Princeton Chronicles proposes project to community

Along a wall on the third floor of the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, the faces of local history come to life. Princetonians who were activists or lawyers, scholars or beauticians, good neighbors and kind neighbors peer deeply from the monochromatic portraits highlighted by strokes of sunset pink.

This exhibit on view through July 30 is a proposal by Princeton Chronicles – a group of Princeton High School students who aim to honor the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood through research and art. It was founded by Priya Vulchi after her art teacher, John Kavalos, passed away in January.

“Mr. Kavalos always talked about doing public art to commemorate unsung heroes, so once he passed during the school year, I was determined to put his idea into action,” Vulchi said.

After obtaining sponsorship from the Arts Council of Princeton, which swept the project into motion, Vulchi brought on two more of Kavalos’ students, Jackie Girouard and Nora Wildberg, as heads of research and art. Princeton Chronicles’ team consists of Valeria Torres-Olivares, Keri Zhang, Hanna Szabo, Sheila Kennedy-Moore, Mildred Ouyang, Jocelyn Furniss, Elaine Ma and Maybelle Kusumoto.

With the help of longtime resident and historian Shirley Satterfield and the Historical Society of Princeton, Vulchi and Girouard peeled back the many histories of the W-J and, to enliven and honor those histories, selected individuals to paint. Vulchi and Wildberg worked on the portraits while Torres-Olivares painted a mock-mural in the Arts Council’s pop-up space. Soon, the project was ready to be proposed to the public.

“Now that the exhibition is up in the Arts Council, my hope is that it will attract community members and inform them about our proposal for a mural. Our end goal is to recognize these unsung heroes with a mural, in the same style as the gallery portraits, so that they are never forgotten,” Vulchi said.

Depending on community feedback, which is welcomed in a hand-painted box beside the current exhibit, Princeton Chronicles would like to install murals throughout the W-J in the form of individual portraits – sized similarly to the exhibited works – along with the name and accompanying story about the individual’s life.

“I think it is really cool that these high school kids want to know the history of the neighborhood and keep it alive,” Arts Council Artistic Director Maria Evans said. “It’s an honorary project. It’s cross-cultural; it’s male-female.”

Vulchi and her team invite the public to view the portraits, provide feedback and give suggestions. Residents are also encouraged to share their own stories of unrecognized historical figures from the W-J by visiting www.princetonchronicles.org/your-hero/.

“These individuals’ stories are a crucial cornerstone in the advancement of our community, and without awareness of them, future generations could lose a major source of personal inspiration and motivation,” the exhibit legend reads. “Princeton Chronicles imagines members in our community and beyond, walking through town and pausing to view artistic portraits of our local heroes. Imagine, after reading these motivational stories, the public also becoming inspired to serve as active members of our community. Our mission is to commemorate and raise awareness of these prominent Princetonians.”

To see the individual murals being exhibited at the Arts Council, along with the accompanying legends, visit www.Facebook.com/theprincetonsun

About Erica Chayes Wida

Erica Chayes Wida is a writer, mom, and complete zealot when it comes to poetry, paella and globe collections. After graduating with a degree in Anthropology from UCLA, Erica moved to Italy where the seasons and old architecture inspired her journey back to the East Coast. Since then, she and her husband have created a nest egg locally and, over time, developed a rather grand love affair with the town of Princeton. Erica is senior editor at The Princeton Sun and enjoys fulfilling her Princeton affections on a daily basis. | View all posts by Erica Chayes Wida