GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – The project called “Muralgarten” is gaining steam and generating conversation around the Shirt Factory building, and the east side of Glens Falls at large. Artist Hannah Williams has seen sketches and ideas much older than the ones presented to the city by property owner Eric Unkauf. The vision for public art across Cooper, Maple and Lawrence streets dates back 15 years.

“It’s an idea he’s had for a while,” said Williams, who previously operated out of a studio inside the Shirt Factory’s four stories. “He mentioned this to me and I was like, sign me up.”

The proposed project would place 30 new murals on 5 acres of space across the block, centralized in front of Rock Hill Bakehouse and Cafe on Curran Lane. Some murals would be free-standing, and others on fencing alongside the south-facing wall of the adjacent Shirt Factory building. Unkauf projects that the project could take years to complete – and is determined to see it through every step of the way.

“This here is a 10-year concept. It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight,” Unkauf said at a Glens Falls Planning Board meeting on Tuesday, May 2. “What we’re doing right now is acquiring shipping containers.”

glens falls muralgarten
A map of the proposed “Muralgarten” by the Shirt Factory and Rock Hill Bakehouse in downtown Glens Falls, N.Y. (Photo: Eric Unkauf)

Those shipping containers are one of the materials artists will use to turn the Shirt Factory block into a garden of artwork. If you need an example, you’ll find one at the edge of the Rock Hill Bakehouse parking lot. Williams, who joined Unkauf at the planning board meeting, painted the “space whale” mural depicted across a pair of shipping containers there in 2021. Williams is also the talent behind the Warren Street mural painted last summer, and has painted inside countless businesses in the region.

Now, Williams is part of the board for the Muralgarten nonprofit – something Unkauf says has to be formed and solidified in order for the project to get the help it needs. The plan is to put two years of work into the nonprofit, in order to qualify to apply for funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, or Empire State Development. Other members of the board include Tim Weidener, retired former director of the Chapman Museum; and South Glens Falls art teacher Tom Myott, whose influence is intended to bring more community into the project.

“I’ve been doing educational classes through a youth art program for a long time,” Williams said. “We wanted to involve youth, which is where Tom came in.”

glens falls muralgarten
A rendering of the proposed “Muralgarten” by the Shirt Factory and Rock Hill Bakehouse in downtown Glens Falls, N.Y. (Photo: Eric Unkauf)

Painting the town

Unkauf came away from last week’s meeting with some new goals. The planning board, while receptive to the plans, said that he has to have every phase of construction planned out before the whole scope can be voted on.

The passionate artists in and around the Shirt Factory are far from resting on their laurels in the meantime. This summer, the Shirt Factory will host its first-ever “Muralthon,” with a date to be announced. Six local artists will be hard at work on shipping containers, just like the ones Williams has used, creating their own public art and leaving blank spaces for future years.

Another planned event is the creation of a “mural labyrinth.” Inspired by similar installations at music and arts festivals in Florida, the event would give each participating artist an 8-by-4-foot panel to do what they want with. The more artists who participate, the bigger the resulting labyrinthine structure will be.

“The bigger, the better,” is the philosophy behind every part of the Shirt Factory’s arts-focused future. Although 30 murals comprise the first plan, Williams said she could see that number rising as high as 80, including multisurface murals and some that could be moved inside and outside depending on the season.

Even beyond the Shirt Factory’s direct purview, the influence of Unkauf’s community of artists can be seen just down the street. Artist Jedidiah Murphy is set to start work on a mural at the Community Action building at nearby 190 Maple St. The planned mural would bring new life to an aging building face, emphasizing the “unity” in “community action.”

“When you’re walking through any community that has public art, you can see how it strengthens the community,” said Murphy, who lives in Queensbury. “People have more pride in their town.”

Unkauf has some next steps to handle before returning to the Glens Falls Planning Board with a new proposal. Williams said that presenting with him last week was a good way to put a face to one of the people who would be adding new color and energy to the town. That’s not the only thing she walked away with, though.

“The coolest part for me was the contrast from just a year ago, presenting art to the city (for the Warren Street mural project). Last year, there was some pushback or worry, misunderstanding the process. It was amazing a year later to see the whole board welcome the idea.”