Saturday, April 10, 2021
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Portrait of the Artist as a Young Trenton Latina

Artist Tamara Torres

When Trenton artist Tamara Torres was a little girl, she decided to create her own religion. “I thought I was going to be a pastor. I remember hearing my dad talk to people about religion and thought ‘why is religion so difficult? Why is everyone completely obsessed with the thought that there’s one religion that saves humanity? Why are there so many arguments about who’s right and who’s wrong? I can create my own.’”

Born to Puerto Rican immigrants in 1978, the artist — who created an exhibition on her religion at Artworks Trenton and is participating in the Trenton City Museum’s current exhibition “Women Artists Trenton Style” — spent much of her childhood struggling financially in Trenton and supported mainly by her father, Heriberto Torres.

“My father raised my brother and me. He was a good man. He worked odd jobs and did his best,” she says. Despite her father’s efforts, Torres — who does not speak of her mother — often found herself sleeping at the homes of friends. Then things got worse when she was assaulted at age nine. “I won’t talk about the details,” she says now. “I think that breaks your character apart. It happened, that’s all.”

The assault marked the end of her childhood musings on spirituality for quite some time. “My thoughts about religion went away after that. Before that, I thought the world was difficult and tough, but I still had this optimism — butterflies and rainbows.”

The traumatic event also led to a kind of reverse-spiritual awakening. Instead of imagining her own religion, she stopped thinking about God altogether. “You get to a point where you think, okay if this is how life really is after something so painful, then there must not be anything out there. So you just push it down.”

But Torres’ life took a turn for the positive when a friend gave her a 35mm Pentax camera so she could take pictures of him. The gift changed her life. She began taking photographs and never looked back.

“Art saved my life,” she says. “It really did.”

Torres’ image ‘Isla.’

The turn continued. When she was 16 Torres volunteered for the Edison Job Corps and earned her GED. She then attended classes at Mercer County Community College, where she met more people who encouraged her to become an artist. She still communicates with some of them years later.

“They’re amazing teachers and amazing friends,” she says. And now Torres — who has an adult son and daughter — makes her living mainly by doing her art.

While stories from her unpredictable childhood were dramatized on the stage of Passage Theatre in 2010 as part of its production of “Trenton Lights,” Torres has since taken charge of her own story — through photography, collage, abstract painting, and fashion design, and her often shocking and controversial work has been seen not only in Trenton, but in Chelsea, Rome, London, Milan, and Calabria. To create visual and performance art she has put together a team of collaborators — models and actors — to push both buttons and boundaries.

“It’s gotten to the point where models will ask me ‘Do I have to bring Band-Aids?’ One time a model lay down on broken glass. We were very careful but still … I can’t believe she did it.”

When her father, also a visual artist, died several years ago after a traffic accident, Torres — facing another life-altering event — began asking questions that she had not confronted head-on since she was nine. “Somehow,” Torres says, “I found my way by creating a more personal spirituality.”

In a general statement for the Trenton City Museum exhibition, Torres, who has worked at New Jersey Manufacturers and concentrates on selling and exhibiting her art, says her photographs evolved over time into collages of images, text, symbols, and abstract backdrops that she created herself to address the complex “hard truths and fractured world” that surrounded her. And that her abstract paintings “evolved into standalone creations, renditions of complicated emotional landscapes navigated by ‘shadow men.’”

She says being an artist has allowed her to create works that embody her Afro-Latina ancestry and life experiences and that the lack of Latina abstract artists has pushed her to pursue this field with passion — even though she lacks formal training.

Speaking more personally about her approach, she says, “For each individual artwork created, there is a unique process that often begins with a concept ripped from childhood memories, music, or current events. Art has been a way to heal and give voices to the idea of not being cemented to circumstances that would have made me into a statistic from a broken home.

“It begins with capturing photographs in my city, self-portraits of private moments or of others that speak the truth or inaccurate portrayals of the Afro-Latina woman. The photographs are a process and the beginnings of my paintings. Creating imaginary worlds that give you the sense to swim in them is the goal.

“The process of my paintings is opening a spiritual connection that identifies with feelings of hidden truths. They are transformed in one sit-down with a related paint pallet, markers, spray paint, or any materials surrounding my area. I would rather not stop and come back to them because when I am putting a brush against the canvas it is a revelation that cannot be stopped until it’s completed; otherwise the truth changes.

“The inspirations come from the energy of my photographs, the trumpets of Miles Davis, writings of James Baldwin, declarations of Victoria Santa Cruz, and the stories of the unknown heroes who have saved my life growing up in a world that was not safe. Most importantly my paintings have a religious connection to each individual one, a cry for a mental sanctuary from any darkness that has surfaced from unwelcome encounters.”

Find out more about the artist at www.tamaratorresart.com.

Women Artists, Trenton Style, featuring the art of Tamara Torres, is on view at the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie, Cadwalader Park, Trenton. Friday and Saturday, noon to 4 p.m., Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m., through June 6 (masks, social distancing required, and timed entry). Free. For more information, call 609-989-1191. To reserve a viewing time, go to www.ellarslie.org.

Architect Looks at Power, Place, and Social Justice

Architect Bryan C. Lee Jr. lectures on ‘power and place’ on Saturday, April 10, with Trenton Health Team.

Trenton Health Team (THT) hosts a free online discussion on Saturday, April 10, at 11 a.m. featuring architect and former Trenton resident Bryan C. Lee Jr. exploring how urban planning and design impacts our lives and how we can strengthen communities through “design justice.” Join the event via Zoom. For more information visit www.trentonhealthteam.org.

The event, titled “Power and Place,” will encourage participants to imagine what the city of Trenton could look like if decisions were grounded in social justice principles.

THT says using local examples, Lee, who recently taught a design studio at the Harvard Graduate School of Design focused on Trenton, will show how architecture and planning not grounded in design justice actually create injustice toward communities.

Historic processes such as redlining, urban renewal, and strip mall development have harmed neighborhoods and communities, particularly communities of color, by removing gathering spaces and opportunities to interact, Lee notes. Even modern developments are typically designed as separate from the surrounding community, rather than including and uplifting them, notes THT.

Lee’s firm, Colloqate Design, is a multidisciplinary nonprofit design justice practice based in New Orleans, Louisiana, that is “working to expand community access to, and build power through, design of social, civic, and cultural spaces.”

“I’ve been interested in being an architect since I was about seven years old,” Lee says in an interview on the construction-related online site Autodesk. “My family moved to Sicily for about three years. When I moved back from Sicily to Trenton, New Jersey, when I was about 10, 11 years old, we moved in with my grandmother for a little while, and the first thing you notice is the complete dissonance between the spaces and places in Sicily versus the streets of Trenton, New Jersey. And that difference really started to spark a little bit of a light and at least an acknowledgement of what physical spaces are, what they do, and how they impact the community or impact people.”

He expanded on the idea of social justice further in an interview published by Common Edge, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reconnecting architecture and design with the public that it’s meant to serve:

“I think the profession’s role is to reconcile our complicit nature in all of the various systems at play. We talk about the fact that for nearly every injustice, there’s an architecture that has been designed to sustain it. Look at our climate crisis: 40 percent of the world’s carbon emissions come from buildings. When we talk about policing and jailing: We have built out an immense prison system. By doing so, we’ve forced a system of mass incarceration upon it. So we have to stop designing and constructing buildings that directly and actively create harm in the world.

“It means that we have to imagine communities that are not centered solely on whiteness as our prevailing understanding of how people move through the world. We often base our considerations of space and place on how white people might feel in that space. For example: the idea of a picket fence and two children and having your own domain as the owner of a single lot. That ideal is much different than those found in communities of color, who often live together, who often prefer to have communal spaces, communal interactions. We need to recognize and acknowledge the way that design and architecture perpetuates that disconnect, and instead build with other considerations in mind, both amplifying the health, wealth, and educational outcomes, directly related to those underserved communities.

“We talk about the continuum of power, where designers can have impact on that continuum. It includes pedagogy, policies, procedures, practice, projects, and people. Those are the ones that we consider most pressing. And what that means is, the way we teach people is important to fix and change. We have to change our universities. We have to look at our high schools and how we’re training people to think about the physical environment, whether they’re architects or not. We have to actively change policies, whether it’s HUD or city councils or planning offices, to reflect programming that can allow for justice to emerge.

“We have to change the way our procedures work. Oftentimes we set in place these policies that have theoretically good intentions, but the people who implement them either don’t know how to, or have varying levels of understanding of what the policy was attempting to do in the first place. Red lining, the way it was written, did not specifically call out black people. It called out ‘undesirables.’ So there’s a difference between policy and the way that those things are implemented.

“And then we go to the receiver side and talk about practice. How does practice change from an internal standpoint? How do we extend the range of services to adamantly include the community process as a part of the entire scope of work? In our projects, how do we test and make sure in the long run that the projects are accomplishing what they were supposed to do? And then, lastly, how are we expanding, not just the profession, but the number and variety of individuals that have a say in how the built environment is created? Because we’ve done such a woefully poor job of addressing those issues throughout our history, all of them need to be addressed.”

This will be the final event in THT’s “How Spaces Shape Us” speaker series, supported by the Nicholson Foundation to spark civic dialogue around social justice and equity issues.

On the Move: MCCC Partnership, Management Moves, Deaths

MCCC Partnership Helps Students Earn College Credits

Mercer County Community College (MCCC) has announced that it has been selected by the State of New Jersey Office of the Secretary of Higher Education (OSHE) and Modern States Education Alliance to participate in a pilot partnership to provide students with the opportunity to earn free college credit for demonstrating college-level mastery.

The partnership with Modern States furthers the goals outlined in the State Plan for Higher Education by offering students college preparation and the ability to earn free college credit.

“Mercer County Community College is delighted to join New Jersey OSHE, Modern States, Thomas Edison State University, and Centenary University in an innovative partnership to provide high-quality options supporting degree completion. Specifically, this partnership will allow eligible students to earn college credits through high-quality preparation and standardized College Level Examination Program examinations free of charge. It is an additional pathway to college completion without the cost barrier,” MCCC president Jianping Wang said in a statement.

Modern States is a nonprofit organization that provides high-quality courses and other learning materials to individuals free of charge, with the goal of the program being “Freshman Year for Free.”

Students are able to take courses at their own pace, and once they have successfully completed a course Modern States provides a voucher to take CLEP exams for free. CLEP exams are offered by the college board and normally cost $89.

For more information, visit www.mccc.edu.

NRG CEO Joins Chipotle Board

Mauricio Gutierrez, the Princeton-based president and CEO of NRG Energy in Carnegie Center, has been named to the board of directors of Chipotle.

The American fast-casual restaurant chain that specializes in tacos and burritos has a location on Route 1 in West Windsor.

Gutierrez’s experience as an executive will help him as he serves on Chipotle’s board’s compensation committee.

Management Moves

Medlogix, 300 American Metro Boulevard, Suite 170, Hamilton 08619. 800-293-9795. Craig Goldstein, president. www.medlogix.com.

Medlogix, a Hamilton-based medical claims management firm, has named Cindy Pirozzi as senior vice president of workers’ compensation managed care.

Pirozzi, whose 25 years of experience include work in property and casualty insurance, medical claims management, business development, and customer relations, will lead strategic initiatives in a range of areas in her new role.

Stark & Stark, 993 Lenox Drive, Building 2, Lawrence 08648. 609-896-9060. Michael Donahue, managing shareholder. www.stark-stark.com.

John P. Maloney

Lenox Drive-based law firm Stark & Stark has added a new shareholder. John P. Maloney will become a member of the Business & Corporate and Business Succession Planning groups, where he will focus on corporate transactional and governance matters.

Admitted to practice in New York and New Jersey, Maloney is a graduate of Fairfield University and Seton Hall University School of Law. He has been practicing law for more than 30 years.

“We are thrilled to welcome John Maloney to our firm,” managing shareholder Michael G. Donahue said in a statement. “His extensive experience in representing a wide range of businesses on complex legal matters will be a tremendous asset to our team.”

Billtrust, 1009 Lenox Drive, Lawrenceville 08648. 609-235-1010. Flint Lane, founder and CEO. www.billtrust.com.

Greg Hanson

The Lawrence-based B2B payment solutions provider has named Greg Hanson as chief product officer.

Hanson previously served as senior vice president of product development for Precision Lender at Q2, a software-as-a-service platform related to the commercial loan market. He earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from Middlebury College and dual master’s degrees in architecture and structural engineering from the University of Michigan.

“Greg’s track record and expertise will help us develop and bring products to market more quickly and with even greater innovation as we continue to lead the drive towards digitized, integrated B2B payments,” said Flint Lane, Billtrust’s founder and CEO, in a statement.

Deaths

Dorothy Susan Hess, 74, on March 9. She was a principal fiscal analyst for the New Jersey Civil Service Commission for more than 44 years.

Theresa B. Immordino, 62, on March 31. She was an administrative assistant for Poulson & Van Hise Funeral Directors in Lawrencevillle for the past 25 years.

Carol Bowman Castelize, 74, on March 29. She worked for the insurance firm Adlerman Click & Co. in Princeton.

Anthony J. Taraschi, 77, on March 30. He owned Liberty Music for 20 years and retired after 10 years at PERQ/HCI Corp. in Lawrenceville.

Charlotte J. Rogers, 86. She retired from St. Francis Medical Center, where she was a medical secretary.

Joseph Lugo, 83, on March 23. He was retired from the maintenance department at Mercer County Community College.

The Golden Girls: Three Sisters All Together, All on One Campus

Sisters Lucy, Rose, and Lena pictured together at the holidays several years ago.

Meet three sisters, ages 92, 90 and 89, Lena B., Rose J., and Lucy S., who feel very fortunate to be in good health, receiving the best care, and residing together on the campus of Greenwood House Senior Healthcare in Ewing Township, NJ.

The ladies’ parents, Josephine Serianni Caraccio and Santo “Sandy” Caraccio, married and had a total of seven children: Phil, Mary, Lena, Rose, Lucy, Pauleen and Rita. They originally started their young family in a little coal town in Pennsylvania called Alberta, where Sandy worked in the mines. Later, he secured a new job in the Trenton area with the railroad, and they packed everything and relocated to Pennington Avenue, where Josephine’s parents, the sisters, grandparents, had their home just next door, and the rest is their 80-year Trentonian history.

The women were raised, went to school, married, made their own home and families and stayed in the Trenton area since they were school aged: 12, 10, and 9. All three worked in various positions across multiple industries in companies like Bay Ridge Potteries & Westinghouse. “When I asked Lena where she met her husband, she said at place called Schnorbus Pharmacy, where she was a cashier — all the boys hung by the corner there and he used to come by,” said Sherry Smith, Director of Marketing at Greenwood House. Rose and Lucy also were married, and Lucy had two children.

Today Lucy’s son, Ken, oversees all three ladies affairs. Ken wouldn’t have guessed it would turn out this way but was very blessed to accept the responsibility and also is very pleased for his mother and two aunts. He and ex-wife, Debbie Smith, feel so grateful to their friend, Maria, they’ve known since high school since she being healthcare herself was the person who referred them to Greenwood House. “I am super happy our “golden girls” are doing so well, and Greenwood House has been great” stated Debbie to Greenwood House.

“They all weathered the pandemic, overcame some health issues and made necessary lifestyle changes to better suit their personal needs, and now I feel a sense of relief because they are safe, happy and being cared for by one of the best places in the area with a well-known, long-standing reputation of compassion and care,” Ken shared with Greenwood House.

If you would like to write or send greeting cards, please address correspondence to Greenwood House Pen Pal Program, Attn: Leena B., Rose J. or Lucy S., at 53 Walter Street, Ewing, NJ 08628.

Greenwood House is a nonprofit, mission-based organization that has been servicing the aging and elderly in our local community for near three decades, specializing in rehabilitation, long-term care, skilled nursing, respite care, homecare services, assisted living and hospice care.

You can follow Greenwood House on Facebook @GreenwoodHouseNJ or learn more about the organization and their services at GreenwoodHouse.org.

Updates from CASA, COVID, and ACT

To the Editor: April Is National Child Abuse Prevention Month

Child abuse and neglect is a serious problem affecting every segment of our community, and finding solutions requires input and action from everyone. While this is vital in any year, it is even more important in these challenging times when a family’s way of life is upended because of the Covid pandemic. Child abuse can have long‐term psychological, emotional, and physical effects that have lasting consequences for its victims.

It is essential that communities increase access to programs and activities that create strong and thriving children and families. Effective child abuse prevention activities succeed because of the partnerships created between child welfare professionals, education, health, community‐ and faith‐based organizations, businesses, law enforcement agencies, and families.

April has been declared as National Child Abuse Prevention Month. The volunteers and staff at CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) for Children of Mercer and Burlington Counties strive to ensure the emotional, physical and educational well-being of these children while they reside in foster homes or residential facilities. The ultimate goal of our volunteers is to help establish a safe, stable and permanent home for each child we serve.

Laura Wall

Executive Director, CASA for Children of Mercer and Burlington Counties
www.casamb.org

COVID-19 Vaccine Updates

The list of people in New Jersey currently eligible to receive one of the three COVID-19 vaccines currently approved for use in the United States is rapidly expanding.

As of April 5, a number of new groups became eligible, including:

• Individuals ages 55-64

• Individuals 16 and older with intellectual and developmental disabilities

• Higher education educators and staff

• Librarians and library staff

• Communications, IT and press

• Real estate, building and home service workers

• Retail financial institution workers

• Sanitation workers

• Laundry service workers

• Utility workers

Additionally, Governor Phil Murphy announced on April 5 that as of Monday, April 19, everyone ages 16 and older and New Jersey will be eligible to receive the vaccine. Only the Pfizer vaccine is approved for use in teenagers ages 16 and 17; the vaccines produced by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are approved for adults ages 18 and up.

As of April 5 state Department of Health data indicated that 119,514 Mercer County residents have received at least one dose and 68,079 Mercer residents have been fully vaccinated. More than 4.7 million vaccine doses have been administered statewide.

Updates from the Wrecking Ball Saga

Stakeholders Allied for the Core of Trenton, the group behind the efforts to prevent the demolition of the architecturally and historically significant state Department of Health and Agriculture Building in Trenton (U.S. 1, March 24), is inviting supporters to sign a petition for the cause.

On their website, www.stakeholders-act.org, the group has posted the following statement beneath its request for people to sign the petition:

WHAT’S GOING ON HERE?

Two state-owned buildings in downtown Trenton previously used by the Health and Agriculture Departments are facing demolition. These historically significant buildings designed by renowned architects Jane West Clauss and her spouse, Alfred Clauss, are prime opportunities for redevelopment in our Capital City, that is badly in need of a growing tax base. The New Jersey Economic Development Authority’s CEO Tim Sullivan, executing plans ordered by former Governor Chris Christie, intends to tear down the buildings and replace them with even more surface parking spaces.

WE HAVE A FEW SIMPLE, YET All-TOO-OBVIOUS-QUESTIONS:

• Why has the state failed to offer these two structures to the real-estate community for reinvention and reuse?

• Why, in a capital city so desperately in need of development and tax ratables, would important, large-scale buildings be demolished?​

IF THAT WASN’T BAD ENOUGH…

Trenton has an effective tax rate that is 93 percent HIGHER than the average rate of the 20 largest municipalities. And that’s not all.

By population, Trenton ranks No. 11 among all municipalities in the state. But when it comes to taxes, it’s No. 1.

While the average effective tax rates in the top 20 municipalities has steadily decreased from 2018 to 2020, Trenton’s has risen each year.

• 2018: Trenton 84 percent higher than the average rate.

• 2019: Trenton 88 percent higher.

• 2020: Trenton 93 percent higher.

Business Meetings April 7 to 14

Thursday, April 8

Virtual Monthly Membership Luncheon, Princeton Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce. www.princetonmercerchamber.org. P. Sue Perrotty, interim president and CEO of Tower Health, speaks on “Leadership in the Time of COVID.” Register. $25, $15 members. Noon to 1:30 p.m.

Friday, April 9

JobSeekers, Professional Service Group of Mercer County. www.psgofmercercounty.org. Lynn Williams, executive director of the Philadelphia Area Great Careers Group, shares statistics and a research-based philosophy to optimize your LinkedIn profile and leverage your competitive edge. 9:45 a.m. to noon.

Tuesday, April 13

JobSeekers. sites.google.com/site/njjobseekers. Virtual meeting for those seeking employment. Visit website for GoTo Meeting link. 7:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Wednesday, April 14

Entrepreneur Resources in NJ, Trenton Public Library, 120 Academy Street, Trenton. www.trentonlib.org. Session in partnership with the Women’s Center for Entrepreneurship to introduce its programs for start-ups and established businesses, business plans, funding, legal entities, and additional resources. Register. Via Zoom. 3 to 4 p.m.

Trends in Digital Health, Princeton Innovation Center BioLabs. www.princetonbiolabs.com. Panel discussion on the trends that are disrupting healthcare as we know it and shaping the future of global health. Panelists include Jean Drouin, CEO of Clarify Health Solutions; Shahram Hejazi, a life science investor and entrepreneur; and Kimberly Newell Green, a pediatrician and associate clinical professor at the University of California San Francisco. Register. Free. 4 to 5 p.m.

Shopify Is For Everyone, Princeton SCORE. princeton.score.org. In this webinar, the speaker will walk through the ins and outs of e-commerce including setting up a virtual storefront using Shopify; Shopify app plug-ins; and website sales. Register. Free. 6:30 p.m.

 

An Ornithologist Shares the Joys of Birdwatching

Ornithologist Charlie Leck

Those looking to find the “just right” type of activity between the vaccine-softening quarantining and full public exposure, the place to go may your actual backyard or neighborhood.

And since birdwatching has a seemingly limitless number of game to catch by eye, it’s an activity where the sky — along with everything under it — is the limit.

“I think just getting out of doors,” says regional ornithologist Charles (aka Charlie) Leck about birdwatching as a pursuit. “And there are few animal groups you can see at any time, beautiful colors.”

The author of two Rutgers University Press books, “Birds of New Jersey: Their Habits and Habitats” and “The Status and Distribution of New Jersey’s Birds,” and professor emeritus at Rutgers University, where he led classes in animal behavior, ornithology, and ecology, Leck says in April “everything is bursting in song. Wrens are singing away. That’s the sign we’re really getting into spring.”

During a recent telephone conversation from his house in Kendell Park, Leck advises people to get out and find “cavity nesters looking for a nest site — a hole in the tree. That includes a lot of woodpeckers and nuthatches, chickadees — they’re always courting already.”

Additionally, he says look for bald eagles “The numbers are fantastic this year. There have been 30, up to 40 or 50 wintering on the Delaware River, from Ewing south to Bordentown.”

Since eagles mate during the winter, people on the lookout may be able to spot the chicks that began hatching at the end of March. “It’s good now. The young ones will be flapping around trying to fly for the next month or so.”

Other bird activities include the arrival of the migrating Carolina wrens “and woodcock courtship is pretty big. Take walks at sunset. The birds are making noise and flying. There are many other things this time of year. Loons will be calling soon.”

Leck says that birdwatching is an easy pursuit that requires “just a curiosity about the outdoors, binoculars, and some kind of guide book. The Peterson one was famous for years.”

But it works best if the novice goes with a few others who have some birding knowledge. “If it is just one other person, it helps a lot.”

He also says that it is good to be in a group and points to the Audubon Society, the Friends of Abbott Marshlands, and Mercer County Parks.

“Small numbers of people are good,” says Leck, referring to both COVID and effectiveness — too many people will scare the birds away. “A lot of things are good in small numbers, anything smaller than 24.”

Speaking about changes he has noticed since his “Birds of New Jersey” was first published in 1975, Leck says one main thing is the bird population in the Garden State “is way, way down,” according to annual bird counts. “You may get the same number of species, but the (census) numbers are fewer. That’s happened again and again with different groups (participating in the count). You can’t say what group of birds it is. There are fewer habitats to nest, fewer things to feed on.”

Speaking on the book’s pages about local sites, Leck guides readers to locations such as the Institute for Advanced Study woods, where woodcocks are among the first to begin spring courtship. He says in late March “males can be heading on their spiraling flights, which end with a whining 60-foot dive to the ground and abrupt landing. Between courtship flights the males walk about the display grounds giving their distinctive nasal ‘peeent’ call. The female is attracted by the activity and selects a mate. The female then nests and raises four young, with no assistance from the male. The same courtship grounds are used year after year by successive generations of woodcocks — I have seen the same local display ground active for more than 10 years.”

At William L. Hutcheson Memorial Forest, the historic untilled natural preserve in Franklin Township, the male indigo bunting “returns in spring a few days earlier than the female to establish its territory. Joining it is the American goldfinch, which is especially fond of the thistle — in fact, thistle seeds quickly attract goldfinches to feeding stations. This finch is sometimes called the ‘wild canary’ and is well known to bird watchers for its confusing color changes through the seasons. It is the official state bird of New Jersey as well as Iowa and Washington.”

A pair of bald eagles in Mercer County Park as seen in the county’s Eyes on Eagles virtual program.

During the interview he adds, “Sayen Gardens in Hamilton is good — in April it will be fantastic. One of the best parks is the county park, Mercer Meadows [near ETS]. The woods near there has regularly had screech owls, horn owls, and short ear owls. They court spectacularly at sunset. Mercer County Parks has owl walks that are quite successful.”

For all year birding, he says, “You can’t beat the Brigantine or Forsythe Wildlife Center and Sandy Hook.”

But people can find opportunities when they look outdoors and notice signs of the changing seasons, such as the arrival of spring food sources: sap flowing through branches, insect activity, budding plants, and worms emerging from the ground.

Leck, who has been observing birds and his surroundings for more than a half century, grew up in Princeton Junction and attended Princeton High School.

The son of an RCA electrical researcher and a stay-at-home mother, he says he often explored the Millstone River, Lake Carnegie, and the woods and wet meadows of Plainsboro, now the Plainsboro Preserve.

He connects his career in ornithology to an incident when he was a Boy Scout attending Camp Pahaquarra on the Delaware River. “You do archery and this and that. Then I saw scouts looking up at the trees. I was astonished with what was there. I couldn’t believe it. The scouts got me going.”

That included pursuing an undergraduate degree from Muhlenberg College, a PhD in animal behavior from Cornell, and a teaching position at Rutgers University’s Cook College from 1970 to 2000.

In addition to writing two books, Leck shares his bird expertise during bird walks organized by the Friends of the Abbott Marshlands, a group founded by his wife and Rider University professor emeritus Mary Leck.

Among Leck’s own bird favorites, number one seems to be herons. “I look forward to seeing them at the marsh.”

Understanding others may want to search out something more exciting — and mitigate the image of the nerdy birdwatcher — he mentions predators, such as the aforementioned eagles and owls as well as peregrine falcons found nesting on bridges.

Thinking of a safe group activity that has a practical outcome, Leck recommends the annual bird count called both the Big Day — aka the World Series of Birding — set for Saturday, May 8, (see the New Jersey Audubon Society listing below).

“It is both a social and scientific effort to raise money for various purposes,” he says. “People pledge so many birds (to count) and money comes in. These Big Days are astonishing. What is good about them is that they’ve been done for more than 100 years, but it is sad because the numbers are down typically more than it was years ago.”

Yet, as he pointed out in his book years ago, “There will be changes in the future, particularly with man’s alternation of the environment. But with appropriate priorities New Jersey may continue to be graced by the richness of birdlife.”

For more information on New Jersey birds, birdwatching opportunities, and organizations, visit the following:

Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, website listings of events, programs, and webcams to view state and regional eagles, hawks, and osprey, 2 Preservation Place, Princeton, www.conservewildlifenj.org.

Mercer County Parks, listings of bird hikes at different parks, including Roebling Park in the Abbott Marshlands and Mercer Meadows, and Eyes on Eagles and Owl Photography events, www.mercercountyparks.org.

New Jersey Audubon, state and tristate listing of birding activities including the Saturday, May 8, World Series of Birding, 9 Hardscrabble Road, Bernardsville, New Jersey, www.njaudubon.org.

Washington Crossing Audubon Society, website listing of regional events and area birding “hot spots,” Box 112, Pennington, www.washingtoncrossingaudubon.org.

Robeson’s Life of Advocacy Celebrated in Graphic Form

Rutgers University Press’ just released “Ballad of an American: A Graphic Biography of Paul Robeson” gives a fresh look at a regionally connected American icon — literally.

The 141-page book uses 122 pages of comic-book styled illustrations to trace the life of an American of African ancestry and his journey from segregated Princeton — where he was born on April 9, 1898 — to an international platform where he demonstrated vast talents, despite harsh American racism.

In addition to being recognized as an accomplished scholar and athlete at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, Robeson, the son of an escaped slave turned minister, became an internationally known actor performing new works by groundbreaking American playwright Eugene O’Neill, a major figure in the innovative race-conscious musical “Show Boat,” and classic works by William Shakespeare — especially the latter’s “Othello”; a major motion picture star; an international recording and concert performer star; an outspoken proponent for civil rights; and an avowed Marxist. The latter being a lightning rod caused that him personal and professional hardship during America’s Cold War anti-communism era.

Illustrator and text writer Sharon Rudahl’s mainly black-and-white illustrations are reflective of the underground comic book milieu that she helped create. She started as a cartoonist during the 1970s drawing for the anti-Vietnam underground newspaper Takeover and the counterculture focused The Good Times before becoming part of the feminist collective that launched Wimmen’s Comix.

A longtime advocate for social justice, who as a teenager marched with Martin Luther King Jr., the Hollywood, California, based Rudhal is the author of the graphic novels “Adventures of Crystal Night” and “A Dangerous Woman: The Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman .”

Taking its title from a WPA-era musical piece that become one of Robeson’s signature songs — along with “Old Man River” from “Show Boat” — Rudhal’s book allows readers or viewers to scan the flow of Robeson’s life and the conflicts and hypocrisy of the era.

That the writer/illustrator charges the story with emotional visual and textual cues is to be expected and probably calculated to engage the eyes and minds of readers too impatient to read a more nuanced text.

After all, she is writing about a man who “grew up to be a world class athlete, a powerful actor, and an electrifying singer, cherished his African heritage, embraced the songs of many cultures, and whose voice was for voiceless common people. Everywhere.”

See and hear what she means in the sample pages pictured with this story.

“Ballad of an American: A Graphic Biography of Paul Robeson,” art and text by Sharon Rudahl and edited by Paul Buhle and Lawrence Ware, 144 pages, $19.95 (softcover), Rutgers University Press.

Robeson House to Host Birthday Events

The Paul Robeson House of Princeton, the nonprofit group that is working to restore the Witherspoon Street home where Roebling was born to serve as a resource for advocacy and human rights work, has organized a number of events in honor of Robeson’s 123rd birthday.

Thursday, April 8, at noon marks the YouTube premiere of “Robeson Legacy Interviews and Reflections.”

A statement from the organizers notes, “In honor of Paul Robeson’s 123rd birthday, stakeholders from the Paul Robeson House of Princeton stakeholder community share their thoughts on the Robeson Legacy in Princeton, NJ and around the world. Readings from Robeson’s writings, music from his catalogue and historic photos are shared to help visualize the enduring work of human rights activism done by Paul Robeson during his lifetime.”

And on Friday, April 9, from noon to 2 p.m. the Arts Council of Princeton hosts a memorial wreath laying at the Robeson bust located outside its building — also named for Robeson — at the corner of Witherspoon Street and Paul Robeson Place. Mayor Mark Freda will present a proclamation designating April 9 as Paul Robeson Day in Princeton.

The ceremony will be followed by a tour of Robeson-related sites in the Witherspoon Jackson neighborhood led by historian Shirley Satterfield. Masks and social distancing are required. For more information visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.

For more information on the Paul Robeson House and the ongoing renovations there, visit www.thepaulrobesonhouseofprinceton.org.