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photo of students creating tiles at the Arts Council of Princeton

Congratulations to the PHS science students who recently collaborated with the Paul Robeson House and the Arts Council of Princeton to make special tiles using clay from the site of the historic Paul Robeson home.

Science students from James Smirk's class worked with the Arts Council of Princeton and Ryan Stark Lilienthal, the Anne Reeves Artist-in-Residence at the Arts Council, used clay taken from Paul Robeson’s Princeton residence. The project was conceived by Mr. Lilienthal and Adam Welch, director of the Arts Council of Princeton.

The endeavor “combined the study of history, science, and sustainability, while commemorating Paul Robeson's legacy by connecting with the earth at his birthplace and creative expression,” said Mr. Lilienthal.

Mr. Lilienthal “invited local high schoolers to get in on a truly one-of-a-kind project: sourcing local clay from right here in Princeton,” said Welch. “During the renovation of the Robeson House, Lilienthal unearthed this spectacular, rich clay in the backyard. We evaluated the clay in our ceramic studio, performing plasticity, shrinkage, and porosity test that determined we had something truly special on our hands.”

Said Mr. Welch: “The ceramic tiles are imprinted with Robeson’s powerful words and these young artists now have claim to being part of it all.” The tiles were fired in the Arts Council’s ceramic studio and will be on display at the Arts Council during Robeson’s 126th birthday celebration in April.

Dr. Joy Barnes-Johnson, Science Supervisor at Princeton Public Schools, recently told Town Topics: “Speaking in 1955, Paul Robeson once explained his work by saying ‘I have simply tried to never forget the soil from which I spring. 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.”  Dr. Barnes-Johnson is also serves of the Board of the Robeson House.

"The students from Mr. Smirk's class were terrific and engaged," said Mr. Lilienthal. “They had a great day."

Mr. Lilienthal also thanked Kevin Wilkes of Princeton Design Guild for his help with the project.

Paul Robeson, who was born in Princeton in 1898, was a scholar, a renowned athlete, actor, and activist.  The son of a former slave turned preacher, he rose to prominence at a point in history when segregation was legal in the country. The Paul Robeson House of Princeton notes that Robeson continues to serve as an inspiration to people of all races and walks of life.

Robeson House, located at 110 Witherspoon Street, has been the focal point for advancement of the African American community in the Princeton area for over a century.

photo of students creating tiles at the Arts Council of Princeton
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