice her art,” said Greg. “For years, the kitchen doubled as a studio. Pot roast smelled like turpentine; the lasagna would be on the counter- cooked in the same pyrex dish that hours earlier held acid and a etching plate- and there was always a painting drying in the corner. She tried oils, watercolors, lithography, sculpture. In her last 15 years, her work took on a Nevelson-like style, with egg-crate boxes, and some were strange, such as hundreds of kewpie dolls, some with their heads cut off, etc., to make a pro-choice statement. Some of the pieces were hard for me to look at. Generally, kids don’t believe their parents are human, and art by one’s parent can fall into that category. But she was an artist and a curator. She had an uncanny sense of how to arrange things. To her, placement was extremely important.”

     Greg recounted conversations he and Terry had with their mother about which pieces each of them could have after she was gone. “It eventually became a joke,” said Greg. “And she’d say, ‘You can have them all—it’s your problem.’ She didn’t want to impair her joy of collecting.”

Lois Blonder Memorial Garden sign

      Riggers have transported the components of the Lois Blonder memorial sculpture garden to Monmouth University, all of which have deep personal meaning to the Blonder family. The university’s donation of the land and labor augmented their pleasure, in light of the fact that Ike always encouraged Lois to go to school. Her coursework may be over, but her legacy has just begun.



  Copyright  Lois Blonder
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