LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. (NEWS10) – On Thursday, artist Shay DeRusso was touching up the fur on a sunset-lit moose, right in the middle of Canada Street. The moose didn’t mind; it, along with birds and other Adirondack animals, were painted on to three sides of a traffic signal cabinet downtown in the village.
“I think the world is in this kind of turmoil right now, and art is therapy,” said DeRusso, holding a brush between her fingers as she worked under an umbrella poking up from a painted wagon holding all the tools of her trade. “I think this is a great way for the community to come together and showcase artwork and artists.”
DeRusso, a Glens Falls-based artist whose work can be found from Lake George south to Albany, was one of four artists chosen for the “Power Up Lake George” project. The Lake George Arts Project and the village announced the project earlier this year, targeting four electrical boxes along Canada Street for a public art project. Each one is being hand-painted just in time for summer, with art planned to last for the next three-to-five years.
DeRusso’s art, located at the south corner of Shepard Park, takes up three sides of her box. One side, already finished as of Thursday, shows Lake George in winter. The moose, which she hoped to finish by day’s end, is part of a summer scene. A sketch on another side shows autumn coming in. DeRusso said that the biggest challenge wasn’t conceptual, but rather material.
“Basically, it was just finding the right paint that would work, and the right products that would keep it preserved on the box for 3-5 years. I think that was the hardest part.”
At the other end of Shepard Park, fellow artist Miranda Kent was hard at work creating a bouquet at the corner of Canada and Amherst streets. As an art teacher at Glens Falls High School, Kent didn’t have the chance to get started until Saturday. Since then, they’ve been out in front of Duffy’s Tavern for as much as 7 or 8 hours per day.
“All of them are birth flowers,” Kent explained, pointing to some of the colorful floral arrangements on display on their assigned box. “Everyone has a flower on there that represents themselves in some way. I’m hoping people can gather that.”
To help passersby do exactly that, Kent plans to label the flowers with their names and the birth months associated with them. As of midday Thursday, one side had a few flowers left to color in – wrapping around from January flowers on one side, to December on another. Kent’s goal was to create something universal – less about Lake George specifically, and more something that anyone can relate to and appreciate, no matter where in the world they’ve come from.
For Kent, the public art project is a first. They’ve been making art since childhood, selling commissions and work on websites like Etsy and Redbubble since college, but the “Power Up Lake George” project is their first foray into public art – and what they hope to be a springboard to a new phase of their artistic career.
“This is super, super cool,” Kent said. “It was really intimidating to start it – I worried, ‘What if I want to stop, what if people don’t like it, what if it doesn’t look good?’ But almost immediately, I started getting compliments from people. I’ve been treated like a celebrity – which is weird, but really cool.”
With a laugh, Kent admitted that it was scary to tell family, friends, and even their Glens Falls art students that they had applied for a project like this – but that having people in the know makes it all the more rewarding, even when the sun is hot and the paint dries fast. The “Power Up” project was open to any artist, with few requirements for a pre-established portfolio. For Kent, that factor has become the open door they needed to get their art out there, inspire their students, and meet more fellow artists in the region.
Further up Canada Street, past a row of hotels and Lake George Jr. – Sr. High School, one more of those artists was leaving her mark on a signal box in front of the Lake Haven Motel. Erin Gregory, of Clifton Park, stood under a tarp not giving much shade as the afternoon went on, and scrutinized where to add the next fleck of white spray on the rapid, running water of Shelving Rock Falls in Log Bay.
“I was very surprised by the paint textures for an outdoor mural, versus an indoor mural,” said Gregory – who previously created a similar project indoors at the Lake George Beach Club. “It’s fun, though, in the natural light, to see everything.”
Gregory works a full-time job around her art, and so has been making trips to Lake George in the late afternoon daily for the last week, working into the evening. Her box is located just before Route 9 branches off north up the lake, towards Bolton Landing, passing by dozens of hotels and other types of lodging visited by new out-of-town visitors every week. That means that many of the passersby who have stopped to admire her work have seen it on their way into the village, as one of the first highlights of a long day in the village.
The Shelving Rock connection isn’t happenstance. The waterfall Gregory was working at on Thursday, with white spaces still left where she plans to add bear cubs along the rocks, is inspired by the area near her parents’ summer home in Lake George’s Diamond Point area. A second side – facing the Lake Haven Motel – shows animals resting by a river. A third, facing the north, has yet to be painted, but will add more to the journey.
The location may seem slightly more clandestine than the two in-progress works around Shepard Park – or the already-finished box in front of the Lake George Visitors Center. However, Gregory has felt as welcomed as her peers by community and visitors alike – as well as by the motel, which has let her use its parking lot and facilities as needed through several hot afternoons. That’s been especially helpful as Gregory – who got married in Lake George last year – is expecting her first child.
“He’s here, painting with me,” she said.
Lake George is far from the only site in the North Country where public art is coming alive. In Glens Falls, a city art trail project has spawned public art on electrical boxes, and this summer is expected to follow up with a trio of large-scale mural projects. One more project in the city was painted by Glens Falls High School art students, who finished last week. Kent, who has taught at Glens Falls for the last two years, knows just about every student who laid a brush on the building – which was being worked on in Glens Falls right as they planned to start in Lake George.
“Seeing my art and my students’ art in public in the area has really given me more of a deep connection to this place,” they said. “I’m so grateful for Glens Falls, Lake George, being able to start a life and get a job here – everything.”
Kent works with art teacher Sue Botch, who organized the school mural project. They aren’t the only one who knows the name. Back at the other end of Shepard Park, DeRusso remembers her own time learning from Botch, years ago, as a Glens Falls High School art student herself.
“I love it,” DeRusso said. “Any chance that either children or adults get to get into artwork – like I said, art is therapy. It’s healing. And so I think it’s great.”