Takoma Park artist Clara Cornelius turns ruins into art


Local artist Clara Cornelius showcases her outdoor exhibit “Caesura Obscura” at the Pump House Pop-Up in Takoma Park.  PHOTO BY MATT HOOKELocal artist Clara Cornelius showcases her outdoor exhibit “Caesura Obscura” at the Pump House Pop-Up in Takoma Park. PHOTO BY MATT HOOKE  TAKOMA PARK — Local artist Clara Cornelius transformed the stone ruins of an old Takoma Park garage into a wonderland Sunday afternoon as she debuted her outdoor exhibit “Caesura Obscura,” a collection of cloth banners at the Pump House Pop-Up on Hilltop Road in Takoma Park. Children viewed the site with amazement, as they ran through the cloth tapestries with abandon while a drum circle played behind them.

The cloth featured bright shades of blue, green, and red to help the art standout in the beige ruin. Cornelius would take photos of everyday objects, like sidewalk cracks, leaves, and signposts, and create patterns out of them that she would transfer to the cloth banners. Cornelius also used digitized cut-paper shapes for some pieces.

A big inspiration for the Takoma Park resident is transient moments, like puddles in the sidewalk or raindrops on a windowsill, since those moments will never be experienced in the same way again.

Cornelius encouraged people to get involved in art, laying out an activity called “magic carpets.” In this activity, people cut out paper shapes and add them to a large banner, so they form a new piece of art at the end of the exhibition.

“I like for there to be an immersive element or an engagement, where they can be part of it or build into it or touch it or feel it, then have some way to have some self-expression so they can respond to the thing they have just seen,” Cornelius said.

Cornelius said her five-year-old daughter helped her realize the importance of giving people a chance to participate in the art instead of just standing and looking at it. She came to the site in January to think of ideas because of a call for proposals.

The hidden nature of the area stood out to her immediately: the site on Hilltop Road, right next to Sligo Creek, is nestled in a small hillside.

“I’m really interested in the idea of everyday magic, how everyday objects and the things you interact with on a daily basis can have a certain magic if you look at them in a fresh way and don’t take them for granted,” said Cornelius. “On another dimension, maybe this is a cosmic gatehouse or a pit stop in the universe. It has this otherworldliness to it.”

For Takoma Park artist and Pump House Pop-Up organizer Marty Ittner, the transformation of the Pump House from an old ruin to a vibrant art space took 12 years. It took ten years for Ittner to contact the owner of the site to gain permission for the site, and two for her to create her first exhibit. Ittner, a board member at Pyramid Atlantic, a non-profit arts organization that organizes classes and exhibits, got funding from the City. That funding became essential, as it enabled her to pay artists for their work and clean the space – removing trash and boulders from the site.

“It takes two seconds to come up with an idea. it’s 98 percent perspiration, 2 percent inspiration,” said Ittner. “It’s so gratifying to see it come together like this.”

Sponsored by the Pyramid Atlantic Art Center, the “Caesura Obscura,” exhibit will be up June 2 through August 24 at the Pump House Pop-Up at Hilltop Road between Maple and Geneva Avenues, in Takoma Park. For more information, visit



back to top