BRICKS & MORTAR: A LITTLE GREEN GOES A LONG WAY

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In the front hallway of architect Kirsten Thoft’s Linden Lane home sits an oversize purple suitcase. Bursting slightly at the seams, the thing is covered in a layer of dust from a recent journey: Thoft’s husband, Ted, has just returned from Burning Man, a temporary city that draws tens of thousands of people to the middle of nowhere (i.e., Nevada’s Black Rock Desert). Legendary for its fantastical art, mind-boggling structures, and outlandishly attired attendees, the event sounds like it’s exactly the kind of crazy-cool a creator like Thoft would relish. “Looks kind of uncomfortable and seems like a lot of work,” she says with a laugh. No stranger to rolling-up-her-sleeves hard work herself, Thoft prefers her adventures experienced without a dust mask and protective goggles (unless she’s on a job site) and in a city, any city, where she can happily wander—with or without a road map, guidebook, or any sort of plan.

“When we travel, I take Ted on what he jokingly calls ‘architectural death marches.’ It’s a theme in our vacations: We go to cities because I just like to walk for hours and hours and hours, sometimes with a destination, sometimes not,” she says. “But really I don’t need to go anywhere. I love having a house where I feel like I’m on vacation. I like coming home because I really like my house.”

Her “house” is what many consider her architectural calling card: the LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) home she built from the ground up in Princeton’s tree-street neighborhood and is the first in town to receive such a distinction. It’s also the truest expression of Thoft’s architectural aesthetic, a declaration that good, solid design doesn’t need to be grand to make an impression. She’s never been interested in, say, reimagining the Eiffel Tower (“It’s an icon for a reason”) or Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs (“It’s a statement”). Thoft has cultivated this aesthetic since her undergrad and graduate days studying design and architecture, and it’s one that garners her positive feedback from residents and town officials alike. Her architectural skill is just as much painstakingly learned as it is canny intuition—although it’s worth noting she wasn’t always convinced this was her calling until about, oh, five years ago.

“My whole career, I’ve struggled with the idea of not being an architect with a capital A,” Thoft says. “I think I’m a little less ego-driven. I do have a vision. I do have an aesthetic, but it’s a little quieter. I’m very interested in making things that fit in, as opposed to standing out.”

Thoft was raised in the waterside town of Marblehead, Massachusetts, and from an early age loved all disciplines of design: In middle school, she was the only girl in woodshop, in her spare time building the woodworking projects from her parents’ copies of Better Homes and Gardens. She sewed, and sewed well, once working on a line with a Philadelphia-based brand. She met her husband, Ted Nadeau, in her junior year of high school, and after graduation, Thoft went off to University of Pennsylvania and Nadeau headed to Princeton. She felt college was a time to “get serious,” which for her meant moving on from art and shop, and declaring a pre-med major. But by the end of her freshman year, she realized she was missing the art in her life, and discovered Penn’s selective Design of the Environment major. She spent the whole of her sophomore year drawing everything from buildings to nudes before she was officially accepted into the program. Yet she still wasn’t convinced architecture was for her. So when she was making her postgrad plans, she bucked the trend of working for an architect and instead took a gig with a model-making company.

“The contracts this company had were mostly with the Department of Defense and nuclear power companies,” she says. “I worked on the rotor blades for a model of the Osprey V-22 vertical takeoff helicopter. I was like, ‘This is not for me.’ I was there for two weeks.”

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From left: Thoft’s thoughtful streetscape: “This house fits really well with our life”; in the living room, the beams and subfloor of the second floor are exposed; the architect’s record collection sits in the entertainment unit she designed using original wood from a garage on the property.

She spent the next couple of years with a former professor’s firm, contentedly working on residential projects in historic districts likes those on the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts, and along Philadelphia’s Main Line. And then her father offered to underwrite a graduate degree in architecture if she would finally, please, commit to a direction for her future. Her response: “Well, it is referred to as the mother of all arts. I guess I can still have an architecture degree and do something else.” That nudge proved to be critical because grad school was where Thoft would connect with the kind of architecture that has become her hallmark: housing and sustainable design.

“At the time, sustainability was not on too many people’s radars—it was too sciency, not artsy enough,” she says. “I was interested in green, in housing, in prefab and modular stuff … the things I most enjoy doing now, because it feels so small-scale and personal.”

While working on her graduate degree, she decided to make the move to Princeton for the summer, to live with Nadeau who she’d been seriously dating.

“When I first moved here 26 years ago, nothing was open past 9 p.m. There were no restaurants worth going to. There was Mike’s Tavern and The Ivy, but I was used to going to dance clubs and diners that were open all night long,” she says with a laugh. “It’s changed a lot.”

Despite the lackluster social scene, Thoft’s location change was fortuitous: She began working with the renowned American architect and Princeton University professor Michael Graves. There, she dug into big-idea design and development for projects including an exhibition of the treasures of the Vatican for the Library of Congress, and tableware for Walt Disney World’s Swan and Dolphin Resort. Creatively, she was having a blast, but she realized how little she knew about the nuts and the bolts of what she was conjuring up. She moved on to a job at the Princeton-based firm Studio Hillier, where she remained for the next few years. It was only after she became pregnant with her first child, her daughter Zoë, that she decided it was time to get back into design. She officially opened her own shop in 1998, and as her family expanded to include daughter Ella and son Escher, so did her business.

Twenty years and countless builds later, Thoft has a roster of clients and projects to her name. Some of her best-known work includes a circa-1905 Queen Anne–style multifamily building on Wiggins Street she sustainably renovated into four condos, earning a National Home Builders Green Building Standard “Emerald” rating (the highest you can get, by the way). There’s The Princeton Parklet, currently outside of Small World Coffee on Witherspoon Street, a collaborative effort between the Arts Council of Princeton and other builders and architects including Thoft, who transformed original sketches into detailed drawings and lent a hand in the construction, too.

Her development projects—like the zero-energy-ready spec home on Valley Road, a house so efficiently built that its energy system offsets most of its consumption—are what she gets the biggest creative charge from and hopes will make up the future of her business. (She and her husband just purchased a second spec property on Valley Road.)

“With development, I’m the architect, the owner, the developer, the contractor. I like the buck stopping here,” she says. “I spend a fair amount of time thinking if a house is going to fit in, how the color looks with the houses on either side, what people are going to think. Everything I build is a public project because everybody sees it.”

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Clockwise from top left: the impressive exterior of The Social Profit Center at Mill One’s three connected buildings; a work space inside Mill One; inside Mill One’s “sustainable urban village.”

Another recent undertaking is a commercial site called The Social Profit Center at Mill One, a historic former textile factory located in Hamilton. Commissioned by the Trenton-based nonprofit group Isles, Inc., the 240,000-square-foot space required a serious amount of elbow grease to clean up decades of water damage and dirt. Thoft will oversee a complete renovation of the neglected building, which encompasses everything from new stairs and an elevator, to completely updated mechanical systems, to all interior renovations such as bathrooms, finished office spaces, and a roof deck. The end goal is to create beautiful, affordable space for social-impact businesses, artists, and philanthropic organizations; in Thoft’s words, “it was a shell with nothing in it and it’s going to be a cool-looking, fully occupied building when we’re done.”

And then there’s her beloved geothermal-heated and -cooled, solar-paneled, U.S. Green Building Council–approved house at 45 Linden Lane, which allowed her to experiment with building techniques she’d never attempted before. Thoft and Nadeau purchased the house along with the next-door property, 43 Linden, which they renovated and eventually sold. Their home, however, is an entirely new build that Thoft designed to beautifully fit in with the rest of the neighborhood, finding her inspiration in intention: From the raw-steel staircase to the exposed ceiling beams, every detail has a purpose, and is a pure expression of the way it was built—embracing a sustainable aesthetic that suits Thoft’s design perspective and her family just fine.

“I continually ask myself why I’m doing what I do, is this making me happy?” she says. “I want to have fun. I want to enjoy the people I work with. And I think the fact that I like what I do comes out in the work. I sleep better at night knowing, even just in a local sense, I’m making the world a better place.” —Jennifer P. Henderson (photographs by Dan Komoda)

BRICKS & MORTAR: IN CONVERSATION WITH FRAN LEBOWITZ

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Fran Lebowitz is not an easy person to track down. The essayist, author, cultural arbiter, and famous contrarian would disagree (of course)—she has lived in the same city, New York, for the past four decades with the exception of a few seasons in Princeton. However, she also doesn’t own a cell phone or have a computer, which explains the process required to get in touch with her: Call this number, begin to leave a message on answering machine, wait for Fran to pick up. The featured guest at this year’s “Beyond Words” gala to benefit the Princeton Public Library, Lebowitz has contributed to some of the most iconic magazines ever printed, including Andy Warhol’s Interview and Graydon Carter’s Vanity Fair; written three books; and penned infamous essays on everything from her love of sleep to her loathing for mood jewelry. Outfitted in her sartorial suit of armor—a uniform of men’s Levi’s 501 jeans, Savile Row–tailored blazers, white button-downs, wing-tip cowboy boots, and tortoiseshell glasses—that’s landed her on best-dressed lists, nothing is safe from her penetrating eye and acerbic wit. So it should come as no surprise that over the course of a phone call, a lot of ground was thoroughly covered: her devotion to anchovies and libraries; her fear of deer; her good pals, Nobel laureate Toni Morrison and one-time landlord Michael Graves; and her brief but happy time in Princeton, including the torch she still carries for Conte’s pizza and Micawber Books (in that order).

Bricks & Mortar: We’ve actually met before—about 10 years ago, at Conte’s Pizza & Bar.
Fran Lebowitz: My favorite place on the planet Earth! I haven’t been there in forever, but I know that every time I was there, I realized there is no place I’m happier. Unfortunately, I never figured out how to actually live there…

B&M: You were with Vanity Fair music editor Lisa Robinson at the time, and you were sharing a pie.
F.L.: Lisa has been my best friend for 40 years, but we probably weren’t sharing. We probably each got our own with the idea we would take the leftovers home if there were, in fact, leftovers. There is no limit to what I actually could eat there.

B&M: What’s your Conte’s order?
F.L.: Half anchovy and half mushroom.

B&M: Half anchovy, half mushroom? That’s a statement.
F.L.: Yes, is that bizarre in some way?

B&M: I knew a person who would put anchovies on his pizza so he didn’t have to share it with anybody else because that topping was unpopular.
F.L.: Oh, that would be true of Lisa. Anchovy is one of my favorite foods. I’ve been known to eat anchovy sandwiches.

B&M: With just anchovies? What kind of bread?
F.L.: Whatever good bread that I’ve baked. Obviously, this is not something commercially available; you have to make this yourself. Although, I think that if they sold anchovy sandwiches there would be people who would buy them. There’s almost no food I don’t like.

B&M: You can’t think of a single one?
F.L.: I will not eat the internal organs of an animal. Because I was a child during an era where maybe not all mothers, but my mother, absolutely believed if a child does not eat liver once a week, they died.

B&M: Speaking of your childhood, you’re technically a Jersey girl.
F.L.: Yes, I was born in Morristown. I grew up there. I left when I was 18, and that’s the last time I lived there. I was expelled from high school, and I didn’t go back to school after that. I don’t like school—and as a kind of payment for that, I spent a great deal of my adult life speaking at colleges, none of which would ever have admitted me.

B&M: What do you remember most about growing up in Morristown?
F.L.: I’m the only writer I’ve met who had a happy childhood. I was very suited to being a child, by which I mean, I’m suited to knowing nothing about money, or having to pay rent. When I lived there, Morristown was a small town like from a fairy tale. As soon as you got a bicycle, you were allowed to go wherever you wanted. No one kept track of us. And I don’t mean just my parents; I mean no parents. In fact, we were never allowed even to stay in the house. I think that was partially from the fact that our mothers did not work, and so our mothers didn’t worry that they weren’t spending enough time with us. If I lingered over the lunch table on a Saturday, my mother would look at me like, “Have you lost your mind? Get out of the house.” We were only allowed to stay in the house if it was pouring rain. The amount of freedom we had, you know, no kid has now.

B&M: What did you do with all that freedom?
F.L.: I would ride my bike to the library several times a week. The Morristown Library was centrally important to me as a child because my parents didn’t have money. We didn’t buy books. Then you were only allowed to take three books out at a time. The library was and still is a very beautiful building—although they put an addition on it without asking me [laughs]—so it gave a child the impression that in this building were very important things, which were books. And libraries then, not like now, were silent. So now, it appears, they want them to be noisy.

B&M: So you think libraries are too loud?
F.L.: Well, if you spoke above a whisper, the librarian, you know, who terrified you, would glare at you, and you would just shut up. The places I had ever been to in my childhood that were like that were churches. The library really seemed, to me, like a religious institution.

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Clockwise from left: Fran Lebowitz with Toni Morrison at the premiere of the HBO documentary film, Public Speaking, directed by Martin Scorsese; Lebowitz on the streets of her beloved New York City; the “Gallup Farm” where Lebowitz rented her country cottage.

B&M: In what way?
F.L.: That it was incredibly serious and important, and it was beautiful, and in that library were the important things of the world. I still feel that way. The buildings in Princeton, at the school, that whole gothic architecture is what the library was like in Morristown. I mean, Princeton is a place where obviously books are centrally important.

B&M: What did you read when you were a child?
F.L.: My favorite books were Nancy Drew. I always asked for the books for my birthday or Hanukah. I now own all of them. In my adult life, I bought myself every single thing I wanted when I was a child. So I have all the Nancy Drew books, and the Bobbsey Twin books, and when my first book came out, I bought myself the Encyclopedia Britannica because I wanted it when I was a child, and it was too expensive.

B&M: So, how did you end up in Princeton?
F.L.: Three separate times I went to live in Princeton. The first time, the building I lived in in New York announced they were putting on a new roof. So not only was I paying for this because it was a co-op, but of course, it would be impossible to think or to write there. Michael Graves was a good friend of mine, and I was complaining to him. He said a friend of his who also taught in the architecture school, but who was Italian, had an apartment … I can’t remember the name of the street where all the Eating Clubs are.

B&M: Prospect Street.
F.L.: His apartment was on that street and he was going away for the summer, so I could rent his apartment at this incredible deal which they give to people who teach there, and so I did. I lived there for the summer, and I got a lot of work done, and then I left. And then my building did something else incredibly noisy, so I rented a house that Michael owned, in front of the house he lived in on Patton Avenue. I rented that house for about a year and a half. Several years later, Michael put me in touch with a real estate agent, and I rented a cottage on a farm that had been originally owned by Ben Gallup from the Gallup Poll. He had two small cottages, and I rented one of them for about five years.

B&M: Did the “country life” suit you?
F.L.: I always got a lot more work done there, but living on that farm was a very unusual experience for me because I was terrified of being in the country. If Jack, the guy who owned that farm was away, I never slept. People say, “You lived in New York in the ’70s!” I never was afraid of New York, but I was always afraid of the country—the sounds [there] I was totally unfamiliar with. There was a snow storm and I went out to look at the snow, and I heard what I thought was a pack of lions. I said, “Jack, what is that?” And he said, “It’s deer.” I never knew deer made a noise.

B&M: I didn’t know deer made a noise, either.
F.L.: I mean, they don’t actually sound like lions unless you’re in a state of terror, but they make a heavy breathing noise. I called Jack up once to tell him there was a wolf on the property, and of course, it was a fox. But to me, a fox and a wolf, they’re the same thing. I experienced quite a bit of terror on the farm, but otherwise it was a very beautiful place.

B&M: Aside from abject fear, what else did you experience during your time in the area?
F.L.: A friend of mine, Logan Fox, owned Micawber Books. He was the son of my editor, Joe Fox, who has been dead for a great many years. So I would go into town and go to the bookstore. To me, Micawber Books and Conte’s … that was Princeton.

B&M: When was the last time you were in town?
F.L.: Last year, when they named a building at Princeton University after Toni Morrison. They had this big event, so I went with Toni to watch her get this building named after her, which is now called Morrison Hall.

B&M: You and Toni Morrison are friends? That’s amazing.
F.L.: Toni is one of my best friends. I met her in 1978 when my first book was out, and Toni’s third book was out [editor’s note: The book was Song of Solomon, which won the National Book Critics Award that year]. Toni was an editor at Random House, because she could not afford to live from her books. The American Academy of Poets had a reading series and asked if I would like to read. I said yes, and they said, “Do you know who Toni Morrison is?” I said, “Yes,” and they said, “Do you like her work?” I said, “I love it.” And they said, “Well, would you like to read with her?” I said, “That’s ridiculous. We’re too different.” And they said, “Well, we think it’s a good idea, and you’re going to read with her.” So we read together, and it went so perfectly even though we’re incredibly different writers.

B&M: That’s some “meet cute.”
F.L.: We instantly became friends. The thing people don’t know about Toni is how much fun she is. She very well disguises that from the general public; she has a very grand manner.

B&M: Why did you feel it was so important to be a part of the Princeton Public Library’s “Beyond Words” gala this year?
F.L.: love libraries. I remember as soon as the person from my agency called and said, “Princeton, New Jersey,” I just said, “Yes.” I don’t think I’d ever turn down a library. I can’t believe there still are libraries. I can hardly think of a more important thing in public American life. I think this is true even though there’s the Internet now, where apparently—although I do not partake in it—every single thing ever written is.

B&M: So I’d imagine that reading books on an electronic device doesn’t appeal to you?
F.L.: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reading books on your phone or whatever; it doesn’t really matter how you read them. I happen to be in love with the object of the book. I don’t think it has to do with technology; I think it’s a human need. I think it’s really important there are libraries, and in a town like Princeton, where there’s already such an emphasis on reading, it’s not going to save anyone’s life the way it saves people’s lives in other places. But there’s a lot to be said for there being a building that you go into, that is dedicated to the printed word. I really cannot think of a more important thing. —Jennifer P. Henderson (photographs by Bill Hayes, Robert Manella, Nicholas Hunt/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images, Brigitte Lacombe)

BRICKS & MORTAR: ALL THE COLORS OF THE RAINBOW

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Jean-Michel Basquiat. Keith Haring. Kenny Scharf. All icons of the 1970s and 1980s art scene whose influence can still be felt today. They not only created enduring art but they gave a legitimacy to a movement that was once associated with gangs and crime: graffiti. Out are the days of the rebellious (and illegal) guerrilla tagging, and in are culturally enriching and socially acceptable works commissioned by cities, corporations, and community groups (like our own Arts Council of Princeton and Trenton’s Isles, Inc., to name two). Higher visibility in urban “outdoor galleries” and an emphasis on social and political issues have blurred the line between highbrow and lowbrow art—allowing the street artist to become a player in the “legitimate” art world. As important as the design of urban art is the idea that a camaraderie is created—and in this digital age, an in-person dialogue with your fellow citizens can be had—by simply viewing these pieces. In Princeton, we’re lucky to be surrounded by our own set of incredible outdoor art in the shape of the masterpiece sculptures on the Princeton University campus, the alleyway installation next to Landau, and the vibrant murals decorating some of our favorite downtown buildings. But a few short miles away, on the streets of Trenton, brews a Technicolor revolution.

Enter Leon Rainbow. (And yes, his perfectly perfect last name is the one he was born with: He’s half Native American, from the Quechan Tribe in Winterhaven, California, and he shortens it to “RAIN” for his tag.) The de facto archivist of Trenton’s street art, Rainbow can tell you the who, what, when, and why of any of the Krylon masterpieces that line the city’s downtown. And don’t let the “Trenton Fresh” flat brim fool you—though California-born, Rainbow is now a proud Trentonian, he wears many, many hats: that of curator, Web designer, fine artist, urban-art champion, and mentor. It’s difficult for him to tell you where life stops and art begins, but he likes it that way. A key figure in Trenton’s art community, Rainbow is also helping to transform his city one colorful spray at a time.

When asked why he feels such a pull toward the city and its revitalization, he describes arriving here from San Jose more than two decades ago, ready for a fresh start and ready to satisfy his need to “build something.” He found Trenton’s environment to be the perfect incubator for art-making.

“We have been able to create freely and do some really interesting projects here,” he says. “Everyone in Trenton is so supportive, from the man on the street, all the way up to the mayor.”

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Clockwise from top left: A mural on the 12 Panel Gallery at Studio 51, the home of Trenton Community A-TEAM; a mural by Damien Mitchell at the TerraCycle headquarters; Growth by Leon Rainbow, painted as part of an annual project for the community group Isles, Inc.; the Murals on Front project includes a photorealistic mural by Dean RAS Innocenzi.

And that support is palpable. For this article, Rainbow took us on a private tour of his favorite street-art spots around town—and he can barely go a block without someone saying hello or beeping their horn in greeting; he never fails to respond in kind. It’s in part because he’s generous with his time, his knowledge, and making sure to give credit where credit is due. He also makes it a priority to create chances for others.

These opportunities include those at Rainbow’s brainchild, the Murals on Front project, sited on Front and Broad Streets, alongside the popular Levitt AMP Music Series. The series offers up 10 weeks of free, live music at Trenton’s Mill Hill Park, and the crowd can stroll across the street to watch a Rainbow-curated slate of 11 artists (including himself) throw up incredible murals en plein air. The work is as diverse as the artists themselves: Some are political, like the timely piece about deportation painted by Princeton resident Luis Sanchez; some are moving, like Evan Lovett’s A Blessing; some are beautifully delicate, like the stenciled piece by Jonathan LANK Conner, who teaches at Rainbow’s alma mater, Mercer County Community College. And some just defy spray paint’s known capabilities, like the photorealistic mural by Dean RAS Innocenzi.

On our urban-art walk, Rainbow points us across Broad Street, to Turning Point United Methodist, where a sprawling mural welcomes churchgoers. It’s yet another joint venture, this one by Rainbow and good friends James LUV-1 Kelewae and Will KASSO Condry, the Trenton-born organizer of the Anthill Collective, a group of community-minded aerosol artists from the Vermont area. No matter where they’re from, it’s easy to see how tight-knit this community is, with artists often collaborating, pitching in when needed, or painting side-by-side. It’s these relationships that keep the fire burning in this colorful community. Not only is there comradeship, but there’s a mutual respect here, and an inspiration that seems to flow from artist to artist.

Music is another source of creative energy. “Poets and rappers inspire me, and a lot of my pieces are based off of sayings or wordplays,” says Rainbow. “I like to listen to ’90s hip-hop when I paint in the street. Though I only wear one earphone most of the time because I want to be aware of what’s going on around me.”

So it comes as no surprise that Rainbow, along with KASSO and the rest of the talented Vicious Styles Crew graffiti collective cofounded Jersey Fresh Jam, an annual celebration of wall writing and urban arts. Founded in 2005, this end-of-the-summer event showcases some of the best street artists from far and wide, the established and the just-starting-out, from Australian newcomer Damien Mitchell to MERS, the curator of 5Pointz, the now-defunct Mecca of street art in Queens, New York. These and many other artists gather to repaint the headquarters of recycling innovator TerraCycle, all while local and regionally known emcees, bands, and DJs provide the soundtrack.

The diversity and volume of Rainbow’s work has been dizzying, with innumerable museum and gallery shows, the wall of a Crunch Gym, downtown murals, the facade of a popular Hopewell eatery, even delicate watercolors that hang at Studio 51, the new space belonging to the Trenton Community A-TEAM, a creative coterie of self-taught artists. The A-TEAM’s outdoor courtyard, the 12 Panel Gallery, showcases murals that were spearheaded, of course, by Rainbow. He takes both his business—Web design at Princeton’s InForest Communications and the business of his art—very seriously.

“I try to change the perception that artists are flaky or not serious businesspeople,” he says. “I am very responsive. I make sure I show up early to complete my projects on time. I work within budget. And I expect to be treated as a professional.”

He also makes time to balance the paying gigs with his own art. “I find it helps to keep certain things for myself. I paint a good number of commercial projects, so I try to balance that with things I paint for myself, like my fine art and graffiti.”

Rainbow is doing what he set out to do: building something real and important. The positive impact on Trenton neighborhoods is acutely felt, stirring a pride that comes from not only the beautification of its streets, but also from the people who walk them.

When asked if he minds when the art around town disappears, due to construction, weather, or another artist claiming the corner, Rainbow shakes his head. “I choose to look forward,” he says. “And get focused on the next thing.” —Rae Padulo (photographs by Dan Komoda)

BRICKS & MORTAR: LOVE WHERE YOU LIVE

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Jon Lambert is the owner of the nationally acclaimed indie record shop Princeton Record Exchange. With a website redesign underway and a recently purchased cache of thousands of classical CDs and jazz LPs to add to the 100,000-plus inventory, he has plans to recreate the success of this summer’s PREX-sponsored listening station at the Princeton Public Library in the store this fall “to expose even more folks to the joys of vinyl.”

“I have always loved this town. I moved to Princeton with my family in 1967, when I was five years old. We bought a small house in the Western Section, on Boudinot Street, that had been the governor’s gardener’s cottage when the Morven estate was much larger. The house, built in the 1700s, had been badly damaged by a fire. My father was an artist with a good architectural design sense, and he remodeled it to be an interesting mix of historic and mid-century elements. Later we moved to Wiggins Street, where I lived through my teens. It was great growing up in what was then called the Borough. Everywhere I wanted to go was no more than a bike ride away.

“When I think back to my youth, what usually springs to mind are the summers hanging at the fountain [outside the Woodrow Wilson School]. That’s where my friends would always congregate, and we would while away the long, hot days and nights splashing in the water and playing frisbee. The parks, Carnegie Lake, the Princeton University Art Museum, the Princeton Public Library, the sculptures and cool campus buildings with their gargoyles (I used to climb the facades at night and get chased by proctors) are all still dear to me. When I got a job at Princeton Record Exchange (PREX) 30 years ago, I was delighted to be back in town and still more so when I was able to purchase the store from the founder. It feels great to be such an integral part of the fabric of our town.

“There are some [local] artists who I think are doing amazing stuff: I went to PHS with musician Chris Harford; he’s been making great music with his Band of Changes ever since. I am also a huge fan of Sō Percussion, Princeton’s Ensemble-in-Residence. I love it when the Summer Institute students come and play at the store.

“I have lived in the general area all my life and for the last 15 years in Rocky Hill, with my wife, Cynthia. I think the excellent blend of independent retail stores (of course), top-notch restaurants, the University, and the educated community with its embrace of nature, culture, and the arts makes it a pretty wonderful place.” —As told to Jennifer P. Henderson (photographs by Dan Komoda)

BRICKS & MORTAR: FOOD FOR THE SOUL

Jim Nawn Image

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A veritable best-of cornucopia of what to eat and drink in Princeton: The dry-aged angus beef burger with Adirondack cheddar and house-made pickles at Agricola. The Dinky Bar & Kitchen’s soft pretzels and spicy pimento cheese dip. The organic egg omelet with ham, Gruyère, and crème fraîche at Cargot Brasserie. The Two Sevens margarita with blanco tequila, lime, and agave. The person who helped make these culinary dreams a reality is sitting somewhat anonymously at a table in the front of the house at his French-style brasserie, Cargot. With the whir of the barista behind the bar churning out cappuccinos and espressos as backdrop, Jim Nawn—Fenwick Hospitality Group founder, gentleman farmer, and local restaurateur—watches as the breakfast crowd slowly turns over to lunch, signaled by the increasing hustle of the servers and the crescendo of laughter and silverware. He appears very much in his element, admiring from a respectful distance the practiced orchestrations of the staff he has carefully assembled—but that wouldn’t entirely be true. Creating what is considered one of the area’s leading restaurant groups was not what he considered his “calling.”

“I’m not a foodie,” Nawn says, sipping a coffee, sun streaming in through the wide windows behind him. “I come from a family of six and we ate what was put on the table. For me, it’s about the project, the building, the people, the team-building, the physical
space—it’s about creating a feeling, an experience. That is what really excites me.”

Born in Holden, Massachusetts, Nawn grew up with his five sisters in the same small town where his great-grandfather, grandfather, and father were raised—and where everyone knew their names. He went to nearby Holy Cross College, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts, and after working for his father, Nawn headed to Boston College to get his M.B.A. With that degree under his belt, he took a job with an international pharmaceutical company and spent 11 years in finance and administration while he and his wife, Ann, started their family. Fast-forward to 1998: After signing a development agreement with Panera to franchise 40 units, he went town-hopping through central and northern New Jersey for locations and found Princeton.

“I went all over the state with Panera and [decided] Princeton was a good place to do business,” he says. “The energy Princeton University brings to this town, the intelligence, the youth … it’s so vibrant. It’s where Ann and I chose to live—and we really liked living here.”

After a brief return to Massachusetts to be closer to family, Nawn made his way back to Princeton and did something entirely unexpected: He sold his units back to Panera; bought a working farm, the 112-acre certified-organic Great Road Farm, in Skillman; and registered at the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan.

“When I walked away from Panera, I was on my own again,” he says. “I tend to jump into things, but I like to be prepared when I jump. Going to school was a time-management technique so I didn’t jump into something too quickly.”

Restaurants Grid

Clockwise from top left: The light-filled front bar at Cargot Brasserie; cozying up to The Dinky Bar; casual, Central- and South American–inspired cuisine has a new home at Two Sevens; farm-to-table dining at Agricola.

While he worked toward completing both the I.C.E. Culinary Arts and Culinary Management programs, he began to conjure the idea of a restaurant of his own, a gathering place in the heart of the town he now called “home.” He also had his first experience working in a professional kitchen, an externship at a Flatiron District restaurant. The six-week culinary turn gave Nawn on-the-line training in a standard-issue high-end restaurant kitchen, complete with the requisite blood, sweat, and spectacle. It also provided him with the insight into what he knew his own kitchen, once he had one, would not be.

“One day, the executive sous chef asks me to prepare the vegetables for mirepoix. I get the oil in the pan and I start roasting. Then he comes over and starts screaming at me. To this day, I still don’t know if he was just testing me,” he recalls with a laugh. “I’ve never punched anybody—I mean, not in anger—and if I had been somebody else, I would have taken a swing at him because he was in my face. But I thought, ‘Just keep your head. Nothing we’re doing here is life or death.’”

And keep his head he did: After working with a consultant to gather information on the dynamic local restaurant scene, and with Great Road Farm as his culinary muse, he opened his inaugural eatery, the rustic American–themed Agricola (agricola, appropriately enough, is the Latin word for “farmer”) in 2013. The classic English pub–style spot The Dinky Bar came next, in 2016, then the French brasserie Cargot the following summer. And the final jewel in the food crown debuted in late 2017: the Central–and South American–inspired cantina Two Sevens.

“Someone said, ‘Heavy is the head of the man who wears the crown.’ And yes, sometimes it is hard, partly because if I could put my hands on it and do it [all myself], I would. But you can’t do that,” he says. “The [big] business decisions are things I worry about. But the actual operation, when we service, when we open, the details [of that] … that’s all in the hands of the general manager and the chefs and my teams. I trust that they know what they’re doing and, if they need me, they’ll tell me.”

A typical workday for Nawn has a fluid, free-flowing quality to it—his “privilege to roam”—and that suits him just fine. He has an office at the farm, where he works alongside his bookkeeper and checks in with farm manager Kyle Goedde. But he’s happiest when he’s making his circuit of town, usually beginning at the bottom of Witherspoon Street, at Two Sevens, where he chats with the staff and occasionally picks up a few tacos to go.

Next he walks up the street, past the Arts Council and the Princeton Public Library, and into the heart (and occasional chaos) of town, to Agricola. He then heads up through campus, making his way to The Dinky Bar and Cargot, where he might take a meeting with his business partner (and one-time college roommate,) Rich Galvin, or sit down with his director of operations Billy Van Dolsen, to discuss special projects—like the upcoming gala for the Princeton Public Library, to be held this November, at the new Lewis Center for the Arts, where Nawn’s Fenwick Catering & Events group will be providing a plated dinner for approximately 400 guests.

Farm Collage

Scenes from Great Road Farm: “I oversee the farm, but by and large, Steven Tomlinson, who was the farm manager, and now Kyle Goedde, take care of everything. Farming is really hard work.”

“If you’re walking on a treadmill in your basement, it’s exercise. But walking down Witherspoon Street and across town, to me that’s an experience. It incorporates everything about the [area],” he says. “You inevitably bump into people you know, you see people who are interesting. And is there a more beautiful campus? It’s a really cool [cross section of] the whole town … and I think it’s good for the soul.”

All of this movement, the hellos and hand-shaking, the four-successful-restaurants
responsibility, the purveying of so much food, could easily overwhelm a person—or at the very least go to his head. So perhaps the most notable hallmark of Nawn’s quartet of restaurants and, indeed, of the man himself is the calm, level-headed approach to what easily could be daily level-10 drama. His kitchens are places of order and relatively peaceful food creation. He firmly believes in the power of open and honest communication between him and his staff—and he makes himself vulnerable to feedback of all kinds so he can constantly improve upon his processes and practices. This philosophy for running his business also applies to how he wants to live his life—and it’s become a valuable piece of parental wisdom he’s often dropped on his three sons: James, 25; Peter, 23; and Henry, 19.

“You grow from [your missteps] and sometimes you’ll be embarrassed [by them]. But you know what? If you can live your life treating victory and defeat with the same response, you’re probably going to be more effective and happier,” he says. “I’ve told my boys this many times: It’s all part of the journey: You can’t get too high and you can’t get too low because you’re only going to be fooling yourself. I think the law of averages would suggest that eventually everything kind of does come back to … average. So, if you’re really lucky, chances are you’re going to be unlucky, too.”

This belief system is something he’s found order and solace in particularly over the past six months, after Ann, his wife of 26 years, unexpectedly and suddenly passed away in October of last year.

“I think human life is imperfect, and God gives you what you need to deal with the imperfections. And that, to me, is kind of this whole idea that life rolls out as it does,” he says. “Fifty-two years and nothing bad happened to me. If I think I’m going to escape life without some terrible thing happening to me, that’s [silly].

“I cry a lot now,” he admits. “I married a great woman. [But] I have a great family and good friends. I was given everything I need to put one foot in front of the other for my boys and for myself … and there’s no reason why I can’t get through this.”

With the signs of spring (Nawn’s favorite season) finally unfurling everywhere along his regular walking route—from the pear trees along Witherspoon Street to the Japanese flowering cherry trees on campus—and Great Road Farm coming alive with more than seven acres worth of vegetables (the freshly harvested asparagus will be on the menu, of course), Nawn is optimistic about the brave, new world he’s living in—but that won’t include another restaurant.

“Ann and I talked about this before she died [as a way] of making things simpler: We were going to enjoy what we had built,” he confides. “So I’m not building anymore. Yes, we’re operating. The investments have been made. We need to operate. We need to [continue to] make each experience consistent and enjoyable, and that’s building on some level, but it’s just not building in physical spaces anymore. There’s not room for another restaurant by Jim Nawn in this town,” he adds. “It’s a great place to do business, but I’ve done all I can.

“There’s this Maya Angelou quote: ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ That to me is true across everything: business and life and whatever. And in this business, people … their experiences are a feeling experience. It’s not a say or a do. It’s a feeling. And that,” he says, “is what hospitality is all about.” —Jennifer P. Henderson (photographs by Jess Blackwell)

BRICKS & MORTAR: HOPEWELL IN BLOOM

Hopewell Opener

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Nestled at the foot of the Sourland Mountains, Hopewell is a town at once peaceful and vibrant, quaint and avant-garde. Originally settled in the 1700s and officially incorporated in 1891, it’s often referred to as a kind of “Mayberry”—due to the highly walkable, tree-lined main street dotted with independently owned shops, restaurants
for all tastes, and beautiful Victorian homes; the town’s surrounding preserved lands wide enough to wander for miles; and its community of highly devoted residents. It’s the sort of authenticity that cannot be replicated (although some have tried) and so it should come as no surprise that, over the past several years, the area has experienced a renaissance. Freshly invigorated by a group of small-business owners—boutique retailers, restaurateurs, gallerists, food purveyors, designers—Hopewell is growing into not only an ideal place to build a thriving livelihood but also a good, solid spot to plant roots (literal and metaphoric) and watch them grow into something spectacular. We gathered some of Hopewell’s most dynamic entrepreneurs who, with their magnificent blend of small, creative businesses, are redefining the concept of “local.”

BRICKS & MORTAR: So, I know some of you are dyed-in-the-wool Hopewellians …
Mary Ann Browning (Tomato Factory Antiques & Design Center): My family moved from Princeton to Hopewell in the 1930s. I went to the Hopewell School and then Princeton High School. I attended Parson’s School of Design, in New York City, and then my husband and I returned to Hopewell, in 1961, when the Hopewell Valley Canning Company became available.

Robin McConaughy (Double Brook Farm, Brick Farm Market, Brick Farm Tavern): My husband, Jon, is originally from Ringoes, and I’m from Kingston. We moved back to the area from Philly via Manhattan in 2001, as we were starting a family. In 2002, we bought what is now the main property for Double Brook Farm, from John and Kathy Winant, who own Coventry Farm. They liked that we wanted to start a farm—they also liked that we weren’t going to develop the 63 acres.

Bobbie Fishman (The Bear and the Books): I grew up in Hightstown, in the 1960s, and when we learned to drive, we’d head for the hills, and for New Hope. Hopewell was the beginning of where New Jersey could seem attractive to me, compared with the 4,000-person, flat, dairy-farming town that was my home. [Many] years later, a dear friend and teacher of mine who lived just outside of Hopewell died, and my husband and I moved to live with her husband on their land.

Brick Farm_Tavern

Robin and Jon McConaughy’s Brick Farm Market and Brick Farm Tavern (inset).

B&M: And how did the rest of you find Hopewell?
Ellen Abernathy (Boro Bean): We moved from Buffalo, New York, in the 1980s to work for my brother in Princeton. He was one of the two “Toms” (Tom Grim and Tommy Block) of the famous Thomas Sweet. We worked there for more than 25 years. The “Toms” decided it was time to move on—and we did too. The coffee shop became available about the same time, so my husband, Johnny, and I, along with Tom Grim, decided to take it over. That was 10 years ago.

Amy Karyn Lichstein (Amy Karyn Home): We’ve been in here for more than 10 years. [We left] Princeton after the collapse of the economy, in 2008. We’d established a business and customer base in Princeton and chose Hopewell for its proximity to the area and ease of access.

Rory Philipson (The Blue Bottle Café): Having grown up in Montgomery, I was familiar with the area and always admired Hopewell’s downtown, Main Street feeling. My husband, Aaron, and I had been looking for a turnkey restaurant location in the area. Back in 2006, it was only The Brothers Moon and Soup du Jour; upscale B.Y.O.B.’s were far less common, and it seemed evident that the local community could support another great dining option. We opened Blue Bottle in 2006.

Ruth Morpeth (Morpeth Contemporary Gallery): The gallery moved to Hopewell in 1999, from Pennington, where it had been established in 1996. I was actively looking in Lambertville when I drove by the 43 West Broad Street building. I peered in the large windows and saw the potential of the space even though it was quite dilapidated: beautiful, natural light and a wide, open interior. At the time, there was little to recommend Hopewell, in a commercial sense, but Route 518 was a heavily traveled road and the windows provided good visibility.

B&M: In the past few years, there’s been a renaissance of the economy and culture here. How have you felt it?
E.A.: When we came, Hopewell was a little sleepy. Many storefronts were empty, and we joked that the sidewalks were rolled up at 2 p.m. But there were great antiques, the little gem of a library, the amazing elementary school, and charm. We figured if we made great things, people would come. And they did!

R.P.: People here like local, they like [patronizing] smaller businesses. It’s the reason
we’ve preserved the quaintness of the area, despite the obvious growth.

R.M.C.: People in Hopewell do like to buy local. The borough and the township have been great partners in establishing how we achieve our needs versus the needs of the community. Many of the [committee] members are our neighbors and care greatly about making the town better and bringing in a diversity of businesses. The borough puts on events such as Cruise Night and Food Truck Friday that energize people to come in, with families, and enjoy the town.

M.B.: I’ve seen the change [reflected in] our business. We draw clients from Princeton, West Windsor, North Jersey, and Penn-Hunterdon county, and they are much younger and more interested in a mix of modern art and antiques. So, in the last few years, we’ve become more diversified, adding more contemporary and Art Deco merchandise, and Rocky Hill potter John Shedd and Umbrella home decor who’ve taken space [in the building].

Hopewell 1

Clockwise from top left: Tomato Factory Antiques & Design Center; The Blue Bottle Café; Amy Karyn Home.

B&M: Do you feel this “blooming” has changed the tenor of the town?
E.A.: Yes, there is a new energy, a real pulse, but the warmth and charm are still present. With new families coming in, we see the involvement with the elementary school, support for the traditions that the town has come to know, and support for the local businesses. We see people coming in from other towns to our shop, but we get major support from our local folks, and we are grateful.

M.B.: Hopewell has added more businesses and restaurants, but it still has that feeling of a small town.

A.K.L.: It has to do with the demographic pull, too, as more and more restaurants open, the traffic [increases], as does the town’s ability to draw new customers into its stores.

R.P.: The biggest changes, of course, are those that have been brought about by Robin and Jon: the recent remodeling of the Hopewell Theater, the conversion of the old Chevrolet dealer into the incredibly impressive Brick Farm Market, along with Troon brewery, the distillery, Brick Farm Tavern, the transformation of what used to be a Sunoco station into a multi-business space (Step in Stone, Amy Karyn, ThinkForm Architects). The McConaughys have done so much for this beautiful little town.

R.M.: Twenty years ago, Hopewell was primarily known for its antiques shops. The restaurant scene has certainly put Hopewell on the map in recent years.

R.M.C.: When I was a kid in the ’70s, I used to breeze through Hopewell [on my way] to New Hope to see my great-grandparents. There was hardly anything here; I’m not sure there was even a stoplight at the time. Since we’ve been here, several buildings have been given a face-lift and extended the downtown part of Broad Street: in addition to our buildings, the Soup de Jour building was re-imagined into Nomad Pizza, the building behind that was Twine for a bit (which has moved near the Tomato Factory, improving yet another unused building), and Blue Bottle brought a funky, graffiti style to its entrance. Yoga and wellness has come to town with Hope Wellbeing and Sault Haus, among others. And there’s always something happening: Peasant Grill is renovating and moving into a bigger space; the restaurant space behind Boro Bean is under new ownership and, in general, more and more people are moving to Hopewell for the excellent elementary school, the huge swath of preserved land at St. Michaels, and a variety of food and entertainment options within walking distance for borough residents.

B&M: The collaborative spirit within the local-business community is strong here.
R.M.C.: The Hopewell Restaurant Association is the best example I have of the collaborative spirit in Hopewell. We share closings, openings (especially important when a bomb cyclone of snow is blanketing the region), menus, and pricing for the special Eat-In-Hopewell week … Food Truck Friday and Cruise Night offer us an opportunity to talk to other restaurants and plan what we’ll do for the evening. And even though [Jon and I] own the Hopewell Theater, we have other vendors there selling commissary items, such as the Peasant Grill.

E.A.: We belong to the Hopewell Restaurant Association too, and have helped plan and promote Restaurant Week Hopewell the past few years. It’s a supportive effort, with the idea being the more people that come to visit this beautiful town, the more they will come back, bring a friend, tell others. We all try to help each other out and be supportive. It’s a great group.

A.K.L.: The collaboration exists because of the desire of all the shops to succeed. We cross-advertise, we recommend each other to customers, we mention places to eat and shop locally. We’re all in tune with our community and try very hard to watch each other’s backs. That’s what is so special about the Hopewell community: So many talented creative people are doing great things for the sake of Hopewell.

R.P.: Hopewell supports Hopewell. The goal is keeping people close to home—regardless which of our delicious venues they choose to indulge in.

Hopewell 2

Clockwise from top left: Boro Bean; The Bear and the Books; Morpeth Contemporary Gallery.

B&M: What has been the secret to your success as your businesses have grown and evolved?
R.P.: Life balance. Blue Bottle closes two weeks a year, the first week of January and the week of July 4th. Two months after we opened, my mentor wrote me a letter (that still hangs in my office) urging us to slow down in order to avoid burnout. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Success for us has meant recognizing our limits and not trying to do too much.

R.M.C.: The key has been extremely strong community support for what we are doing. People want healthy food, they want to know where their food comes from, and they want a place that is welcoming to buy and enjoy the food. Once the farm started growing, we looked to expand as locally as possible to keep all elements of our business close.

B.F.: I suspect the crucial element in any business is to be doing something you love and know a good deal about. I don’t sell books because I think selling them is a money-making proposition; I sell books because I think children will love them, and I think most of the books that get a lot of the marketing money in the world are often not the wonderful books. I believe in the books I sell. And I judge success in terms of happiness: my own happiness made possible by the satisfaction of my customers.

A.K.L.: Attention to detail and going above and beyond for clients. We take what we do seriously and always try to do our very best.

E.A.: We know so many of our customers well, and we try to instill the idea that we want people to [feel] welcome and invited to stay. We love to say, “Is that for here?” or “Are you staying with us today?” We also decided early on that we would only serve food we would serve our family. That is a guiding principle.

R.M.: Fortitude and luck (not particularly in that order), as well as a passion tempered by pragmatism. Last but not least, generous landlords … all combined have helped keep the doors open these past 20-plus years.

B&M: So, would you say there seems to be something in the air in hopewell?
B.F.: It’s very much a town of its own character: quirky, homey, affordable, simpler, a more centered place than [other towns]. Hopewell is my town. I am very happy here. I like that the town is walkable: I walk to work, and I like that many of our children can walk to school. It makes us feel like we are somehow related and part of our own small world.

R.M.: There’s a strong sense of community here. Almost everyone I know is passionate about living in Hopewell and that at the core holds us closer, despite differing points of view, than we otherwise would be.

E.A.: The walkability, the schools, the businesses, the people. We love the ride into town, especially in the spring and the fall, with all the foliage, the beautiful Victorians. Hopewell is close to everything yet feels like its own special place.

R.M.C.: Hopewell is very much agrarian at its core. People like working the land, being on the land, and enjoying the fruits of the land. People care greatly about preservation issues, be it historical or environmental. The pace of life is a little slower and a little gentler. And when you need the sophistication of the city, N.Y.C. and Philly are just an hour away. Now, choosing which team to root for is another matter entirely …
—Jennifer P. Henderson (photographs by Jess Blackwell and Rae Padulo)

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BRICKS & MORTAR: LOVE WHERE YOU LIVE

Art Room

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Julie Rosenthale is the owner and chief creative guru of Hopewell’s happily color-splattered studio, Art Sparks. She is currently developing programming and workshops to encourage parents to create art with their children and recently exhibited her encaustic works at Handmade Hopewell, a new makers’ street fair showcasing the borough’s creativity, imagination, and talent.

“I moved to the Princeton area from Atlanta 25 years ago, after college. I followed my parents here and was really excited to be in an intellectual college town, and in such close proximity to the phenomenal art museums of New York and Philadelphia. My educational background is in art history, studio art, and teaching, but I also spent a decade working for local businesses, which allowed me to see the area’s spirit of entrepreneurship up close—and the concept of Art Sparks was always in the back of my mind.

Working as an early childhood art teacher, I would marvel at the uninhibited creativity of young children, and their innate ability to notice detailed aspects of art that adults can often miss. I was eager to create a place where kids could enrich their love of art-making, but in a space where the creative process wouldn’t be hampered by concerns about spilling paint and glue.

Living in Hopewell for the past 19 years, I’ve discovered what a true artistic community it is. It’s incredible to see artists working en plein air with their easels and paints outside the historic railroad station or learning that Hopewell has an annual tour of its artists’ studios. And I love exploring The Watershed Institute; the moment I enter the drive to Honey Brook Organic Farm, I feel my blood pressure drop. Nature and art go hand in hand, and I’m always inspired by the preserved lands of this beautiful area.

But my favorite thing about Hopewell is the people. The town is populated with genuinely caring, super-smart parents who have an understanding of the value of the arts in the development of a child—and the active nature of this community has driven the artistic culture and activities of Hopewell. We’re lucky to have schools that support the arts, and programs that encourage not only the visual arts, but theater, music, culinary arts, dance, and creative writing. Being part of such a dynamic community, I couldn’t imagine a better place to be raising my children.” —As told to Jennifer P. Henderson

 

 

BRICKS & MORTAR: STOP! IN THE NAME OF ART

Pretty Sculptures

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Cars whiz by on Nassau Street. Small World’s delicious-smelling line winds out the door. Work meetings and school days and social commitments run long—and our busy, plugged-in days leave little space for vital reflection or rejuvenation. But just a quick stroll away, in the heart of the Princeton University campus, there is a true respite from the rush of daily life. Fronted by the monumental, jewel-like glass structures commissioned by brother team Doug and Mike Starn, this otherwise unassuming building houses one of the nation’s leading art institutions and one of our area’s greatest treasures: the Princeton University Art Museum.

Universal in scope, P.U.A.M.’s world-class collections bring a globe-spanning breadth of art—more than 100,000 pieces ranging from ancient to contemporary—to lucky students, scholars, and the community-at-large. This is home to artist powerhouses like Stella, Warhol, and Homer, who have influenced culture as we know it with their soul, thought, and talent, and who continue to elevate the spirit in a world that sorely needs it. We couldn’t be luckier to have the works of these masters, and so many more, right in our own backyard.

Welcoming more than 200,000 visitors a year, P.U.A.M. serves as a gateway to fine art and the University itself. At the helm is museum director James Christen Steward, who keeps “the visitor in mind” with P.U.A.M.’s innovative and dynamic programming, a cornerstone of its commitment to education. Exciting exhibitions, panel discussions, “Late Thursdays” offerings, family friendly activities like Saturday’s “Art for Families,” and synergistic community pairings such as those between the Museum and the Princeton Garden Theatre, with happenings like “Modernism on Screen.” Events like these attract visitors from near and far, but perhaps it’s the casual afternoon that carries the most meaning: the quiet hour stolen amid the hurry, when it’s just the viewer and the solace of the art.

We sat down with P.U.A.M. curators to get their P.O.V. on an arresting trio of collection highlights, an important bequest by a cherished faculty member, and a new exhibit that will knock your proverbial, art-loving socks off.

COLLECTION HIGHLIGHTS
Sometimes the story behind the art can as interesting as the art itself. These three masterworks, chosen by P.U.A.M. curators, provide an intimate look at provenance, history, and relevance, as interpreted by an iconic movie star, way-before-their-time feminists, and marital “politics.”

Marylin Sized-1

Andy Warhol, Blue Marilyn, 1962. Princeton University Art Museum.
Gift of Alfred H. Barr Jr., Class of 1922, and Mrs. Barr.

“Pop artist Andy Warhol was fascinated by celebrities and preoccupied with loss, mortality, and disaster. Warhol began producing his iconic portraits of Marilyn Monroe shortly after the troubled actress committed suicide, in August 1962. Around the same time, he began experimenting with silk-screening, a technique he used to reproduce existing photographs repeatedly, as if on an assembly line. Silk-screening tends to flatten the resulting image both literally and symbolically, and even the addition of acrylic paint, applied by the artist, does little to animate the Marilyn depicted here. Blue Marilyn belongs to the “Marilyn Flavors” series, eight of which, including this one, debuted at the Stable Gallery, in New York, in 1962. Like many of Warhol’s Monroe portraits, they are based on black-and-white publicity stills from the actor’s 1953 film Niagara. Alfred H. Barr Jr., a Princeton alumnus and a founding director of the Museum of Modern Art, purchased Blue Marilyn the year it was made and donated it to Princeton in 1978.”

Puam Harp

Angelica Kauffmann, Portrait of Sarah Harrop (Mrs. Bates) as a
Muse, 1780–81. Princeton University Art Museum. Museum purchase,
Surdna Fund and Fowler McCormick, Class of 1921, Fund.

“This rare portrait of a self-made woman by one of the few professional female artists of the period suggests an unusual sympathy between artist and sitter. Kauffmann, one of two female founding members of London’s Royal Academy, shows Harrop in the wilderness, a lyre by her side and a roll of music in her hand. The background alludes to Mount Parnassus, the home of the ancient muses, while the lyre likely identifies Erato, the muse of lyric poetry. The sheet music grounds the portrait in the modern world: it is an aria from George Frideric Handel’s opera Rodelinda, Queen of the Lombards (1725). The picture dates from the time of Harrop’s marriage and the music reinforces its role as a marriage portrait. The aria, “Dove sei, l’amato bene,” is sung by Rodelinda’s husband, King Bertarido, in hiding and believed dead, when he learns his wife has agreed to marry the usurper to save the life of their son. This plaintive aria begs Rodelinda to console his soul and laments that he can bear his torments only with her. Harrop, whose husband and mentor was a musician of modest origins and a promoter of Handel’s works, was a celebrated interpreter of the composer’s operas and oratorios.”

Dress and Jacket

Yinka Shonibare M.B.E., Nelson’s Jacket and Fanny’s Dress, 2011.
Princeton University Art Museum. Museum purchase, Fowler McCormick, Class of 1921, Fund

“The British naval commander Horatio Nelson (1758–1805) and his wife, Frances “Fanny” Nisbet Nelson (1758–1831), are portrayed in this sculptural pair. As in a traditional matrimonial portrait, the couple’s character and status are conveyed through the attributes of their clothing: the formal coat of a vice admiral and the empire silhouette of Fanny’s fashionable gown. Here, however, Shonibare has crafted these period costumes from Dutch wax fabric—the signature medium of his practice—to call attention to not only the Nelsons’ position in society but also their legacy: the colonial expansion enabled by Nelson’s naval campaigns during the Napoleonic Wars. Inspired by Indonesian batiks, the Dutch and British both produced wax-resist cloth in their competition for control of West Africa—its land, its people, and its luxury market. As the cloth increasingly became associated with African fashion, it also appealed to the colonial impulse to collect and display the cultural artifacts of foreign lands. By positioning these figures in glass vitrines, Shonibare broadens his examination of the legacy of British colonialism in West Africa to contemplate the responsibilities of museums as they relate to practices of collection and display.”

FRANK STELLA UNBOUND
Literature and Printmaking

Stella Sized

Clockwise from left: Juam (1997), Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960; Then Came an Ox and Drank the Water (1984), Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960;
Atvatabar (1996), Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, M.A., Tyler Graphics Ltd. 1974–2001 Collection, given in honor of Frank Stella.

Honoring the 60th reunion of Princeton University alumnus Frank Stella, Class of 1958, the upcoming exhibition, Frank Stella Unbound: Literature and Printmaking, is an unbridled celebration of the artist’s powerful visual narrative, his vision for interpreting written work, and, of course, his longtime commitment to abstraction. Completed between 1984 and 1999 in partnership with master printer Ken Tyler, this collection of 41 works is culled from four major print series and, say P.U.A.M. curators, is the “first exhibition to focus on the vital role that literature played in the artist’s groundbreaking explorations of the print medium.”

Four diverse texts provide rich fodder for Stella’s gestural and geometric forms: an illustrated publication of “Had Gadya,” the traditional Passover song; a collection of Italian folktales transcribed by Italo Calvino; the American epic novel Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville; and the illustrated encyclopedia The Dictionary of Imaginary Places. Stella interprets the soul of the texts in works “of an unprecedented scale and complexity” that represent “an active cross-pollination [among] his practices in painting, sculpture, and printmaking that transformed his visual language and working processes in all media.”

GILLETT G. GRIFFIN
Small Objects, Big Impact

Mummy Sized

Mummy portrait of a bearded young man, ca. 130–160 a.d. Princeton University Art Museum.
Bequest of Gillett G. Griffin in honor of Allen Rosenbaum.

Gillett G. Griffin (1928–2016) used his extraordinary eye to see value where others did not. A 38-year faculty curator at Princeton University Art Museum, Griffin began collecting art of the Ancient Americas in the 1960s, a time when few were, eventually shaping for Princeton University “what is widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest collections of the Art of the Ancient Americas,” according to museum director James Steward. Adds curator Bryan R. Just: “Griffin collected while the market under-appreciated the material, so his relatively modest means could afford objects of the highest quality.” Amassing an incredible personal collection in this way, Griffin has now bequeathed thousands of objects to Princeton University, many small in scale but big in historical impact. Although the curators are hard at work processing, cataloging, and photographing Griffin’s superb bequest, they’ve been kind enough to share a sneak peek at one of the collection’s standout pieces.

Other remarkable gifts include Griffin’s collection of children’s books that predate 1846, now housed at New York’s Morgan Library & Museum; contributions to Princeton University Library Graphic Arts Collection; and a collection of Albert Einstein memorabilia, including 50 photographs, that was donated to the Historical Society of Princeton (to wit, Gillett and Einstein were personal friends). But perhaps his most lasting legacy is the way he inspired and excited his students about art. His generosity,
incredible knowledge, and spirited personality made him a great mentor to many, including Just, who says, “There is no doubt that the knowledge and enthusiasm that Griffin imparted will continue to teach visitors to appreciate the subtle aesthetic aspects of art as they engage with those objects he has brought to the Museum for that very reason.” —Rae Padulo (photographs provided by the Princeton University Art Museum)

The Princeton University Art Museum, Elm Drive, Princeton; 609.258.3788 or artmuseum.princeton.edu. Museum hours: Sunday, 12–5 p.m.; Monday, closed; Tuesday and Wednesday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m.–9 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.– 5 p.m.

 

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SMALL TOWNS, BIG HAPPENINGS: MEMORIAL DAY PARADES 2018

Screen Shot 2018-05-22 at 12.00.53 PMThere’s nothing quite like a holiday weekend, the (almost) start of summer, first BBQ’s, and – BEST of all – honoring those who live a life of service.  Here are some special spots to pull up a chair or blanket and wave the flag.

SPIRIT OF PRINCETON, N.J. PARADE: Saturday, May 26, 2018 at 10 a.m. Followed by a ceremony at 11 a.m:

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Photo from PlanetPrinceton.com

LAWRENCE TOWNSHIP, N.J. PARADE:  Saturday, May 26th, 2018, starts at 10 a.m. and will end with a service and celebration in Berwyn Park:

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Photo from CentralJersey.com

HOPEWELL BOROUGH, N.J. PARADE: Sunday, May 27th, 2018, from 1-2p.m.  Watch along Broad Street and then ceremony to follow at the Elementary School:

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Photo from MercerMe.com

CRANBURY, N.J. PARADE:  Monday, May 28th, 2018, at 1p.m.:

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PENNINGTON, N.J. PARADE:  Monday, May 28th, 2018, at 11 am. The Kids Bike Brigade begins 10:15 am at Toll Gate Grammar School – no sign up necessary!

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Photo from MercerMe.com

A wonderful Memorial Day Weekend to all!

 

 

A-LIST PROPERTY: SCENIC RETREAT DESIGNED BY JIM HAMILTON

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Ask anyone where to dine in the darling river town of Lambertville, New Jersey, and they are bound to mention Hamilton’s Grill Room. Known for its unique flair, creative dishes, and vibrant atmosphere, it’s the perfect reflection of its founder, the late Jim Hamilton. What might not be as well-known, is how colorful and accomplished was the life of Mr. Hamilton, and the legacy he left in the art, culinary, and design world.

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Armed with both a Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design education, and an advanced degree in Fine Arts from Yale University, Jim Hamilton designed everything from showrooms for Oleg Cassini and windows for Tiffany and Co., to stage, film sets, and scenery for Hollywood, Broadway, and musicians.  His firm, Design Associates in Lambertville, created scenery for the original productions of Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar, and built sets for David Bowie, Tina Turner, The Rolling Stones, as well as the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

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In the 1980’s he opened Jim Hamilton & Company, an architecture firm that designed restaurants, homes, and commercial projects, including this A-LIST property, 120 Province Line Road in Skillman, New Jersey 08558.  A visionary architect, Jim Hamilton designed this scenic hillside retreat with a range of spaces from a grand hall to quaint hideaways. As one of his few from-the-ground-up designs, the Hopewell Township house eschews rules, embraces whimsy and showcases the talents of many local artisans.

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Double hung windows and native stone bring tradition to a modern exterior with stained glass entry. Antique barn wood in the living room is immediately striking, while cleverly repurposed vintage fixtures and hand-painted moldings quietly reveal themselves. Natural illumination is a vital feature of every room and, thanks to a light well serving as the interior’s nexus, it pervades every corner. With a double range, sinks and Sub Zeros, the kitchen is for serious cooking surrounded by company in the open office and family room. Upstairs, 6 bedrooms offer window seats looking out over 15 scenic acres. Hand-painted tiles decorate baths, including that of the master floor with sundeck, office alcove and stairs to a reading loft.

Tucked between the area’s finest country clubs and nearby schools, his legacy lives on in this extraordinary property, just 5.5 miles to downtown Princeton and two miles to Hopewell Borough. Property available for preview this Sunday, May 20th, from 12-2pm. Click here for more listing information. 

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