Clients at my Princeton, NJ nail salon, Grit + Polish, are surprised to see the fine art bronze statuette of Albert Einstein seated on a park bench, a top the nail drying table. Even in Einstein’s adopted hometown, one does not expect that a nail salon would be the site of an alter to one of the most brilliant minds in human history.
It is true that the idea behind Grit + Polish is to elevate the nail salon concept to higher aesthetic—to become a sanctuary that nurtures clients and employees alike. But home to the father of modern physics? The theory of relativity? E=MC² ?
In fact, Albert Einstein was famous for spending time in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood where Grit + Polish is located. In a town that was not entirely accepting of the Jewish Dr. Einstein, he often enjoyed visiting African American friends in the formerly segregated black neighborhood. He felt at home here, I learned from reading the neighborhood’s new history, I Hear my People Singing: Voices of African American Princeton. The book’s author, Kitsi Watterson, gave a talk at Grit + Polish a few months ago, and her book is for sale in the salon.
All of this makes the presence of Albert Einstein perfectly appropriate in the nail salon at 160 Witherspoon Street. But the true reason he sits astride our drying table is the sculptor of this beautiful statuette, Lawrence Holofcener. My husband Brad and I met Larry and his wife, Julia, soon after buying our 1811 estate in nearby Griggstown, known as “Stepping Stones.” Larry and Julia owned our home in the 1980s, and they quickly accepted our invitation to return for a glorious dinner party in their honor.
We became friends with Larry and Julia at exactly the time I was transitioning from corporate America to something else. I had the idea of starting a nail salon that would right all the wrongs of an industry recently exposed in a multi-part series in the New York Times. But I had never started a business, didn’t have a cosmetology license, and wasn’t sure I could do it. Larry said: “Why not?” I quickly learned that “why not” was more than a catch-phrase.
As I learned from an online video, Larry became a sculptor on a whim, without any experience, and almost immediately was asked to teach a class on sculpting—and he said yes. His artistic skills were already well known. He had been a Broadway lyricist and actor, but he gave those pursuits up because he had lost interest. He became a sculptor, without any training or experience. I recommend that everyone watch that video because if we all followed his daring “why not?” philosophy we would all have happier and more meaningful lives.
Sadly, Larry died last year at 91 years of age. But his legacy continues to be honored by his charming and energetic widow, a Princeton native, who visits regularly. Julia allows us to have the Einstein statuette on extended loan in the hope that it will be seen by a local patron of the arts who will decide it should be made life-size and permanently stationed in downtown Princeton. Meantime, she continues to make his work available to a remarkable clientele that includes the merchants of Bond Street in London where his most famous statue “Allies” depicts Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill on a park bench.
Lawrence Holofcener and Albert Einstein: Two men whose presence I feel every day when I go to work at Grit + Polish salon in Princeton’s Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood. Stop by soon and pay your respects to these giants of the arts and sciences.