Guiding lights

Artist Jessica Peone's design.

Forget about horsing around. This summer, public art in Saugerties will evoke a pleasing mix of the old and new: locally sourced and locally made wooden replicas of the iconic Saugerties Lighthouse featuring working solar-powered lights. Sponsors have been announced and area artists are already hard at work implementing their designs. The 32 lighthouses will hit the streets in July. In October, the pieces will be auctioned off, with proceeds split three ways between the artists, the Chamber of Commerce, and a charity not yet announced.

The major sponsors of this year’s event are Stewart’s Shops of Saratoga and Markertek of Saugerties, both of whom contributed $1,500 as a “Shining Light” level supporter. It’s the third year for Stewart’s and the second for Markertek as top-tier benefactors. Precision Flow Technologies of Saugerties gave $850 towards the event – the “Lighthouse Keeper” level – also participating at a substantial level for the third time. The remaining 27 sponsors, the “Lighthouse Trail” level, are comprised of a diverse group of professionals, businesses and local philanthropists, who chipped in $450 if they were Chamber members, or $550 if not, to sustain the increasingly popular event.

“The $450 essentially only pays for the lighthouse itself,” said event co-chair Nancy Campbell, 58, who is married to Mike Campbell, the Chamber’s chairman. Nancy – herself an artist  – is also executive director of The Woodstock School of Art, and knows most of the 29 participating artists personally. Three artists are creating two artworks for different sponsors.

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Some of the artists said they’re more excited about decorating a unique symbol of Saugerties — the oldest (1869) continuously operating lighthouse on the Hudson River, today solar-powered and still functioning as an aid to navigation — than they were by the fiberglass carousel horses of years past. The lighthouse design was selected, in part, for its venerable maritime heritage, which seemed to be in keeping with this year’s celebration of the bicentennial of the town’s 1811 incorporation. Another reason: the sides are essentially flat.

Organizers also said the artist selection process had been improved. This year, formal artist’s proposals were widely solicited; then winnowed by a jury; and finally chosen by sponsors in an order determined by lottery at a gathering in Palenville, held April 17.

“I’m not a huge fan of the fiberglass animal franchise that’s cropped up all over the country, and I didn’t think the horses made a very good canvas,” said printmaker and long-time Saugertesian Carol Zaloom, 63, who is participating in the event for the first time this year. Inspired by all the meteorological events the actual lighthouse has withstood, Zaloom’s piece, titled “River Reflections,” will be decoupaged with hand-colored prints produced by incised linoleum. Her sponsor, the Saugerties Democratic Committee, is a group which includes some of her closest friends.

“I was really awestruck by the level of detail” in the artists’ proposals, said Zaloom, adding that her entry was somewhat spare. She was both relieved and happy when the Saugerties Dem’s chose her. “I apologized for my prospectus being sketchy, and they said, ‘but we know you.’”

Zaloom, who drove both the improved selection process and thematic change, says the tone of this year’s event is more elevated. “One of the sponsors let their eight-year-old kid choose (a horse), and that’s not enticing to a professional artist,” she explained.

Conceptually, the fiberglass horses evolved from a 1986 display of artist-decorated lions, the symbol of Zurich, in Switzerland, which morphed into 1998’s CowParade, an international exhibit also launched in Zurich which toured the world. Brought to the U.S. in 1999 by Chicago businessman Peter Hanig, the idea was quickly taken up by myriad cities and towns who have chosen various forms of fiberglass animals from beaver to bear. After 25 years, many professional artists today disparage fiberglass fauna as a stale cliche. Nevertheless, it’s a proven, if tired, formula for community-supported public art.

In the event’s debut year of 2009, the auction of 38 horses raised a surprising total of $57,000. But in 2010, 46 horses brought in only about $35,000, Nancy Campbell said. “This year it’s all about quality over quantity; you won’t find these (lighthouses) anywhere else in the world,” she said. This year, she’d realistically like to make $50,000 “because it all goes back to the community.”

“All you need is a couple which go really high to raise the whole bottom line,” said Nancy.

Zaloom worked with local architectural woodworker Marcus “Skip” Arthur, 65, to come up with a design prototype which would better support a wider range of decorative techniques than fiberglass-friendly paint. Buddies from New York who once lived across the apartment building hall from one another, Georgia native Zaloom moved to Saugerties in 1971, with Detroit-raised Arthur following a year later.

Zaloom and Arthur felt very strongly that while the fiberglass horses of the event’s first two years showcased some very fine painting, the artistic community and the general public would both be better served by a statuary blank fashioned from familiar wood, designed in a shape truly emblematic of Saugerties. After much discussion, the printmaker and the woodworker each devised cardboard mock-ups. Skip’s version had a solar light, which gave the project “a whole new dimension,” said Zaloom.

Merging their best ideas, together they presented a viable alternative to the fiberglass horses to Commerce Chair Mike Campbell, 58, in December 2010. “We knew we had to get our foot in the door or it would be horses again!” laughed Zaloom.

Campbell, a veteran security-products sales trainer for IBM, said that scrapping the horse design “in no way” represents any departure from the Chamber’s enthusiastic support of the town’s prosperous relationship with the chic global horsey set lured each summer by H.I.T.S. on the Hudson, Horse Shows In The Sun, eight weeks of AAA-rated hunter-jumper competition.

The Chamber simply wants to “keep the inertia headed in the right direction,” said Campbell, adding that Shine On 2011’s invigorated public art display provides a very attractive answer to the question, “What’s happening in Saugerties?” often posed by visitors to the www.welcometosaugerties.com web site.

The lighthouse blanks – approximately 2’ x 2 ½’ in size and weighing about 15 lbs – were fabricated solely by Arthur, and cost over $100 in raw materials alone. But their production was also a team effort. The locally milled and harvested pine was purchased from Greg Schroeder of Native Lumber in Saugerties. Saugerties Lumber volunteered to transport the wood to Mack Custom Woodworking in Shokan, where Arthur works. Ben Mack, his boss, graciously allowed Arthur to use Mack Custom’s shop for the manufacture, for which Arthur was paid a stipend. The production of 32 blanks, however, took vastly longer than Arthur had initially estimated.

Saugerties native Jessica Peone, 25, had a horse in last year’s show – her first public art display. Although it was an “exciting and fun learning experience,” Peone said she lost money. Undaunted, this year she’s creating two completely different lighthouses for separate sponsors. “Money’s not the issue, but hopefully, this year I’ll make some,” the young artist said.

One of Peone’s designs, titled “Double Word Score,” is inspired by a notice for a Scrabble club she saw posted on the new Saugerties Public Library’s message wall. “It struck me as a perfect idea to use Scrabble tiles as building blocks,” she said, adding that the tricky angles of the curvaceous horses would have ruled out the idea. Words pertaining to New York State will be spelled out, as will be the name of the sponsor, Sawyer Savings Bank.

Peone, a graphic designer for Stadri Emblems, a patch company located on Glasco Turnpike, said she still needs as many 2,000 additional Scrabble tiles to complete the project and is actively seeking donations of free or cheap tiles.

 

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