Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Wall art

Kingston has storied history. This Hudson River city was the first capital of New York before it was burned by the British in 1777, and it lived richly in the 19th Century as important rail and canal transit hub. The oldest still-standing church, First Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of Kingston, was organized in 1659. The City’s three historic districts draw visitors for historical reenactments, trendy shops and riverfront festivities. The walkable 8-block Uptown Stockade District is an early settlement filled with Dutch buildings.

Kingston has also found fame for its modern public art. The 2000s brought a steady stream of wall murals to the city’s streets, some occupying the entire side of buildings. Themes vary and include environmentalism, migration, recognition of indigenous heritage, and other social justice issues. Works are dispersed throughout the city and visitors can stop at the arts council for a map enabling a self-guided tour. More murals are revealed each year during the annual O+ arts and music festival.

Many residents welcome the artworks and the business the festival brings each year, but the works find the dismay of some historical preservationists. How can a striking 20-foot-long Atlantic sturgeon painting get approval on a street where laws dictate paint colors must blend with and complement others? How can a 6-story mural of the Greek goddess Artemis cover decades-old historic advertisements painted on buildings? There are a bunch of answers that draw ideas from the U.S. Constitution’s protection of freedom of expression, the transient nature of wall art, and the need for neighborhoods to avoid stagnation and attract new generations.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Stone faces

Newburgh Open Studios was last month and one of the stops was Glenlily Grounds off Grand Avenue. The site featured 29 artist with works throughout the 11-acre property that incudes fields, steep hills, and a path through woods. Mediums included metal, acrylic, and more. One display was a group of carved stone faces by Renee Ludwiczak at the edge of a hill overlooking the Hudson River. Some faces hung on a tree or nestled in the base and trunk of a tree, while a grouping sat upright on flat stones. The works look like miniature expressions of the Moai statues of Easter Island, a remote region off the coast of South America.

Moai are large stone carvings shaped as humans. Over 900 statues have been found, the tallest measuring over 30 feet tall. The works are a spectacular feat considering they were created and transported between 1250AD and 1500AD. Just as Ludwiczak’s pieces were carved from different varieties of stone, Moai were formed from such materials as compressed volcanic ash, basalt and trachyte.  Debate continues today as about how the statues were transported from a quarry where they originated. Theories extoll dozens of people rolling the statues across the ground on logs or “walking” them upright with ropes. Some statues found lying on the ground are thought to have fallen accidentally during their walk and could not be lifted back up. Researchers, puzzled by the existence of unfinished statues on this desolate island, seek to understand why people left. Land clearing, rat infestation, climate change and deforestation made the region unsustainable for agriculture, fishing, and farming, and the population was affected by Christian missionaries who encouraged natives to abandon their culture and customs.