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Tomsriver Station


A Couple of artists brings history of the county to life

By Don Bennett

Staff Writer

TOMS RIVER – Its been decades since a train rolled into Toms River train station, even longer since a steam locomotive powered a train .

The tracks and trains are gone. So is the train station. Two Fort Lee Artists are doing their part to keep the memory of the station , as it appeared in 1903, alive through a painting based on old photographs. Its one of fifty nostalgic glimpses of the past painted by Mary Kingston and Barry Shiff They found their niche in New Jersey's past by accident four years ago. Mary Recalled Her husband painted an Atlantic City boardwalk since and decided to put "a lady in a long dress" in the oil painting.

"Its sold right away." She said. "This is something" they agreed.

About to do an art show in Hoboken they decided to paint a scene on Newark Street there in 1900 "It sold immediately. We were really excited."she recalled.

Convinced that people are interested in nostalgic return to New Jersey past. The couple began researching and collaborating on a series of paintings.

Barry Shiff Paints in oils. She favored watercolors. They met at art show, where their works were exhibited, side by side. 15 years ago. "We're kindred spirits in the art world." she said.

About four years ago they decided to start working together on paintings, once they completed enough research to make the scene authentic.

"We went to old post card shows, contacted historical societies looking for photographs" Mary Shiff said.

The Toms River depot painting debuted last summer at a show in Ocean Grove.

"Barry does the building and figures. I do the trees and the the flowers." She said.

They started with a collection of a dozen paintings from which they made prints. Now the collection has grown to 50, mostly of Bergen County scene that is where they live.

Many retirees who live in Ocean County may recognize Montclair's Lackawanna Terminal. Palisades Amusement Park' either in 1908 or in the 1950s, or the train station at Glen Ridge, Englewood, Dumont, or Cresskill.

There are shore scenes too. Old Barney in 1902, Asbury Park Arcade in 1901, Wesley Lake at Asbury Park in 1903, Congress Row at Cape May in 1903, a rustic Spring Lake bridge in 1902, the Ocean Grove tent colony in 1908, and just completed Belmar boardwalk and Tenth Avenue pavilion in 1903.

The paintings invoke memories of the past, a time in Ocean County, for example when passenger and freight trains were a transportation staple. Tourists bound for the Ocean County resorts would pass through the Toms River station on the way south take the spur to Barnagat Pier just south of Ocean Gate, cross the bay to seaside Park and take train north on Barnegat Peninsula. Continuing south, they could take the train across the bay at Manahawkin to Long Beach Island and go by rail north to Barneget Light, or south to Beach Haven.

The Toms River station was actually in Berkeley Township in 1903, in 1927, when south Toms River was created from Berkeley Township, it was located in that borough the station was south of Route 9 east of South Main Street.

The Shiffs will show their works at area shows this summer including Atlantic Highlands on June 19, Ocean Grove in August and Seaside Park Sept. 4.

For information call the shiffs, "the art couple" at 201- 944 1813.

BC Magazine interview

New Jersey Nostalgia

Just by taking a look at Barry Shiff's colorful portfolio, you would never guess that the artist is a native of Mattapan, Mass. Shiff, who enjoys capturing nostalgic scenes set in the Garden State, works in oil paints and watercolor. From the picturesque street scenes of Morristown to the rustic feel of the Pompton train depot to images of people enjoying carefree summer days wading in Barnegat Bay, Shiff certainly has a flair for capturing the beauty and nostalgia of New Jersey's storied past.

"I love painting old train stations and I enjoy hearing different stories from the people I meet," says Shiff. The artist has been told that specific scenes he captured evoke special meaning for some because they connect with fond memories. Some scenes depict a memorable destination where a person met his or her future spouse, and a painting of the Easton, Mass. train depot resonated with a proud woman whose father was a station master there.

Picturesque New Jersey towns, old railroad depots, and sailing ships are a focal point for Shiff who describes his style as "realistic with a hint of Impressionism." Vintage photos, postcards, and old magazines and books often served as reference material for the artist. "I paint a lot of towns and quite often, I'll paint a train in the scene," says Shiff. Although he does not have plans to paint scenes beyond the boundaries of New Jersey, Shiff has captured the beauty of Nyack, Nanuet, Pearl River, Central Park, and Coney Island. "If I was younger and just starting out, I would do the tri-state area," says Shiff.

The artist's impressive work is part of the permanent collection at the Easton Historical Society in Easton, Mass., as well as many private collections in the northeastern part of the U.S. His vast collection also includes renderings of the USF Constitution Battles SHOULD IT SAY BATTLESHIPS?HMS Guerriere and other notable ships such as the Flying Cloud and Young America. "I did a lot of paintings of that ship," reveals Shiff, who confesses that he is a history buff.

Glancing Back: A Personal History

Although Shiff has been sketching and drawing for most of his life, he first realized the scope of his talent when he was 19 years old and his sister Lorraine gave him a pastel set. Soon after that, Shiff enrolled in night classes at Boston's School of the Museum of Fine Arts, where he studied commercial courses, which taught him how to work with pen and ink and markers. The aspiring artist later went on to pursue a career in graphics and landed his first job as a mechanical/graphic artist THIS OKAY??. He also created illustrations for a magazine called NAME OF MAG at the New England Beverage Company. During his spare time, Shiff studied life drawing at Don La Cedra Copley Society. "Those life drawing classes are really helping me now, but I didn't know it back then," says Shiff.

After first studying painting, Shiff moved on to watercolor, which is his favorite medium aside from oils. Due to his asthma condition, Shiff can't work with pastels anymore. "I shouldn't even be working with oils, but that's not going to change," says Shiff. The artist says he can sit for hours and watch television while working with his waterolors in his lap.

When asked if he dabbles in other styles, Shiff says, "I don't care for abstracts or surrealism, but I do like early-Impressionism." For many years the artist worked with the late Mary Kingston, who was his partner in art and in life. "Mary and I worked as a team for 20 years," Shiff says. He would paint a station and Mary would add her own touches, which often included people and flower pots. He says that a lot of couples work this way. "We always painted together even before we started working as a team," he says. We would go to a park, take a barbecue, and paint watercolors."

In regard to exploring other styles, the creative pair did experiment with Impressionism-style at one time, but Shiff says that when these works were introduced to the marketplace, they were difficult to sell. "People want tight, beautifully-rendered works," he says.

Shiff enjoys painting outside on-scene. Last year, while the artist was painting outside, a spectator asked him if he taught, so it was there--on-location--that Shiff recruited his first student for private lessons. He recalls a story about painting on location at Sagamore Beach, Mass. A few minutes after Shiff finished painting the sky into the scene, he found several flies stuck to the canvas. "There must have been something in the oil paints that they were attracted to," he says.

Shiff never had a computer until after Mary died, which was in 2005. Soon after that, Shiff enrolled in cooking and baking classes to keep his mind off of his loss. Computer courses were the next area of exploration and soon after that, Shiff was able to create his own website. "I did all that (layout and pagination) while I was working for Intergraphic Technology in Spring Valley, N.Y. before the computer came along, so it was quite easy to figure out," says Shiff. Prior to that, the only computer experience he had was some time spent playing around at his brother-in-law's house. Now, the Web enables Shiff to locate reference materials. "I use the Library of Congress site a lot," reveals Shiff, who explains that since the images are vintage, users don't have to deal with copyrights.

Show Time

Shiff is very active in marketing his work and generating interest. He often displays his work at arts and crafts shows, which are located all over New Jersey. Leonia's VFW Hall was the scene of a recent show, which was held in February. "I had four paintings hanging and the paintings all sold," says Shiff. "I did another show in Far Hills and the first piece I displayed of the Atlantic City boardwalk also sold."

Certain subject matter tends to resonate with buyers more than others. "I painted a lot of ships," says Shiff, who explains that these were rather difficult to sell at arts and crafts fairs. Although men would naturally be drawn to the paintings, their wives would be opposed to hanging images of ships in their homes. However, Shiff mentions that one woman bought four paintings. She happened to be the great-great granddaughter of shipbuilder Daniel McKay.

At one time, Shiff painted animals and other wildlife themes, but he soon realized that people generally aren't willing to pay a lot for these subjects either. Then Shiff moved into contemporary images of children frolicking on the beach. When he started incorporating turn of the century images of children, he received a better response.

Shiff mentions that he recently sold two paintings of ships--one watercolor of and the other, an oil painting -- but he admits it is quite a challenge to sell artwork at these craft-type shows. "You can't sell high-quality art at these shows because the artwork is combined with crafts, which sell for $25," says Shiff. A new piece, Ocean City Boardwalk, 1904, was recently uploaded to Shiff's website,

Shiff is also an active memeber of the arts community. He currently serves as the treasurer of Fort Lee Artist's Guild. He also keeps busy by doing live painting demonstrations and has one scheduled for May 13 in Rutherford. When ever possible, he likes talking his painting on-scene, which gives him more of a chance to connect with the elements as well as people, Last year, while he was painting out side, a spectator ask Shiff if he taught, so it was there, on location, that Shiff recruited his first Student For Private Lessons.

For Shiff, his artwork remains a constant and evolving source of inspiration and creating invigoration. "It is a full-time job," he asserts. "I have found my niche."

Regina Molarois is a freelance writer who covers art Design Beauty and Fashion.

Windows to New Jersey’s Past: Barry Shiff Exhibit at Fort Lee Library

Local artist’s paintings of old New Jersey are on display at the library throughout the month.

Fort Lee resident Barry Shiff, who for years has been painting nostalgic scenes of New Jersey as it looked around the early 1900s, is the subject of a show going on now at the Fort Lee library.

“I am pleased with the show,” Shiff told me recently via email. After having interviewed him a few months back about his inspiration and technique (read the feature here), I too am glad to see these pieces on display. Though many of them are railroad-station scenes, the subject for which Shiff is best known, library goers can also see other slices of turn-of-the-century life, set in other environments and showing a broader range in the artist’s work.

smokestack of the arriving locomotive. An old-fashioned general store with a candy-striped awning is visible in the background, but the telephone poles and icy train tracks look almost contemporary; certainly, they bring to mind the bleakness of winter, and the comfort we can find in knowing that business continues as usual in spite of it. Beside this is another winter scene: ladies in long coats stand side by side in a park, under bare trees, each guarding an elaborate baby carriage. Both paintings, as is the case with many of Shiff’s pieces, are signed “Mary/Barry”—in tribute to Shiff’s late partner Mary Kingston, who was his collaborator and remains a strong inspiration.

Of the sixteen paintings in the show, perhaps the most evocative of this February season is Shiff’s depiction of the Westwood train depot – its roof covered in snow, grey steam rising from the

Not all of the paintings are winter-themed. A few impart a cheerful summery feeling: in one, for example, young holidaymakers wade in the ocean as sailboats drift by in the distance. There is a sunny snapshot of a dirt road at the intersection of Main and Hudson streets, featuring a horse-drawn cart coming from (or going to?) the Fort Lee Market. And in what is a greater departure than I have seen before from Shiff, a nature scene shows a red cardinal standing atop a picket fence, surrounded entirely by greenery and flowers. Lest anyone think he treats only these gentler subjects, Shiff is also known for his reproductions of antique trains and ships—his Titanic appears here, floating on a dark sea.

Barry Shiff is an artist very concerned with locations—what a place, or even a specific street corner, looked like then versus now. Everyone will have a favorite painting in any art exhibit, and I imagine with Shiff’s shows each person’s favorite will depend on how well he or she can connects to the place. My own favorite is the portrait of an Industrial Revolution-era Hoboken, close to where the train station still stands but with no trains in sight—just a view of the low brick buildings and the cobblestone between them. A young family walks out of the hotel “Hoboken House,” dressed up in city finery; American flags hang from several windows. I enjoy this piece because I can recognize the big grey building in the background, which is still there, and can reconstruct the entire modern-day street if I try harder to remember.

Barry Shiff’s exhibit is at the Fort Lee Library through Feb. 28. For more info about Shiff’s work, visit

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