These zero-degree days don’t keep me from lacing up my walking shoes. The cold weather makes me curious to find out what cool things are going on inside the places I pass.
Coming home from my walk on a recent frigid night, I wasn’t planning to linger on the windswept corner of Cedar Street and Iwo Jima Lane, but the art exhibit on a pollination project in The D.R.A.W. Studio window gallery made me stop. Thoughts of springtime and flowers, honeybees and hives suddenly warmed me. What turned up the heat was the excitement I was feeling about the pollinators who are here in Kingston. People buzzing with ideas, transferring energy, working together to cultivate this city into a community that blooms … and I was looking a blossom!
Delicately executed stencils of butterflies and bees were mounted on a board created as part of a design project by the artists of PUGG (a.k.a. Pop-Up Gallery Group), an arts work-study program for Kingston High School students and alums. Inside the D.R.A.W. Studio, these budding artists are collaborating on a sculpture that will also serve as a pollinator habitat to be buzzed over to the Kingston Bee-Line (hvbeehabitat.org/beeline), an emerging network of pollinator gardens along the Kingston Greenline (kingstongreenline.org) of trails and linear parks rolling out across the city.
The Greenline/Midtown Linear Park is in my neighborhood. A joint initiative of the Kingston Land Trust, the City of Kingston and Ulster County shares a commitment to creating living landscapes in the middle of urban settings, I can take a quiet country walk a block away from the bustle of Broadway.
The eight-tenths-of-a-mile trail runs from Cornell Street to Kingston Plaza, under the Albany Avenue overpass and past a string of retired train cars from the Catskill Mountain Railroad that made their last stop on an abandoned stretch of the Ulster & Delaware line bordering the trail.
Lite Brite Neon Studio (litebriteneon.com) is located where the Midtown Linear Park crosses Downs Street. A neon sculpture by visual artist Erika deVries (erikaswonderlands.net) lights up the spot. Formerly the site of the Kingston Dairy and Ice Cream Company, the studio isn’t open to the public. The art fabrication that goes on inside brightens the city and beams out into the world, though.
Lite Brite founder Matt Dilling modestly explained his highly sophisticated operation: “I make stuff for people.” Translated, “make” means collaborate with artists and institutions, individuals and businesses. “Stuff” means fabrications and installations of neon displays, visual props, architectural lighting and art that can be on the grand scale of artist Andrea Bowers’s memorial to Harvey Milk to be installed at San Francisco International Airport in the terminal named for him. Or a site-specific installation larger than two football fields like “Desert X” by artist Traveres Strachan, with more than 200 craters lined with neon dug into a desert outside Palm Springs. Or radiant displays for iconic brands like Tiffany, Coach and Calvin Klein. Restorations and repairs of neon art for MoMA and The Whitney. You can even walk over to Greenkill Avenue to Village Coffee and marvel at the stunning beauty of their logo sign— a simple bag of coffee outlined in electric blue neon.
It’s not just radiant energy from Lite Brite that gives off light. The Artists Editions Program reaches out to bring new artists together with non-profit, galleries or museums to help raise funding needed for working with neon. “Our infinite capacity for love” in large block capital neon letters written in a child’s hand is scripted on the wall of Erika DeVries’s upstairs studio in Lite Brite. The work comes from a collection titled “An Enlarged Heart.”
It’s a brisk walk from Downs Street to Sweet Maresa’s (sweetmaresas.com) on Wall Street to find out if that’s an eatable heart-shaped frame in Maresa Volante’s bakeshop window. There’s always reason enough to stop in for the vegan macaroons that took Maresa two years to perfect and inspired to her to open shop — first confectionary! in the East Village in Manhattan with the chocolatiers at Lagusta Luscious and next in Kingston in 2019 just as the pandemic hit.
Blueberry lavender. Quince. Eucalyptus. Absinth. There’s nothing ordinary about the macorons or anything here, but everything seems essential to try at least once which is never enough. Cinnamon vanilla crumb cake. Mazipan cookies. Gluten free Snickerdoodles. Three-layer Celebration Cakes …. But what about the heart-shaped frame? And the icing-covered tissue-box cozy? And the sugary-looking wall mirror? Well, they all look delicious but taste terrible. It was Maresa’s love of “piping” that made her squeeze plaster of paris through a pastry bag to make cheerful and useful gift items.
I leave with the heart-shaped frame, munching on a macaron that tastes like a rose garden, and head up Broadway for a closer look at the Valentine’s Day window at Bella’s Gift Shop. It’s sure to expand my infinite capacity for love of this city.