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Albany puts best feet forward with creative clogs

Thursday, June 14, 2012
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Mitchell Biernacki of Glenmont decorated a clog for the latest Sculpture in the Streets exhibition, “Stand in the Sole of Albany,” using an old map of downtown Albany.
Mitchell Biernacki of Glenmont decorated a clog for the latest Sculpture in the Streets exhibition, “Stand in the Sole of Albany,” using an old map of downtown Albany.

The Downtown Albany Business Improvement District has created a fun way to engage visitors and residents in the city’s history and culture — a yearlong exhibition of giant Dutch clogs that will be installed at various locations downtown.

At its Garden Party on Friday at the Federal Plaza Park, the BID officially kicks off its latest Sculpture in the Streets exhibition, “Stand in the Sole of Albany.”

Six years ago, the district resurrected the Sculpture in the Streets program from the 1990s. “We brought it back as a way to attract people in to be able to experience public art in an urban landscape,” said Georgette Steffens, executive director of the BID.

‘Stand in the Sole of Albany’ Garden Party

WHAT: Albany BID officially kicks off its latest Sculpture in the Streets exhibition

WHERE: Federal Plaza Park, Albany

WHEN: 5:30 to 8 p.m. Friday

HOW MUCH: $50

MORE INFO: 465-2143, ext. 12, www.downtownalbany.org/node/2027

Having heard that people missed the local artist component of Sculpture in the Streets, the BID put out a call for local artists to paint giant clogs — either a 7-foot-long one or a 3-foot pair. Earlier this week, the BID installed six individual clogs and four pairs at various locations downtown. Maps of the installations will be available on Monday at businesses downtown, the BID’s office at 40 N. Pearl Street and at www.downtownalbany.org.

Albany artists Tony Iadicicco and Gutman Black teamed to create a work that would have wide appeal to both residents and visitors, especially kids and families. “We wanted to do something simple, fun and enticing that made people want to not only come back to see it again and again, but also go out and explore and learn about the Albany that the design captures,” Iadicicco said. Their clog, which was installed in Tricentennial Park across from the Albany Center Gallery, features The Egg and the historic museum ship USS Slater.

Iadicicco sees great cross-generational appeal to the work. “Since it’s basically an oversized shoe, I can see kids playing around in it while their parents check out the details around the outside,” he said. Artists and art lovers will enjoy it for the design and the techniques employed, while history lovers will appreciate it for the historical references in the painting. He hopes that the art will encourage people to visit parts of Albany that they might not have before.

Mitchell Biernacki of Glenmont thought about painting his clog with some of the more iconic images of Albany, like the historic ship replica of the Half Moon. But when he came across an 1857 map of downtown Albany, the idea clicked.

Map of the past

He hand-painted the old map onto the shoe and created a timeline of Albany with some of its monuments on the back. The most challenging part of the project, besides painting on a curved surface, was staying true to the map and making sure the streets lined up correctly. Streets that used to exist are no longer, and some of the buildings we see today had yet to be built.

“It is neat to look at things and see what was there and what wasn’t there,” said Biernacki, pointing out that the map was created 30 years before the construction of the Capitol building.

Mixed-media artist Denise Poutre of Albany started her project by studying some of Albany’s history. “I started researching the Dutch clog and realized that with the history of Henry Hudson, and how the English refused to finance him but the Dutch would, I was intrigued,” she said.

It also fascinated her how Hudson ended up stopping his voyage in Albany because of the shallow waters upstream that made it impossible to sail any farther. This prompted her to choose the Half Moon for her clog, which she painted onto a blue base and embellished with tulips. She also added a historic medallion on the seat of the clog. Poutre worked in a vacant retail space at 540 Broadway, so passers-by could actually see the different stages of her work.

Artist Len Tantillo’s paintings of the Hudson River area in the 17th and 18th centuries inspired the design of Albany artist Elizabeth Zunon. Her clog takes viewers back more than three centuries to 1673, when Albany was called “Willemstadt” and was under Dutch rule once again. The scene on the clog depicts three children, African-American, Dutch and Iroquois, sailing down the Hudson with the clog as their boat. The ethnicity of the children reflects Zunon’s own heritage. “My Dutch ancestor came to the Albany area in 1634 and married my Native American ancestor, an Iroquois woman,” Zunon said. “I myself am African-American,” she said, noting that her father is from the Ivory Coast.

She is also painting a Dutch-style tile design along the top and bottom of the clog. “I think people will enjoy the mix of traditional landscape and portrait painting mixed with the typical design elements from a Dutch clog,” she said.

Sally Spring’s childhood memories provided the idea for her clog, which is painted with different Albany landmarks including the bridge in Washington Park, the Capitol, the Palace Theatre and the Empire State Plaza. Each place has a distinct memory for Spring, a Castle-on-Hudson resident, and she hopes that people who see the clog will relate to it and notice how many fun things there are to do in Albany. She also has a playful element on the clog, namely a kite with a tail that wraps around to the back to the place one would fly a kite — Washington Park.

Spring painted one clog of a 3-foot pair, and Albany artist Milton McPherson painted the other. His features other Albany landmarks, a building and statues, along with the seal of the city against a pastel backdrop with tulips.

Kimberly Schaller of Westerlo brings attention to Albany’s environmental heritage with her pair of clogs, which feature the Karner Blue Butterfly, a male on one and a female on the other. Land development has encroached on the butterfly’s habitat and has put it on the endangered species list.

“I am hoping children will be interested in the imagery of the clogs and the interactive nature of the clogs to spur their curiosity to learn more about native species and their ecosystem,” Schaller said.

The project was a welcome departure from the normal work of Greenville artist Barbara L. Walter. “The sculpture project looked like fun, and a chance to be creative in a very different way,” she said. Walter painted her pair of clogs to look like the popular china ones sold as souvenirs in Holland, but she replaced the usual windmill design with old Dutch buildings that were here when the Europeans settled the area.

Featured in her design, which she named “Old Netherland Dutch,” is the “Stadt Huys,” the city hall of the 1750s and the Dutch Reformed Church constructed in the 1650s. “It is my hope that some of those, especially kids, who enjoy the clogs will also be intrigued enough to learn a little history,” she said.

Guilderland artist Pattie Baker takes viewers back to the original landscape of Albany as the early Dutch settlers would have seen it, and her work has multiple layers to be considered. “Although architecture is very important to Albany and to me, it was the beauty of the area that drew the settlers,” she said.

“I want the viewer to see the landscape from the settlers’ perspective and perhaps to put themselves in the shoes of the Dutch.” The moon and clouds invite the viewer to consider both the seen and unseen. “I included the vastness of the universe above the beauty of the clouds and the connection to the inner universe within all of us,” Baker said.

Other clogs have been painted by Paula J. Lawton of Valatie and Carol Lernihan of Cooperstown.

Ready for the elements

All the artists faced the issue of painting in such a way that the clogs would last through a year of the elements outside. Poutre contacted Passonno Paints, where the paint for the replica ship Half Moon came from, so she was able to get something durable with which to work.

Biernacki used polyurethane with UV protection and a marine level gloss to protect it from the elements.

Painting on a curved surface also provided a challenge, as did the scale of the sculptural canvas on which the artists had to work.

The BID is hoping that the public will enjoy interacting with the art as they did with the human sculpture in the J. Seward Johnson exhibition from 2010 to 2011. People loved taking their pictures with the statues, and the BID expects they will do the same with the clogs.

At the end of the exhibition next year, the BID will auction off the giant clogs, but in the meantime, the public gets to have fun with them.

“I think we’re just really excited to highlight our heritage and history of Albany in this fun and really unique way,” Steffens said.

 
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