February 7, 2024

Clay from Historic Site is Inspiration for Project

LOCAL INSPIRATION: Ryan Stark Lilienthal, a short-term artist-in-residence for the Arts Council of Princeton, will lead a community ceramic project working with clay sourced from the site of the Paul Robeson House of Princeton.

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. 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. Welch said, “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 the 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,’” said 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.”

The Anne Reeves Artist-in-Residence program, named after the ACP’s 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. For more information, visit artscouncilofprinceton.org.