If, as Marshall McLuhan once said, the medium is the message, Kingstonians should be proud of their new (unofficial) city symbol: a flock of 22 wildly decorated three-foot-high polystyrene plastic peacocks mounted on stands on sidewalks from the Stockade to the Rondout.
Like the storied sidewalk cats of Catskill, the lighthouses of Saugerties and the tugboats of Port Ewen, the peacocks, which will be auctioned off on October 26, have a local connection. Pairs of peacocks have long been a featured attraction at the Forsyth Nature Center off Lucas Avenue.
In fact, the idea behind the peacocks was to raise money to replace aging playground equipment at Kinderland Park near the Nature Center by the Junior League of Kingston. “We called it ‘Peacocks Run Wild’ because they ran out of the park and into the city,” said Tara Ryan, chairman of the fundraising event, speaking metaphorically. In the wild, a peacock is an aggressive bird, known for its ability to kill poisonous snakes.
Ryan said that Kingston mayor Shayne Gallo wasn’t all that wild about erecting plastic birds on city sidewalks when the committee broached the idea with him earlier this year. “But when we showed him depictions of what we planned to do, he got very excited,” Ryan said.
The Junior League and a host of volunteers built and opened Kinderland Park in October of 1991. It has proven a popular attraction for generations of kids and parents, some of whom played there as children. The League says that the playground routinely draws 30,000 visitors a year. But time and tots have taken a toll on the wooden structures where children climb, jump and swing. “Lots of splinters,” said Anna Brett, a member of the fundraising committee and a former Junior League president, who along with some 700 other volunteers was involved with construction of the original playground. Brett is a retired Kingston City School District principal.
Equipment for Kinderland II will cost about $170,000, Brett said. The project has about $80,000 on hand, most of it from a $50,000 state grant secured by assemblyman Kevin Cahill. Other major donors included $5,000 each from the Rifton Bruderhof, which also built the stands on which the peacocks perch, and the Bank of America. Key Bank contributed $1,000. A minimum of $500 was required from businesses for sponsorship of a peacock. Fundraising will continue through groundbreaking next April.
The peacock project moved from concept to fruition in early August, little more than four months. Ryan and her committee initially conferred with officials in Catskill, now in its eighth year of displaying artistically enhanced cats on Main Street in the village. “Lots of help, contacts and good ideas,” said Ryan of her Catskill cohorts. Among the ideas was the height of the peacocks: three feet, the same as the cats. But unlike the cats, the peacocks’ fully spread tails provided artists opportunity for broader expression.
The Bruderhof financed the hiring of a carver to make the first peacock, which was subsequently molded into plastic by the USHECO firm of Rosendale. The company also made the replica for Port Ewen’s tugboats, again in conjunction with the Bruderhof.
According to Ryan, donors were recruited along with professional artists, who also included students, hobbyists and even a few preschoolers, who were asked to submit renderings for decorating blank peacocks. In July, everyone got together at a reception at the ArtBar Gallery on Broadway, where sponsors selected the artwork for their peacocks.
“We are overwhelmed by the generosity of artists, who have donated their talent, time and painting materials, and local businesses,” said Beth Hanigan, chair of the Kinderland II committee and president-elect of the Junior League. Hanigan’s late father, Bob Hanigan, was the contractor who built the original Kinderland. She played there as a child. Artist advisors were Nancy Donskoj of the Storefront Gallery, Eric Johnson of the Kingston Museum of Contemporary Art, Gloria Waslyn of the Uptown Gallery and Renee Darmstadt of Cornell Street Studios.
The peacocks will be auctioned on October 26, beginning with a preview and brunch at 12 noon at the Garden Plaza (formerly Holiday Inn) off Washington Avenue. Admission costs $30. Artists will receive 25 percent of the bid on their peacocks, with the rest going toward the Kinderland project.
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