Transforming Tradition: Stewy Robertson '11 Re-Engages Lawrenceville's Legacy through Artistic Vision

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Transforming Tradition: Stewy Robertson '11 Re-Engages Lawrenceville's Legacy through Artistic Vision

Even during his student years, Stewy Robertson '11 viewed The Lawrenceville School campus as a canvas. From building facades to lengthy corridors, every empty expanse seemed ideal for a mural, reminiscent of the vibrant artworks in his native Jamaica. Those murals, he noted, reflect the country’s resourceful, expressive, and colorful culture, and often pay tribute to revered community figures.

Upon Robertson's return to Lawrenceville in 2016 to undertake the University of Pennsylvania Independent School Teaching Residency, and later in 2021 as the School’s inaugural Artist-in-Residence, those unadorned spaces kept his attention. Thus, it felt serendipitous when Head of School Steve Murray reached out to Robertson as part of the School’s efforts to revitalize the entrance of the renovated portion of the Field House - the H. Lyals Battle ’67 and Darrell A. Fitzgerald ’68 Atrium in honor of the School's first Black students.  Robertson readily accepted the opportunity.

The installation, a collaborative effort between Robertson and the varsity student-artists he’s mentoring, will soar on the upper reaches of the Atrium's walls. Echoing the spirit of his Jamaican influences, Robertson's creation celebrates the School’s most important people — current Lawrentians — as scholars, athletes and artists, performers, makers, fans, and friends. Utilizing an array of media - paint, aluminum, textiles, and more — Robertson's distinctive artistic style will capture this moment at Lawrenceville for future generations to appreciate and engage with. 

After months of brainstorming and designing, work on the installation has begun. We checked in with Robertson as he began to put brush to canvas.

Stuart Robertson Mural A

Why did you elect to portray Lawrentians not just as athletes, but also in some of the many identities they have at school?

I think the beauty of Lawrenceville is that athletes are also scholars, writers, performers, technicians, and engineers. I don't know many people get to be just one thing here.  No matter how big your sports commitment feels, you don't get to exist at Lawrenceville without having some kind of experience that requires you to create, to produce something, to learn a skill, to learn a way of looking at something, to literally come up against things that you've never encountered before, or things that were once important but no longer have the same value. You have to pivot and find new interests, and every day here is underlined by some need or some requirement to do things other than your main commitment.  I think it is really important for students to keep in mind that there are multiple parts of you. Don't let one hemisphere dominate. It can influence how you spend your time, but students should be able to live through all the versions of themselves.

In what ways did the space, dedicated to the courage of Lyals Battle and Darrell Fitzgerald, influence your thought process?

 I'm using what I know about their stories in creating this installation. I'm thinking of them in both Lawrenceville and Civil Rights contexts — and I’m trying to imagine what this all means for someone who doesn't look like me. I’m trying to imagine all the different ways that people are interacting with the story of Darrell and Lyals, and then using it as guides for the choices I'm making. The creative process hasn’t really been in tandem with their story, but had they not been here then we wouldn't see such a diverse range of students now. Without them, we might have gotten to co-education, but it might have been way less diverse, without international students, and without different parts of America becoming more ingrained in our student makeup. Their legacy is what we’re interacting with now — and someday someone is going to interact with our legacy [through this installation].

Why did you want to involve students in this process?

Involving students is the only way to do this. As Lawrenceville’s Artist-in-Residence, I'm exposing them to experiences and information and ideas and lenses. I don't like the idea of lecturing at someone about what I've done, so it only makes sense to have them be here for the journey. I think there are very few instances you get at any stage of life that you can just be thrown into something new while still having a safety net. Here, I can show them this is what it’s really like to be an artist; this is what it takes to execute a major creative vision. And all of the risk is mine — it’s up to me to make sure this installation is completed. It’s also a chance for them to be cemented into Lawrenceville School history.

What do you want people to feel, think, or experience when they see the installation?

I don't know that I want them to think or feel any one particular thing. I'm more interested in the experience you're going to have. I want it to be very engaging and compelling. Once I release it, the audience is responsible for co-creating the rest of the artwork by interacting with it in that specific space.

I want people to stop and think about the fact that they're in this place dedicated to sports and here's a piece of artwork that is now an intermediary that they can use to access on a different level what sports mean. I remember being told the average museum-goer spends about three seconds with an image because they're walking past it.

People will be moving through the Atrium on their way to somewhere else. The goal of this painting is to grab your attention and hold it for five or six, maybe 12 seconds. And if it holds you for 12 seconds, maybe you’ll start thinking and come back for another minute. Then maybe there's a day where you come and spend 30 minutes with it because you just need to figure out what it means and what it means to you.

Robertson arrived at Lawrenceville in fall 2008 from Kingston, Jamaica. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in studio art from Davidson College, a Master of Science in education from the University of Pennsylvania, and a Master of Fine Arts from Stanford University. He was appointed Lawrenceville’s first Artist-in-Residence in 2021.

For additional information, contact Lisa M. Gillard H'17, director of public relations, at