Looking down Paul Robeson Place from Witherspoon Street these days, it is hard to remember that the space on the left, now densely occupied by wall-to-wall, brick townhomes and apartments, was once the site of a vacant lot that hosted some of Princeton’s shortest lived, but most ambitious public art projects: Quark Park and Writers’ Block.
The site was the talk of the town in 2004 and again in 2006 when some public-minded artists took advantage of the space that lay fallow while the town fathers debated the size and scope of the housing project that would eventually tower over the landscape. Various movers and shakers — from Princeton president Shirley Tilghman to author Peter Benchley — joined in the creative fun. The Terra Momo restaurant owners joined in the effort by turning another small lot into “Herban Garden,” in which they grew vegetables and herbs used in their nearby restaurants.
Today it’s all housing on the block, but — thanks to another collaborative effort led by the Arts Council of Princeton — a visual reminder of Quark Park remains, in the form of an expansive mural painted on the side of the Terra Momo Bread Company building overlooking a small vest-pocket park that remains at the corner of Paul Robeson and Witherspoon streets.
The mural, “Continuum,” is the work of Illia Barger, who captured the essence of the artistic ventures in a series of bubbles floating across a blue sky. Barger, known for her mural on Warren Street in Trenton commemorating the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence, took a more figurative approach to the mural in downtown Princeton.
In an interview with arts writer and editor Ilene Dube, Barger describes her vision is one of “a cosmos with a flipped up perspective — like a child lying in the field, looking up.”
Writes Dube: “Glass bubbles float across the sky, like the glass bubbles from Quark Park, but they are filled with memories of Writers Block — the sunflowers and barn doors — and Herban Garden — a sculpture of a hand with plant life growing out of it by Robert Cannon.”
At an opening reception last week, the artist spoke about her work, with a bubble machine and the late afternoon sun providing accents to her work, another piece in the continuum of public art in Princeton’s downtown.
For a profile of the eclectic Illia Barger visit Ilene Dube’s blog, http://theartfulblogger1.wordpress.com/