Bringing us love, laughs and lots of stress relief, the animals in our lives mean a lot. A new exhibit coming to Montclair’s Tiny Gallery showcases beloved pets of local journalists, amplifying the message of #JournalismMatters.
Local artist Erika Bleiberg, a public relations executive who lives in Glen Ridge, always had a love for art. One day in 2015, she painted her rescue dog Cozy. Encouraged by the joy it generated, she began to paint neighborhood dogs and cats, and along the way, portraits of animals belonging to journalist friends.
What started with a portrait of Montclair resident and journalist Dale Russakoff’s trusty dog Junior, and progressed to a 2019 painting of NPR National Correspondent Sarah McCammon’s dog Martin, became an amazing journey with Bleiberg portraying hundreds of journalists’ pets.
“I’ve done pet portraits for journalists across the country, including New York Times’ Kim Barker, Susanne Craig and Shawna Richer; The Guardian’s Margaret Sullivan; the AP’s Eric Tucker, Soledad O’Brien; NPR’s Giles Snyder, Washington Post’s Tik Tok guy Dave Jorgensen and VoteBeat’s Jessica Huseman to name just a few,” says Bleiberg. “I’ve also done 50 or so for members of the New Jersey’s press corps, many of whom I have personally worked with for years.”
“I noticed in my Twitter feed that as things got more and more stressful and divisive in our country, journalists began posting more photos of their pets. I began to specifically focus on painting the beloved animal muses of journalists. I launched #JournalismMatters because our democracy’s Fourth Estate deserves some kindness and support. I have painted hundreds of portraits as gifts to journalists, as a thank you for the important role they play,” said Bleiberg of her project.
Bleiberg found a kindred spirit to collaborate with in Francesca Castagnoli, creator of the Tiny Gallery in Montclair.
Castagnoli’s front-lawn structure on Stanford Place is a tiny art gallery modeled after the Little Free Libraries movement. The 3’x 2’ box houses miniature original art for people to view and enjoy all year long. Coming out of the pandemic, Castagnoli wanted to create something beautiful. Installed in February 2023, her Tiny Gallery has hosted several exhibits and has become a must-see destination in town.
“For me, Tiny Gallery is about creating small, meaningful connections with art and storytelling in an unconventional way,” says Castagnoli. “There’s a real ‘wait-what’s-that moment’ when you come upon this tiny beautiful thing that stops time for a moment. I’ve watched folks walking their dogs, and then suddenly stop and stare into the gallery. I know they are having that rare feeling of being taken in by something small and unexpected.”
Castagnoli, whose big plan is to create a Tiny Gallery network, shares there will be a new Tiny Gallery in the Van Vleck visitor’s center with exhibits throughout the year.
Bleiberg’s exhibit — a love letter to local journalists and pets — comes to the Tiny Gallery in September. Participating pets in the exhibit (there’s even a goat in the collection) belong to local journalists including John Mooney, Dale Russakoff/Matt Purdy, Kate Zernike, Jonathan Alter, Andrew Rice/Jen Saba (2 animals), Jay Lustig, Cindy Stagoff, Julia Martin, Cindy Handler, Jaime Bedrin/Scott Dodd, Joe Pompeo and yours truly. Following the exhibit, the tiny (2.5×3.5 inch) paintings will be given to the respective journalists.
WHAT: The Tiny Gallery Montclair Journalism Matters exhibit
WHERE: 8 Stanford Place, Montclair
WHEN: Installation, Saturday, September 9. Opening and reception, Sunday, September 10, 5-7 p.m., with nibbles and sips provided by Grape Collective. Exhibit runs through October 8.
The #JournalismMatters exhibit will also feature an opportunity to directly support local journalism in Montclair, allowing visitors to donate to Montclair Local with a QR code when they visit Tiny Gallery or in advance here.