MassMu’s Nelly Toll Exhibit Opens at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio

Imagining a Better World: The Artwork of Nelly Toll, a traveling exhibition originated at the Massillon Museum, will be displayed at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio in Lancaster, Ohio, from September 15 through December 30.
The Massillon Museum’s initial main gallery exhibition, Imagining a Better World: The Artwork of Nelly Toll, (Spring 2014) earned the Ohio Museums Association 2014 “Best Exhibition” award, and a 2015 OMA award for its Educators’ Resource. It told the story of how a young Jewish child, Nelly Toll, and her mother survived the Nazi occupation of Poland by hiding in a tiny room, sheltered by a Catholic family. Rather than dwelling on the horror and deprivation of the world, the little girl wrote whimsical stories and painted make-believe pictures of what she wanted her world to be.
“We can derive inspiration from Nelly Toll’s artwork,” said Massillon Museum Executive Director Alexandra Nicholis Coon. “It teaches us acceptance and tolerance and reminds us we have the power to imagine better times. Art helps us find common themes, which we can apply to today’s genocides, mass oppression, and refugee issues.”
Upon receipt of an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant specifically to create and travel Imagining a Better World, the exhibit debuted in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, where Toll resides. The traveling exhibition has since been seen at the Holocaust Memorial Museum of San Antonio (Texas); the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum, Dennison, Ohio; the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center in Troy, Ohio; the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada; and Alverina University in Reading, Pennsylvania, and the Hanover High School and Hanover Art Guild in Hanover, PA.
Imagining a Better World, comprised of reproductions of Toll’s watercolor paintings and a selection of her original contemporary paintings, is readily available for rental, as the two versions (one includes more material) allow flexibility and opportunities. Because the artwork has been reproduced from the originals, it can be exhibited at schools, libraries, museums, galleries, cultural centers, universities, churches, and synagogues. An extensive teacher’s resource accompanies the traveling exhibit. Rental information can be obtained by calling Massillon Museum Traveling Exhibits Coordinator Heather Bullach at 330.833.4061 x108 or emailing
As an adult, Toll studied art at Rutgers University, Fleisher Art Memorial, and the Academy of Fine Art in Philadelphia, and earned her doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania in literacy and education. In 1993, she published an award-winning book, Behind the Secret Window, based on her childhood wartime diary. Today, Toll teaches a graduate course in Holocaust literature at the University of Pennsylvania. She continues to paint large, colorful abstract pieces. In conjunction with the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio exhibition, she will speak at the First United Methodist Church in Lancaster on Sunday, October 28, at 2:00 p.m.
“At the Massillon Museum, art and history intersect, so telling the Nelly Toll story and sharing her childhood artwork as well as her adult paintings fits well with our mission,” said Coon. “We have the credibility and an obligation to tell this story, which has the potential to inspire and educate. We’re proud to have the honor of telling and preserving her story.”
The Massillon Museum receives operating support from the Ohio Arts Council and ArtsinStark.
For more information, call the Museum at 330-833-4061 or visit

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