Murder in Central NJ; A Franklin Park Mystery Unfolds

I never knew several terrible murders happened so close to my neighborhood two centuries ago…not until author & local historian Brian Armstrong hired me to create pen & ink illustrations for his just released book, “The Frankin Park Tragedy”!  While working on the book I learned about the horrible and racially motivated murders that occurred only a couple of miles away over 120 years ago!  Since this fascinating book was just released I invited Brian to discuss this important work…

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Franklin Park Tragedy Book Overview

The book provides a detailed account of the Franklin Park Tragedy murders of March 1, 1894 when Lucretia Baker and her daughter, Gertrude, were murdered in their home and her husband, Moore Baker, fought off the two African American attackers and killed them. The second part of the tragedy involves the group blame of the African American residents of the area and the expulsion of some of those residents by the Franklin Park vigilante society called the Mutual Endeavor Society. Lynchings, expulsions, and sundown town designations, which are normally associated with Southern States during this era, are shown to have been contemplated by Franklin Park residents.

Surviving historical records, land records, and personal stories are used to demonstrate how the Great Migration of African American families from the South in the twentieth century, with the help of a new group of white farmers, changed the “sundown town” designation for the Franklin Park area. This community change began with the arrival of the Coleman and other families in the 1920s which was the beginning of the transformation of Franklin Park into the diverse place that it is today. The book also includes profiles of prominent African American citizens of the Franklin Park area who worked on the farms and in some cases owned land during the 1800s. The media and their role in the racial issues of this era are discussed since key source material for the book came from various newspapers from every region of the US and in countries such as the UK and New Zealand.

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(Recent cover of the Home News featuring an article about the book & illustration by Lauren Curtis)

The book includes:

· Profiles of the ordinary white and African American men and women who worked on the farms in the area and have not been profiled in other books.

· Discussion of the neglected time period after the Civil War where white farmers and the children and grandchildren of the slaves lived and worked together in New Jersey.

· Stories about families that were part of the Great Migration of African Americans moving from southern states to the Garden State during the 20th century.

· Over 80 pictures with major images provided by the Six Mile Run Reformed Church (Martin S. Garretson Collection), Franklin Park Library, and South Brunswick Public Library.  Also previously unpublished photographs from the personal collections.

· Drawings depicting key parts of the story by Franklin Park artist Lauren Curtis.

· Extensive newspaper source material about the murders and the expulsion which shows the value of these resources in chronicling historical events that are not recorded in any other surviving sources.

· A map to orient the 21st century reader with the actual locations mentioned in the book to identify surviving buildings and landmarks.

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“Fleeing the scene”, Illustration (c)2019 Lauren Curtis

Why I Wrote the Book

Three years ago, as the president of the South River Preservation & Historical Society, I wanted to expand our knowledge of the African-American citizens of the town.  Although prominent African-Americans such as Drew Pearson had grown up in the borough, no previous books or articles had been written about this group. I began looking at census records and then the wonderful newspaper archive provided by the New Brunswick Free Library. As I searched for stories about South River African-Americans, I kept seeing stories about the Franklin Park Tragedy and learned of the expulsion which was not mentioned in any other books about Franklin Township or New Jersey. I then postponed my South River research realizing that this story was very important and needed to be told.

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“Racism in Franklin Park” (c)2019 Lauren Curtis



About the Author

Brian Armstrong was born in Flemington New Jersey and grew up in Stanton, New Jersey.  He received a bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science from American University in Washington, D.C. He lives now in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. Armstrong has worked for 37 years for various technology and staffing companies including EDS, Kelly Services, and International Technology Solutions, Inc.  He was President of the South River Historical & Preservation Society for 10 years and is now the Vice-President, Central Region, for the League of Historical Societies of New Jersey.  He is an independent historian, researcher and author. In 2015, he co-wrote the Arcadia Book, South River, with Stephanie Bartz and Nan Whitehead. He also frequently writes articles for the Bar Harbor Historical Society in Bar Harbor, Maine where his mother’s family lived for several hundred years.  Mr. Armstrong lectures throughout the state on local history, the U.S. Women’s Suffrage Movement, Prohibition, World War I, the Spanish Influenza, and political history. He is a collector of US Presidential election memorabilia and is a member of American Political Items Collectors (APIC).

Armstrong has been married to Rosemarie Rufo Armstrong for 32 years and is father of two daughters and one grandson.

Email:  brianarm59@gmail.com

You can read more about the book here: https://www.mycentraljersey.com/story/news/history/2019/10/10/nj-history-franklin-park-tragedy-expelled-african-american-residents/3819260002/

You can buy the book here: https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/Products/9781467143585

 

Tacky is the new cool at You Tacky Thing’s craft studio!

Time again for me to feature another local artist who makes funky, unique hand crafted items; introducing my friend Stephanie Higgens-Rowley!  I met her when she started taking creative marketing lessons from me to boost her cool, hand-decorated bottle and hand-made jewelry business & so far so good….she’s made tons of awesome decorative items to sell and is now doing NJ vending events, so I invited her to be my next guest blogger so she can introduce herself to you & her “tacky” work…after all, her business is called You Tacky Thing!  Now in her words….
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“Don’t throw that out!”, my mom would yell at me from the kitchen. Anything that could be used again, used for something else, used for something you haven’t even thought of yet was not to be thrown out. Both my parents grew up during the Depression. Everything has a potential use.
This is why I gravitate toward found items. I have access to bass and guitar strings, guitar picks and empty bottles. So when they outlive their usefulness I like to create something interesting. The strings most likely become jewelry while the bottles become decorative. I like using bottles that have an unusual shape or color to them.
I love being creative with things that would have been thrown out. Its like making something out of nothing. You never know what its going to be.
I have been doing this for a while now and I must say its the best job I’ve ever had. I try really hard to create things that are interesting and make you wonder how it got there or where it came from. Some of my favorite themes to use on my bottles are
Gothic and Victorian imagery , mermaids, dragon flies and bats. I even create bottles that can be lit up and I welcome custom commissions. As for my rock and roll inspired jewelry, my creations have been worn on stage by some pretty amazingly talented performers! You can purchase items from my Facebook page You Tacky Thing and you can find me at various vending events throughout NJ an NY. My next event will be at NJ Paraunity  Expo in Woodbridge, NJ. For more info : https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10216158534209635&set=gm.2287489841492576&type=3&theater

Thanksgiving Greetings!

What am I thankful for? For your support of the arts & my work as well!  Creativity and self-expression are vital for a healthy community & I appreciate that you’ve taken the time to read my newsletters, come to the events, purchase work and just show support in any way you can for the wide variety of artists out there!  We couldn’t do it without you!  So, I want to wish you & yours a happy, healthy Thanksgiving!! 

Warm Wishes,

~Lauren

 

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Anti-bully Bunny helps kids!

Art & stories are a great way to teach kids about compassion & life-skills.  This is one reason I love creating illustrations for children’s books, so when author Joan Decker
approached me to commission me to illustrate her anti-bullying story for kids, I immediately said YES!  The book is now complete and available on Amazon & Kindle so I invited Joan to be my next guest blogger so she can share her inspiration for her book with you…..
My name is Joan Decker, I’m a single mother of two son’s age’s 34 & 18 yrs. I am also a retired Special Ed teaching Assistant of 11 yrs. I began writing Poetry at the age of 16 yrs. old, it come’s so naturally to me. I have a compilation of Poems and will make it into a book soon. I’ve been an Advocate against Bullying since 2004, & I mentor children through Social Media. I was bullied as a young child after I had to start wearing glasses at age 7 yrs. old and hated them. We were poor, & my Mom had to use Medicaid for all doctor appointment’s, so my choice of glasses were limited to these ugly blue one’s with pointy corner’s. The very first day I wore them to school, children laughed at me , calling me name’s like ” Cat Eye’s” and “Four Eyes”, It made me sad. I can recall crying all the time and feeling like an outcast. So I mirrored Rosalina’s character (the bunny), after myself in my first book, BE A FRIEND NOT A BULLY: NAMES HURT. My youngest son Antonio was severely bullied since Kindergarten thru 6th grade, due to his Speech delay and quiet demeanor. He was physically and emotionally bullied everyday until I removed him in 6th Grade after being beaten by three boy’s. I then proceeded to Home School him, until he graduated in 2017. Antonio suffers from PTSD; no child should ever be traumatized in a school environment where he should be safe. I created animals in my stories to make each book kid friendly, keeping the bullying at only name calling, no violence. My focus being to inspire children to take pride in their appearance, to be strong in who they are. That bullies only have Power over you, if you let them. We live in a World where suicide is too common, and we as parents and as a society must bring Bullying of any kind to an abrupt end. This book is the first of a three part series, with the hope of giving emotional support to bullied children all over the world. I poured my heart and soul into each story and hope that I can make a difference in your child’s Life.
Joanie Decker
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All Artwork (c)2017-2018 Lauren Curtis

 To purchase a copy:
BE A FRIEND NOT A BULLY: NAMES HURT
This book is the first of a 3 part Series, to help children deal with bullying and diversity. As a Elementary teacher, I have seen first hand the negative effect it has on a child’s self-esteem. My message in each book is the same, be yourself and Stand True. We all have Special & Unique qualities that make us who we are inside. Rosalina Rabbit’s journey is about her appearance changing and while difficult in the beginning, she overcomes all the Name Calling and becomes Proud of how she looks.

Podcasts, Tattoos & Favorite Things

What do these 3 things have in common?  They are all new art exhibits and art interviews happening now…and I’m happy to be involved with all three of them!  Spring brings out the motivation & creativity in many of us so it’s a great time to create new work or get out & experience what’s going on in the art world.  Social media makes this easier than ever, especially with podcasts !  My friend at the XFactory hooked me up with the awesome guys at Know-Shit Podcasts to do an hour long interview about everything from what it’s like to be a full time artist, to the Gothic & Steampunk scenes, mythology, spirituality & more!   I hope you’ll take some time to check it out, & listen in on future podcasts as well, as they have many interesting guests.  Here’s the link to my interview:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjFT7TLpCF4&feature=share

As for Tattoos, they are an ancient art form that has gone thru many changes and stereotypes but is now more respected than ever as a true art form and is being honored in a new art exhibit at Atelier Rosal in Rahway, NJ!  Amazing works depicting tattooed people and art by artists who’s work has ended up on a walking canvas as well as images addressing this much maligned but now popular art form. Show runs thru June 7, 2018.  74 East Cherry St., Rahway, NJ.  
https://www.facebook.com/AtelierRosal/

Micro/Macrocom Tree (c)2010 Lauren Curtis

Digital photo collage using actual x-ray images.

I’m happy to have 2 of my “X-RAYted” digital photo collages in this show and the exhibit will also coincide with a huge biker fest in town Sat. May 12.  Here’s the Facebook invite page for details:   https://www.facebook.com/events/1803649219938141/

This town wide, free event will be the perfect place to see tattoo art at it’s best, both in the gallery and on human canvases!

Finally we come to “a few of our Favorite Things”.  This is the latest theme for the new art exhibit at the South Brunswick Municipal Gallery, which opens Fri. May 18, 6:30pm-8pm. It’s a free event, with refreshments served, that features art from many local NJ artists focused on things we feel a connection to, that bring back memories and tell stories!  I’ll have the photo below, “NOLA VooDoo Window” in this exhibit.  Show runs thru Aug. 5, 2018.
540 Rt. 522/Ridge Rd., Monmouth Jct., NJ www.sbarts.org

So, there are many ways you can get involved with the arts this spring, whether it’s attending a gallery show, a biker tattoo outdoor fest or listening to a podcast from the comfort of home…or all three!  Either way, I hope you enjoy these free and creative events…& stay tuned for more to come this summer!

Return of the Lazy Blogger

I admit it!!  I’ve been lazy…well, when it comes to blogging anyway.  But I have an excuse…I really do!  It’s because other art related stuff has been taking up my time and I’m really happy about that!  OK, so other social media networking has been a big time suck too…don’t you ever fall into that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. time warp where you start out promoting your craft and get caught up in the home page posts of friends, cute animal videos & political drama when you realize, CRAP!…I just wasted an hour on fluff?  Yeah, guilty as charged but I have honestly been really busy with for-real art stuff too!  So, to catch you up, here’s what’s been happening in my creative world so feel free to post comments about how you deal with the bombardment of social media & how it effects your work.

TEACHING IS FUN!  Being someone who is not a fan of public speaking I didn’t know how I’d feel about giving art lessons but when it’s one-on-one or a small group, I found it’s awesome!  So I have a cool group of students of various ages (even one across the pond that I do Skype lessons with) & it’s so awesome to pass on creative knowledge and see people really get into it & see how their work progresses during the lessons!  Aside from art lessons I also give creative marketing lessons as I have extensive experience in sales, fund raising & marketing from previous art & non-art jobs I’ve had over the years before making the leap to full time artist!  My goal is to give at least one class a day (5 days a week) & I’m pretty close….so if you want to hone your creativity or know someone who does, drop me a line here & I’ll get back to you!

Dream Of Trees 2, oils (c)Lauren Curtis

Dream Of Trees 2, oils (c)Lauren Curtis

ART SHOWS ARE FUN TOO!  Especially when stuff sells!  I’m currently in a 4 artist show at the Merwick Care & Rehabilitation Center in Plainsboro, NJ & the above painting pre-sold!  And I sold both pieces that were in the last show I did at Gallery U in Westfield, NJ.  Now I’m preparing to submit work to 4 new exhibits so fingers (& nails) crossed. (If you know me at all you know I have crazy Ripley’s Believe It Or Not length nails!).  So hopefully my next blog will be about some of the new shows my work will be in…

YAY! COMMISSIONS!  As a full time freelance artist nothing is better than getting hired to create art & design work for clients!  Luckily I’ve been hired to do illustrations for books, graphic design work, and one of my favorite things, pet portraits, for a variety of clients across the US & abroad.  This has not only kept me busy but helps pay those bills too so the more work the merrier!  Keep it comin’! Here are just a few examples of the work I’ve been doing lately that has caused my lack of blogging…

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pencil illustration for a children’s book (c)2017

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Commissions welcome so message me for details!

So, you see?  I haven’t been lazy with my artwork, just with blogging….I’m trying to get back in the swing….so can I ask you a favor?  If you can read, comment, follow & like posts it’ll encourage me to keep at it and to start getting interesting guest bloggers again so it’s not just all about me….there are so many fascinating people out there creating awesome work that I’d like to share so drop me a line if you’re interested & help end the blog slacking!  Thanks for reading…till next time…which will be soon, I hope…..fingers & nails crossed!

A Beautiful & Powerful Art Exhibit

“Beautiful and Powerful Statements” is an art exhibit featuring the arts of calligraphy and re-purposed materials.  It opens Saturday, January 28, 2-5pm at Nails in the Wall, the Gallery at St. Luke’s, 17 Oak Ave., Metuchen.  The exhibit includes nearly 70 pieces in many media, from photography and video to fabric, ceramic and glass as well as all manner of re-purposed materials. Work from all over the U.S. and as far away as Israel is included in this show, along with the work of New Jersey artists. The approach to calligraphy was a very broad one and was open to any work that was text-predominant. That has allowed us to include not only work with elegant traditional calligraphy in many diverse languages, but other pieces that are very powerful and direct. “Anatolia” by Woodbridge, NJ artist Gozde Ture includes a quotation from the Orkhon Inscriptions with calligraphy in the Goturk alphabet that speaks about time. Ruth Schreiber’s works, from Israel, while connected to the Hebrew Scriptures, employ a “fantasy writing” using porcelain and other images. And California calligrapher Beverly Womack creates her work using layers of materials and images. The photography-based altered prints of East Orange artist, Onnie Strother, on the other hand, use bold text to speak directly to their viewer, and Georgia-based Craig Wilson’s almost stream-of-consciousness words dance all over the page. The art from “repurposed materials” makes their statements by way of the material itself…employing everything from actual bees and beeswax as Montclair artist Art Paxton does in “Buzz”, to the steampunk-related cast-offs used by NY artist and teacher Seth Apter, and another Steampunk influenced 3D piece by Lauren Curtis, as well as a piece by  Metuchen artist Amy Brooks in her work “Post-Truth Apocalypse”. “We were sought to incorporate in the show work featuring calligraphy or text that made, individually and collectively, a powerful statement. We were also interested that the work accepted using re-purposed materials had an inherent, accessible beauty. We were constantly weighing those two interests as we reviewed the work and decided what would fit well in this show, so that each piece really was appropriately “Beautiful and Powerful, “ noted Gallery Board Member Robert Hopkins. The Opening will be carried by Facebook Live, beginning around 2:30pm. This will be especially helpful for the artists who live great distances. It will allow anyone who wishes to log on to the Nails in the Wall Gallery FB page and interact with the visitors present at the gallery. Nails in the Wall is in the midst of its fifth year presenting international, interfaith exhibits of high-quality fine art. To learn more about the gallery, visit www.nailsinthewall.org or call the Director 732.322.6512.  Link to the Facebook invite:  https://www.facebook.com/events/1765730973753205/

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I’ll have this large, 3-D Steampunk style box in the show.

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