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Local Clay Dug from Historic Site is Inspiration for ACP's Newest Artist-in-Residence

originally published: 01/31/2024

Local Clay Dug from Historic Site is Inspiration for ACP

(PRINCETON, NJ) -- The Arts Council of Princeton (ACP) welcomes Ryan Stark Lilienthal as their latest Anne Reeves Artist-in-Residence. During this short-term residency, running through April 2024, Lilienthal will work closely with Executive Director Adam Welch to dig clay directly from the site of the Paul Robeson House of Princeton, located next door to the Arts Council.

During the ongoing construction of the Robeson House, Lilienthal discovered a natural clay on the site at 110 Witherspoon Street. He brought it to Welch for testing to ascertain its quality, who after, shared, “Upon firing the sample that Ryan brought me, I found it to be resplendent and spectacular. No finer clay I have ever seen.” The results inspired Lilienthal and Welch to plan a residency at the Arts Council, exploring the possibilities of working with locally sourced, natural clay within a community project.

After several conversations, Lilienthal and Welch secured permission to excavate the rich clay deposit before the landscaping at the Paul Robeson House is completed this Spring. Working in collaboration with the Robeson House, Princeton Public Schools, the Witherspoon-Jackson Historic and Cultural Society, and the Paul Robeson Alliance, Lilienthal will lead workshops for local students, working together to excavate clay from the yard. After retrieval, students will learn the process of removing impurities and debris from the clay to make it workable.

Lilienthal will work with the students to create 3D-printed stamps, depicting meaningful quotes from Paul Robeson, that will be pressed into tiles molded from our clay. The group will also conduct tests on the clay to learn more about its physical properties and characteristics. The tiles will be fired in ACP’s ceramic studio and be on display at the Arts Council during Robeson’s 126th birthday celebration this April.

“Speaking in 1955, Paul Robeson once explained his work by saying 'I have simply tried to never forget the soil from which I spring’”, states Dr. Joy Barnes-Johnson, Trustee of the Paul Robeson House of Princeton. “As the Paul Robeson House of Princeton strives to 'Make Robeson a Household Name', it is perfectly fitting that the ACP and Ryan Lilienthal would want to reclaim soil from the construction site to echo the important history of the Robeson family legacy of social justice work. We are delighted to partner with ACP, students and families from the community in cementing Robesonian thoughts and artistry in our community.”

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The project will serve as a unique educational opportunity for local students to connect with Paul Robeson’s legacy through tactile engagement. In addition to producing beautiful and meaningful items to look at, art-making activities - through touch – develops creative and emotional understanding that buttresses and deepens knowledge.

Ryan Stark Lilienthal is an interdisciplinary artist and designer. He recently graduated with an MFA in Design from Rutgers University, Mason Gross School of the Arts, where he received the Laurie Spitz Prize for his thesis, Designing for Multidirectional Remembrance. Ryan harnesses analog and digital media to explore social justice themes and draws on his career as an immigration attorney for his visual vocabulary. Significantly, his grandparents’ flight from Nazi persecution and the genocide’s trans-generational impact percolates through his installations and surfaces in his drawings and paintings. Through collaborations with fellow artists, designers, and community members, Ryan seeks to animate struggles with trauma, dislocation, and alienation that characterize much of contemporary life. Localized projects center these collaborations and anchor memory with place to cultivate a sense of belonging.

This project would not be possible without the support of Timothy M. Andrews, longtime supporter of the Arts Council of Princeton, who has generously underwritten the Anne Reeves Artist-in-Residence program.

The Anne Reeves Artist-in-Residence Program, named after ACP Founding Director, was established by the Arts Council in 2009 to offer artists the opportunity to conceptualize and create work while providing the community with creative interaction with working artists in all disciplines.

The Arts Council of Princeton, founded in 1967, is a non-profit organization with a mission of building community through the arts. Housed in the landmark Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, designed by architect Michael Graves, the ACP fulfills its mission by presenting a wide range of programs including exhibitions, performances, free community cultural events, and studio-based classes and workshops in the visual, performing and literary arts. Arts Council of Princeton programs are designed to be high-quality, engaging, affordable and accessible for the diverse population in the greater Princeton region.

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