Kevin Riordan: Their Museum of Curiosities

Artists Debra Sachs (left) and Marilyn Keating with Super Hero Skeleton Dog, one of the artworks at their home in Gloucester City.
Artists Debra Sachs (left) and Marilyn Keating with Super Hero Skeleton Dog, one of the artworks at their home in Gloucester City. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)

Couple have a home packed with art.

Posted: January 18, 2013

Partners in life and art, Marilyn Keating and Debra Sachs also are joint curators of the South Jersey Museum of Curiosities.

The name they chose for their online gallery could describe their Gloucester City home as well. It isn't open to the public, but it's nearly as impressive as a museum - and probably more fun.

"Wow," I say at the sight of a striking display of tall, urn-like sculptures in the front hallway. It won't be the last time I'm bowled over during my visit.

"These are all my work," says Sachs, 59. "Except for the cat and the Trojan horse. Those are Marilyn's."

Keating's one-woman show last summer at Grounds for Sculpture near Trenton was well-received.

"Marilyn is such an authentic person, and it comes through in her work," says Virginia Oberlin Steel, curator of exhibitions at the arts complex. "She has a kind of rare spirit, and just an amazing wit."

Sachs, who contributed to some of the pieces in the show, is perhaps best known for public commissions including clever mosaic tile work and sculptural pieces familiar to PATCO commuters who use the Ninth-10th and Locust Street station.

Despite such exposure, the two artists aren't famous. Nor are they rich. But they are talented, and as open and approachable as the lovely objects they make.

Consider the urns in the front hallway, with their intricate textures and elegant geometric designs. Like many of Sachs' pieces, they're simultaneously austere and voluptuous, abstract and organic.

Those dog and horse figures, meanwhile, exemplify the whimsical folk art with an edge (think Tim Burton) that is a favorite of Keating's.

Wooden mechanical toys and airworthy paper kites, the latter inspired by those her grandmother in Wildwood made, are everywhere in the living areas and separate and collaborative studio spaces of the artists-in-residence.

Sachs and Keating often work in wood, creating home furnishings such as cabinets, coat racks, and a chandelier. They also use paint, paper, fabric, and mosaic tile. Keating designed and built the structural and decorative elements of the exuberant backyard garden and patio they call the cantina.

"I steal ideas from everyone, including Debra," says Keating, who was born in Camden and grew up in Willingboro and Tullytown.

She and her partner find inspiration in the natural world - they're ardent canoeists - and patterns of all sorts. They often collaborate.

"We play nicely together," says Keating, who shares a wry sense of humor with Sachs.

Using a saw, "Marilyn can 'draw' anything in wood," says Sachs, who grew up near Worcester, Mass. "She can take a piece of wood, and out comes a bird."

The pair met in the early '70s as students at Moore College of Art, then a women's institution. Keating was making feminist-inspired sculpture - a mixed-media Amazon called Antonia graces their living room - while Sachs was a painter and sculptor with an interest in architecture.

They moved to Gloucester City in 1983 after finding an old house full of wonderful woodwork. They've been making a living from their art ever since.

"We're known regionally," says Sachs, whose work was included in an exhibit at Philadelphia's Wood Turning Center in 2008.

The Grounds for Sculpture show enabled Keating to reconnect with the kindergarten teacher who had recognized her talent and offered encouragement.

"Marilyn was extremely creative," Mabel Willing, 81, says by phone from her home in Warminster. The retired teacher was thrilled to attend the show - and to visit Keating and Sachs at their home.

"I feel very flattered and honored that I have played even a very small a part in Marilyn's" career," Willing adds.

Kevin Riordan:

Artists Marilyn Keating and Debra Sachs lead a tour of their Gloucester City home: 

Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845 or, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the Metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at