Spontaneous Hoboken: Ink Drawings by John Cheney

August 25 - September 29, 2013

Hoboken resident and longtime Macy’s Parade Studio float builder John Cheney loves the challenge of drawing in ink. “Ink won’t allow you to go back and erase – you can accommodate errors, but just like in life, you can’t go back and erase a mistake,” he says.

He often takes a sketchpad and a foam cushion and looks for a perch where he can observe scenes of typical Hoboken life. Using good drawing pens with archival ink, Cheney launches right in to a sketch, with no pencil underdrawing. Unlike other media, such as charcoal or pencil or paint, which require the artist to push the medium around on the paper, “ink is excited to come out of the pen,” because of the way paper pulls ink out of the pen. “I know it’s going to be good if the line tingles as it flows out of the pen,” he adds.

His ink drawings fairly dance with vitality. About a dozen were on display from August 25 – September 29, 2013 in the Museum’s Upper Gallery, in an exhibition titled “Spontaneous Hoboken: Ink Drawings by John Cheney.” The exhibit opened with a free reception at the Museum from 2 – 5 pm on Aug. 25.

Click here to see a virtual gallery of the exhibit.

Cheney has been doing these types of drawings since he was about 20 years old. Like many of his generation, he grabbed a knapsack and left his hometown of Manchester, New Hampshire to travel the world, with a sketchpad and ink pens at hand, learning his craft as he went along. “Many of my drawings are pen-and-ink sketches of my travels to Egypt and France, but many are inspired by my adopted home, Hoboken, where I have lived and worked for almost 40 years.”

Cheney returned from his travels to enroll in some classical art training, so he would be comfortable in many media, from large-scale constructions to quick, impressionistic line drawings. He studied art at the University of New Hampshire, the Art Students League in New York, the New York Academy, and the National Academy, but he often prefers working in the medium he fell in love with before his formal schooling, as an itinerant hippie in the ’60s. “My drawings still reflect some elements of what I learned along the way.”

He moved to Hoboken in 1981 after landing a job at Macy’s Parade Studio in 1976, when it was based in the former Tootsie Roll factory at 15th St. and Willow Ave. He obviously enjoys his work, as he has been there ever since! “My career as float builder with the Macy’s Parade Studio enables me to engage all aspects of my artistic training and allows me to construct large-scale innovative parade floats, some as large as 70 feet long, made to be collapsible for easy transport through the Lincoln Tunnel.”

Last year, he applied his skills as a float builder as a lark with some friends for the Coney Island 30th Annual Mermaid Parade. They built and pulled by hand an elaborate 30-foot float, in the theme of Cleopatra’s barge, to honor the anniversary.

This exhibition was made possible by a Block Grant from the State/County Partnership program for the Arts administered by the Hudson County Division of Cultural and Heritage Affairs/Tourism Development, Thomas A. DeGise, County Executive, and the Board of Chosen Freeholders.